British expatriates in Hong Kong are often referred to by the well worn
and somewhat shabby acronym FILTH: Failed In London Tried Honkers.
Although it is unfair to tar all expatriate citizens of Britain with
this epitaph – there is undoubtedly a coterie of empire has-beens that
live in the East. They are well easy to spot. A rump that still lingers
on Britain’s imperial might, with somewhat patronising attitudes
to citizens of their former colonies. Somewhat surprisingly the ranks
are not limited to the elderly. Although numbers thin as they get
younger, some of the next generation have taken up the cause. Maybe they
come to East to indulge their fantasies, who knows.
The thing is in today’s environment Australian expatriates in the East
well outnumber the British. This tends to upset and threaten the
colonial coterie who see their influence diminish if by nothing else
than the sheer weight of numbers. It must be said Australians and South
Africans have a far better reputation for application and work than
their British colleagues. A fact borne out by statistics of
nationalities hired by multinationals to take up expatriate roles. It
must also be said we are cheaper than British workers.
The commentary on Australian business ethics by James Rose is the
handiwork of such a disaffected type methinks. No doubt he has eagerly
awaited for his opportunity to do a little bashing. However it is a
little breathtaking when one stacks up the roles that British companies
have played both in the current environment and historically. I will not
even bother on the hoary tales of British roles in the opium trade, or
even their dastardly role in creating the Iraq mess in the first
Maybe some more current topics… how about British arms sales
in Indonesia [and paying a $30 million kickback to the Soeharto
family]? Australia may have provided wheat to Iraq, but there were
more than a few British outfits working the other side of the oil-for-food scandal, a member of parliament no less.
Perhaps one could explore the ethical implications of the British administration blowing Hong Kong’s accumulated reserves on a
unnecessarily costly airport before the mainland takeover. More than the
odd British firm were the recipients of some largesse there.
I could go on. No doubt some would like the brash Australians taken down
a peg or two, but this is a sentiment more generally confined to the
Brits. It is probably more accurate to note that the citizens of Hong
Kong want all expatriates taken down a peg or two. Headlines in today’s
Jakarta Post note the Hong Kong administration want “overpaid
expatriates” banned from working in Hong Kong. Shock, horror, the
natives rise up.
I suspect a few precious types might get their feathers ruffled.
Finally I am no apologist for AWB’s behaviour, but sometimes it is the way
business is done. We can no more tell a sovereign nation what to do or
how to conduct their business affairs than they can us. Moral
equivalence is a slippery argument but it does have its place, something
the Americans, French, Dutch and British well know.