Few abscondees reply

The one-month public consultation on the Article 23 NatSec law legislation concludes, with a stunning and breathtakingly wonderful 98.64% of responses saying they absolutely love it …

A spokesman for the Security Bureau said, “While it takes time to take stock of the number of views received at the end, according to the preliminary figures as at 11.59pm yesterday (February 28), the HKSAR Government received a total of 13 147 submissions during the consultation period, which are mainly by email, post and fax. Among them, 12 969 (98.64 per cent of the total) show support and make positive comments; while 85 (0.65 per cent of the total) purely contain questions or opinions therein that cannot reflect the authors’ stance and 93 (0.71 per cent of the total) oppose the legislative proposals, amongst them over 10 are overseas anti-China organisations or abscondees. 

Could it be a case of quantity versus quality? From HK Rule of Law Monitor – overseas lawyers comment on Article 23…

The Paper states blandly that “safeguarding national security is fundamentally consistent with the respect and protection of human rights”. This is conceptually wrong and fails to consider the proportionality test in full…

The definitions of “national security” and “state secrets” are adopted wholesale from the mainland…

The Paper does not provide for defences for acting in the public interest, whistleblowing, genuine news reporting etc…

…The offences are so wide that a person chanting a prohibited slogan in a public place, without anyone present to hear it, could nonetheless be convicted of a national security offence merely because of their intent…

Cherry-picking overseas references … References to overseas laws are self-serving…

…By adopting a hard-handed approach, the government risks shutting out opportunities to improve its governance…

Asia Times on the views of foreign chambers of commerce…

The new definition of state secrets may increase the perception that the “one country” aspect of Hong Kong’s special status is more in focus than the “two systems,” Johannes Hack, the president of the German Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, told the Associated Press in an email interview.

“For Hong Kong to present a distinctive business advantage vis-a-vis the mainland, the two systems part is however quite important,” he said. “Hong Kong in our view should be different ‘in fact and feeling.’”

He said additional costs to comply with the “quite broad definition” of state secrets may cause foreign investors to move elsewhere.

Other groups’ feedback in HKFP.

It’s the third anniversary of the arrests of the HK 47 – 32 have been in jail for 1,098 days.

A Standard editorial slaps Reg over her comments on subsidized transport…

An argument that the HK$2 scheme is flawed has been the suggestion that the elderly riders were petty and inconsiderate, liking to hop on long-haul buses for short journeys to inflict greater expenses on the government since it would cost more to subsidize a longer journey.

That was an idiotic argument championed by political figures including Executive Council convenor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who was among the first to denounce the scheme a year ago.

The paper also rejoices at the lifting of stamp duties on real estate…

A high-rise 415 square-foot flat at Siu Hei Court in Tuen Mun was to be sold at HK$3.08 million, however the buyer immediately put it on sale for HK$3.38 million after the government scrapped property cooling measures. It is expected that the buyer will make a profit of more than HK$200,000 after fees.

Another confirmor deal came from a low-priced unit at Tsuen Wan Center. Dubbed “Paradise of Speculators,” the housing estate reported that a home of 329 sq ft sold for HK$2.88 million on Wednesday, even though the holder raised the asking price by HK$80,000.

Previously, the homeowner at the Tsuen Wan Center trimmed the reserve price to HK$2.8 million but there were no takers.

…With all curbs gone, people who speculate homes valued at HK$3 million or below only need to pay HK$100 for stamp duty, which makes the low-priced units popular among speculators.

Yippee!

Some weekend reading…

RFA interview with HKU historian Frank Dikotter…

There is a profound failure on the part of a great many people, politicians, experts and scholars outside China to simply listen to what all of these leaders said very clearly and also to read and understand what’s been happening. The failure is reasonably straightforward. It is a refusal to believe that a communist — a Chinese communist — is a communist.

…it’s probably safe to assume that a system based on the separation of powers, including freedom of the press and a solid judicial system, would probably be beneficial, for instance, for the economy. … This is basically a modern economic model based on debt. You spend to create the illusion of growth. Then you spend more. My feeling is that there may be people in the People’s Republic of China who are probably thinking about whether this is really a successful system or not.

