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Hong Kong’s problems will take more than an adept marketeer to fix

The creeping dread has accelerated in recent weeks, reaching critical levels even by Hong Kong’s apolitical standards.

Pro-business types have met the moment with varying degrees of alarm. Some optimists have preached calm, reminding one another of the advantages of status quo. The irrational logic, defensiveness, anger, obfuscation, entitlement and shrill protest shine.

Former Amway Corp executive vice president Eva Cheng Li Kam-fun has been appointed as executive of local non-governmental think tank ‘Our Hong Kong Foundation’.

She is trying to solve some of Hong Kong’s problems through engagement with the community and presenting sound policy recommendations to the government.

Cheng recites the familiar clichés. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, she said “Lack of social mobility and dwindling job prospects are issues affecting many young Hong Kong people, who believe the city’s best days are behind it as most industries are now at a mature stage.”

However, she is confident that the city’s future lies in technology and “Hong Kong people should look towards the mainland for opportunities and tap its massive market.”

She recognizes that “Hong Kong is very polarised and it has been so for a number of years.”

Rather than appoint a public policy specialist, an ex-Amway executive who is more experienced in the multilevel marketing of health, beauty and home products is charged with selling ideas that are alien to most of Hong Kong.

Despite her active role in appointed government bodies, marketing and public relations have become more important than confronting and reforming Hong Kong’s competitive problem: unsustainable real estate prices and predatory cartels.

The exorcism needed for Hong Kong’s competitive problems lies in the oligopolistic business practices of Hong Kong’s tycoon class and how they collude with government intransigence to drive up basic living costs from property to groceries.

By what method of sophistry does she or Our Hong Kong Foundation use to arrive at any other conclusion?

Really, there is no need to, as Cheng says, “…to do some soul searching and ask ourselves, with all the changes happening around us, [what] is our future?”

Don’t expect realistic answers anytime soon because the foundation is backed by members of the city’s business establishment.

The foundation’s position is simply bad for Hong Kong and for Hong Kong business. It is obvious, albeit impossibly painful, to reform all of the unnatural economic obstacles and usurp the vested interest who oppress Hong Kong’s quality of life issues.

It is easier to dream up high tech projects and policies that make no competitive sense relative to Hong Kong’s strengths and weaknesses.

The rendition of booksellers has proven to be a catastrophic reverberation throughout the community that the Our Hong Kong Foundation and its pro-Establishment base cannot ignore.

It has yet to be explained in terms of what rule of law really means in Hong Kong for local and international business communities. By avoiding these issues the foundation is tying itself to the mast in the face of a historical storm of what all free people desire.

Our Hong Kong Foundation would do a better job by advancing Hong Kong’s march to democracy (promised under the Basic Law) and improving the local quality of living standards rather than high science programmes that create few jobs.

Once we have affordable flats for everyone the people can figure out what kind of innovation best suits Hong Kong’s future.

Peter Guy is a financial writer and former international banker