Hong Kong, Beijing, Lee Kushing discussed on Monocle 24: The Foreign Desk
The end of the tycoon era in Hong Kong would be no bad thing, of course. Provided Beijing could be trusted to come up with a more transparent, fairer and more accountable alternative. Hong Kong's renowned for being Uber capitalist and one of the freest economies in the world. When in actual fact, a few family businesses call the shots and much the economy operates like a cartel. Billionaire businessmen and women. Enjoy a very cozy relationship with the government. An exercise a huge say in the running of Hong Kong. These power brokers support the status quo, stifle competition. And help keep a lid on local demands for universal suffrage. All in the interest of economic stability. In 58 years, Lee kushing has gone from having nothing to controlling four listed companies that are now worth 400 billion Hong Kong dollars. His story is a testament to the economic miracle at Hong Kong as created since the end of the war. The 94 year old Lee kassing is the archetypal Hong Kong tycoon. Millions of people live in his apartments, shop at his supermarkets. Use his electricity and connect via his phone network. His story of arriving from the mainland, buying a plastic flower factory and eventually taking control of one of the colonial era British conglomerates. Is the stuff of local legend. And his nickname Superman speaks to his actual business prowess as much as his fabled magical powers. For decades, Lea has had a direct line to the top guys in Beijing. But all that appears to have changed under Xi Jinping. When C first visited Hong Kong, as president in 2017. He shook hands with mister Leon stage in what was seen as a very deliberate display of Superman standing in Beijing. This time around, however, Lee wasn't even in the room during sea's visit. And many familiar faces from his first generation of tycoons were also missing. Officially, COVID-19 restrictions meant each tycoon family could only send one representative. And since the senior Lee retired from running his empire in 2018, his son, went in his place. A plausible explanation that didn't stop the conjecture, or the conspiracy theories. Lee was being punished by Beijing, they said, for showing some sympathy for the protesters in 2019. Instead of condemning them outright. It's a plea to have a peaceful solution to this crisis right now. He's also faced criticism from the mainland media. For investing more of his money in foreign jurisdictions, like the UK. In short, Superman is no longer red enough for the new patriotic era. And he can no longer be trusted to act in China's best interests. The huge sway Lee used to hold over the selection of Hong Kong's chief executive. Right up until 2017. Was watered down last year during Beijing's sweeping reforms of the electoral system. And this year, the job of running the city was given to a policeman. With no ties to the Hong Kong business establishment, an attract record for following Beijing's orders. Whatever really happened, Lee's absence from the political stage represents a major changing of the guard. Many of the first generation of tycoons icons of this city's rise. Have passed away during my time here. And their sons and daughters don't hold the same sway in Beijing. Nor, in the public's imagination. It is hard to imagine a Hong Kong that is not run for profit by a few extremely wealthy tycoons. But that day is a lot closer now than it was in 1997. And one thing is for certain. If Beijing does decide to directly intervene in the economy to speed things along. Then these masters of the universe will all be wishing that Lee's magical force field really did exist. For monocle in Hong Kong, I'm James chambers. That was monocles Hong Kong bureau chief James chambers. That's it for this episode of the foreign desk we'll be back next week and look out for the foreign desk explainer available every Wednesday. The foreign desk was produced by Christie o'grady, Christie also produces the foreign disk explainer. Don't forget to subscribe to Monaco magazine and our free daily email bulletins by heading to our website at monocle dot com. For me, Andrew mullet, thanks very much for listening until next time, goodbye.