… [the CCP are] quite convinced that you can have a Leninist system of monopoly over power, a Marxist system which controls the banks, controls the prices of energy, controls most state enterprises, controls the land, and yet have economic growth. That is what they believe. So why should Hong Kong be any different?

Translation by Geramie Barme of a banned Li Chengpeng essay looking back at 2023.

The latest entry in CMP’s dictionary – the so-called ‘so-called’

Noah Smith – expert-on-everything author of an online newsletter – stating the semi-obvious on China’s missed opportunity…

…the Chinese Communist Party, especially under Xi Jinping, has focused China’s economy on creating more of what they want, instead of creating more of what the Chinese people themselves want. This may be one reason that popular confidence in China’s government is beginning to wane.

Technologically and scientifically, China is clearly now among the world’s leading nations; in some respects, it’s ahead of the US. But it’s very hard to think of major new discoveries or inventions that have come out of China in the past quarter century.

From Business Insider – how China’s electric vehicle industry could dominate the world.

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Budget snooze

HKFP’s Budget round-up. Quick summary: a lack of any original thinking.

We must scrap various stamp duties on property transactions in an attempt to push housing prices up, thus – in theory – enabling government to go back to relying heavily on land and development rights for revenue. What we really need is cheaper government and a broader, less distorting tax base. (In fairness, there’s a slight bump in the top rate of salaries tax, though apparently to offset a small cut for lower earners).

And we must spend money on trying to attract bigger and bigger numbers of tourists through ‘mega-events’ and monthly drone/fireworks shows. The Mainland-tourist obsession dates back 20 years to post-SARS recovery. Today, we have a shortage of labour – so why try pumping up a space-hungry low-value economic activity? Why can’t anyone just say that we don’t need more visitors? (Though, confusingly, there’s restoration of a small tax on hotel stays, to balance things out.)

Mized picture on boondoggles. Slight postponement of the Lantau reclamation project. Financial Secretary Paul Chan says it will definitely go ahead. (Wanna bet on that?) But HK$2 billion for an ‘InnoLife Healthtech Hub’ at the ‘Hong Kong Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park’ – ie the Lok Ma Chau Loop.

And possible reductions in travel subsidies for the elderly and disabled. There’s some logic to this, especially with an aging population – why should someone like me spend just HK$2 to take the HK$45 Central-Peng Chau ferry at the weekend? But it will go down like a cup of cold sick if they actually scrap the subsidies for existing beneficiaries. I’d guess they’ll gradually increase the cut-rate fares and push up the qualification age to 70, or something.

A quick search through the FS’s speech – not one mention of ‘national security’. The edgiest thing about the whole Budget.

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Pyrotechnics-vibes

In the days leading up to Hong Kong’s annual budget, the government usually leaks details about a few planned measures the public will like – typically rebates, vouchers or other handouts. This year, with another huge deficit looming and mega-reserves semi-dwindling, we hear mostly silence. (The Budget announcement is today, by the way. Didn’t you feel the excitement?) Officials need to find ways to raise more revenue, rather than spend it. Apart from, perhaps, cuts to stamp duties in order to try to push up housing prices. And maybe extra funding for national security education, or some such. What we do know is that the Financial Secretary will come up with yet another way to attract yet more tourists into a city already experiencing a shortage of both space and labour…

The proposed monthly fireworks display will be different to those on major festivals such as the Lunar New Year and National Day, according to government sources.

The administration is considering holding monthly fireworks and drone shows above Victoria Harbour, as part of the measures said to be announced in Wednesday’s budget delivery to spur local tourism.

Government sources have indicated that the proposed monthly displays are different in scale and concept from traditional ones.

‘Different in concept’. Instead of going ‘boom!’, the monthly fireworks will go ‘bam!’ (except for a few that will make a squealing sound, thanks to the hamsters attached), and instead of shooting up vertically, they will go sideways, to signify Greater Bay Area integration opportunities. 

The tourism industry is not impressed, pointing out that people might get bored of the new attraction. (I once went to an international fireworks competition in Macau that went on for over three hours. It got very tedious.)

From an esteemed commenter

Fireworks cause extensive air pollution in a short amount of time, leaving metal particles, dangerous toxins, harmful chemicals, and smoke in the air for days.

Stephen Roach responds to criticism of his FT article saying Hong Kong is over…

I cited three reasons for saying Hong Kong’s glory days may now be over: a distinct loss of its high degree of political autonomy in the aftermath of the massive demonstrations of 2019-20; a weakening of Hong Kong’s economic underpinnings as a result of a protracted malaise in the mainland Chinese economy; and a squeeze from US-centric friendshoring that has forced Hong Kong’s East Asian trading partners to choose sides in coping with the crossfire of the Sino-American conflict.

While the pushback has been fast and furious, few have taken serious issue with the three points raised above. Instead, many have rested their case on Hong Kong’s long-standing resilience, a seemingly innate capacity for the city to reinvent itself in the face of near existential threats.

…Resilience this time will require a new-found political and economic policy autonomy that seems highly unlikely.

Xinhua joins in

…saying some Western news outlets and “so-called experts” had spread false claims to “achieve their sinister plot of using Hong Kong to contain China”.

“Their true objective is to shake people’s confidence, disrupt the economic development and social stability of Hong Kong, as well as hinder the implementation of Article 23 and Hong Kong’s progress from stability to prosperity,” Xinhua said, referring to home-grown security legislation the city must pass under the Basic Law, its mini-constitution.

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Your tax dollars at work – in the courts

The Glory to Hong Kong injunction appeal continues, with government lawyers arguing that 32 YouTube links should be declared ‘illegal’…

Representing the secretary for justice, [Benjamin] Yu argued that the videos were seditious and secessionist in nature and carried the intent to distort China’s national anthem. If these videos continued to be disseminated, it would endanger national security, he said.

…The song … amounted to a “weapon” for people to threaten the authorities, [government lawyers] said.

As a practical matter – anyone can copy these videos and load them back onto YouTube (or any site) in five minutes, thus creating new links faster than NatSec sleuths can track them down. Fortunately for national security, the PRC’s weapons include nuclear missiles, aircraft carriers and a large army and air force, which should be enough to counter a three-minute piece of music.

And do the vids ‘carry the intent to distort’ China’s national anthem? They don’t feature March of the Volunteers, let alone attempt to distort it.

(Also in the courts – the government just can’t let go in fighting rulings that support basic rights for gay couples.)

Some patriots are having problems with potential constraints on freedom of expression arising from Article 23, or with each other. There was Paul Tse. Then newish FTU legislator Joephy Chan criticized DAB veteran Tsang Yok-sing for voicing reservations about the proposed new NatSec law’s sedition measures. And now…

A pro-Beijing activist has petitioned a visiting top Chinese official, urging for clarification on “soft resistance” and the “bottom line” of the national security law, and saying that a lack of certainty around what was allowed had left Hongkongers afraid to speak up.

“…we dare not speak up. We do not feel safe.”

Chan Ching-sum gained attention around 2014-19 as a firebrand pro-Beijing housewife and scourge of pan-dems. She was, of course, free to voice her opinions then. 

There have always been figures in the pro-Beijing camp who were more outspoken than others, but with the pan-dems jailed or otherwise silenced, their comments are more noticeable. And there’s a new breed of ultra-loyalists waiting to blast them.

From RFA, Ching Cheong on the background to Article 23…

Why has the Article 23 legislation been described as the “sword of Damocles” over Hong Kongers’ heads? 

Because essentially this law is the culmination of a long-running attempt to graft the ideology, political ideas, and behavioral patterns of the Chinese Communist Party’s totalitarian system onto a pro-Western capitalist society that respects ​​universal values.

…this [subversion] provision reveals the central government’s extreme distrust of the Hong Kong government and its people, not to mention its own lack of self-confidence.

