The People's Party of Hong Kong

The following item appeared in Reuters, and otherwise did not receive a lot of attention:

A group of pro-Beijing businessmen and professionals launched a new political party in Hong Kong on Thursday and pledged to field its leading members to run in elections to choose the city's leader in 2007.  The group, The People's Party, hopes to provide an alternative platform and recruit members from the territory's middle-class residents, many of whom support pro-democracy political groups.  There is currently only one large pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, but its members are mainly from the grassroots and working class.

"We are not a talking shop, we want to participate in politics, we want to get our members to run in the elections in 2007," the party spokesman Samuel Yang told a news conference.  Several of its members are leading pro-Beijing lawyers and professionals in the territory. At least one was a former Hong Kong member of China's parliament, or National People's Congress.

In a statement, the party said it supported the creation of an economic zone on the outskirts of Hong Kong with preferential tax, immigration and planning policies to attract investors from overseas and mainland China.

The Reuters presentation is very much interpretative and is at odds with the stated position of the People's Party.  The article by Michael Ng in The Standard is just as puzzling:

A group of pro-Beijing professionals and businesspeople formally launched The People's Party Thursday, saying it represents the interests of the middle-class.

Party secretary-general Lo Chung-hing said the new party was born out of a reaction against what he termed the "incompetence'' of the SAR government.

"Our main target is to maintain Hong Kong's high degree of self-autonomy, promoting stable economic and political development and to nurture a group of political talents for Hong Kong,'' said Lo, who is also the general manager of the Bank of China (Hong Kong)'s special assets management department. Other core members in the party include Peter Lok Kung-nam, the former director of civil aviation who retired in 1997, Priscilla Leung, associate dean of the School of Law at City University, and Shirley Cheung, chairman of local listed-company Sau San Tong Holdings.

Party spokesman Samuel Yang said they have already recruited 1,000 members over the past few months - the majority of them professionals in their 20s to 40s, but refused to provide further details on the composition of the party's membership. Another core party member and environmental protection activist, Laurie Wan, claimed a few incumbent lawmakers from functional constituencies, and members of the Democratic Party, DAB, and Taiwan's Kuomintang, have already joined, but refused to give further details.


Lo said the party agrees with Beijing that the next chief executive should serve two years, in effect the remainder of the departing leader's term and not a fresh five-year term.  Lo said this way offers the fastest route to the democratization of Hong Kong.

The confusing aspects in discussing the People's Party are perhaps due to the peculiar configuration of political issues in Hong Kong.  Here are four major dimensions: 

Ordinarily, one would have assumed that the dimensions would line people up into two camps: one side is pro-Beijing, pro-SAR government and pro-business and the other side is pro-democracy/self-autonomy, anti-SAR government and pro-workers/socially vulnerable minorities.  Unfortunately, the situation is much more complicated as many more sides are formed by different configurations of these dimensions.  Being pro-Beijing does not mean that one is pro-SAR government, which is the handpicked government for Beijing.  Strange, isn't it?  For example, the Democratic Party (DP) is pro-democracy/pro-self-autonomy, anti-SAR government, anti-business, pro-middle-class and pro-socially vulnerable minority groups; the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) is pro-Beijing, pro-SAR government, anti-business and pro-workers/grassroots; and the Liberal Party is pro-Beijing, pro-SAR government, pro-business and pro-middle-class.

Under these circumstances, it is an injustice to take the official statements from the People's Party spokespersons and then giving them a crass two-dimensional characterization (e.g. pro-Beijing middle-class people).  The opening sentence in The Standard could be taken to mean that they are pro-Beijing, pro-business and pro-middle-class.  Why is the PP 'pro-Beijing' and yet they want to 'maintain Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy'?  Strange days are here, it seems.  And Lo Chung-hing agrees with the Beijing suggestion of a two-year term for the next chief executive, but his reasoning is that 'this way offers the fastest route to the democratization of Hong Kong.'  Confusing, isn't it?

