This weekend’s horrors…

The authorities freeze the personal assets of Jimmy Lai – who has not been found guilty of anything. – with no recognizable due process or anything. At some point, local officials will surely get tired of insisting that Hong Kong remains an appealing international business hub, and admit that the old rhetoric no longer applies. (See Paul Chan juggling the ‘leading international business centre’ blather along with the ‘Western countries containing China’ stuff here.)

And the government will deregister trade unions that somehow fail to comply with the NatSec Law (ie, are pro-dem). It will be interesting to see if any moderate/agnostic unions that exist are invited to kowtow in order to continue operating. Ultimately a Leninist regime must control everything, and unions are no exception. NGOs, charities, youth groups and churches – anything that is organized – will follow. 

Some worthwhile reading…

In HKFP, Yuen Chan quotes Ching Cheong on how the CCP ambushes enemies and floats trial balloons using Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao

“In the past, people wouldn’t give them a second thought. They have very few readers and what they say is totally out of step with Hong Kong values,” says Ching. “But now the CCP’s influence is everywhere and inescapable. It has comprehensive governance and … you have to listen to what its mouthpiece in Hong Kong is saying.”

There is already an established pattern in which WWP/TKP call for action against something or someone (eg the Bar Association) and officials dutifully start giving off negative vibes at the target.

From Transit Jam, a tale of a HK government multi-year, multi-million, multi-fruitlessness pedestrian signage project.

Al Jazeera on the Western ‘anti-imperialist’ lefties (aka tankies) who back Beijing on genocide in Xinjiang…

…we now have a group of Western “anti-imperialists” siding with China simply because they feel whatever the US says is suspect, and therefore what China claims is not.

An academic explains why the Mainland’s housing bubble threatens the financial system and undermines household purchasing power, entrepreneurism and willingness to have children. 

This is happening in many societies – not least Hong Kong. But it seems uniquely dangerous in China, where the middle class have few non-property investment options and have only ever seen home prices go up. Michael Pettis reckons so much debt is backed by overvalued real-estate collateral, and so much middle-class wealth tied up in it, that Beijing can’t/won’t dare bring prices down. But with younger people and migrants priced out of the market (affordability ratios in Shenzhen are reportedly around 40, compared with 20 in Hong Kong), the status quo risks social discontent. Brings to mind Tung Chee-hwa around 20 years ago saying ‘we want prices to come down but not too much’. 

And Best First Two Sentences of the Week Award goes to this Tim Hamlett piece, which starts…

There is something a little desperate about Hong Kong’s senior officials insisting that we still have an independent judiciary. It seems that other civic amenities have been written off.

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Good news: 58% aren’t planning to leave HK

Paul Tse – one of the sadder pro-Beijing lawmakers – opines that visiting unlicensed massage parlours is not as bad as jaywalking. One exploits trafficked women, but the other might leave messy blood stains all over someone’s nice Mercedes. 

Not exactly in the same league as NatSec-Gestapo-Massage-Gate, but assistants of pro-Beijing ‘politician’ Starry Lee are convicted of bribing a voter (with a HK$100 goody bag) to vote DAB. The big surprise here is that United Front grunts doing their usual thing were prosecuted, even put in custody, in the first place – as if they were common pan-dem activists.

Like DJ Giggs, who is hit with more charges on top of sedition and secession-related ones. Reading not very far between the lines, it looks pretty clear that his only crime ultimately is having and expressing the wrong opinions.

Which is why we see more and more items like this one, from The Hill – a frothy but serious warning to anyone doing business in Hong Kong. And an AmCham survey suggesting that at least some US business people in the city are nervous about the NatSec Regime. (While we’re at it, civil service resignations have also risen.) China’s official spokesperson Hua Chunying could act cool and shrug off the AmCham poll, but instead hits back, almost as if the survey strikes a raw nerve.

More from Ms Hua, tying herself in knots defending Beijing’s propaganda efforts.

Speaking of which, a summary of the IFJ report on how Beijing has used Wuhan-originated Covid-19 to boost its international image (needless to say, it hasn’t succeeded uniformly – but places like Serbia seem to lap it up).

A little selection of weekend reading…

Which stats do you believe – the ones they falsified earlier or the ones they rigged recently? Andrew Batson looks at how China’s latest census figures conflict with population reports in the Northeast rustbelt.

And from ZolimaCityMag, how Hong Kong influenced Eileen Chang.

For fans (or non-fans) of excessive plastic wrapping, here’s a lone. solitary can of soda water that came as a Free!!! Bonus Gift as part of an order from HKTV…

The worst thing is it’s hyper-tough – won’t even pop when you stand on it.

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NatSec cop supports Covid-hit hospitality industry

Number-two NatSec Police chief Frederic Choi is sent on leave pending an investigation for misconduct. It seems he was caught in a raid on an ‘unlicensed massage’ place. Now, several weeks later, it is leaked to the press. Tongues are of course wagging, and the public are enjoying the sight of puffed-up Police Commissioner Chris Tang on the defensive.

