Developers' avarice comes home to roost

Editorial | Mary Ma 16 Sep 2019

The local business operating environment is headed for significant changes amid widespread protests triggered by the anti-fugitive bill movement.

Beijing's state media have never been as forthcoming as it is now in criticizing local developers for the economic and social problems here. Xinhua News Agency and its official peers were much more explicit in taking local businessmen to task for distorting the economy, tilting the balance entirely in the favor of finance and real-estate development.

The outcome is a situation of serious wealth disparity that, according to them, is a major deep-rooted cause of the ongoing social unrest.

As anti-government protests sparked off by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's ill-conceived fugitive amendment bill entered the fourth month ahead of the People's Republic of China's 70th birthday, someone has to be blamed for the unrest.

After rioters and external forces were condemned, local developers are now clearly being taken to task for the housing woes.

State media cited young people's inability to afford housing and said it is time for developers to show their utmost sincerity instead of minding their own business in hoarding land and earning the last possible penny.

In particular, the Communist Party's political and legal affairs commission said on WeChat that it should be the developers providing a way out for Hongkongers.

In wake of pro-Beijing party Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong's U-turn to advocate invoking the Land Resumption Ordinance to recover land from developers, a major land reform exercise may well be in the pipeline at Beijing's order.

There is no question that Hong Kong's housing problems are acute. And although it is too simplistic to blame these problems - thus landlords and developers - entirely for today's political crisis, it is difficult to dispute the observation summed up by the state organs in relation to the SAR's housing plight.

As thousands turned out for yesterday's protests which had been declared unlawful by police, their chants and slogans were still aimed at Lam.

It should be noted that, around the same time, Reuters carried an exclusive report saying senior representatives of the country's 100 biggest state enterprises gathered in Shenzhen for a meeting hosted by the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission. They were told to increase their investment in Hong Kong and assert greater control of its companies in the SAR.

Also, about 30 them - led by SASAC's party chief Hao Peng - met with Lam at Government House to look for ways to cooperate in major projects in the SAR.

Could that be a cause for concern?

On a positive note, it may be interpreted as the central government's renewed commitment to support the SAR at a time of unrest.

On a more negative note, it may be read as an explicit sign that the mainland is accelerating the pace to seek total control of nearly every aspect of life here, from public to private. For those opposed to one country, two systems, their wishes may be being granted.

While this wouldn't occur overnight, the course would be steady since it's clearly a national policy.

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