17 September 2019
(From left) Hong Kong tycoons Peter Woo, Robert Kuok, Lee Shau-kee and Li Ka-shing met President Xi Jinping (inset), who reiterated the "one country two systems" rule for Hong Kong, in Beijing on Sept. 22. Photo: ATV
(From left) Hong Kong tycoons Peter Woo, Robert Kuok, Lee Shau-kee and Li Ka-shing met President Xi Jinping (inset), who reiterated the "one country two systems" rule for Hong Kong, in Beijing on Sept. 22. Photo: ATV

Beijing warns Hong Kong tycoons to toe the line

Hong Kong’s political crisis continues to deepen as the pro-democracy Occupy movement enters its second month.

Beijing, taking a hardline stance on the issue, will brook no opposition, vacillation or difference of opinion from its ranks. It wants all followers and supporters, including those from the territory’s economic and political elite, to stand steadfastly behind the Communist Party and all its decisions on the fate of the special administrative region.

This could further widen the gap between the Hong Kong people and the overlords in Beijing.

Rumors spread on Tuesday that James Tien, a legislator belonging to the pro-business and pro-Beijing Liberal Party, would be sacked as member of China’s top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), after he urged Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to step down as he could no longer govern.

Tien, who owns the property developer Manhattan Garments (International) Ltd., could be expelled by the CPPCC Standing Committee on Wednesday for violating a resolution that the body passed in March requiring all delegates to support the chief executives of Hong Kong and Macau “to govern in accordance with laws”. 

This is not the first time that Tien has challenged Beijing’s decisions, and, indirectly, its governance, in Hong Kong.

In 2003 Tien withdrew his support for a national security law in the territory, after half a million Hong Kong people poured into the streets to oppose the proposal, forcing then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa to shelve it.

Since then, Beijing has considered Tien an unreliable supporter, if not an outright betrayer.

The reported plan to expel Tien shows that the central government has tightened its reins over loyalists. He could serve as a warning to others in the pro-establishment camp that Beijing will not tolerate even the slightest diversion from its official line. Any divergent opinion will be treated as a challenge to its rule.

Beijing loyalists have no freedom of expression. Their only choice is to follow.

Tien’s expected removal from the prestigious body will also show that Beijing fully supports the embattled CY Leung which it has chosen to govern the territory despite his unpopularity and crumbling authority.

It cannot afford to replace him for that would give the impression that it is yielding to the demand of the opposition.

Especially in this crisis period, Beijing must uphold its sovereignty over Hong Kong. That is its top priority.

The Hong Kong leader’s performance, or the people’s perception of his performance, is secondary to Beijing’s overriding need to maintain its rule in the territory in the person of CY Leung. As such, the central leadership cannot afford to fire Leung before his term expires in 2017.

Business and politics are two interrelated core components in modern society. The richer tycoons become, the more influence they exert in the political world.

But this does not apply in China and Hong Kong. All allied parties should stand together in support of the Communist Party.

They are required not only to agree with the official policies and programs but also to demonstrate their loyalty to Beijing.

That’s why it is totally understandable for the official Xinhua News Agency to publish a story earlier this month assailing Hong Kong tycoons for not voicing out their opposition to the Occupy campaign.

On the other hand, it’s not normal for Hong Kong’s traditional tycoons to express their political views, as they want to avoid getting into matters that could hurt their businesses unnecessarily. 

Some tycoons like Robert Kuok of Kerry Group have said nothing about the pro-democracy protests. Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-shing has urged students to go home and allow the people to resume their normal lives. Henderson Land’s Lee Shau-kee is the most outspoken: he condemned the Occupy campaign whenever he had the chance.

For Beijing, however, now is the time for all its friends and allies to stand up and be counted.

It is also not expected to strike a compromise deal with the pro-democracy camp, lest it wants to give the impression that it is yielding to people who oppose its decisions and policies.

The Hong Kong Federation of Students has requested Chief Secretary Carrie Lam to arrange a meeting with Premier Li Keqiang to discuss political reform.

The meeting, of course, is not likely to happen — even if Lam is gracious, and bold, enough to carry their message to the Chinese leader.

Central authorities have high hopes that Hong Kong’s tycoons will speak out against the Occupy movement and convince the public, the so-called silent majority, to rise up and condemn the pro-democracy groups for rending the social fabric.

But there are those like James Tien who speak out, not in defense of Beijing, but against its chosen representatives in the city who have lost their credibility and right to govern.

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EJ Insight writer