But what exactly has happened? Did a Senior Assistant Commissioner – surely an intelligent/happily married/well-paid/connected/informed man – actually resort to some illicit sleaze-pit for a ‘massage’? Or was his presence some sort of entrapment or even a fabricated frame-up?

The answer to the first question could well be ‘yes’ because it is not totally unknown for cops to be a bit dim or uncouth, especially if they are in a unit that is told it is above the law. So – was the vice raid on the premises while he was there a pure coincidence? That is too much to believe. The raid and/or the press leak must be the work of someone who wanted to smear him.

That could mean someone with a major grudge against him – possibly (if this were a TV show) a criminal he once brought to justice, though for the purposes of far more exciting Internet drama let’s stick to rogue elements or rivals among officials or cops.

However, there’s a problem with this theory. Framing, snitching on or just doxxing (loosely defined) a high-ranking Beijing-approved US-sanctioned award-winning NatSec functionary would be a risky step. Indeed, an embarrassing and sensitive high-profile leak like this is tantamount to undermining the state. Would any mere mortals – like fellow cops/officials – dare cross the CCP by indulging in such office-backstabbing shenanigans?

So we go back to another explanation, namely that the whole thing is a more basic stitch-up. And we all know who in Hong Kong has extensive expertise in arranging for people to be caught in tawdry circumstances. 

The CCP picked and authorized Choi in the first place, and could order a sideways promotion or any (and I mean any) way of disappearing him if they wished. But if he displeased the central authorities in some way, and the vindictive CCP paranoids saw a need to make an example of him, isn’t an illegal vice den scandal exactly what you would expect? Right down to the ‘if the locals look even more stupid, who cares?’ attitude.

Or, of course, there could be a dozen other explanations.

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‘…wait at home for us to arrest you’

Not just authoritarian so much as disturbing, Police Commissioner Chris Tang rants again about ‘fake news’…

“Whether a piece is considered fake news has to do with moral judgement and credibility issues, and has nothing to do with me. But if these fake news incite hatred and divide society, then people have a chance of committing crimes, including offences related to national security. Then I have to act,” Tang said…

“As long as you broke the law, we will find evidence to prove that you committed a crime. You can only wait at home for us to arrest you. But you don’t have to worry at all if you didn’t break the law,” he said.

Sounds like the Commissioner will use his moral judgement and credibility to decide whether a story ‘incites hatred and divides society’. The baiting of individual law or education professionals by Ta Kung Pao presumably won’t, but any Apple Daily report exposing incompetence or brutality by the disciplined services will – as would some recent Hong Kong coverage in The Guardian, Atlantic and other international media. 

Every day – every week, at least – we get that little bit closer to packing our bags.

Also coming soon: a new, very tough, law against doxxing. The naming of cops in online forums is another of the Police Commissioner’s big hang-ups. But this drastic leveraging of the Privacy Commissioner’s function – along with the partial obscuring of business and vehicle registration records – suggests that the pressure comes from higher up, and is aimed at ensuring the confidentiality of CCP elites and their families.

Despite all this, Ranting So-Called Freak-Out of the Week Award goes not to the HK Police chief but to Globular Times, for its extreme reaction to a little-known democracy conference in Copenhagen at which Taiwan President Tsai Ing Wen appeared.

A mid-week round-up of recent items on other fake news…

From the Hoover Institution, a guide to the CCP’s overseas propaganda…

Leveraging Western elites’ weakness and gullibility, plus the vulnerability of open societies, the CCP’s massive overseas propaganda campaigns can be delineated into four general categories: disinformation, elite capture, coerced self-censorship, and brainwashing.

One example: an analytical study of Beijing’s Twitter activities in the UK, with graphics showing things like the fake accounts that follow the PRC ambassador. (Summary in this AP report.)

And an Axios report on the expansion of Beijing’s influence work in the US, based on foreign-agent filings.

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Democratic Party upholds fine old traditions

An interview with the Democratic Party chair Lo Kin-hei, who wonders whether his group should continue taking part in elections – assuming the CCP’s ‘improved’ election system actually allows them on the ballot. He cites Taiwan and Czechoslovakia as examples where the opposition participated even in unfair systems, and believes the majority population ‘needs a voice’ in a rigged legislature. His main worry about taking part is not that the DP might lend legitimacy to a corrupt system, but that the public might think the DP was doing so, and thus lose trust in the party. This of course assumes they are still thinking much about it at all. 

You’d have thought that, having been arrested for the usual unauthorized assembly BS, he would have worked out what’s happening and be screaming ‘boycott’ from the rooftops. But he can’t resist the temptation of offering his party’s services to the NatSec Regime, should it feel a need for some useful idiots in the new massively enlarged, mostly unelected, LegCo. The DP’s long tradition of insular, self-indulgent navel-gazing lives on, even if nothing else does.

