Racism and sexism are rife in the US – among its elite

South China Morning Post  |  Nov 17, 2016

By Sin-ming Shaw

Sin-ming Shaw notes the hypocrisy of painting Donald Trump’s racist and sexist views as representative of the poor and uneducated in America, when its elite are likely to be worse offenders

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 10:13am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 8:07pm

Donald Trump is a consequence, not a cause, of the country’s deeply embedded racial, social and political problems.
The Democratic Party has no one to blame but itself for its electoral disaster. The media in the US has been shameful in underreporting social grievances, focusing instead on titillating tidbits on Trump’s indiscretions as a sexist, racist or, worse, representing mostly the “rural poor” uneducated white population. The truth is, Trump is far more representative of America than the media and political elite wanted to admit.

Harvard has just suspended its soccer team and Columbia its wrestling team for exchanging sexually explicit comments on fellow female athletes. Those messages made Trump’s “locker room” banter seemed tame.

Columbia and Harvard are symbols of American cultural enlightenment and incubators of the country’s past, present and future ruling elites. These institutions are for the nation’s privileged, not the rural, poor white kids. Sexual assault is so prevalent at the major universities that a special help desk for victims is now a common feature on campus.

Racism, too, remains a widespread fact of life. I was once the chief international economist at one of the country’s most prestigious asset management companies. Nearly all associates had at least one, usually two degrees from a top university.
Once, after I gave a talk to an assembly of associates, a senior partner came over to congratulate me. He said, “You are a credit to your school”, when he found out which was my alma mater. I was in my 40s.
I was momentarily stunned and responded with a meek “thank you”. An Ivy League degree at that firm was a non-event, and brilliant presentations were routine. It was doubtful he would have said the same to an associate of his own race. He, like Trump, would be surprised to be called a racist.

The Democratic Party has been out of touch with the people for a long time. In 2010, only two years into Barack Obama’s first term, voter disenchantment had already set in. That year, the Democrats lost the majority in the House. In 2014, they lost their Senate majority.
Trump defeated all of the major, better financed, Republican candidates at the primaries. He prevailed against all odds to win the nomination. The media treated him as a fair game for ridicule.
The elite in both parties failed to listen to the supporters of both Trump and Bernie Sanders, who were riding on a widespread contempt for the country’s political and financial elite. The rest, as we know, is now history.
Sin-ming Shaw, a former professional investor, was a visiting fellow at Harvard and Oxford
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as:
Sexism, racism rife at the top

Beijing Versus the Billionaire

Project Syndicate  |  Oct 7, 2015

By Sin-ming Shaw

BANGKOK – China’s government and Hong Kong’s wealthiest man, the much-admired Li Ka-shing, have been waging an acidic spat – one that increasingly looks like a bitter divorce being played out in tabloid newspapers. Indeed, Chinese media have lately been directing a relentless stream of vitriol at Li. His “crime”? Buying low in Europe and selling high in China – that is, acting like an investor.

The trigger for this wave of scorn was Li’s sell-off of some of his prime Shanghai properties, after relocating his corporate registry from Hong Kong to the Cayman Islands. This is a completely mundane and rational business decision, aimed at minimizing tax obligations. Indeed, some 70% of all Hong Kong-listed companies have a Caribbean registry, and even a number of major mainland companies, including the Internet giant Alibaba, are registered in offshore tax havens.

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But, in the Chinese media’s puerile narrative, the move exposes Li as “ungrateful” and “unpatriotic.” He is “abandoning” China – which, it is claimed, enabled him to rise from extreme poverty to become one of the world’s wealthiest men – when the country needs him most.
This absurd account neglects the fact that Li was already one of the world’s wealthiest people before he ever invested in China. Perhaps more important, it fails to recognize that Li’s Chinese land holdings still amount to more than 20 million square meters (215 million square feet) – nearly a quarter of the size of Manhattan – and that the number of retail outlets he owns in China has increased by 70% in two years.
But the facts are irrelevant. This is a matter of politics. As China attempts to tighten its grip on Hong Kong, Li is showing independence, and China’s new rulers – who, true to their communist roots, believe firmly in top-down control – do not like it one bit.

The ongoing squabble represents a significant shift in Li’s relationship with China’s government. A former adviser to Deng Xiaoping and confidante of former President Jiang Zemin (whose political influence is now waning), Li was among the first to invest in China after the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. He long touted the motto, “I don’t do anything against China’s interest, and I don’t say anything that may hurt China’s reputation.”

That changed in 2012, when Leung Chun-ying was appointed as Hong Kong’s chief executive. China’s first choice for the position, Henry Tang, was forced to withdraw because of private indiscretions and a disgraceful bid to have his wife take the fall for a zoning violation.

