On July 2 the Chinese edition of “Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong” by Alice Poon, a regular contributor and blogger for Asia Sentinel, was launched by Enrich Publishing and Hong Kong Economic Journal to considerable success. In 2007, the book was selected by Canadian Book Review Annual as “Editor’s Choice” under the “Scholarly” category. The Chinese edition, titled “地產霸權” is enjoying brisk sales and widespread positive reception. The fourth print run of the Chinese-language edition in little more than a month is being sold in most Hong Kong bookstores. We are pleased to present an excerpt from the English-language edition:

“Conglomerates under the control of the (the oligarchic families) have a stranglehold on some of Hong Kong’s economic arteries, namely property, utilities, public bus service and food retail. The rise to power of these economic lords owes a lot to a government that adopts a laissez-faire approach where it so suits the economic powerhouses and at the same time actively protects their interests.

In general, these groups have all been fattened on owning land – the single most valuable natural resource in Hong Kong. Their unrivalled prosperity is in part a byproduct of the 50 hectare-a-year land supply ceiling imposed on the Hong Kong British government by the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984, which caused property prices to skyrocket during the 1985-1997 period. This special factor apart, the groups have always had government on their side, whether under British or Chinese sovereignty, as government itself, being the sole supplier of land in Hong Kong, has a vested interest in the property sector through the receipt of revenue from land sales. This has led some academics to criticize the collusive relationship between government and the developers.

It would be fair to say that Chris Patten’s government did perceive trouble coming from a property bubble being formed in 1994. It also reacted by attempting to dampen the flaming hot market with counter-speculation measures. Unfortunately, it then became too embroiled in the constitutional squabble with the Chinese side of the Joint Liaison Group to have time or attention left for the property market. Those measures never had a chance of success as they were implemented with half-hearted care.

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