For some robust realism, try William Pesek at Nikkei Asia…

Xi had a once-in-lifetime opportunity to grow Beijing’s soft power at America’s expense. While then-President Trump waged trade wars, mean tweeted about Germany, shook down Japan for $8 billion in protection payments, palled around with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and hung up on Australian leaders, Xi had a chance to be the adult.

He blew it.

…Xi’s exploits are bewildering to those who thought he was anxious for international respect and acclaim. Instead, a bull market in missteps has set things up almost perfectly for the Biden era.

…[He] may just increase the odds Biden makes the globe soft on America again.

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Emergency packages needed at Penny’s Bay

With all the misery in Hong Kong right now, we need a sign that God exists and wishes us to be happy. For a brief moment we had it: a gwailo pilot in quarantine publicly freaking out on Twitter because he had pasta, cabbage and spicy chicken for breakfast – when he apparently expected Marmite, instant spotted dick and deep-fried Mars Bars. Sadly, the potentially rivetting real-time anguish seems to have been deleted. I guess you had to be there. (There were some similar examples, like a family horrified at receiving/seeing for the first time congee. I know it’s cheap, but we need the amusement.)

Instead, some intriguing reading on the possible origins of Covid-19 from science writer Nicholas Wade. Pinch of salt: Wade is a journalist rather than a scientist, and authored a controversial book on race. But let’s say that if you are suspicious or skeptical about Beijing’s denials that the virus escaped from a lab, this won’t make you feel any better. (Retraction Watch meanwhile has a report about a leading Mainland scientist’s conflict of interests involving Covid-19 research.)

Just occurred to me, reading this, that the Hong Kong government managed to procure both the most effective and least effective vaccines. And clearly pushes the latter.

Kevin Carrico watches Carrie Lam’s ‘sudden and quite creepy occupation of RTHK airtime, which seems to have abruptly emerged out of nowhere’ so you don’t have to. Or perhaps, because no-one else is going to. It sounds even more dire than you expected – as well as Bunny Chan, there’s a guest from the Taoist Association, much talk of Jiangsu snacks with Henry Tang, and of course endless ‘interviews’ in which both sides of the conversation agree with each other about everything. 

For those of us manly enough to ignore sell-by dates – or donating to Penny’s Bay emergency food parcels – bargain of the week at Green Price is HK$5 for 600ml of Yanjing beer. A pretty acceptable-if-chilled light-but-not-quite-insipid slightly-dryish lager. Hey, it’s five bucks for more than an Imperial pint. A good way to get rid of surplus change.

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CCP wishes HK a pleasant weekend

The CCP’s NatSec Regime ends the week with a burst of hearts-and-minds initiatives to convince the people of Hong Kong of its loving generosity. 

Joshua Wong (already in prison) and three others get prison terms for sitting in a park with thousands of other people and lighting candles. The judge said that the situation could have turned violent (though it did not – some sharp comments here). More high-profile activists, many also already in jail, will be sentenced for participating in (or inciting others to do so, etc) the same June 4 vigil last year.

A large detachment of National Security police surrounded and cordoned off premises in Tsuen Wan, checking people’s IDs and questioning the owner. A bomb-making factory? No, a kids’ clothing shop that uses yellow umbrellas in its decor.

The chain can expect a surge of sympathetic customers in the next few days. While waiting in line, they may well be considering going to Victoria Park on June 4 for a stroll or a picnic.

There are also reports that the NatSec police have arrested several people for on-line thought-crimes of some sort. 

And one of RTHK’s top current-affairs producers quits after being told to stick to ‘human interest’ (ie infantilized) stories rather than anything serious. On a brighter note, RTHK does well at the Human Rights Press Awards – no doubt much to the distaste of the broadcaster’s Party Commissar, who will be desperately assuring his bosses that the station won’t win any journalism prizes again. 

Maybe historians of Hong Kong’s resistance will one day note that the revolution started in Pokfulam. Residents of a luxury apartment block revolt against the government’s ambush/lockdown/quarantine charade by refusing to leave. The expat boss of a trendy-sounding multinational says that being sent to a camp would affect his ‘day to day’.

David Webb adds

The madness of HK Govt policy: the larger the building you live in, the greater the chance at least 1 person who lives there gets variant COVID-19, forcing all of you into 21 days quarantine, but the smaller the chance that you actually had any contact with that person.

Hong Kong’s quarantine rules and travel bubble explained in two simple diagrams. 

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Court sends clear warning: think twice before not taking part in a riot

When the CCP was a toddler, did it pull legs off spiders for fun? A little glimpse of the Party’s irresistible charm and humanity comes with the news that Hong Kong’s prison officials have barred former Democratic Party chair Wu Chi-wai from attending his father’s funeral. 

