Tycoons shift allegiance as Britain's power wanes

The trappings of power still surround the outgoing colonial administration but they are mere trappings. Understandably many people are asking: who will wield real power in the new order?

They are not inquiring about the status of Tung Chee-hwa, the Chief Executive, who will head the first post-colonial government, nor are they curious about his senior officials who, with just one exception, will be inherited from the old order. What they really want to know is who will be most influential from behind the scenes.

In the new Hong Kong the really influential people will be the big league businessmen. It is hardly a coincidence that Mr Tung himself is drawn from the ranks of the colony's leading tycoons and feels comfortable with those from a similar background. The Chinese leadership also feels relaxed in the company of these tycoons who pride themselves on pragmatism and are impatient with the niceties of democratic politics.

In recent years the tycoons have lost some ground to a new breed of elected politicians and professionals, but the big business bosses remained influential and acquired proxies drawn from this group of politicians. China, however, wanted to see the businessmen in the front ranks of the committees it established to prepare for the handover of power and so they were drawn back into the limelight.

Although it may not have been appreciated at the time the most important of the Chinese advisory committees was the first, set up in March 1992, after the constitution for the new Hong Kong had been drafted and China was getting down to the nuts and bolts of resuming sovereignty over the territory. The main qualification for appointment seemed to be wealth. Eighteen advisers in this committee were multi-millionaires, including Mr Tung who was then little known outside shipping circles. He was joined by the far better known Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong's richest man, who remains one of the most influential people in the colony.

Mr Tung may also be classified as a representative of "old" money, unlike Mr Li, and other appointees such as the film tycoon Sir Run Run Shaw and the construction billionaire Gordon Wu. Old money, which in Hong Kong can mean money passing from the first to the second generation, was represented in even greater numbers.

The old money group included the banker David Li, the young and ambitious Vincent Lo, who made a fortune from property development by building on another made by his father, and Edgar Cheng, chairman of the stock exchange.

David Li was also among the group of most prominent turncoats who switched overnight from being cheerleaders for the colonial regime to supporters of the new order. He was joined by the ambitious Nellie Fong, now a member of Mr Tung's cabinet. Maria Tam, a barrister, is another prominent member of this group. She was co-opted into the colonial government as something of a rebel, but quickly became one of its most loyal mouthpieces, helping to form a rather unsuccessful pro-Peking political party.

Aside from Ms Tam, there were three other prominent ship-jumpers who had served on the Governor's Executive Council or cabinet. One is Sir Sze-yuen Chung, who was once the council's senior non-government member, and was recently appointed as the senior member of Mr Tung's cabinet. Lo Tak-shing moved rather more quickly across the tracks to play a highly mischievous role in using his British background to warn the Chinese of all the dastardly tricks which he saw the British playing. The third is Rita Fan, who now presides over China's rival legislature.

More predictably, China bestowed membership on long- standing business supporters such as Henry Fok, who had helped China in breaking embargoes during the Korean war. Mr Fok is widely viewed as China's closest business ally, but there are others such as Tsui Tsin-tong, who has close connections with China's arms industry, and Tsang Hin-chi, the head of the Goldlion group, with extensive retail interests in China.

Alongside the businessmen, Peking rewarded long-time supporters of the Chinese government, including trade unionists and professionals such as the trade unionist Cheng Yiu-tong, the teacher Cheng Kai-nam and the veteran Xu Ximin, a magazine publisher who is sufficiently ancient and confident of his position not to fear making the occasional gesture to China's opponents.

An important inclusion in the group was Leung Chun-ying (another Tung cabinet member), then just 37-years-old, but clearly marked for a key role in the new order. As a student Mr Leung had been associated with anti-colonial activities but this did not prevent him from studying in Britain nor from building his early career as a surveyor by working for the British-owned property consultants Jones Lang Wootton. He left to form his own successful property conglomerate. Mr Leung is widely regarded as next in line to be Chief Executive after Mr Tung retires.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
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

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker