Hong Kong handover: Rising fears of slow invasion of corruption from across border

Imagine this scenario in post-1 July 1997 Hong Kong. A politically well-connected mainlander, perhaps one of the "red princelings" from a top official's family, is eyeing a lucrative business opportunity in Hong Kong.

On the mainland his political or party connections would make it a done deal, even if others were interested. In Hong Kong he has to be more subtle, but he gets the message across that if things do not go his way the company may face hitches in its expanding mainland businesses. Thus the level playing- field starts to tilt towards a new sovereign power. "In the past we were worried that Hong Kong's corrupt style would affect us - now the situation has been reversed," China's Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, said recently.

In the Sixties and early Seventies, Hong Kong's civil service was a hotbed of corruption. It took a big clean-up campaign, and the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in 1974 to purge the sleaze.

Surveys show fears of a slow advance of corruption across the border concern Hong Kong people more than China's abrupt disbandment of the elected Legislative Council. "They are willing to tolerate intolerable restrictions on freedoms ... but not corruption," said Michael DeGolyer, a political scientist at the Baptist University of Hong Kong. "We asked people which post-1997 aspects worried them most in July 1996, December 1996 and February 1997. It [corruption] was number one," he said.

Business surveys paint the same picture. A Jiji news agency poll showed 60 per cent of 183 Japanese firms in Hong Kong expected corruption to increase and feared Chinese firms would get preferential treatment over foreign companies. Even pro-Peking figures have been vocal. The former chief justice, Yang Ti-liang, who ran in the chief-executive selection, said: "As our exchanges with the mainland, particularly the southern part of China, increase, the trend will infiltrate Hong Kong. This is difficult to resist."

With Hong Kong accounting for 60 per cent of foreign investment in mainland China, its businessmen have great experience of how across-the-border contracts do not get signed, bureaucracy does not get cleared, and problems with the vast security apparatus are rarely averted without bribes.

Peking recognises corruption is endemic, but crackdowns are stymied by corrupt officials. There are many paths down which the problem can spread to Hong Kong. China's provincial cadres have their sights set on Hong Kong as a place to expand their business empires, and with Hong Kong again part of China they may assume that business ethics are equally flexible.

Senior mainland officials and their families could start behaving as if they are above the law in Hong Kong, just as they are in China. Hong Kongers with excellent Peking connections may assume they too now have some protection. And, if something shakes the confidence of Hong Kong, uncertainty about the future could persuade civil servants and police officers to be tempted by quick money. While Mr Qian pointed to "the building of socialist spiritual civilisation" as the answer to mainland corruption, Hong Kong would rather put its faith in the ICAC.It has been building links with Guangdong, across the border, which produced results in 1993, when a smuggling racket was broken and 17 stolen Hong Kong cars discovered in containers being driven into China; 24 people, including 10 Customs officers, were arrested.

It is still unproved, however, whether the ICAC would have the might and freedom to investigate a suspected well-connected mainlander working in Hong Kong. Peking can put enormous pressure on Tung Chee-hwa, the Chief Executive, if an ICAC investigation starts to look embarrassing for the sovereign power. And Hong Kong's media may find itself less inclined to report mainland-linked corruption cases. In Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, there was some effort to promote a cleaner image in the run-up to the handover. Under new regulations, Shenzhen cadres will have to declare their assets once a year, reporting all sources of income, business investments, ownership of property and cars and gifts they have received. The information will not, however, be published, as it is in Hong Kong.

Tung's vision

Hong Kong's new order got down to business yesterday, as Tung Chee-hwa, the new Chief Executive, held one of the biggest press conferences ever held in the territory, writes Stephen Vines.

He was reluctant to spell out his plans, but insisted the main priorities were housing and education. He also made it clear that although dissent would be tolerated, there would be limits. The conference followed an award ceremony, where Mr Tung handed out honours to those who had worked for reunification.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape