Yes, we have no imagination

The Hong Kong government – enfeebled, emasculated, eviscerated and more lobotomized than ever – draws on all its powers of creativity to Be Seen To Do Something.

In a dazzling display of originality, it draws on the same script used under three former chief executives and announces that the city (bursting at full capacity with shortages of labour and accommodation) faces imminent economic collapse. Going further into out-of-the-box lateral-thinking wackiness, it proposes a range of extremely tired one-off sweeteners including the immensely stale free-electricity-for-everyone, an extra month’s welfare payment for the poor, tax waivers, a rent-free month for public-housing tenants and subsidies for school students, plus even more stunningly inane little quasi-handouts for smaller businesses.

The SCMP, trying to be delicate about the crass and hackneyed freebies, reports that ‘different sectors found them underwhelming’.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan insists that the package has nothing to do with the massive protests that have rocked Hong Kong. Everyone else insists that it is totally a reaction to unrest – but will, just as totally, have zero impact at all in calming things. (Chan could have befuddled his critics by boldly agreeing that, yes – he had no intention whatever of using the sweeteners to calm things. But our senior officials are being sparer than usual with their wittiness these days.)

I declare the weekend open with a hopefully more-impressive package of sweeteners.

From HK Free Press: a review of front-line protesters’ materiel, and 360-degree video view of the demonstration at Tai Po.

An interesting selection of mayhem-porn from the authentically no-frills neighbourhood of Shamshuipo.

For graphic arts fans: Badiucao’s latest great cartoon (check mug and T-shirt offer), and a reminder that Hong Kong’s anti-government movement is so broad-based that we now have to like not only civil servants, but dog people – posters for protesting pets.

Willy Lam asks Will Xi Send the PLA In? In a nutshell: probably not. However, he has interesting thoughts on what happens further ahead, including the installation of an administration of local CCP loyalists under Liaison Office direction.

Time magazine does a good wrap-up of the whole situation in Hong Kong – just in case anyone hasn’t been following things up to now.

And SCMP Magazine does an in-depth article on – not handbags, not some fancy new restaurant, but… tear gas.

The China Media Project – which normally has the patience of a saint – finally gets rather exasperated with the bone-headedness of People’s Daily

This is a Party-state that claims to have benevolent global ambitions, to offer a “China Solution” to issues facing the world – and yet it cannot speak a human language. It cannot admit any subtlety on complex issues. 

Another China Heritage ‘Hong Kong Apostasy’ translation – thoughts on the protests by businesswoman Canny Leung.

And lest we get too wrapped up in the idea that Mainlanders’ views are shaped only by official propaganda, here’s some perspective.

For a complete break and a badly needed dose of pure relaxing sanity: this (don’t listen at work, or in front of kinds – in fact, best not listen to it at all, seriously. Not sure why I’m putting it here.)

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Looking ahead…

For years, members of Hong Kong’s establishment, if pressed on the subject of representative government, have wrung their hands and lamented the ‘lack of talent’ that so sadly makes democracy unrealistic here.

There are multitudes of Hong Kong people who could run the city better than the incompetent mediocrities we have known for the last 20 years. To take one at random, a certain Hephaes Chau pops up out of nowhere this morning on the SCMP letters page.

It is not that there is a lack of talent – but a lack of people with brains and integrity who will overtly kowtow to the Chinese Communist Party. (OK, that’s not so much a ‘lack’ as a logical impossibility.)

One of the many amusing ideas floating around right now is that once we get past all the street protests, Beijing will see the error of its ways and expand participation in Hong Kong’s political process beyond the small circle of dimwit shoe-shiners. In reality, Beijing has no doubt given up in despair at its own inept loyalists, and will run things directly. This is vividly clear from the cruel public torment of Carrie Lam. Some ‘elites’ who are sufficiently obsequious may be rewarded with figurehead roles, but in other respects from now on they will join the rest of us as outsiders.

Soon after the 1997 handover, then-Justice Secretary and devout CCP follower Elsie Leung used to refer to Hong Kong’s ‘new order’. The real new order is now coming into place.

There are so many things we can look forward to, but here are a few.

Chinese security already has lists of names, but surveillance will surely become much more comprehensive. It probably won’t just be at the border that they check phones.

Expect loyalty tests for civil servants, teachers and indeed for private-sector businesses. Cathay Pacific has fired a few staff for taking part in protests because Beijing officials (perhaps explicitly) demanded that the company do it, to instill fear not just among the airline’s employees – but among all companies in Hong Kong that think they can get away with being smug cosmopolitan liberal smart-asses that wouldn’t dream of telling staff what to think.

And then we’ve got that independent judiciary. They’ve just let Benny Tai out on bail. They will be getting the memo some time.

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And today’s Last Straw they’ve-gone-too-far-this-time is…

Every day – or every half-week at the very least – brings yet another bout of protest-police mayhem that is so unprecedentedly shocking that This Time it surely signifies the peak of Hong Kong’s unrest, and marks the turning point at which things will finally start to calm down, and we move on to the next stage that brings the 2019 Uprising to some sort of resolution. Yesterday’s was at the airport (again).

Another thread explaining Beijing’s seemingly nonsensical propaganda-driven strategy towards Hong Kong is particularly worth reading. Essentially, the Chinese leadership is preoccupied with managing Mainland public opinion, nipping any pro-Hong Kong sentiment in the bud with a full-on blast of nationalistic sentiment. They don’t care how it looks in Hong Kong or beyond (even if exacerbates the situation here).

This explains why Beijing is apparently feeding the unrest, for example by ruling out even basic simple concessions. It suggests that Xi and comrades, obsessed with protecting their own backsides, have painted themselves into a corner. It also implies that sending Mainland security forces over the border is, after all, a real possibility. Six weeks to achieve peace and harmony for October 1.

If you’re expecting something called the ‘Hong Kong government’ to take some sort of action to sort things out, you haven’t seen the video of Carrie Lam at yesterday’s press conference being asked the simple yes-or-no question – do you have the authority to officially withdraw the extradition bill? Rather than utter the word ‘no’, she delivers the answer in the form of the most excruciatingly horrible and squirm-inducing evasiveness and silent, praying-for-a-quick-death, despair. It should be absolutely certain now: they do have her husband and kids tied up in a cellar.

A happier thought, courtesy of helpful commenters – if you would like a Silver Bauhinia Star, here’s how veteran Cantopop hero Leon Lai recently got his…

(They are scraping the bottom of the barrel these days with these medals – Leon is about the only name I recognize of all these awardees.)

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Did we find out who cancelled the flights and why?

The Hong Kong government is dormant right now. Its only active – not to say frenzied – component is the police force, which seems to have been placed under Beijing’s control. Similarly, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office is now doing the press conferences.

Yesterday’s, following Sunday’s assorted protest mayhem, was the third in two weeks. The spokesmen turned the rhetoric up a notch to ‘signs of terrorism’. (This is switch position 6 on the official propaganda Freakometer.) State media released more footage of security forces trundling menacingly around Shenzhen.

At the same time, a huge crowd turned up at the airport to protest police brutality. Most of them left after a few hours.

Did the government really cancel all flights in an extreme and melodramatic attempt to portray the protesters as a public menace ruinous to the economy? And/or to trap the kids for mass-arrests?

Regular and peaceful sit-ins in the arrivals hall on previous days haven’t disrupted operations. A charitable view would be that the authorities panicked at the sheer numbers of yesterday’s turnout (largely filling both arrivals and departures) and had genuine safety-related grounds to shut down flights.

A more cynical view – bearing in mind that Beijing officials are calling the shots now – is that Mainland overseers saw an opportunity and ordered flight cancellations to create maximum inconvenience to the public and thus score a PR blow against the evil foreign-backed separatist forces. As we know from their involvement in humdrum local elections, Liaison Office meddlers take stage-management of events almost absurdly seriously.

The fact that we even ask the question is a mark of how crazy things are.

Which brings us to another illuminating thread on Beijing’s strategy. As this one points out more specifically, the Hong Kong rebellion of 2019 is not about an extradition bill or crap governance – it is a battle in which a Leninist-dictatorship elephant is trying to subdue a free-society mouse.

