Hong Kong: Big capitalists declare their support for Beijing’s national security law

June 15, 2020 5:38 am

Europe’s biggest bank HSBC says law will “raise investor confidence” in Hong Kong

Adam N. Lee, Socialist Action (ISA in Hong Kong)

One after another Hong Kong’s big capitalists have lined up in support of Xi Jinping’s new national security law. Major overseas banks and business groups including British-owned banks HSBC and Standard Chartered have also declared their support for the law. This nauseating spectacle should not surprise anybody; it’s nothing new. Hong Kong’s billionaires and big multinationals have consistently opposed demands for more democratic rights. Now they are urging support for a law that represents the biggest attack on Hong Kong’s democratic rights for decades and the abolition of its limited autonomy.

The new law also threatens China’s own hopes of achieving democratic rights and emerging from authoritarian rule, something that can only be realised through mass struggle. Its aim is to crush Hong Kong’s mass democracy struggle. Xi’s dictatorship worries that the ‘political virus’ of mass struggle will spark a much bigger movement in mainland China.

The national security law is not about security, but politics and economics. The Chinese dictatorship (CCP) screams about “terrorism”, a term it uses to describe the mass protest movement. But the greatest danger to ordinary people in Hong Kong comes from the pumped up, heavily armed police units that are cracking down hard against all forms of protest.

Billionaires endorse Beijing’s law

The political and economic motives behind the law are shown by the solid support it has among Hong Kong’s tycoons and foreign capitalists. They are voting, signing petitions, buying full-page advertisements, and issuing statements to publicly register their support for extending the CCP’s dictatorial powers into Hong Kong.

The South China Morning Post writes that Hong Kong’s nine richest billionaires, with a combined wealth of 140 billion US dollars, have declared their support the new law. This includes Hong Kong’s richest man, Lee Shau Kee of Henderson Land, and second richest man, “Sir” Li Ka-shing of CK Hutchison. Along with the Kwok Brothers of Sun Hung Kai properties, and several other property tycoons, the CCP’s security law is supported by the owners of all Hong Kong’s big property conglomerates. For decades these billionaire parasites have bled Hong Kong people dry with their control over the housing market. But they enjoy political “untouchability” thanks to the authoritarian state and CCP benefaction.

Hong Kong: People see this as the “final battle”

Victor Li Tzar Kuoi, son of Li Ka-shing, is a delegate to the dictatorship’s “advisory” echo chamber, the CPPCC, which rubber-stamped the new law at its May meeting. Several big capitalists from Hong Kong are members of the CPPCC and NPC, where grovelling tributes to the dictatorship are traded for financial gain. This close relationship has been a feature of China’s rule over Hong Kong since even before the handover in 1997. The Hong Kong capitalists are integrated into the structures of the authoritarian state. This is the CCP’s way to make them toe the line according to its strategic and increasingly global priorities.

HSBC’s dirty role

Another businessman who participated in May’s CPPCC meeting is Peter Wong Tung-Shun, who is Asia-Pacific CEO of HSBC. HSBC is Europe’s biggest bank and sixth biggest in the world. A statement on HSBC’s WeChat account in support of the national security law included a picture of Wong signing a petition at a ‘blue ribbon’ (pro-Beijing) street station in Wan Chai. The statement was headlined “Hong Kong financial and commercial sectors back the implementation of the national security law”.

Wong is not only a CPPCC deputy, but also chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, which also supports the national security law. It is the biggest business chamber in Hong Kong with 4,000 companies represented. There can be no doubt that the capitalists’ support for new ultra-repressive measures in Hong Kong is overwhelming, reflecting naked class interests – putting defence of their profit-making system before lofty notions of ‘democracy’ or ‘human rights’. The main concern of the capitalists now is that whatever final version of the national security law is imposed by Beijing should contain certain protections and guarantees for the business community.

HSBC was targeted by Hong Kong’s failed former Chief Executive, “CY” Leung, who is now a vice chairman of the CPPCC. CY, who represents the most hawkish and nationalistic wing of the pro-CPP establishment, attacked the bank for being “silent” over the national security law.

