HK to feel the Drooling Panda Wrath of Xi

This week’s Out of the Mouths of Babes and Innocents Award goes to Hong Kong’s deputy leader Matthew Cheung, who blurts out that he has no idea why people in Hong Kong are so angry at the government. This contradicts two official lines: that we know what’s going on; and that the majority of the population back us. It is reassuring to see that the man is human.

Top officials gathered last night for some sort of emergency meeting. Apple Daily reckons that, under pressure from Beijing, they were considering: ramping up police use of force; neighbourhood curfews; and cancelling the District Council elections (just as they sent me my voting card yesterday). This is depressingly dimwitted enough to sound credible.

Writing in HK Free Press, UK activist Benedict Rogers laments the inanity of trying to solve Hong Kong’s crisis of government and police legitimacy through more tear gas and arrests. However, he lays the blame squarely at Chief Executive Carrie Lam. While the woman is undoubtedly incompetent beyond belief, this is a bit like blaming a toddler for having soiled pants. The buck stops in Beijing, where (as CCP spokesmen constantly remind us) ultimate authority lies.

What is flabbergasting is why not one of Carrie, Matthew and all the other sad mediocrities…

…will tell Beijing that this problem cannot be solved by force and that they will resign rather than cooperate with this stupidity that is killing their home town. Not one.

Bill Bishop in his Sinocism newsletter today says…

There however seems to be no obvious pathway to the restoration of anything resembling order in the city. It appears Xi Jinping has decided to allow chaos to increase, believing that the growing contradictions inside Hong Kong society will ultimately lead to so much anger from most of the Hong Kong populace towards the “radical” protestors that the protests will eventually end…

The growing chaos and economic pain in Hong Kong does have real propaganda value for the Communist Party. The CCP has railed for years against foreign interference and color revolutions, and now the propagandists can easily argue that one has arrived in PRC territory, and as in other countries it has brought chaos, violence and economic pain, and that the stability that the CCP brings demonstrates the superiority of the PRC system.

Beijing and its propagandists are indeed increasingly portraying the situation as a cataclysmic struggle with foreign-backed terrorism. To add to the ambience, Chinese authorities have arranged ‘evacuation’ of Mainland students and are encouraging social media stories like the one saying Hong Kong police shot protesters to protect (non-existent) buses of cute Mainland schoolkids from attack.

China analysts know that when the CCP focuses on its domestic audience it often alienates the overseas one. Maybe Hong Kong is to be the ultimate example.

Local officials are still trying to maintain some sort of ‘business as usual’ façade. Only with reluctance did the government declare schools closed today. Xi’s ‘Extra Tough’ directive implies far more disruption to life and business. Curfews and additional police-rampaging must mean a further collapse in tourism, cancellations of conferences and events, closures of retail businesses and some suspensions of bank and market operations. It will mean departures of expat executives, and perhaps such phenomena as bank runs, panic-buying, even looting. Not to mention increased resistance from the population at large.

Are the CCP prepared to destroy Asia’s World City in order to save it? Don’t they fear a pyrrhic victory (see Minxin Pei)? Will influential interests with Hong Kong exposure – CCP elites, local tycoons, overseas investors – challenge the Emperor? Or will our establishment do nothing and accept their fate, as promised by students, that ‘if we burn, you burn’?

It’s hard to believe that no-one is going to do anything as Beijing tries bludgeoning its most developed and international city into submissive ruins. He says, hopefully.

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HK Police perform ‘Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy’

HK Chinese University looks more like Hamburger Hill as the police are apparently consumed by some sort of obsessive-compulsive need to assert their authority over the campus at any cost (and last time I checked, still hadn’t).

Open any history book about a modern-era popular movement against the authorities in the Greater English-speaking world, and somewhere around page 200 or so, you will find the part where (to use the authors’ invariable phrase) the government starts ‘enrolling special constables’. And here we are. These books usually last about 300 pages.

While many idealistic types are disappointed that Western governments are not doing more, the last few days’ events in Hong Kong have attracted renewed overseas interest. From the Financial Times

Examples of police double standards when it comes to dealing with pro- and anti-government protesters are too numerous to count. Members of criminal triad groups who attack anti-government protesters have been dealt with incredibly leniently, while anyone who looks like they might be a demonstrator is at risk of being beaten unconscious.

The Independent

Anyone wanting to experience the sudden imposition of a police state and white terror, try a short break in Hong Kong.  