One remarkable feature of this struggle is the sheer ineptitude of China’s leadership in coming to terms with this tiny but obviously alien place.

The messaging is laughably bad. The usual excuse for this is that Beijing-speak is aimed at domestic audiences – but you have to wonder why, in that case, none of them can spare a few minutes to communicate directly to the local population.

The analysis (‘a few radicals backed by foreign forces’, ‘large silent patriotic majority’) is apparently self-deluding – though no-one knows for sure if they really believe it.

Beijing’s basic approach is: try what works on the Mainland; then, when that proves counter-productive and makes things worse, try even more of what works on the Mainland – and repeat, over and again. They cannot conceive of an easier way.

While kids display creativity and courage, Hong Kong’s own dismal, cronyistic ‘elites’ wallow in pathetic helplessness. After 1997, these tycoons and bureaucrats had power and status handed to them on a plate. They could have given a damn. But no, they just squeezed every drop from the city while strutting around as if they had some shred of merit or talent. The Chinese Communist Party is now (oh-so predictably) flicking them aside – hanging them out to dry or openly extorting squeals of loyalty from them. They are of little further use. To anyone. Whatever happens.

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CCP ups HK ‘hearts and minds’ in HK, again

Anyone thinking that this would be the weekend when Hong Kong starts to calm down was even more wrong than usual. It turns out that this was the weekend when Beijing took full control of the battle against protestors. To save time and space, here’s a list of yesterday’s injuries, police-gang collaboration, MTR station tear-gassings, etc from Nathan Law.

Beijing’s thinking is summed up in this thread from academic Sebastian Veg. The Hong Kong government will make no concessions. Instead, Beijing will employ physical force and United Front mobilization to wear down and defeat the protests.

The police (and allied gangsters, and probably agents provocateurs) will use greater levels of violence and large-scale arrests, to be followed by prosecutions aimed at imposing maximum punishment.

Companies that are insufficiently supportive of the regime will be pressured into openly siding with the government, as already seen with demands that Cathay Pacific exert ideological discipline on its staff, and hundreds of tycoons sign a contrived petition. The civil service (including RTHK), universities, professionals and other supposedly independent institutions will presumably come in for similar treatment.

Beijing will also order a campaign to (as Veg says) “…turn HK public opinion against the movement; isolate the ‘violent extremists’ from the ‘patriotic silent majority’, especially highlighting economic impact of protests…”

This is where Beijing’s (publicly stated) strategy falls apart. It assumes the opposition is a small group of extremists backed by foreign forces, and the bulk of the population are on the regime’s side.

The government could have split moderate public opinion from radicals on several occasions in the last two months by making symbolic concessions. Instead, they showed open contempt for public opinion or simply went silent while the police increased their use of violence and apparent coordination with thugs. This has directly affected residential neighborhoods and innocent bystanders, and – so far as we can tell – significantly alienated the mainstream of the community.

That leaves the Chinese Communist Party now attempting to ‘crush’ an opposition comprising much or most of the population. The local administration and cops have lost so much credibility that alarmist claims about damage to the economy – or even drastic ‘false flag’-type operations to frame protesters – will probably be counter-productive.

If this carries on, we will get fatalities and, in response, a real shut-the-city-down general strike with half the population on the streets.

The CCP apparently cannot be seen to give ground: it must win, and the opposition must lose. However, the word is that Beijing has ordered the local administration to draw up some (really really) serious reforms in areas like housing, welfare and even in transparency of policymaking. This sounds like too-little-too-late, and beside the point – not to say hard to imagine after 20 years of relentless official stupidity on these issues. But if presented sooner rather than later, with Carrie Lam and puppets acting in the role of repentants who have seen the light, it might cool things down a bit, until next time.

Either way, tighter CCP control over internal security and what we might broadly call ideological guidance for business, public sector and civil society look like a given – after this weekend.

In the spirit of trying desperately to be optimistic, here’s a cheery article about how Hong Kong has always bounced back.

