Mid-week reading…

(Devastatingly, I have some real work to do.)

An article in New Statesman examines the declining reputation of the HK Police, and asks why people still join the force. (Yes, it’s the pay.)

This applies throughout Hong Kong’s public sector: the more overpaid civil servants become relative to the rest of the workforce, the worse their actual/perceived performance. The regal lifestyle of Carrie Lam and her colleagues (luxury homes, chauffeur-driven limos, private schools for kids, priority treatment at hospitals) is completely disproportionate to their jobs as mayor and municipal officials of a city of 7 million.

To the top bureaucrats, the ultra-generous packages, tacky status symbols (Jockey Club membership, Gold Bauhinia Medals) and remoteness from real life are confirmation of their own superiority and genius. If you ask one who is at least half-consciously aware that they are absurdly overcompensated, they will say – with a totally straight face – that it is the only way ‘to attract talent’. Seriously.

From HK Free Press: an interesting look at how China’s propaganda machine treats the Hong Kong protests.

Geremie Barme on Hong Kong as ‘the other China’, with reference to RTHK’s satirical Headliner show.

And last but not least, one of the many pitiable pro-Beijing shoe-shiner quasi-politicians attempts to do some patriotic counter-espionage by outing Twitter star Hong Kong Hermit as a ‘foreigner’ in a ‘riot’ (and she doesn’t mean his shirt). Creeped out by the sinister hand-signals, Global Times is moved to run with the ‘green-eyed devils in our midst’ scare. If the Communists defeat Hong Kong, it’ll be because we’ve all died laughing.

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Maybe the government could ban itself from assembling…

Chief Executive Carrie Lam is considering ‘martial law’-type emergency regulations that would allow her to ban public gatherings – according to Apple Daily.

Reasons to believe something like this is possible… It would explain the HK Police kettling, shopping-mall rampaging and other tactics, which (if not due to incompetence) seem designed to create maximum high-visibility mayhem, of the sort that conveniently justifies tougher action. And this would be in line with a semi-stealthy assumption of power by Beijing’s Liaison Office, which no doubt sees the crushing and silencing of opposition as the only possible course.

Reasons to be skeptical… In practical terms, authorities would have to impose curfews or other restrictions onto at least neighbourhood-size areas, which would alienate whole communities of people wanting to go about their usual rushing around from 7-Eleven to the noodle shop to tutorials to basketball or dog-walking, mall-strolling or other lawful activities. (More to the point, it could stop people from getting to work horror!!!) It would also invite international attention and condemnation at a time when Beijing faces enough trade-war, Taiwan-election and other headaches. (Thought: did Beijing refuse to let Carrie resign because they feared she would sign up as Tsai Ing-wen’s campaign manager?)

Ultimately, it’s a question of whose taste for panic-stirring melodrama is greater – Apple Daily’s, or the Communist Party apparatchiks micro-managing the struggle against counter-revolutionary forces? On balance, I would guess Apple ‘paywall’ Daily. For now.

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Weird scenes inside the shopping mall

Hong Kong’s demonstrations spread to the suburbs, namely Shatin (and on Saturday, Sheung Shui, plus a downtown press march).

Students of urban geography and crowd control will see a pattern. The police tactics that fail to work in the sterile administrative zone of Admiralty, and are unsuccessful in the crowded retail district of Kowloon, do not translate well to the border-town/smuggling-hub environment, nor to the residential-mall Podium Land neighbourhood around New Town Plaza. Maybe they would be effective in country parks.

On Bastille Day, Hong Kong celebrates the storming of the shopping mall. The quintessential ‘Hong Kong in 2019’ moment, in which a banana republic’s Guardia Nacional blunders into a glitzy First World consumer paradise. Open this Pic of the Week from Apple Daily in full size. The more you look at it, the weirder it gets – right down to floral details apparently by Jeff Koons.

There is now a routine. A march, which proceeds peacefully, is followed by a standoff with the police, which turns violent. Since the protestors pose no threat to bystanders or to private property (give or take the odd Sheung Shui pharmacy shutter), it follows there would be no mayhem if the cops just let them occupy a few streets into the night. Would civilization grind to a halt?

Instead, the police priorities in practice require confronting the crowd. This seems to have gone beyond restoring road-traffic flow to something more personal (which goes both ways – yesterday’s peaceful march included a barrage of extreme insults about dogs and mothers aimed at the police lining the route). The increasingly friendless and bitter cops are also now rubbing up against shoppers and local residents.

It looks as if – since the tear-gas barrage that heralded the Umbrella/Occupy movement in 2014 – the police are under government pressure to confront and use force to appease Beijing’s officials, for whom the idea of impartial public service is an abhorrence and any political challenge must be crushed. Hard to see how this this cycle cannot get worse.

