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The Asian White Elephant

By Chip Tsao | Jan 20, 2011

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Plans for Hong Kong’s Asian Games 2013 were tossed into the rubbish bin last week as the legislature voted a landslide “No” to the ambitious $HK40 billion project.

Despite the belief that Asia (particularly India and China) can offer a sick man named Europe a springboard out of its recession, the adjective “Asian” sounds culturally inadequate, unlike the brands “EuroCup” or “Winter Olympics.” The general pre-World War II prejudice is still held in the West that Asians may be born with talents in some violent physical crafts like Kung Fu and Thai Boxing, but are no good in general sports defined by the ancient Greeks, which means live TV broadcasting rights are unlikely to have a good global market.

The idea of Hong Kong hosting the event is deemed a deficit business. It is designed to buy some international face, but Hongkongers used to have enough face attending the Commonwealth Games prior to 1997, let alone being recognized as a member of the “Free World” during the Cold War. To feel proud and civilized, we never needed any “global event.”

The SAR government argued that the Games were not to be for tangible financial gain, but to boost sports awareness to “improve people’s health in the long run.” With property prices rocketing to more than HK$6,000 per square foot in Yuen Long, Hong Kong’s economy in the long run looks more worrying than its people’s health. Its severe housing problem in the midst of incurable economic bubbles has formed a unique and acute poverty crisis and a fatal social tumor all on its own. Chinese leaders have been claiming repeatedly that human rights in the Chinese sense is all about feeding its people and housing them properly, rather than about freedom of speech. If the same theory applies, then Hong Kong’s impossible desire to embrace the white elephant of the Asian Games is like caged chickens being asked to perform ballet, or asking pigs in the farm to slim down. It’s a luxury too cruel to be granted.

What will Hong Kong be like in 11 years? China will predictably be the number one world superpower in 2013. We have a lot of enemies. The Guangzhou Asian Games last year cost something like RMB 200 billion, a big chunk of which went to armed police deployment. High levels in residential blocks along the riverbanks had to be
evacuated to make room for “security,” as troops of dancers and acrobats sailed down the Pearl River in colorful boats in a spectacular opening ceremony pageant. It was rumored that the Guangzhou municipal government paid for the evacuees’ hotel rooms. The Hong Kong Asian Games would have been an ideal venue for al-Qaeda or some Xinjiang separatists to showcase their Islamic justice. I would’ve certainly preferred to flee Hong Kong for that period and wouldn’t have minded being a refugee at a five-star hotel in Bali until it was all over, provided that the SAR government would be footing the bill.

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