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Money talks

I spoke to someone involved in managing Hong Kong family wealth – of the serious, fairly old, US$100 million-plus variety. The investment philosophy for the dynastic fortune concerned is apparently passive, boring and very long-term. Then, last Monday, they suddenly pushed the panic button, selling just about all their local stock portfolio and switching their HKD cash into US dollars.

I declare the weekend open with a bumper selection of recommended reading…

Erin Hale in the Independent checks out Hong Kong protestors’ guerilla-style tactics and the dismal (and apparently only) responses that the police have to offer …

One civil servant, who attended the rally and did not want to be named, said afterwards that he thought the police had become “drunk with power” as Lam’s administration had lost control of the force. He was also angry that police had been filmed in riot gear without identification, making disciplinary actions impossible.

“They just make arrests any time – even of people who did nothing but just shout at them,” he said.

The cops’ strategy (no doubt Liaison Office-ordered) has become ‘arrest and tear-gas everyone into obedience’. One of the SCMP’s bosses surprises readers with an interesting column asking where this leads: how can the courts and jails handle all these cases, and what happens when you have thousands of political prisoners?

In Newsweek, David Zweig of HKUST provides a concise how-we-got-here and what-might-be-next

Only if both Beijing and the Hong Kong government understand the young people’s determination, and stop the continuing march toward greater authoritarianism, can the current crisis in Hong Kong be resolved.

Understand the people and lay off the authoritarianism – so that’s a ‘No’, then.

The Jamestown Foundation has done a series (linked) of how the CCP has extended its influence in Japan and Singapore, and now it’s the turn of Hong Kong

For the CCP, Hong Kong represents an imminent existential threat: it is a part of China, but it is not under full PRC administration … CCP influence operations appear to be…far less successful with the current mainstream of Hong Kong society … Beijing’s strategy has obtained influence in Hong Kong, but not affection.

Antony Dapiran reviews Richard McGregor’s book Xi Jinping: The Backlash from a Hong Kong angle, including a quote that sums it all up so well it deserves extra special emphasis in loud glaring underline…

… for all the talk of extradition laws and universal suffrage, for all the hand-wringing about rocketing property prices and social inequality, there is a largely unspoken subtext to the recent protest movement — and perhaps to the entire history of protest in post-handover Hong Kong — and that is that the protests are really only about one thing: Beijing. As Gideon Rachman, writing in the Financial Times, put it succinctly, “The essential dilemma is that ordinary Hong Kongers have no desire to live in an authoritarian one-party state.”

Geremie Barmé translates Lee Yee’s column in Apple Daily on the rise of the ‘Revolution of Our Times’ idea, which is about…

…a fundamental change in the political direction of the city that is presently being imposed by the Beijing and Hong Kong Communist authorities.

There’s something about the tone of this – or maybe I’m imagining it: echoes of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. This page also has links to similar recent columns, classified under ‘Hong Kong Apostasy’.

For a really cheery read, Kerry Brown proposes that the CCP sees the decline and breakdown of Hong Kong as desirable – as it ‘proves’ the Mainland system of governance, uncontaminated by Western capitalist democratic nonsense, is superior.

From within this worldview, Hong Kong absolutely reaffirms the long-term impracticality of Western capitalism … it also proves that democracy and Chinese culture don’t go together.

In a strange way, the fact that Hong Kong seems so riven by problems will be taken by Beijing not as a criticism of anything it has done but as proof that the political and administrative legacy of British rule was always unsustainable. This is just a matter of fate, China’s leaders believe; all they have to do is to see that the old Hong Kong breaks down in a managed way.

This idea will come as a shock to the old-style 1990s-era optimists who blithely assure us it is in Beijing’s interests for Hong Kong to thrive. To anyone who recognizes the CCP’s agenda as the gradual absorption of Hong Kong into the Mainland, it will come as no surprise. To those of us who live here and feel the deterioration in basic quality of life (let alone the institutions), it’s obvious.

In a twist, the author adds that the opposite might be happening – that Hong Kong-style political awareness and dissent are bubbling under the surface in the Mainland.