And, beyond mere commentary, a damning Korean television report (follow the links) featuring someone claiming to be a Hong Kong cop. (Among the claims: that senior police management let triads overrun Yuen Long MTR on July 21 in order to convince the Hong Kong public how much they need the police. So deranged, it must be true.)

The HK Police have become the story. Every pepper-spraying of a pregnant woman, every clubbing of a motionless arrestee lying on the pavement, every handcuffed schoolgirl further isolates and diminishes whatever passes for a Hong Kong government.

A small sign of establishment nervousness comes as 125 more-or-less prominent public figures sign a statement calling for the November 24 District Council elections to go ahead. (One, John Tsang, goes further and calls for an inquiry into the police.) They include moderate pan-democrats, but also former government officials, academics and business types (like landlord Allan Zeman) who at least straddle the bureaucrat-tycoon/shoe-shining/Beijing-friendly fraternity.

District Councils have no power, but the elections will represent a glorified public opinion poll (in which the pro-Beijing camp will probably do badly). Postponing them would be inflammatory. But the issue is conveniently bland and uncontroversial enough for anxious pro-establishment people to use as a signal – not least to Beijing – that they want to distance themselves from this wreck of an administration being dragged down by an out-of-control police force. Whether this is out of conscience or self-preservation I couldn’t possibly comment.

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Carrie Lam shock announcement: ‘I have nothing to announce’

It was 100% predictable that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam would have nothing new or constructive to say at her press conference after yesterday’s Mayhem Monday.

If we want to examine her words carefully, we might detect an extra brittleness-cum-desperation in her tone following her meeting with Xi Jinping last week. She stated that it was ‘wishful thinking’ that the government would yield to protesters’ demands, adding that the protesters are ‘enemies of the people’ – a phrase with a dark history. (By some definitions, Carrie’s own words are an act of violence.)  

But essentially she just reminded us that Hong Kong does not have a functioning leadership: she is not empowered to make any decisions (even if she had a clue how to), and the supreme authority in Beijing is similarly unable – for whatever reason – to provide any direction.

So all that’s left is to order the police to continue tear-gassing the city until social harmony returns.

The authorities seem to be grasping at the hope that continued police repression of protests, other gatherings and displays of opposition will eventually wear everyone down. You might think that, after five months, this approach is yet to yield much in the way of success. But Hong Kong bureaucrats – and probably the cops in particular – are well-known for focusing on the trees rather than the forest. To them, a decline in the number of mega-marches (following MTR closures, the mask ban, thousands of arrests) suggests they are on the right track. Another three or four months should do it!

In their own ‘wishful thinking’, they fail to see that resistance is organic, decentralized, flexible, ‘like water’. And widespread. At noon yesterday, white-collar types filled the streets and walkways outside my office in Central chanting ‘murderer’ and ‘rapist’ at riot police (who, after giving great consideration to the many and varied options at their disposal, went for more tear gas). Tomorrow it will other people, in different places, doing something else (complete with an equally original and insightful police response).

It looks like we will be waiting months for Beijing to do something.

In the meantime, don’t forget the Hong Kong ‘business community’ – the local tycoon caste and the multinationals. While residents naturally rejoice at the lack of tourists, the owners of the malls and hotels are looking at months (at least) of suffering. Landlords must also worry that expatriate senior executives with delicate wives and precious kiddies in their rented luxury apartments might start moving offshore.

These local and overseas business folk are accustomed to having a government in Hong Kong that does everything for them – yet it is now actively undermining their profits and net worth. And they cannot speak out, for fear of upsetting Beijing. It will be interesting to see at what point, especially if the stock and property markets seriously drop, the pain is such that they openly squeal.

Some more for anyone who feels insufficiently depressed…

A night of vandalism in Tin Shui Wai

…it was targeted and surprisingly controlled. It’s about Beijing’s and HKG’s political failure. In a place with the social trust and development HK has, only a catastrophic meltdown in leadership can cause scenes like this.

Why violence can only get worse

Is there a way back? In theory, yes. In practice, probably not.

…It appears more likely that Beijing will follow the course outlined following the recent Fourth Plenum leadership meeting: greater control, the implementation of vague “national security laws,” and perhaps even martial law – almost certainly enforced by Hong Kong’s police bolstered by mainlanders, rather than by the Chinese army. It’s unlikely that this death will be the last.

And (from polling results pre-dating this horror) the latest figures on public trust in the HK Police.