Which bring us to Chief Executive Carrie Lam, reportedly trying to resign but being compelled to ‘clean up the mess’ (FT story). Is this being leaked by Beijing to torment the miserable creature? Or by her and her colleagues in an attempt to gain sympathy? (She is Catholic, so a suicide attempt is out.) Given the stress on the fact that ‘no-one else wants the job’, is anything we don’t know really being leaked?

The assumption is that Beijing will not dismiss her right now, as it would be a loss of face and – more to the point – a dangerous concession to public opinion, inviting Color Revolution chaos.

There is a practical issue, as well. Under the Basic Law, the new CE has to be appointed via the fake-election system involving a rigged body of 1,200 voters. Such a farcical exercise is unthinkable in the current climate. Any other method of installing a new CE would amount to openly declaring direct rule over Hong Kong, which is also unthinkable. By ‘unthinkable’, we mean ‘could easily happen’.

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Let’s play ‘Connect with the community’!

The Hong Kong government’s finest minds (!) are currently working overtime exploring ways our top leadership can Connect With The Community. Unfortunately, they must operate under several constraints.

First, one of the problems about being totally cut off from public opinion is that you have no clue that you are totally cut off from public opinion. (I’m sure psychologists have a word for it. Dunning-Kruger effect?) Our senior officials must fix a problem they don’t realize they have. (They have been told they have it, and are taking pains to appear to agree – but of course they know it’s just hogwash really.)

Second, any alterations to local governance structure, process or personnel must be authorized by the Chinese government, which won’t allow any changes that in practice make administration more responsive to the population-rabble.

Third, our top officials cannot personally experience actual contact with the ‘Community’ – so talking to (eeew) people, taking public transport, sending kids to normal local schools, being on waiting lists for hospital procedures or living in a 500 sq ft apartment are soooooo out of the question I mean seriously what planet are you from?

Junior shoe-shiners already co-opted into the government’s Listening to Young Persons Committee Advisory Board Scheme are proposing a ‘Youth Parliament’. Less stomach-churning but more into voodoo-mysticism territory is an idea from another ambitious worthy for a ‘grand dialog’, like post-apartheid South Africa, to produce truth and reconciliation, of course. Be assured that the senior bureaucrats beavering away on this issue will not come up with plans this daring or realistic.

I declare the weekend open with a smattering of links…

A view from Taiwan of how the CCP has abandoned ‘One Country Two Systems’ and is gradually exercising direct control of Hong Kong.

If you can access the FT, one of the economists who encouraged and advised the Chinese Communist Party on reforms says he helped create a Frankenstein’s monster.

On the other hand, “…the China model of today no longer works, even in China. The long-term negative effect on the economy will likely be severe.”

An extract from (ex-FT) Richard McGregor’s Xi Jinping: The Backlash on how the CCP both supports and controls China’s private sector.

The brilliant Badiucao’s latest work. And where does protestor Grandma Wong get those British flags she waves at demonstrations? (Answer: under the counter.)

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Bad timing

As we all know from the official-unofficial leaked true-facts version of the story, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam pretty much planned, launched and directed the whole extradition fiasco single-handed. The most interesting thing about this account is that, of all the different permutations of who-did-what you could devise, this is the one that happens to maximize Carrie’s culpability while almost entirely removing Beijing’s officials from the picture. Funny, that!

Alternative narratives might put more stress on some other factors. For example: lifelong bureaucrat Carrie does not do ‘bold initiatives’; the Hong Kong government does not have authority over cross-border or Taiwan-related affairs; and it is the Chinese Communist Party, not its Hong Kong puppets, that wants a formal cross-border extradition system.

Not that Carrie is blameless. Her unbelievably awful personal style alienated a previously passive population of moderates and fence-sitters – notably her robotic and contemptuous reaction to the first huge demonstration on June 9.

Then there is the issue of timing. The introduction of the extradition bill coincided with unhelpful events, from the imprisonment of academic Benny Tai et al on trumped-up political charges to a worsening of the US-China trade war.

This bad timing continues. Hong Kong went through a transformation last month, yet idiocies set in motion long before June 2019 roll on as if nothing has happened.

While the government starts bleating about giving youth a voice, its Beijing-ordered drive to disqualify young opposition candidates from elections moves on to District Councils. Officials insisting they will listen to the community are still defending unpopular and absurd land-development privileges for village mafias. As the leadership stands frozen in indecision, civil servants in the Twilight Zone blithely release their annual gooey video about the fake public consultation on the Chief Executive’s upcoming ritual and vacuous Policy Address. Meanwhile, someone has unleashed packs of rabid xenophobic geriatrics onto the streets to rip Martin Luther King quotes off the walls.