An Atlantic article casts Carrie Lam as one of Moscow’s puppet rulers in Cold War Eastern Europe. This sets us up for the 1981 Poland solution, in which Beijing would…

Prompt the Hong Kong authorities to declare martial law, deploy their police forces with greater brutality, arrest the protest ringleaders, grant a new round of cosmetic concessions, and hunker down until the crisis passes.

Although, as Beijing knows, this produced Solidarity and ultimately the fall of Communism under Gorbachev. Another historical precedent the authors consider would involve the use of criminal gangs to eliminate opposition – the classic example being in China itself when the KMT employed ‘white terror’ against… the Communists. They see this as unlikely, too, despite the karmic logic.

On a badly needed brighter note – Little Adventures in HK looks at some of the amazing Hong Kong Protest Movement poster designs.

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Not that you really need a reason to ignore Carrie Lam…

Lost the link, but… Another day, another well-meaning column (I think from AFP) wondering why the Chinese leadership doesn’t do the obvious thing and toss a few concessions at Hong Kong.

It’s simple. All they have to do is officially withdraw the extradition bill (remember the extradition bill?), fire Carrie Lam (maybe someone would notice) and allow an independent inquiry (just a vague, not too independent, 18-month one). It would appease moderates, isolate the radicals and calm things down. Duh.

And yet, as Beijing officials made clear to the assembled shoe-shiners in Shenzhen yesterday, it’s not going to happen. We must double down and crush this color revolution, however much it just makes things worse in the long run, let alone invites continued unrest in coming weeks as the People’s Republic approaches its 70th anniversary.

A couple of familiar explanations come to mind. The CCP is infallible, so by definition if anything goes wrong it must be someone else’s fault. And China’s top-down bureaucratic structure feeds the top leadership feel-good info rather than accurate intelligence.

But perhaps Beijing has also painted itself into a corner. It has stoked up considerable, indeed virulent, hostility among Mainlanders towards Hong Kong’s opposition movement – even towards Hong Kong itself, as an ungrateful and disobedient long-lost orphan and self-styled half-breed that badly deserves a good thrashing.

It is on TV, the papers and even foreign university campuses – but especially on WeChat, Twitter with ‘Chinese characteristics’ (if such a horror is possible). Having whipped up anger among their own people at Hongkongers as crazed, foreign-influenced beasts who attack innocent bystanders, assault the police and repeatedly chuck the nation’s sacred flag into the sea, China’s leaders can’t take the relatively easy steps that would help diffuse the crisis.

The best they can hope for is that, as with Occupy, toughing it out will eventually exhaust protestors and public opinion, and everything will go back to some sort of new, post-Teargas Apocalypse warm-and-cuddly normal.

But even if that works, Beijing still has to pander to the WeChat-hyped nationalistic domestic audience it has created when it comes to the US trade conflict, Huawei, Taiwan and a dozen other thorny problems.

A little reminder to ignore Carrie Lam and look beyond Yuen Long – this is all about one man, who is not a god, leading his country into a major mess.

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Beijing bursting with new ideas on HK

So did we all enjoy yesterday’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office press briefing with ‘new’ content? In case you hadn’t guessed from the 800 rounds of tear gas the police managed to fire on Monday, Beijing’s policy on Hong Kong is to make no compromises, but simply rely on the cops to bludgeon and arrest the city into calm – and threaten worse if disobedience continues.

Mainland officials are summoning pro-government figures to Shenzhen later today, where they will state that everyone present adopt this bone-headed and unpopular position as a matter of loyalty. Tremble and obey. One of those moments when shoe-shiners must put their brushes down and contemplate the gleaming boot in their face.

Beijing’s poverty of ideas is partly by default – there’s not much else in the CCP’s toolkit. But it also suggests a genuine inability (or refusal) to read the situation. It holds that the bulk of the population are (or can easily be brought) onside, thus isolating a small number of nasty foreign-manipulated pro-independence radicals. It’s denying the reality here.