On a brighter note: Bette Midler chimes in.

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Martial-Law Monday

Since Friday, when the big story was the death of student Alex Chow, we have had yet another weekend of impossible-to-keep-up-with mayhem.

An accusation that police gang-raped a teenager in a police station – her lawyers say they have DNA from aborted fetus. The police invasion of various shopping malls, including Festival Walk (hailed by media as the most ‘middle class’ retail complex to get the HKPF treatment so far). One of the ‘international experts’ brought in as advisers to burnish the toothless police watchdog goes rogue and denounces the body as incapable of doing its job.

Activists planned a ‘general strike’ for Monday and seem to have tried disrupting some transport connections. The police grasp the opportunity to maximize the potential chaos. They move in on several university campuses to fire tear gas and/or make arrests. And in Sai Wan Ho a cop shoots someone (apparently with a .38 revolver) in the abdomen and then fires a couple more times in a crowded street, hitting another person. Then pepper-spray everyone to be sure. More reports of similar things elsewhere. Also something nuts with a cop on a motorbike trying to ride into protesters. Oh, and groups of riot police are hanging around all over Central this morning, to add to the ambience.

More on the Martial-Law Monday Mess here and here.

This method of treating someone who’s just been shot in the abdomen seems an apt metaphor for the way Hong Kong is being run today.

I’m going back to bed. Will try again tomorrow.

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Another week in the death-spiral

While I was appeasing the wrathful Gods of Toil, Hong Kong suffered too much outrage, idiocy and mystery to keep up with. A young protester badly injured dead after falling from a car park. Slimeball Junius ex-‘Dr’ Ho apparently semi-stabbed. Talk of postponing District Council elections. A 16-year-old convicted of carrying a laser pen. The government banning political and satirical products at the Chinese New Year fair.

Understatement of the Week Award goes to an SCMP op-ed

A shift in Beijing’s approach to governing Hong Kong is about to start. We do not know precisely what form it will take. But it appears the central government is preparing to further tighten its grip on the city. There is a danger it will opt for measures which cause further discontent.

It has already started. Beijing will tighten its grip. You can bet this will provoke further resistance.

The current crisis builds on backlashes against Beijing’s earlier attempts to impose national security laws, national education and permanent top-down CCP-appointed cronyist government, accompanied by attacks on the rule of law. The Chinese leadership’s solution: try to do them again, but more forcefully.

One more explanation-by-Twitter-thread of this process: how freedom of assembly has been curtailed in Hong Kong in recent months. In brief: the banning of public marches, use of authorized assemblies as ‘arrest traps’, and police incursion into private premises.

Another example is the transformation of the HK Police into a colonial-style paramilitary force primarily tasked with keeping the natives down. The police tactics have probably irretrievably alienated the bulk of the public. This points to, among other longer-term trends, higher crime rates as the cops focus on suppression of dissent and lose public trust. The behaviour of the police has probably now surpassed the incompetence of the government as an ongoing cause of popular discontent (which the cops were deployed to deal with in the first place).

Here’s a depressing explanation of the HK Police use of the word ‘cockroaches’ for protesters. Basically: ‘Use of dehumanizing language is necessary for police to justify violence against protesters and civilians. It is hard to be brutally violent against your own kind otherwise.’

And all you want to know about the effects of tear gas on the population.

If you read only one thing today, make it this Asian Affairs Report on the Hong Kong 2019 Protests by a former cop, with a focus on the role of the police – or the authorities’ refusal to use alternatives – in worsening the situation…

…because of the absence of a political solution, every time the Police respond with force they alienate more of the public.

…The Hong Kong Police moved from a situation of widespread public acceptance and support to one of public distrust and even hatred. This is a crisis of legitimacy for the Police.

…the strategy remains to use force against all participants in unauthorised political protests. This inevitably results in strategic political defeat.

Note that last sentence: if the Hong Kong people win this uprising, thank the cops.

I declare the weekend open with a variety of worthwhile links.

An interview with Alice Poon, author of the magnificent Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong. Ignore the factual errors in the introduction by – the rest is a good summary of land policy’s role in screwing up Hong Kong.

Richard McGregor on how Xi Jinping’s hard line on Hong Kong undermines China’s aim to take over Taiwan.

