Private Eye again: a confused letter about Hong Kong

Continuing to perform my public service of moving Private Eye content about Hong Kong online, a letter has been in response to Private Eye’s article about the MTR’s being the new Crossrail operator. It’s on page 17 of issue 1378, and it’s from one David Mather, on which more shortly.

First, though, the letter (with my unsolicited comments interspersed, naturally):

Sir,

About this “authoritarian clampdown” in Hong Kong. There isn’t one.

That would be news to the journalists attacked in the street or demoted or fired for doing their jobs properly, not to mention people arrested for writing on Facebook.

There is a fairly big protest which (so far, after three weeks) is being allowed to play itself out.

If “by playing itself out” you mean assaulted by triads and beaten by the police then you are right, if a little unorthodox in your choice of words.

Quite why the MTR chairman’s seat on HSBC’s board is relevant, I’m not sure. He’s there to be given regular wiggings by the bankers to whom his little enterprise owes substantial sums of money.

Private Eye didn’t say it was relevant. They merely pointed that Raymond Chi’en Kuo Fung chairs both MTR Corporation Ltd and is a non-executive director of HSBC, a British bank (since 1997!). Private Eye is a British magazine and HSBC is a British bank, so maybe they thought it would be of interest to their readers. That banks and government are barely independent these days only increases the interest.

As for including the chairman of a company who owes lots of money on your board, isn’t that a conflict of interest? Furthermore, I thought board members had certain duties beyond being given “wiggings”. The 2013 annual report of Hong Kong Banking Corporation Limited (the wholly-owned subsidiary of HSBC Holdings PLC, and the company of which Chi’en is an NED) states

Non-executive Directors are not HSBC employees and do not participate in the daily business management of the Bank; they bring an external perspective, constructively challenge and help develop proposals on strategy, scrutinize the performance of management in meeting agreed goals and objectives, and monitor the risk profile and reporting of performance of the Bank. The non-executive Directors bring experience from a number of industries and business sectors, including the leadership of large complex multinational enterprises. The Board has considered the independence of each of the non-executive Directors and determined that each non-executive Director is independent in character and judgement and that there are no relationships or circumstances likely to affect their judgement, with any relationships or circumstances that could appear to do so not considered to be material.

The Hong Kong Institute of Directors has a guide for Independent Non-Executive Directors that states

As an Independent Non-Executive Director your role is or will be to supervise management, participate in the direction of the company’s business and affairs and speak out firmly and objectively on these and other issues that may come before the board.

That sounds like rather more than getting wigged.

Back to the letter:

By the way, if Crossrail is half as good as the Hong Kong MTR, it will be the best rail offering in Britain.

I personally agree with this, but I’m not sure what the relevance to the article is, to borrow an argument.

David MATHER.
Via email.

So who is David Mather? Assuming he’s the same man as this chap, he’s an HSBC stalwart who’s been involved with the bank for decades. According to his LinkedIn profile, since March 2014 he has been a Masters Student in London, long before the protests started.

As a self-described “Asia specialist”, surely the misdirection and omissions in his letter are inadvertent?

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Private Eye notes weak UK response to Hong Kong’s protests could be related to new MTR operations there

The latest issue (1377) of the British satirical mostly-dead-tree-press newspaper/magazine Private Eye contains the following story on page 5. I present it for the record with added links to the indispensable webb-site.com, an online Who’s Who of Hong Kong, as well as other sources.

Eastern Promises

The Hong Kong democracy protests might not make it to Britain, but those suppressing them, for example with indiscriminate use of tear gas, have gained a foothold.

When the London Crossrail network opens in 2019 (if all goes to plan), it won’t be operated publicly or even by a British company but by MTR Corporation, the company that runs Hong Kong’s metro system. It is 75 percent owned by the special administrative region’s government and is chaired by Raymond Chi’en Kuo Fung [錢果豐; “Ch’ien” is the surname, and appropriately enough means “money”!], a director of British bank HSBC’s operation in the territory [and with many other positions besides, including director at UGL, the company who it was recently discovered secretly paid CY Leung to support its purchase of DTZ! He also received a CBE from the colonial British government in 1994. Is that who CY means by “foreign forces” interfering in Hong Kong?].

The £1.4bn deal signed with Transport for London in March, with which London mayor Boris Johnson pronounced himself “delighted”, brings the capital and the Hong Kong authorities closer and is unlikely to do much for the UK government’s spineless response to the authoritarian clampdown in its former colony. David Cameron has conspicuously failed to back the protesters’ demands for free elections and, with a main element of his capital’s transport system soon to depend on a regional government that doesn’t want to upset Beijing, he isn’t likely to either.