CY merely serves as a mouthpiece for the dictatorship’s pressure campaign against HSBC, which has also featured in state-controlled media. Beijing is displeased with HSBC over its role in the Meng Wanzhou / Huawei extradition case in Canada, but is also using the bank’s heavy exposure to the Chinese market as a bargaining chip with Boris Johnson and the British government. The CCP fears Johnson is getting too close to the US position in the deepening US-China Cold War.

HSBC cooperated (a “betrayal” in Beijing’s eyes) with the US Justice Department’s investigation into Meng’s role in fraud and sanctions violations. Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has been held under house arrest in Vancouver since December 2018 and could be extradited to stand trial in the US.

But in Hong Kong HSBC is known more for what it has done in service to the Chinese regime. Last year HSBC enraged public opinion by closing down accounts, citing money-laundering regulations, which belong to Hong Kong pro-democracy groups. These accounts held millions of dollars raised to fund the anti-authoritarian protests.

In September last year, HSBC instigated the dismissal of bank worker and Socialist Action member Nathan Leung due to his union activism. This was part of a wave of pro-CCP ‘white terror’ by employers ranging from Cathay Pacific to the MTR. Solidarity protests by socialists and union activists were organised against HSBC in at least sixteen countries.

Capitalist hypocrisy

The Financial Times accused Standard Chartered, another corporate supporter of CCP repression, of “double standards” when its American CEO, Bill Winters, expressed sympathy with protests in the US after the brutal murder of George Floyd. Many sections of big business have paid lip service to the anti-racist protests as a result of the mass pressure. In the explosive conditions of global depression and mishandled pandemic they fear these and similar protests could grow into a bigger challenge to the capitalist system.

But in Hong Kong, where Standard Chartered is one of only three banks with the privileged right to issue banknotes, it issued a statement backing the national security law which sanctions police abuses as bad if not worse than those in the US (because China’s police state can operate largely in secret).

Hong Kong: Power grab by Xi Jinping to smash democratic rights

Most prominent voices in the Hong Kong democracy struggle are unfortunately completely blind to the role of capitalism in systematically sabotaging the struggle for democratic rights and perpetuating authoritarian rule.

An example of this is the criticism by Joshua Wong, spokesperson for Demosisto (a bourgeois democratic lobby group), of basketball superstar Lebron James over his deference to the Chinese regime’s line on Hong Kong. “All he cares about is money, not human rights. Hypocritical,” said Wong. We wouldn’t disagree with this. But isn’t it a bit convenient to single out an American athlete for criticism, when the major companies that actually control Hong Kong’s economy have gone much further in their support of the dictatorship? And what about Donald Trump and other right-wing US politicians, aren’t they even guiltier of hypocrisy over human rights?

The Hong Kong capitalists fear that Chinese state-backed capital (the CCP regime) and private capital will take over Hong Kong and muscle out the local capitalists. They also fear extreme repression will damage Hong Kong’s status as a global financial centre.  However, increasingly, the Hong Kong capitalists find they have no choice but to accede to this economic and political encroachment in return for other policies of the dictatorship in their favour. This is the logic of imperialism, in which the local capitalists yield to the regional superpower. The illusion, embraced by some liberals (pan-democrats) and nativists (Hong Kong bourgeois nationalists), that the local Hong Kong capitalist class will emerge as a force standing up to the Chinese dictatorship will go nowhere.

Anti-capitalism the only way forward

Rather than a footnote, or even worse a taboo topic, the dirty role of the capitalists and big companies should be the first point in every speech and statement on behalf of the mass struggle.

This should be linked to exposing the economic stranglehold of the tycoons, with near-total control over housing, infrastructure, retail, transport, tourism, telecom and the food and beverage sector. To democratise Hong Kong these parasitic capitalist groups – just 24 super-rich families – should have their business empires confiscated and placed under the democratic control of the population. This social and economic revolution should become a major objective of the anti-authoritarian mass movement – a ‘sixth’ demand – to fight for the working class majority, organised in their own mass party, to rule Hong Kong and spread this idea to mainland China.