The logic of Chinese politics in the Xi era makes a softer, more accommodating line from anywhere in the system untenable, unless it comes from the top. In turn, Xi himself is determined not to display any weakness on either issue, lest he should give his critics ammunition that can be used against him…

The “one country, two systems” formula was devised by Deng Xiaoping and once sounded like an ingenious way to win over Hong Kongers and bring them gradually and willingly under Chinese rule. Now it just looks like another form of colonization.

I remember a time when strategists dismissed China’s putative invasion of Taiwan as ‘the million man swim’. A more up-to-date analysis of the situation

President Xi seems willing to use force.  He increasingly sounds like a resentful drunk talking himself into a fight in a South Boston bar at 1:00am…

Onto cultural matters. I thought it was just personal taste that leads me to like listening to Indian ragas (click on pic above for one) but never to Chinese music. But it seems experts agree: Indian and Western music are much richer, and the Chinese pentatonic-scale-with-no-harmonics stuff really is a big snooze.

Having said that, in all fairness, there’s always Cantopop. Here’s Shirley Kwan set to Hong Kong protest footage.

And a mystery sighting in Taiwan – and it’s not Elvis.

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In a rush today, but…

In its communique following the recent Plenum, the CCP said it would (among other things) strengthen and enhance Hong Kong’s legal system and enforcement to protect ‘national security’. In the meantime, Beijing and its local proxies must make do…

A good thread on the legal technicalities of the two interim injunctions the courts have rather generously granted the government (banning doxing of cops and promotion of violence online). Bottom line (to the non-legal mind): the injunctions are flawed and perhaps worthless.

An interesting summary of a recent talk at HKU on freedom of assembly and policing of protest. When you’re in riot gear, an expert says, everything looks like a riot.

And an update on the number of protest-related arrests – estimated at some 3,400. I recall that two or three months ago, the cops advised officials that once they arrested around this number, the protests would end and everything would be tickety-boo. I think the phrase was ‘a hardcore of 2-3,000’, so of course maybe they’ve caught the wrong ones.

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Police go even more nuts, Beijing to follow

This was the weekend of cops invading multiple shopping malls, marching dozens of young arrestees onto buses, stepping up obnoxiousness towards the media and still finding time for some average-scale rampaging around unwelcoming neighbourhoods, though managing to be absent during a pro-Beijing wacko’s ear-biting and stabbing attack. (Badiucao art work on the ear…)

One relatively minor neighbourhood incursion was in my own, when a platoon of paramilitaries with bright lights, gas masks and pump-action shotguns came galumphing along Hollywood Road in a haze of tear smoke. They gruffly demanded that bystanders ‘go away’ (a few retreated a whole 20 feet up the hill outside Marks & Spencers), then proceeded to probe the exotic and mysterious Mid-Levels Escalator for protesters. The dreaded cockroach menace had in fact swarmed down the street 15 minutes earlier and vanished – a couple of them had nonchalantly taken the adjacent table in the restaurant where I had just had dinner.

The Hong Kong Police continue to ramp up their repression-of-everything-everywhere, semi-curfew tactics. The force is presumably under pressure from Chinese public-security advisors somewhere up the chain of command, who are impatiently demanding that the protests be suppressed with whatever ruthlessness it takes. After all, it works on the Mainland, right? The harder the cops try, the angrier the public gets – and so the cycle goes on.

One distinctly possible next step will be to place greater restrictions on media coverage of protests and, particularly, police action. The Mainland advisors must be aghast at how the press here can record and disseminate almost everything the cops do – feeding public alienation and handicapping the authorities in their battle to assert control.

This cycle of repression-resistance-more repression is a microcosm of Beijing’s whole years-long approach to Hong Kong: try forcing the city to conform and obey – and when it rebels, try doing it again, but harder.

In its recent post-Plenum communique, the CCP outlined its intention to do just this. In brief, by ensuring that: Hong Kong’s future leaders are overtly pro-Beijing, the civil service serves the government’s political ends, the legal and law enforcement systems protect the state rather than the people, and schools deliver lots of lovely ‘patriotic’ education. More of which later.

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HK Police go nuts, again

After last Sunday in Salisbury Road, the Hong Kong Police now bring you the Tuen Mun neighbourhood-revolt suppression and the Lan Kwai Fong Halloween anti-mask freak-out. The best explanation I’ve heard is that Beijing is demanding that protests be crushed ASAP, Mainland-style, and no-one in Hong Kong has the ability or willingness to point out how it won’t work here and instead make things worse.

