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Missing Uncle Tung

By Chip Tsao | Nov 05, 2009

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Hong Kongers are missing former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa as much as the Russians are missing Stalin, the Brits are missing Tony Blair and the Chinese are missing Chairman Mao. It’s no longer Halloween, but the global orgy of reincarnated old phantoms still drags on.

We owe a twinge of conscience to the former chief executive. Tung’s commitment to building 85,000 government-funded flats as a part of his housing scheme, coinciding with the global financial market crash that occurred soon after the 1997 handover, slashed Hong Kong’s property prices by 70 percent and reduced a once-prosperous former colony into economic rubble before he stepped down under the pretext of a sore foot under Beijing’s orders. But the Robin Hood of the Orient may have been right as Hong Kong people are now appalled by the record-breaking $71,280 price per square foot at the luxury development at 39 Conduit Road, presented with honor by Henderson Land. Tung has lived long enough to see his name, once cursed by every street hawker, officer cleaner and taxi driver in every corner of Hong Kong, cleared as Donald Tsang advises young people to buy flats in remote, but cheaper areas such as Tin Shui Wai or Tai Po—a kind of reverse take on “Let them eat cake.” (“Why don’t they eat bread if they can’t afford the brioche?”)

After Napoleon Bonaparte made a mess of his military expeditions after the Revolution, the French saw a brief restoration of the Bourbon royalty when Louis XVIII briefly reclaimed the throne. Because the Chinese people recently saw the fragile figure of former state president Jiang Zemin re-emerge from the Tiananmen Gate during the National Day grand parade, Tung now has a precedent to follow. Give us back Uncle Tung, and make him stand over the shoulder of a gloomy Donald Tsang while he reads his policy speeches to the Legislative Council. We have wrongly exorcised the spirit of Tung, and property prices have rightly soared.

Except that it could be different this time. It’s the Chinese hot money, and not local speculators as in 1997, that is driving up luxury flat prices on Conduit Road and The Peak. As Beijing is holding more than US$2 trillion foreign reserves, it is her global strategy to buy whatever is valuable and available in the world—oil from Iran, ore from Australia, gold mines in Africa, the Canary Wharf in London and, if allowed, they’d even buy the New York Times and turn it into a branch of China Daily. Hong Kong’s overheated property market is a part of this stop-moaning-and-just-name-the-price global shopping spree. Slash the property prices by 70 percent again with the old trick invented by the former British colonist Murray MacLehose and badly bite our motherland’s hand, and then what fate awaits our chief executive— be it Tung, Tang or Tsang? A sore foot again, or worse?

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