At some point around 1789, upon being told that her French subjects had no bread to eat, Marie-Antoinette (bride of France's King Louis XVI) supposedly sniffed, “Qu'ils mangent de la brioche” (“So let them eat cake.”). And that's exactly how Mr. Li Ka-shing sounds to me right now.
An article published on Thursday in an official WeChat account of the Party Department accused the 91-year-old billionaire of condoning crime and causing the city’s housing crisis.
Li had urged those in power to “provide a way out” for the young demonstrators, describing them as the “masters of our future”. He said the protesters should consider the city’s overall interests too. He also said that on political issues, justice might have to be tempered with mercy.
He is cleverly trying to sound supportive of everyone claiming to offer a solution, instead of admitting that he is part of the problem.
Li Ka-shing is of course an iconic symbol and a major player in Hong Kong, but in fact he’s also a major part of the real problem for Hong Kong’s young people, and not the solution. In fact - as the world could very well see - democracy was never the problem in Hong Kong. In fact, not only the Hong Kong Government, but China itself, proved de facto that the level of tolerance in accommodating violence and vandalism as part of freedom of speech is far above and beyond that of any Western country in the world.
No country would have prevented their police and even army from cracking down on such violence. We can easily imagine how many dead protesters there would have been if they had occupied, smashed up and burned down the White House or 10 Downing Street, as they did in Hong Kong to the Legislative Council building. It is amazing that China - yes China! - has been so patient and tolerated everything that’s happened in Hong Kong so far. The violent protests have been far, far beyond any "freedom of speech" but China has shown remarkable restraint by not sending in the army.
The most solid proof that Hong Kong under China enjoys the highest level of freedom in the world is the fact that so far not even one protester has ended up shot or dead. That could never be the case under the same circumstances in any other country in the world! This is amazing and just about unbelievable!
Bottom line: the real problem in Hong Kong is that the economy is mainly real estate - and it’s run by a very small "mafia", an elite group of developers that ruthlessly controls the extremely expensive and unaffordable property market. So the young people in Hong Kong have no future as they cannot afford to have their own houses, while paying extremely high rents, working very long hours, and living at a standard that is not even suitable for dogs! Small caves, small rooms, no space, just like a prison cell!
So I would advise Mr. Li Ka-shing to keep quiet, and to be so happy that all those young and innocent students did not target their violence and anger against the real problem in Hong Kong instead of romantically raising their poor - very poor - voices, in frustration and anger against the civil servants.
Let me make it clear: I do not share Beijing’s innuendo that Mr. Li Ka-shing committed any crime. He acted as a very talented, sharp businessman to take advantage of all the best opportunities he could. That's capitalism, and Mr. Li is a worthy champion of its legitimate success. But ignoring the gap - squeezing the local population into a situation where they have no choice and have lost all hope – is very short-sighted for a smart businessman. What goes around comes around.
(Bill Clinton, 1992 winning campaign slogan)
The problem in Hong Kong is obviously not Carrie Lam and is equally not the Hong Kong Police. Though it’s equally clear they've definitely made a few serious mistakes. Who hasn't?
Does anybody really believe that replacing Carrie Lamwith a pro-western superstar will solve any of Hong Kong real problems? Or that the protests would calm down if China made a really drastic move and replaced all the HK Police officers with all-new imported (and very well-armed) Police officers from New York or Chicago?
Did "clearing out" real dictators such as Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and several others, solve - with their amazing new democracy - any of the underlying problems in their countries? Or did it just make whatever was bad there 100 times worse?
replacing Bush with Obama end any of the USA’s on-going wars? Did
replacing Obama with Trump solve any of the USA’s real structural
problems – like poverty, injustice, inequality, racism, mass shooting,
violence, the monopolies’ dictatorship, and the corrupted financial and
political systems? Nada.
Did replacing David Cameron with Theresa May or Theresa May with Boris Johnson solve any of the UK’s fundamental problems?
All the new leaders step into their grand, shiny offices with high hopes, good intentions and romantic visions of delivering rainbows on the horizon. Then, when they are confronted with the stubborn reality of deep-rooted structural flaws and extremely complicated challenges, they inevitably make many mistakes in their rational, healthy and genuine efforts to make their countries great again. But they simply cannot solve systemic problems that are bigger and deeper and stronger than they are.
Let's say, for example, that an all-new, 100% fresh and young Police Force came to Hong Kong and suddenly also faced violence, vandalism, Molotov bombing, and the destruction of the city's critical infrastructure - such as the MTR and the Hong Kong airport? Would they let the mob carry on burning and destroying the whole city? Would they do nothing, instead of using force against it? Should they be rewarded for being "non-violent", or should they all be sent to jail for failing to protect the city and its citizens, and for choosing not to perform their sworn duty? Who would want a Police Force that would stand idly by while their (and your!) city was burned, bombed and destroyed? It is ridiculous even to contemplate a responsible Police Force failing to perform their basic core duties.
What is missing in Hong Kong is not democracy, but.....a bit of communism: Affordable housing, to start with. A social correction, that will share equally all the land in Hong Kong among all the Hong Kong native citizens. To guarantee at least a small home for every person. Capitalism and the manipulation of property prices can start only after that.
If Mr. Li Ka-shing and his fellow real estate tycoons really want to stop the Civil War in Hong Kong, they should join Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Jack Ma and many other members of The Giving Pledge, and donate all their extra housing to the young, desperate and hopeless Hong Kong protesters.
Mr. Li Ka-shing and his tycoon friends can easily protect their interests by giving young people in Hong Kong a prison-cell-sized house for free, and then they will see all of them voluntarily signing up for the traditional life sentence: happy, grateful and peaceful – the kind of life all the innocent young protesters – and the rest of us - really want. Because, underneath it all, Hong Kong enjoys the best of all spirit, freedom, creativity, innovation, driven by its smart. sharp, hard-working and truly good citizens who are loyal to their community, regardless of whether the power above is China or the UK.
Just give them back the hope and the future that you and your real estate friends took from them. Even if the way you took it was 100% legal. As we all know - not everything that is legal is right, and not everything that is illegal is wrong.
No system should push their citizens “by the Law” into a corner where they have no other choice but to take action to protect their country against their government. And that is exactly what the real estate monopoly mafia did – it was not the Hong Kong civil servants. Yes, they did it by the Law, with their amazing talent and hard work - but they went too far.
Given that he is 91 years old, sooner or hopefully later, Mr. Li Ka-shing will go back to where he came from, with nothing but the heritage that he and all his rich old real estate pals will leave behind as their lasting legacy to Hong Kong society. They must decide whether they take action to solve the real problem in Hong Kong for good, or not. And that decision will determine their legacy.
Stop the blame game. What's happening in Hong Kong is not the fault of the UK, USA, Canada, Australia or China. It's simply because too many people in Hong Kong lost hope in being able to build and maintain their lives, when the very basis of life – housing - is monopolized and far from affordable not only for the poor but also for the middle class.
There are two famous quotes from India's great moral leader Mahatma Gandhi that should open the hearts and minds of all Hong Kong leaders, civil servants, tycoons and protesters:
“There is enough on Earth for everybody's need, but not enough for everybody's greed.”
“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”
An eye for an eye will ultimately, leave the whole world blind.