27 October 2016
Andrew Fung, the information coordinator for the Office of the Chief Executive, did not say why he sees his remit as being to defend the rich and powerful. Photo: HKEJ
Andrew Fung, the information coordinator for the Office of the Chief Executive, did not say why he sees his remit as being to defend the rich and powerful. Photo: HKEJ

A spokesman for the rich and powerful

The good news, if you like this kind of good news, is that Hong Kong’s rich and powerful have found a new spokesman. The bad, or should I say, worrisome news is that he is Andrew Fung, the government’s Information Coordinator or chief spokesman for the Chief Executive.

Readers may well be thinking that it is hardly news to discover that the Hong Kong government regards it as a priority to look after the rich and powerful. Hitherto this was often assumed but never before made quite so public.

However, on May 23, I wrote an opinion piece for the South China Morning Post and on May 28 the paper prominently published a response from Mr. Fung.

My piece argued that if you want to know what the rich and powerful self-declared loyalists and patriots really believed, it was best to follow the money trail. This trail shows that they are ferreting away large sums of money overseas, sending their offspring to foreign universities to study and thus making sure that they have an escape plan in place should the People’s Republic of China that they claim to love, start to falter and give them reason to escape.

I must admit that this is hardly an original notion but as the political heat gets more intense and because well-heeled loyalists are choosing to loudly proclaim their allegiance, now is the time for a reality check.

The usual practice is for government spokespeople to confine themselves to defending government policy and or defending government actions. Mr. Fung, however, sees it as his role to be the defender of the entire privileged class and to tell me that if I need to follow his route to the money to reach “completely the opposite conclusion”.

However, taking Mr. Fung’s route involves traveling down a very rickety path that finds listed companies controlled by Hong Kong’s elite having much bigger investments in China than elsewhere.

This may well be so but I, of course, was thinking about their private investments, not those vested in the public companies, although even here poor old Mr. Fung has a problem because the trend among the big conglomerates is to move outside the PRC; the Li Ka-shing group of companies is a prime example of this.

Secondly, and rather amusingly, he argues that prominent Hong Kong government officials have bought holiday and retirement homes on the mainland. Indeed, they have, but like many other wealthy people they have a great many properties and hedge their bets with homes in places such as Britain and the United States.

Thirdly, and he is getting rather desperate now, he deliberately misquotes me saying I wrote that they are sending their children overseas for education as a short cut to “the acquisition of citizenship” – his quote marks.

What I actually wrote and stand by is: “they also want to ensure that their children have the kind of familiarity with overseas countries that can to lead to the acquisition of citizenship”. And it gets worse because Mr. Fung then quite inaccurately asserts that I should have done more research to discover that there is no longer a short cut to citizenship via education because policies have changed.

Actually, some have and some have not. For example, it is possible for a foreign postgraduate in the United States to obtain a temporary working visa, leading to the acquisition of a green card if they remain in the US after graduation. However, I do not expect mere facts to trouble Mr. Fung.

There is more but you have probably got the drift by now. What Mr. Fung does not explain is why he sees his remit as being to defend the rich and powerful.

There are, however, no prizes for knowing that this is a vey sensitive subject for Hong Kong’s ruling class, a great many of whom have extensive escape plans in place and want to keep them quiet.

I should therefore say that despite the controversy about a possible change of editorial direction at the Post, I am grateful that the paper was prepared to publish an opinion piece on this subject.

The beauty of Mr. Fung’s response lies in the fact that it was made by someone in his position. Added value is derived from the paper-thin nature of its protestations and by its unintended acknowledgement of how much this kind of things worries his masters.

So, thank you, Mr. Fung, I look forward to your further contributions in this debate.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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