Leung became China’s man in Hong Kong, responsible for doing the Chinese government’s bidding – including taking an uncompromising position against pro-democracy protests by students and intellectuals. Indeed, even as China’s agenda in Hong Kong has become increasingly tough – and thus unpopular locally – Leung has proved himself to be absolutely loyal to China’s rulers.

Li, however, stood by Tang. More problematic, he has occasionally dissented publicly from Leung’s various misguided policies. As any student of the People’s Republic knows, expressions of political disagreement, however mild, can be lethal. There is no “agree to disagree” in China; once the leader has spoken, there is only “obey.”

In Li’s case, the stakes are particularly high. Unlike most of Hong Kong’s tycoons, who are considered excessively focused on political expedience, Li is viewed as a person of strong conscience and thus worthy of considerable respect. He even enjoys the affectionate nickname “Superman.”

But now, China’s rulers, through Leung, are pushing potentially disastrous policies aimed, in Chinese Communist Party parlance, at “de-colonizing” Hong Kong. For example, officials recently declared that judicial independence and the separation of powers are “colonial” legacies that should be discarded, with China’s government and Hong Kong’s chief executive, not the local courts, calling all the shots. In this moment of transition, dissent from someone of Li’s standing could have precisely the kind of destabilizing impact that China’s leaders fear. So Li has to be “de-deified.”

China’s attacks have pushed Li, after almost three weeks of stony silence, to do something he had never done before: strike back. Not only did he point out that all of the accusations about his intentions to abandon China were false; he openly accused China of using tactics from the Cultural Revolution that left him “trembling with fear” and sent “shivers down the spine.”

Li concluded his statement with the message, delivered via three lines by two canonical Chinese poets from the ancient Tang and Song dynasties, that his home was where he felt safe. The subtext to any literate Chinese was clear: “China may be my ancestral country, but I am a free man, free to choose my home.”

Li, an avid reader of world history and literature, has apparently not taken to heart the lesson that so many Chinese have learned, through great personal tragedies, since 1949. The core values of China’s government are not informed by the humane civility of Tang or Song poets, but by the twisted dialectics of Marxism-Leninism and the amoral militaristic tradition of a party that still cherishes its often brutish and violent habits of governance.

As China’s leaders continue to push for more control over Hong Kong, spinal shivers are likely to become an increasingly common feature of life there.

China’s Hong Kong Follies

Project Syndicate  |  Oct 22, 2014

By Sin-ming Shaw

HONG KONG – The massive public demonstrations by students and young members of the middle-class that have roiled Hong Kong in recent weeks are ostensibly demands for democracy. But they actually reflect frustration among a population that has been poorly governed by a succession of leaders picked by China’s central government more for their loyalty than their competence.

In fact, the current near-uprising is the culmination of a long series of demonstrations since Hong Kong’s handover from the United Kingdom to China in 1997, after Chris Patten, the last British governor failed to persuade China to allow Hong Kong to establish a genuine democratic government.

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In China’s view, Patten’s position was hypocritical, even offensive, given that the British had ruled Hong Kong autocratically. China believed that it could easily manage the same kind of “executive-led” government that had served Hong Kong well for 150 years under the British.

In order to placate Hong Kong’s restive population – which included many refugees from China – a “one country, two systems” policy was embedded in the region’s constitution, promising Hong Kong “a high degree of autonomy,” except in foreign and defense affairs for 50 years. Indeed, Hong Kong enjoys many freedoms that the rest of China lacks, including a judiciary system that is guided by British common law and independent from the executive branch.

China has yet to follow through on its second promise: that Hong Kong would elect its chief executive by “universal suffrage” by 2017. Instead, a committee – initially comprising 800 members, but since expanded to 1,200 – selects the chief executive in accordance with the Chinese government’s wishes.
Hong Kong’s first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, was widely viewed as a wise choice. The Western-educated heir to a shipping fortune, and unusually well connected with the global elite, Tung was thought to be a conservative, thoughtful, cosmopolitan man imbued with liberal values and free of ties to the powerful families that dominated the real-estate industry in the territory.

This perception could not have been more wrong. Tung turned out to be shallow, radical in his views, more chauvinist than China’s top leaders, and prone to rash decision-making on important policies with wide-ranging social and economic consequences. He forced out his competent chief secretary, Anson Chan, a veteran Hong Kong civil servant, for her colonial background, thereby signaling his mistrust of the entire civil service that the British had created.

It did not take long for Hong Kongers to realize that their new leader harbored a deep – and deeply flawed – “patriotic” worldview that regarded Western “values” as unsuitable for Hong Kong, the first globalized Chinese city in modern history. But it was not until Tung tried to ram through draconian internal-security legislation that many of Hong Kong’s citizens began to feel that they were being overtaken by the repressive governance from which they were supposed to be exempt. Under Tung’s leadership, mass protests became a frequent sight in Hong Kong.

