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China Plays ‘Fight the Landlord’ to Tame Hong Kong

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“Fight the Landlord” is considered one of the hottest card video games in China. The title comes from the 1950s, when the Chinese Communist Party confiscated property from landowners, usually violently, in the title of the plenty. As many as two million people had been killed.

China’s state-controlled media is taking part in a brand new recreation of “Fight the Landlord,” and its goal is considered one of the greatest landlords in the world: the 91-year-old Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing. Hong Kong’s summer time of protests stems primarily from sky-high housing costs, China’s media argues, and Mr. Li and different native actual property tycoons must be held accountable.

“In the current chaotic situation in Hong Kong, many young people are venting their dissatisfaction with high housing prices and expensive rents at the government,” wrote an official commentary by the celebration’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, which oversees China’s police and courts. “They’re probably blaming the wrong target.”

The return of “Fight the Landlord” lays naked the Communist Party’s shifting attitudes towards the enterprise world. Hong Kong’s property tycoons had been as soon as massive beneficiaries of an unstated pact between Beijing and enterprise: They might wheel and deal as they preferred, as long as they helped China obtain its financial desires and left the politics to the Communist Party.

Today, as the celebration tightens its grip over day by day Chinese life, enterprise has turn into one other software for management. Business leaders who aren’t sufficiently loyal can abruptly discover themselves in danger.

And in Hong Kong, the place firms function underneath a distinct set of legal guidelines however nonetheless rely on the mainland for his or her income, China’s state media is more and more keen to threaten or humiliate any enterprise chief who stands in the manner.

The celebration’s rising attain raises questions on the future of individuals like Mr. Li — and, by extension, of all of Hong Kong. Mr. Li was a consummate participant of the previous recreation, cultivating ties with Beijing’s strongest leaders at the same time as he grew his wealth. But underneath Xi Jinping, China’s high chief, the celebration has demanded absolute loyalty, eliminating a few of the grey areas the place enterprise in Hong Kong as soon as stood.

“One of the biggest characteristics of Mr. Xi’s ruling style is that he’s not interested in uniting different interest groups,” stated Leung Man-tao, a Hong Kong author and commentator who has massive followings in each the mainland and Hong Kong. “He can’t see the value of gray areas. He wants absolute loyalty.”

In the mainland, the celebration has taken a direct function in how a few of China’s greatest and most profitable firms do enterprise.

This previous summer time, Chinese officers met with the nation’s two strongest web tycoons, Jack Ma of Alibaba and Pony Ma of Tencent, to speak about deeper cooperation between state-owned enterprises and the tech giants. Just two years in the past, their firms plowed billions of {dollars} into backing one state-owned telecommunications company.

In September, officers in the Chinese metropolis of Hangzhou stated they’d appoint a authorities consultant to function a liaison in the high places of work of firms primarily based there, together with Alibaba. They stated the objective was to enhance coordination between authorities and enterprise.

Business individuals who don’t get on board threat turning into targets.

Wang Gongquan, a billionaire enterprise capitalist who advocated extra liberal political and social insurance policies, was detained in September 2013 and jailed for 5 months. Ren Zhiqiang, a property developer, discovered his social media accounts deleted when he used them to criticize the celebration’s tightening management over discourse and is not allowed to go away the nation.

Since the protests started, Beijing has taken a extra direct function in Hong Kong. State-controlled media has castigated Cathay Pacific and different employers whose workers joined the protests. Beijing has urged representatives from almost 100 of China’s greatest state-run firms to step up funding and assert extra management of firms in Hong Kong, in accordance to Reuters.

Now the authorities is taking over Hong Kong’s property builders, a gaggle that has lengthy sought to keep in Beijing’s good graces. Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing political celebration in September known as on the metropolis authorities to take back land from property developers to construct inexpensive housing. Some property firms have stated they’d flip over some plots, although Mr. Li has not made his plans public.

Beijing’s accusations towards Mr. Li and the different actual property tycoons aren’t groundless. The cozy relationship between the Hong Kong authorities and rich property builders has lengthy drawn criticism from consultants who say it worsens housing affordability.

But Beijing’s heavy-handed methods aren’t possible to resolve the drawback. Mainland cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen rank amongst the world’s most costly housing markets regardless of state management. Those efforts additionally aren’t possible to fulfill the demonstrators, who’re attempting to defend their particular person rights towards Beijing’s growing sway over the metropolis. Giving Beijing a much bigger function in Hong Kong’s financial system goes towards the objective.

For his half, Mr. Li by his basis has known as the accusations towards him “unwarranted,” and stated he hoped that every one events would search dialogue as an alternative of inciting conflicts. His consultant didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Chinese media has been much less particularly aggressive with Victor Li, considered one of Mr. Li’s sons, who now runs the day-to-day operations of the Li empire. Richard Li, one other son along with his personal property and telecommunications investments, took out adverts opposing Hong Kong independence after the Chinese on-line group accused considered one of his firms of supporting a pro-independence pop singer.

Mr. Li’s profession spans many years, and affords a glimpse at how the Communist Party’s view of enterprise has modified over the years. He arrived in Hong Kong as a poor refugee fleeing Japanese forces throughout World War II. From that modest background, Mr. Li made a fortune by actual property, ports, telecommunications and utilities, incomes the nickname “Superman” from admiring Hong Kongers.

Politically, Mr. Li’s instincts have lengthy been robust. China’s state media lauded Mr. Li as a “patriot” for his philanthropic work in the mainland.

He met continuously with previous Chinese leaders who had been keen to present they supported the rising class of Chinese enterprise leaders. Deng Xiaoping, China’s paramount chief in the 1980s, held two one-on-one meetings with Mr. Li. Deng’s successor, Jiang Zemin, stayed at Mr. Li’s Harbor Grand Kowloon resort throughout his three visits to the territory and had meals with him. Mr. Li has additionally met with Mr. Xi, when the future Chinese chief was a provincial official.

But Mr. Li lately has proven an impartial streak simply as the Communist Party started looking for larger management.

His firm began promoting off belongings in the mainland and Hong Kong in 2013 as the property market grew to become extra unsure. State media portrayed his retreat as insecurity in China’s financial system. Two years later, a Chinese assume tank managed by state media revealed an article headlined “Don’t Let Li Ka-shing Get Away With it” that argued that Mr. Li ought to shoulder extra social accountability by serving to the poor since he had made a lot cash in China by his political connections. Mr. Li then issued a three-page statement saying he wasn’t withdrawing from China.

Mr. Li has additionally demonstrated some political independence. He didn’t help the 2012 candidate that Beijing picked for Hong Kong’s high chief. During the 2014 Umbrella Movement, a Xinhua News Agency article criticized him for not being “clear whether or not he agreed with the appeals of the protesters.”

During the newest spherical of protests, state media has as soon as once more portrayed Mr. Li as ambivalent. It criticized the tone of newspaper adverts he purchased that known as for peace on Hong Kong’s streets.

Then in September, at a Buddhist occasion in Hong Kong, Mr. Li stated, “We hope the young people can take the big picture into consideration. For those at the helm, we hope they can give the masters of our future a way out.” A full-throated denunciation of the protesters it was not.

For others, the public stress on Mr. Li sends a chilling message, stated Chen Tianyong, an entrepreneur who had left China and settled down in Malta earlier this yr after turning into disillusioned with the manner Beijing managed the financial system.

“If they can turn against Li Ka-shing so easily,” Mr. Chen stated, “one can imagine what could happen to the rest of us.”


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