Reposting from CWI-affiliated Socialistworld.net
Dikang, Socialist Action (CWI supporters in Hong Kong)
Hong Kong dockers have been engaged in a determined struggle against a super-rich tycoon for more than five weeks now. (See “Hong Kong: Dockworkers strike lays bare class divisions“) This article, carried on Chinaworker web-site, gives the background to dock-owner Li Ka shing’s vast international business empire.
In Hong Kong it is the tycoons like Li Ka-shing that rule. The inspiring month-long port strike has illuminated this fact clearly, opening the eyes of more and more people. Six tycoon-owned conglomerates dominate Hong Kong’s economy, swallowing at least 23 cents in every dollar spent, including 90 percent of its supermarket sales and two-thirds of its private housing market according to the Wall Street Journal. These business empires stretch across all sectors – you cannot take a bus ride, shop in a mall, make a phone call, stay in a hotel, watch a movie, or light up your home, never mind buy an apartment, without making these tycoon families even wealthier. This is where the term ‘property hegemony’ comes from, given that these tycoon clans between them control the property market including commercial rent levels, which turns small businesses into slaves of the tycoons.
At the apex of this power structure is Li Ka-shing, the world’s eighth richest man, with a personal fortune valued at US$31 billion (HK$241 billion) according to Forbes magazine. He owns companies that make up 15 percent of the stock market (measured by the total value of shares). Last year, Li and Hong Kong’s other billionaires did very well. Li’s fortune rose by US$8 billion (HK$62 billion).
To put this into perspective, the increase in Li Ka-shing’s wealth over the past 12 months is almost enough money to finance Hong Kong’s education budget for a year (HK$63 billion) and almost equals what the Hong Kong government made from land sales last year (HK$69 billion). Other tycoons also did well, if not quite as well as Li. Henderson chief Lee Shau-kee increased his personal worth by HK$23 billion last year, to HK155 billion. Serious corruption charges and a family feud did not stop the Kwok brothers increasing their wealth by HK$31 billion last year (source: Forbes list).
For Hong Kong’s masses it is a different story. The wealth gap is now the most extreme in any developed economy. Poverty has become “endemic” in the city according to the Hong Kong Council for Social Services (HKCSS). For the first time there are over 300,000 elderly people living below the poverty line – the number is 305,000. According to economist Andy Xie, Hong Kong’s average wages have only risen 1.5 percent per year in the past decade, below the rate of inflation.
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