Five reasons why Hong Kong is NOT the capitalist utopia you might imagine it to be (III): State-owned (and protected) monopolies

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There are quite a lot of monopolies in Hong Kong: electricity is provided by either China Light and Power Group (covering Kowloon, the New Territories, and the outlying islands) or HK Electric (which covers Hong Kong Island, Ap Lei Chau, and Lamma Island); gas is provided by Towngas, of which Henderson Land –the guys who expropriate land in the New Territories– is its largest shareholder; and buses are ultimately owned by the New World Group. Even beef (controlled by China’s China Resources) is monopolized. Who would make the steaks without government, right?

And how about cabs? Since 1997 Hong Kong has had the exact number of 18,138 cabs, but with no new licenses issued, second-hand licenses in the market can reach $6 to $7 million. All of these are either public companies or private enterprises with ties to the Chinese or HKSAR governments.

Education and entertainment face similar challenges. In 2012 the HKSAR government tried to introduce mandatory classes of “Moral and National Education” –national, meaning the People’s Republic of China. Similar classes which are basically modeled after Mao Zedong’s interpretation of communism, exist in China, where they are mandatory at all levels, from primary school to postgraduate courses. Likewise, licenses for television are also controlled by the government, and only two free local television channels exist in Hong Kong. Of course, don’t expect to get a license if you are asking for too much freedom.

Government control over farm industries and water is also alarming. Hong Kong imports from China 90% of food and almost 80% of water. Thus, Starry Lee Wai-king, a pro-Beijing lawmaker, stated that “Hong Kong belongs to the whole China” and that separatism “is equal to committing suicide.” According to her, and to other pro-Beijing figures, Hong Kong independence would not only be “impossible,” but also “impractical” because “if Hong Kong had independence, where would our water come from? Where would our food come from?”. Because, how could you drink and eat without the government!

Claudia Mo, a pan-democratic politician and a member of the Civic Party, has expressed concerns about water quality and possible estrogen pollution from China’s Dongjiang river, where most Hong Kong’s water comes from. The lawmaker believes that Hong Kong should reduce its reliance on Chinese water from the province of Guangdong and use Hong Kong local reserves instead, which have been overflowing in recent years but, due to government intervention, have been left highly unused. In the past years, for instance, reservoirs had an excess of 40.2 million cubic meters of water (2013), 23.1 million (2014), and 3.3 million (2015) but, according to Claudia Mo, “over the same period (2013-2015) the government spent 11,925 million in water from Dongjiang river”. As it was the case with land property, the government does not allow the development of a number of local industries by private firms and prefers to import –and spent money on– Chinese state-owned goods, rather than allowing Hongkongers to make use of reservoirs or to introduce Singapore-like techniques, such as desalinization, two rather cheaper measures that will also improve water quality and reduce government intervention and expending.

Source: Claudia Mo.
Hong Kong’s water reservoir overflowing between 2009 and 2015 (Source: Claudia Mo).

 

Or in other words: Hongkongers’ taxes are being sent to China, both through new development plans and monopolization of water and other services.

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