Asia Society faces shoe-shiner’s dilemma

Followers of AsiaSociety-gate will enjoy a Forbes article looking at the bigger picture behind the story of a venerable NGO’s Hong Kong branch banning Joshua Wong.

Asia Society HK head and major donor Ronnie Chan represents Hong Kong’s inherited-wealth oligarchy, co-opted by Beijing and eager to protect its privileged parasitical role in the economy, not least by resisting political reform. Western corporates with Mainland interests play along.

The net result here is that the Asia Society faces two choices, internationally or locally. Either it openly becomes a Beijing-friendly organization, eschewing politics and economics for ‘oracle bones and Ming vases’ (to quote author Joe Studwell). Or it retains its integrity and finds other sources of funding.

Assuming it sacrifices its supposed values, at least at the Hong Kong level, it reinforces the impression that Hong Kong’s ‘elites’ have little but contempt for the broader community, thus increasing the ‘sense of futility’ (ex-Hong Kong U Professor Michael Davis). But it keeps its nice government-granted clubhouse.

This leaves the Foreign Correspondents Club as a rare remaining haven for free speech. They also, of course, enjoy a nice government-granted clubhouse.

Lurking in the background is the Chinese Communist Party. Hong Kong tycoons kowtow and Western business leaders otherwise prostitute themselves for a pat on the head from the Panda. Their reward is initially access to investment opportunities, but in the longer run, it is simply not having your wealth sequestered or plundered. Until they come for it anyway. Ultimately, everyone gets kicked in the teeth. If you are lucky, like ultra-loyalist Belt-and-Road-cheerleader Tung Chee-hwa’s family, they pay you – or as the Standard story quaintly puts it

…due to increased pressure from the mainland government, the family agreed to sell after a reasonable price was proposed.

Yet again – he who lives by the shoe-shine, dies by the shoe-shine.

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