The best analysis of the People's Party that I have seen was written by Sai Kung district councilor Ho Man-Kit and appeared in the Chinese-language Sing Pao on March 18, 2005.  Below is my summary of his presentation, with some additional comments of my own (and this means that I may have distorted his meaning in the process).

We start with an analysis of who represents the middle-class and why.  The middle-class in Hong Kong is different from the middle-class that emerged in the western world after the industrial revolution.  For the United States, we have the image of a suburban family in which the father works an easy, high-paying job as a corporate manager, the mother stays home to tend to the home and the children, and their biggest concerns were the pursuit of leisure activities (i.e. movies, shopping malls, soccer games for the kids, golf for dad, aerobics for mom, Disneyland, etc).  In Hong Kong, those who made it into the middle-class have probably invested most of their time and energy into their careers.  They have higher incomes than the general population of Hong Kong, but their leisure time is definitely less.

Hong Kong middle-class people would therefore like to trade for leisure time.  If they can 'outsource' anything, they will try to do so.  They realize that people are political animals, and must therefore fight for their own political rights.  Unless you defend those rights, someone else will infringe on them.  But there is simply no unspent time in their lives to engage politically themselves.  Therefore, in the political arena, the middle-class people have been searching for others to represent themselves.

During the uncertain period before 1997, the Democratic Party appeared to be the obvious 'political representative' who would stand up to the central government.  As the Special Administrative Region became more predictable even as the economy faltered and government policies failed, the Democratic Party did not appear to have any inclination or power to make a difference for the middle-class.  They were more oppositionists than effective proponents on the bread-and-butter issues of the middle-class.  Thus, the middle-class began to shop for alternatives.  At a time when there are not too many political options on the market, the July 1st march was an exceptional instance in which the middle-class expressed their feelings.  The march was an emotional catharsis, but had no material impact beyond.  Soon afterwards, the Article 45 Concern Group entered into the political arena, and opened up a new market with respect to the rule of law.  But is that all there is?

At this time, the People's Party has come out to ask the middle-class to participate in the political process directly.  This is quite contrary to the premise behind the need for representation.  If middle-class people wanted to get involved politically, they would have done so already.  Within all the major political parties across the spectrum from left to centrist to right, there are many teachers, lawyers, engineers and other members of the middle-class stratum.  Thus, many of those who felt the need and had the time to become involved are already involved with other parties.  Other middle-class members are politically inactive so far but mostly because they don't have the time and they are only looking for a 'trustworthy' 'political representative.'  The People's Party may not be able to find many active participants.

An alternate view is that there are in fact many middle-class people who have the desire and actual time to become politically engaged, except that none of the existing political parties would accommodate them and implement their agenda (see my favorite story Triangulation Meets Apostasy about how minority issues often get triangulated out of existence within major political parties).  Perhaps, this is the raison d'Ítre for the People's Party.

How may the People's Party become the 'trustworthy representatives' of the middle-class?  Here are some qualifying criteria:

But this is probably what every other party has been saying already.  After all, who is going to propose wasting public money? or not solving social problems?  Historically, the political parties in Hong Kong have often pandered and flip-flopped in order to seek votes; or they tried to please everybody by talking out of all sides of their mouths; or they are not vigilant in their monitoring functions.  That is why they cannot be trusted.  The composition as well as stated objectives of the People's Party would not seem to indicate that they will be different.  Of course, it is far too early to tell whether the People's Party will become a force or not.

In business competition, it is common to develop new brands by analyzing the existing market (e.g. price, quality, etc), map out the positions occupied by the existing brands and look to fill out unoccupied space with new brands.  The soft drink market is a good example of a cluttered market, in which the big players have many brands (e.g. Coke Classic, Diet Coke, Cherry Diet Coke, Sprite, etc).  The political market should be no different.  In marketing, an unoccupied space does not mean that any entrant is guaranteed to succeed.  The rest is hard work to stay on message relentlessly.  And it is more than advertising, because you must deliver the goods!