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Some mid-week links for the gentry

An LA Times piece describes Hong Kong’s mood as a type of great awakening. With Lennon Walls proliferating, more marches planned, and the government apparently driven by an unseen overpowering force to provoke ever more hostility from the broad middle-ground of public opinion – and even the pro-Beijing mob at each other’s throats – something does feel different this time.

A thread on the trustworthiness of Carrie ‘Dead Bill’ Lam. Who is masterminding Carrie’s PR? It looks suspiciously like a subversive infiltrator from the opposition – after all, being totally sealed off from public opinion, she and her clueless colleagues would never notice. The word is that Beijing won’t let her ‘withdraw’ the bill. The logic is that this would lose face/encourage revolt (whereas a laughably desperate and pitiful clutching around for inadequate euphemisms won’t, you see).

Anti-Carrie graphics get crueler by the day: a clever mix of imagery from Badiucao, and one for movie fans by an unknown artist/wit.

Why Beijing can’t afford to alienate Hong Kong’s young activists. Yes – this is the Chinese Communist Party’s big opportunity to switch on the ‘hearts and minds’ charm!

And, amid so much rebellion, Larry Salibra tries opting out of face-scanning at Hong Kong International Airport. Most of us would be too shy/lazy/late to start an overseas trip with a principled argument with a half-brained security guard just before the passport check. He describes it as ‘mentally and emotionally difficult’, but apparently easier the second time.

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A government even more useless than it looks

From CCP loyalist Tsang Yok-sing to pro-Beijing business figures to Anson Chan and moderate pro-democrats, the events of the last month have come as such a shock that they are agreed on one thing: Hong Kong’s political structure is dysfunctional and we really really seriously need to restart the constitutional reform process.

They sound sincere. But they are overlooking the fact that, to Beijing, a system that does not receive input from the population is not flawed – it works as intended to fit the Hong Kong administration into the overall Leninist national political structure, in which the CCP core has a monopoly of power which flows downward only.

It follows that our fixation with the ‘Hong Kong government’ – structure or personalities – is a diversion. The ‘SARG’ looks like it’s in charge, but it is more of an ornament, and probably has no more influence in Beijing than the Hong Kong public does in Government House.

We focus on the sideshow that is Carrie Lam and her inept mediocrity-officialdom because they are visible, an easy target and apparently responsible. They are a convenient punch-bag not only for the local public, but for the real power in Hong Kong – the Liaison Office/HK and Macau Affairs Office/State Council, or ‘Beijing’.

The real conflict is between these two sides: Beijing (a chain of command no doubt riddled with duplicity and infighting) and the Hong Kong people (aware citizens and civil society, plus nervous international business interests and vaguely concerned overseas countries). The Hong Kong government is an inert object keeping the two apart.

But mercilessly torment it we must. Perhaps it is good for our sanity.

Unlike this… I am indebted to commenters for alerting me to one of the slightly odder corners of the pro-establishment shoe-shining universe. It looks like a worthy/condescending NGO of rich high-school kids helping their less advantaged counterparts. But it has plentiful links with Beijing-friendly tycoons, including some with a track record of charitable activities that look more like cynical, desperate attempts to keep the increasingly angry peasants at bay. And its young founder seems to be a longstanding, avid admirer of Chief Executive Carrie Lam. I have added the links, and will provide one to a sick-bag shortly.

Comment:

…the teenager whose [article] in the SCMP — which now seems to have vanished? — arguing that Carrie Lam has been really good for high school kids…

Response:

[Do you] mean article by Joseph Wan of Support International Foundation? It only takes a gander at the website to know where he is coming from. International schools co-opted into the pro-establishment network, and let’s face it who else can afford their fees?
Chair is [property developer’s son] Lau Ming Wai, Youth Commission. Funding probably from Bauhinia Foundation. Henderson, Chun Wo and Sino Land also on board and impeccable connections with SCMP/Alibaba ensuring media coverage.
Allan Zeman is an advisor, say no more.

For all its irrelevance, the ‘SARG’ is a Big Deal at the local-shoe-shining level.

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Carrie oozes charm on-line

Another weekend, another – not one, but 2.5 protests: an interesting anti-dama one and the Tsimshatsui Mainlander-leafletting march that morphed into another display of cops out of their depth. At best, it seems the HK Police see mass opposition to a garbage government as an ultra-urgent traffic problem. On their tactics, here’s a good analysis of the Retreat from Fortress Legco.

It’s unrealistic to expect the police to know how to handle all this when the government itself is so clueless. The big initiative is a bureaucrat-crafted on-line charm offensive. The answer to everything is communicating, especially with young people.

Non-official Executive Council member Aunty Reg is on a charm offensive of her own. Again, the core, or at least ostensible, I want to be Chief Executive!!! message in her Me me me for CE!!! op-ed column is that the Hong Kong government’s main problem is I could do much much better as leader!!! weak communication.