The authorities cite ‘risks’. The 58-year-old former chair of the moderate and almost semi-establishment Democratic Party is in jail after being arrested and denied bail for taking part in a primary election.

Others are given four-year-plus prison sentences for not taking part in a riot. The judge (who ‘acknowledged there was no evidence they had any actual role in the riot’) is apparently keener on ‘joint enterprise’ than ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’. 

And one to watch: journalist Bao Choy will appeal her conviction for accessing public vehicle licensing records for the ‘wrong’ reasons. This could be risky if the prosecutors take the opportunity to get her sentence increased. No vindictiveness is too much trouble.

On related matters…

A Georgetown Law study of NatSec law/NatSec police arrests finds patterns – for example, none of the arrestees are actually threats to national security but are peaceful critics of the government. 

Hong Kong Watch’s latest list of those arrested for protesting. 

A new website Know Your Rights HK offers legal advice. (Background in news report here.) The site seems to assume that we have a rule-of-law system in which your rights exist in practice and independent courts will check politicized law enforcement and prosecutors.

A back-up of some RTHK content (will the newly ‘patriotic’ broadcaster try to use copyright to take these items down?)

Al Jazeera on Mainlanders who moved to Hong Kong for its freedoms and now see those freedoms slipping away.

I am delighted to round the week off with an announcement that, for the second year running, the Annual Best Annual Award Award goes to the John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service. Last year, the Prize provoked prime Panda-petulance when it went to the people of Hong Kong. And this year – in a move that ‘could infuriate/likely displease’ China – it goes to President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan. 

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History next to be rectified

What do a broadcasting organization, patriotic (and desperate-to-seem-patriotic) uniformed youth groups, CY Leung’s wife, and a banner saying ‘cultural revolution launch’ have in common? The answer: RTHK’s flag-raising ceremony to celebrate the May 4th anniversary. 

The scene looks to have been contrived to the point of surrealism – so absurd you could almost suspect the idea was a clunky and amateurish attempt by locals to demonstrate ultra-loyalism rather than something imposed by Beijing officials. (Did any other government departments mark the occasion?) 

The May 4th Movement arose from student/intellectual protests against weak and inept government, exemplified by Chinese diplomats’ failure in 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference to resist the Versailles Treaty’s transfer of the German concession in Shandong to the Japanese. The movement’s leaders argued for the Chinese people to modernize and embrace ‘Mr Science’ and ‘Mr Democracy’. But today, the CCP accentuates the anti-imperialist angle – a typical little example of the Party airbrushing history.

Which brings us rather neatly to ‘Red’ ‘fair and objective’ RTHK’s deletion of large amounts of programming posted online. This is the equivalent of a venerable newspaper burning its collection of back-issues. One of many reasons the CCP and its underlings want to erase the historical record is to wipe out evidence of collusion between the authorities and gangsters at Yuen Long on July 21 2019. The next step will no doubt be to accuse anyone recalling the truth of spreading ‘fake news’.

It will be interesting to see what the cops make of another awkward piece of history: they had good relations, back in the old days, with march organizers the Civil Human Rights Front, now on the CCP’s ‘to purge’ list. 

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Happy Press Freedom Day from RTHK’s new management

Hong Kong’s public-turned-CCP-service broadcaster celebrates World Press Freedom Day by firing a reporter who asked Carrie Lam to speak like a human and removing its on-line archives. (If everyone who wanted Carrie to speak like a human got fired, Hong Kong’s offices would be empty.) An illustrated thread on Nabela Qoser. A HKFP interview with journalist Bao Choy. 

Writing in Foreign Policy, PEN America’s CEO argues that the muzzling of the press will undermine the city’s economy. If that sounds melodramatic, it’s probably better to see the clampdown on the press, plus the politicization of police/prosecution services, plus the creeping meekness of the courts, plus ideological enforcement in education as all much the same thing – a transition from a pluralist to a Leninist system. Many businesses that once valued Hong Kong for the quality of its institutions will ask why they are paying such high rents to stay in what is now a sub-premium location.

Speaking of the bigger picture, is this piece naive or visionary? Some excellent observations of the emperor’s lack of clothes by a former diplomat arguing that regime-change in China is thinkable. Under the CCP, China is stuck in mid-reform because the party-state cannot countenance independent institutions necessary to a more productive and trust-based economy and society. At the same time, Beijing’s structural inability to understand open, pluralist societies has provoked a once-benign West into hostility – while the CCP convinces itself that the West’s own fear of China’s might is the reason for Western disillusionment and mistrust. 

…the U.S. and its allies must make regime change in China the highest goal of their strategy toward that country. 

If that article is too long, try this delightful Tweet from Philippine Secretary for Foreign Affairs Teddy Locsin…

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