The Chinese government also belatedly recognized that Tung was a liability. In 2004, then-Chinese President Hu Jintao unceremoniously dressed down Tung on live television. Three months later, Tung resigned for “health reasons” and was elected Vice Chairman of the largely symbolic Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Tung’s successor, Donald Tsang, was chosen reluctantly. But he was a senior civil servant, and seemed to be the only technocrat who could credibly hold together Hong Kong’s disaffected civil service, which China knew was indispensable to governing the territory, regardless of its British heritage. But Tsang brought his own weaknesses to Hong Kong’s government – most notably, greed.

Tsang, who enjoyed spending time with the wealthy on their yachts and in their private suites, pursued a restrictive land policy that boosted real-estate values – and thus the wealth of the land-owning tycoons. Prices rose so high, however, that real estate became accessible only to the very well-off, such as the families of high officials from the mainland. This kind of corrupt behavior earned Tsang a disgraceful exit from government.

Next came Leung Chun-ying, the current governor. Leung – who was not China’s first choice for the position – inherited a mess. But he did not do himself any favors with his cabinet choices, many of whom had mediocre records that indicated corruptibility. One of them, Paul Chan Mo-po, was tasked with managing Hong Kong’s land-supply policy, despite a history of corruption in his personal property transactions. Worse, Leung pushed forward an unpopular plan to introduce “patriotic education” to Hong Kong, stoking fear among students of a China-dictated brainwashing.

After the failure of three consecutive Chinese-selected leaders to address Hong Kong’s concerns, it is no wonder that Hong Kong’s citizens are increasingly seeking to loosen China’s grip on their government. But, for the Chinese authorities, this movement reflects an unacceptable challenge to China’s sovereignty.
In this sense, Hong Kong is locked in a vicious circle – and it is up to China’s government to break it. The fact is that Hong Kong’s citizens understand that they need China, and they have no interest in subverting the central government – nor do they have the power to do so. Their demands for democracy are simply calls for good governance. They believe that free and fair elections represent their best chance of having a competent leader – someone like Patten, China’s former nemesis, who is remembered fondly in Hong Kong.

China’s government is doing itself a disservice by demanding that Hong Kong’s citizens bow before their sovereign, while blaming “outside hostile forces” for spurring some kind of unconstitutional rebellion. Instead, it should focus on the problems created by the chief executives that it chose for the wrong reasons, and it should resolve the underlying governance problems that the demonstrations reflect.

Thailand’s “Godfather IV”

Project Syndicate  |  Jan 18, 2014

By Sin-ming Shaw

BANGKOK – In today’s Bangkok – racked by power struggles and lawlessness – Mario Puzo would have found rich material for a sequel to his classic book The Godfather.

The protagonist of the modern-day crime drama would be Suthep Taugsuban – the deputy prime minister under Thailand’s former military-backed government – who has organized tens of thousands of people to “shut down” Bangkok. To this end, they have blocked major road junctions, occupied parts of the city’s commercial center, and raided government offices, forcing civil servants to work out of makeshift offices away from the mobs of demonstrators.

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Taugsuban’s ultimate goal is to depose Thailand’s “tyrant government,” led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who won a landslide electoral victory in 2011 against Taugsuban’s former boss and current compatriot, ex-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Already, Taugsuban and his followers have managed to compel Shinawatra to dissolve the parliament and relegate herself to a “caretaker” head of state, calling for new elections on February 2.

But Shinawatra’s attempt to defuse the situation by seeking a new mandate has actually raised tensions further, with Taugsuban and his supporters having rejected the elections, stating publicly that they would lose. The only acceptable solution, they contend, is for Shinawatra and other key ministers to resign.
Taugsuban denies that this amounts to a rejection of democracy. In his view, counting up citizens’ votes would not ensure a “correct” result; a better solution would be to replace the current government with 400 “uncorrupt, neutral” representatives, who would elect a new leader to be legitimized by royal appointment.
Reinforcing Taugsuban’s unwillingness to yield is the fact that the attorney general has issued an arrest warrant for him for “treasonous” acts during the current uprising. Moreover, both Taugsuban and Vejjajiva face murder indictments over a military crackdown on street protests in 2010.

Taugsuban has reportedly told the police and court to hold off on executing the warrant, because he has a revolution to run. The fact that they have heeded his request reflects Taugsuban’s seemingly unchecked power in the capital, where he enjoys the support of high-wage earners and large financial and industrial institutions.

Indeed, as the crowds grow larger, the police seem increasingly helpless. Likewise, while the military is officially neutral, it has made no effort to protect the government, effectively giving the protestors a free hand in reshaping Bangkok’s physical landscape. And the Election Commission – the official body responsible for supervising elections – is now calling for a postponement of the vote.

In short, the rule of law in Thailand increasingly resembles “Mafia” law, with a few powerful people bending the country to their will. Come to think of it, Bangkok’s twisted and surreal setting might have inspired Lewis Carroll, too.

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