The ‘poor communication’ argument is attractive because it sounds vaguely touchy-feely, and it suggests that an easy, simple tweak will fix everything, like adjusting the amount of salt in a recipe.

It’s arguably less insulting than officials’ other explanations for discontent: Hong Kong people are too stupid to understand how wonderful the Mainland is; the kids are brainwashed/funded by evil foreign forces; it is a manifestation of sullen resentment against the Mainland’s new prosperity; it’s caused by the ‘liberal studies’ high-school course (which admittedly does wonders for the kids’ creativity); it’s simply down to housing prices and inequality.

But we have just had a month – four (?) mega-protests, several outbreaks of mayhem, the selective sacking of Legco and dozens of smaller gatherings – in which the public sent a clear message, the only way they can, to the government. There should be no need for more ‘communication’.

But it seems there is. Next Change, as they used to say in the cinemas: smuggler-clogged Sheung Shui, exotic Shatin and pro-Beijing TVB’s HQ in Tseung Kwan O.

Update: a tally of protests.

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Carrie reaches out to the kids

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam offers university students some Reach Out and Engage ‘listening to the young’ tender-love-and-care Sincere Dialogue. Did she do this because she thought it would make her look good if they said Yes? In which case she’s an idiot. Or did she do it because she thought it would make her look good if they said No? In which case, she’s also an idiot.

It seems Hong Kong still has some mileage as an international news story. The Washington Post opines

The militancy is a direct result of China’s gradual but inexorable tightening of the screws on Hong Kong … China’s leaders, who supervise the Hong Kong executive, have no one but themselves to blame for the opposition’s hardened attitude.

Maybe the spotlight now switches to Wuhan. (There will be a march in Kowloon this weekend leafletting Mainland tourists, explaining what’s happening here and urging solidarity with Wuhan. Not sure what the shoppers will make of it, but it’ll freak out Beijing officials. Maybe the uprising will spread over the border – and Beijing will ban outbound travel to Hong Kong. A ‘win-win’!)

I declare the weekend open with the slightly strange story – complete with the music – about how a French guy invented a fake Chinese punk band in the early 80s, among other things. Apparently, this makes you a ‘post-modernist trickster’.

I wonder if he was born into a household full of 1950s National Geographic, Scientific American, UFO magazines and Mad – plus a 10-volume 1920s children’s encyclopedia. The nuns at my convent school focused only on the three Rs plus Holy Roman mysticism, so these glossy publications formed my early worldview. I didn’t distinguish between them much: they all seemed equally dependable and illuminating sources of knowledge. But in retrospect, I owe most to Mad. So RIP, basically

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Message from a cabbie

Hong Kong’s English-language press tends to refer to prominent pro-Beijing figures as ‘heavyweights’. This is partly because these individuals’ United Front honorifics are laughable, not to say long-winded. You can’t squeeze ‘Member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress’ into a headline.

It also creates a corridors-of-power mystique. It’s not necessarily that the media want to puff them up out of deference, but reporters understandably don’t want to appear to be quoting a nobody. A ‘heavyweight’ sounds influential, even though in reality it’s just a blindly loyal, slogan-reciting, impotent shoe-shiner occupying an ornamental position while awaiting the CCP’s parting kick in the teeth.

Then you have pro-Beijing figures who are too pitiful to warrant the ‘heavyweight’ tag. Priscilla Leung attracts such labels as ‘outspoken’ or ‘firebrand’. She is so transparent and opportunistic in her attempts to ingratiate herself with her United Front masters that there is no point in hinting that she might have substance or authority. And you can’t fit ‘loathsome venomous psycho toad-sucking child-weasel misfit’ into a headline.

The pro-Beijing (but occasionally slapdash about it) Standard takes thinly disguised pleasure in reporting a cab driver telling Priscilla to take a hike

It adds that Hong Kong’s uprising is moving on to the book-burning phase. Music fans are breaking discs by Canto-pop stars who have used Hong Kong’s recent protests as a chance to flout their patriotic credentials and burnish their Mainland commercial prospects.

A commentator tells the paper that this time is different from Occupy. After the 2014 events, the government had some success in directing anger at the protesters for defiling rule of law, causing economic ruination, ending civilization, etc. This time, not so many people are buying attempts to mask a political crisis as a law-and-order problem. Maybe zealous police roundups of suspects and hyper-aggressive prosecutions could backfire.

The implication is that a chunk of previously passive middle-ground ‘silent majority’ now hate the government. CY Leung they could ignore, but Carrie Lam has proved too much to stomach. An administration with a clue would worry about this. Watch these zombies blithely press on.

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