Another theory is that Beijing is deliberately trying to create conditions that would justify sending the troops in. That sounds less likely, not to say idiotic – but the current cycle of ever-greater use of force points to that eventual outcome anyway.

The CCP’s Plenum has issued a vague statement about strengthening national security in Hong Kong…

Hong Kong-based China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said he expected to see a clear shift in policy direction as Beijing looks to strengthen its control over Hong Kong.

“This is clearly suggesting a wide range of unprecedented controls that are going to be exerted over Hong Kong as Beijing has lost its patience for one country, two systems,” he said.

“The communique sends a strong political message that might see Hong Kong respond by introducing new legislation to restrict free speech online, outlaw abuse of the police and increase controls on campus,” he said.

Pretty much what many of us have assumed for some time. This will produce greater resistance within Hong Kong, test the local pro-establishment camp’s loyalty and provoke greater international criticism. To what lengths will the CCP go to avoid relatively simple changes that would give Hong Kong more responsive local government and confidence that it will not be subjected to more Mainlandization?

I declare the weekend open with some choice reading…

Atlantic does a profile of localist hero Edward Leung.

Reuters recalls that all politics and news are local, and produces a big report ‘Below Lion Rock’ on how Wong Tai Sin is faring in the protests.

A Water Revolution of a different sort: Zolima Citymag on the challenge and cultural meaning of swimming around the whole of Hong Kong Island.

SupChina’s introduction to Hong Kong independence – the Panda in the Room.

And in case you can’t get enough depressing stuff out the Plenum, the Globe and Mail on Xi Jinping’s creepy narcissistic religion-substitute national(ist) ethos: the Outline for the Implementation of the Moral Construction of Citizens in the New Era.

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Rest of the week sadly devoted to (shudder) work

Just time to note… Former Director of Prosecutions, now curiously hyper-pro-Beijing, Grenville Cross calls for Internet censorship, curfews, more prosecutions of kids and additional equipment for the cops to counteract spreading hatred of the police (don’t ask how that works). No idea what this is supposed to achieve – but we’ll give it a go anyway. Cross by name, dementedly cross by nature.

In other matters… A semanticist notes that I use ‘Leninist’ and ‘Stalinist’ interchangeably. To me, ‘Leninist’ refers to organizational principles, like top-down ‘democratic centralism’ to enforce ideological discipline and United Front tactics to neutralize opposition. ‘Stalinist’ means such a system under the rule of one domineering individual, featuring such delights as a personality cult, extra-grandiose vanity projects, paranoia-driven purges and compulsory Xi Jinping Thought Studies in the workplace. Academics and nitpickers will no doubt know better. I will continue to just toss a coin when deciding which to use.

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HK Police reorganization – it’s already happened

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor insists she has not met any law-breaking demonstrators during dialogue sessions and underscores her support of the police. Beijing has also directly urged unwavering support for the HKPF. So much for Carrie’s earlier slightly conciliatory noises about a possible independent inquiry into the cops.

When police unions bullied Matthew Cheung into withdrawing his apology to the public for the (apparently police-condoned) Yuen Long triad attack in July, it seemed pathetic. Some thought local officials feared a mutiny in the law-enforcement ranks. Since then, the police have ramped up their use of force against the Great Cockroach Menace, obscured their badge numbers, pursued protesters within hospitals, apparently taken partial control of the MTR, assumed the right to de-mask and assault journalists, and obtained a sweeping injunction giving them and their families privileged privacy-protection treatment.

Who is in charge of whom?

Given that Beijing officials have essentially sidelined the local administration, it seems clear that this leaves the Liaison Office largely running things. But it also seems likely that Beijing has already built up more influence within some local institutions than we would like to think – certainly in the police.

We see cops sporting Chinese flags on their equipment packs, and shotgun-toting ‘bald sergeant’ Lau Chak-kei has been adopted as a patriotic hero in the Mainland. The HKPF’s top officers and staff associations are regulating government officials’ public statements, demanding the right to use other departments’ staff and vehicles, neglecting routine patrolling and other crime-fighting duties, and creating new legal or quasi-legal powers for themselves.

After what must have been years of CCP infiltration and co-option, the police management and unions have been activated as a United Front tool.

Not all cops would see it this way; many seem more convinced than ever that they are defending society from evil. And not all are on-side with the rapid transformation of a broadly respected public service into a publicly unpopular and oppressive force. Some purging will be in order as the CCP consolidates control later. The rest of the civil service, teachers and others will follow. This is how it goes.

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