- - Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hong Kong’s tycoons, typically the bedrock of China’s influence over the former British colony, have been notably silent in denouncing the pro-democracy protest movement.

And the boss inside the Communist Party’s Politburo has run out of patience for the silence of Hong Kong’s superwealthy.

Xinhua News Agency, the communist country’s official media outlet, last week published a harsh critique of Hong Kong business leaders’ reluctance to condemn the demonstrators.

Headlined “Hong Kong tycoons reluctant to take sides amid Occupy turmoil,” the denunciation appeared in English on the Xinhua website Oct. 25 and briefly disappeared, but soon resurfaced in other news outlets across the country.

“One week before the Occupy movement, Tung [Chee-hwa, Hong Kong’s first Beijing-chosen chief executive after the British handover in 1997] led a high-profile billionaires delegation representing Hong Kong’s industrial and business communities to Beijing and met with President Xi Jinping,” Xinhua said.

“At that meeting, President Xi asked the Hong Kong billionaires to be united and make concerted efforts to jointly create an even brighter future for Hong Kong led by the central government as well as the region’s chief executive and government.”

But the article admits to the painful reality: “Except [for] Tung none of the tycoons at President Xi’s meeting has expressed support to the police’s handling of the demonstrations and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s government.”

The article singled out Asia’s richest man for criticism: “Sitting next to Tung with President Xi was Li Ka-shing Asia’s wealthiest man did not make it clear whether or not he agrees with the appeals of the protesters.”

Xinhua singled out other tycoons with this stinging salvo: “Other Hong Kong tycoons, such as Lee Shau-kee, nicknamed ‘Hong Kong’s Warren Buffett’; Kuok Jock Nien, known for his sugar refineries in Asia; and Woo Kwong-ching, whose businesses range from Hong Kong’s cable TV to the Star Ferry, have all remained mute.”

It is highly unusual for Beijing to humiliate Hong Kong’s tycoons in such a public fashion.

While some of the named tycoons began to show signs of a willingness to urge protesting students to return home, none is meeting Beijing’s expectation of vehemence.

In fact, the press tactic backfired in remarkable fashion: One tycoon, James Tien, leader of the pro-Beijing Liberal Party, defied Beijing’s edict and instead demanded Mr. Leung’s resignation for his poor handling of the student demonstration.

On Wednesday, Beijing denounced Mr. Tien and stripped him of membership in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference [CPPCC], a symbol of status and imperial approval.

“Mr. Tien ignored advice and made remarks that were not in the interest of [Mr. Leung],” the state-run China Central TV reported. “His actions also violated relevant requirements of the CPPCC.”

The popularity of action movie icon Chow Yun-fat reached new heights after China blacklisted him and banned his movies after he expressed support for the protesters. State media have launched an attack campaign against Mr. Chow, which he shrugged off, saying “I will just make less then.”

China has invested heavily in Hong Kong’s tycoons and social elites, relying on them to deliver unconditional support of Beijing’s policies. For years, most tycoons served as Beijing’s puppies. Wealthy dissenters have been isolated and some boycotted by this group of billionaires. They have made a united front in sabotaging and attacking media tycoon Jimmy Lai for his unflinching opposition to Beijing’s policies and undemocratic acts. Mr. Lai’s newspaper Apple Daily faced an advertising boycott in an effort to cripple his business. During the demonstration movement, pro-Beijing thugs ransacked stores that sell Apple Daily and destroyed bales of the newspaper.

Yet now, Beijing wants these Hong Kong billionaires to draw a line in the sand, demanding unconditional compliance. For many of these moguls whose business empires rely heavily on Beijing’s imperial grace, revolution is a truly inconvenient thing.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @Yu_miles.

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