This is noteworthy because Beijing has good reasons to go for a pragmatic and low-risk approach. One increasingly pressing priority must be to pacify Hong Kong in time for the October 1 National Day – the 70th anniversary of the PRC. It should be unthinkable that we have disorder on the streets on that glorious celebratory occasion. It would be a shame, to put it mildly, if they have to hold the flag-raising ceremony indoors again.

When we look back at all this one day, one thing that will stand out is the key role played by rigid, unthinking and heavy-handed police tactics in consolidating Carrie Lam’s alienation and embitterment of public opinion. We will surely relish the irony – that the tactics prompted by Beijing undermined Beijing locally.

A couple of quick, topical videos you might have missed: a brilliantly cruel mashup of a Tourism Board ad with scenes of today’s real Hong Kong (Stay an extra day!); and a slow-motion mayhem-as-ballet set to Louis Armstrong (this owes something to Good Morning Vietnam).

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Hong Kong in shock as flag thrown into harbour again

Yesterday’s ‘general strike’ initially involved: lots of people late for work; a fair number of staff taking sick or other leave; some shop and business closures; reduced movements at the airport, including suspension of the Airport Express rail link; suspension of services on (at least parts of) seven other MTR rail lines (can you name seven MTR lines?); and peaceful gatherings in around half a dozen parks and other places, including Shatin’s New Town Plaza (site of the Odessa Steps-class iconic imagery of this revolution for our era).

That was the warm-up. By the afternoon, it moved on to: blocked roads and tunnels; around half a dozen highly mobile ‘like-water’ street assemblies and marches in Admiralty, TST and elsewhere, some entailing police tear-gas barrages; sieges of eight police stations (Tin Shui Wai, Tai Po, Sha Tin, Tsim Sha Tsui, Wong Tai Sin, Sham Shui Po, Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan) along with a marked increase in projectile-throwing and fire-setting; and, by evening, scattered ‘clearance’ mayhem leaving some neighbourhoods looking like the Gaza Strip or somewhere; attacks on protestors by pro-Beijing groups in several locations; multiple arrests, and amazingly not many serious injuries.

Let’s say (conservatively) that we could identify 20 events yesterday as separate outbreaks of disruptive ‘anarchy-chaos’. If just one of them had happened three months ago it would have been a major shock-horror news story on its own.

In the absence of any other sentient life-form performing a role that vaguely equates to ‘government’, the police have become a main target of the protests and broader public antipathy. Apparently relishing the chance to trash their once-decent reputation, the cops have, among other things, now fired 1,000 rounds of tear gas at what they consider cockroaches in the last two months. (More on CS here.)

In the midst of all this, rarely sighted Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her team of utterly depressing and worthless sidekicks appeared at a press conference to confirm to the community that, for all practical purposes, they are not here.

At some point, scoundrels pulled the Chinese flag down and dumped it in the harbour – again. Perhaps it is all jumbled up in my mind, but it seems that shortly after this outrage against sovereignty, the Chinese government announced another of its exciting press conferences on Hong Kong for this afternoon. Supposedly, they ‘may announce something new but their position is unchanged’.

Where does Hong Kong’s spiral end?

It should be pretty clear by now that Beijing has no idea what to do. Any and every option is unpalatable (as with other crises on Xi Jinping’s plate – like retaliating against the US tariff hikes with a symbolic RMB mini-devaluation).

A logical, objective view is that Beijing’s choice is between giving Hong Kong functioning engaged leadership to pull the city out of this mess or, as one analyst says, imposing a major clampdown on civil liberties. In practice, it is hard to see the Leninist paranoiacs trying to reconcile fears of color revolution and big economic doo-doo doing anything decisive. As a diversionary stunt, they might defenestrate a few local zombie-officials or drop hints of sending troops in. (Any chance of Taiwan-style no-more-tourists-for-you punishment? Please?)

Whatever they announce today, Beijing officials will reiterate it with extra finger-wagging at a pep-talk for local loyalists (NPC/CPPCC members) in Shenzhen on Wednesday. That suggests we can expect a classic CCP blend of dull but at the same time nasty.

The best we can hope for is a few quiet and restful nights for everyone before the weekend.

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General strike – nutrition/baby care reminder

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