There’s some nostalgia for the old folks…

Hong Kong’s own Secretary for Security Regina Ip sneered at calls for universal suffrage, with the comment: “Hitler was elected under one person, one vote.”

Asked about whether Hong Kongers would get a chance to comment on the draft law, she sneered: “So I have to listen to what the aunty who washes the dishes in McDonalds has to say?”

Ip’s domineering attitude was one of the key reasons for the failure of the 2003 legislation.

The full China Media Project interview with CUHK journalism professor Francis Lee.

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More injunction woes

Hong Kong Court of Appeal ‘voices concerns over a lack of clarity and certainty’ about the government’s second attempt to get an injunction to ban and curb distribution – especially on YouTube – of protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong

Last year’s application at the Court of First Instance failed after Mr Justice Anthony Chan Kin-keung found the intended ban would run counter to established criminal justice procedures and would not achieve what the government wanted – to compel internet giant Google to censor the song.

In its appeal, the justice department has argued that the lower court failed to offer “the greatest weight and deference” to Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu, who pronounced the song’s circulation a threat to national security in a move that was binding on the judiciary.

…[Government counsel Benjamin Yu] urged the court to fulfil its “positive duty” under the Beijing-imposed national security law to prevent and suppress acts endangering national security by doing as the executive branch said.

But the bench remained unconvinced, as judges highlighted various parts of the draft order which they found to be ambiguous and had failed to meet the required legal standards.

High Court Chief Judge Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor pointed to the exemption clause and stressed the public could not be left to speculate what acts might be safe.

“Is it sufficient or adequate enough for the purpose of certainty and informing a reader as to what he should or should not do? Lawful activity or lawful act does not add anything further, because without an injunction you can do whatever you want,” he said.

The senior counsel conceded that his team had failed to come up with other reasonable excuses…

Some questions. Are courts supposed to show ‘greatest weight and deference’ toward the Chief Executive? Yu’s remark about the court’s ‘positive duty’ suggests that he thinks they should. The judges are not questioning whether a short piece of music can ‘endanger national security’ – but they are objecting to the vague and weak phrasing about exemptions. 

Also, will the new Article 23 NatSec Law – or other measures – enable the government in future to get its way more readily in the higher courts (following the recent CFA case on the supposed organizers of the August 18, 2019 demonstration)? Will ramped-up anti-sedition laws in the forthcoming bill make an injunction like this redundant?

And, assuming the government eventually succeeds in getting an injunction, what action does it expect Google to take, and what will the authorities do if Google does not comply? 

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A joke to end the week…

Bloomberg story (quoting a Bloomberg Intelligence report) declares that Singapore has won the race to be Asia’s international business hub…

The city state hosted regional headquarters for 4,200 multinational firms in 2023, extending its lead and dwarfing the 1,336 found in Hong Kong…

“Hong Kong has lost the race to be international business’ preferred choice for Asia headquarters, as more global and even Chinese companies choose Singapore because of its better relations with the West, broader talent pool, diversified economy, and tax incentives,” according to the 50-page report. “Companies may rank Singapore higher in terms of political stability and freedom amid elevated geopolitical risks in the region.”

Hong Kong codified its position as China’s finance center by containing political protests and adhering to the country’s Covid-Zero policy during the pandemic, while Singapore highlighted its independence and emerged as the preferred site for international business offices, the report said.

The Standard adds

A list of companies with regional headquarters in Singapore reads like a Who’s Who of multinationals – FedEx, Microsoft, Alphabet’s Google, Mead Johnson, Rolls-Royce and General Motors. Companies that operate in more sensitive environments – such as TikTok and the online fashion giant Shein – have business hubs in the Southeast Asian city.

Chinese companies like electric-vehicle maker Nio are also established in the city-state, while tech companies Alibaba and Huawei are expanding operations there.

The corporate critical mass and more diversified economy could help Singapore attract even more global business than Hong Kong for the next five years, the report said.

HK Security Secretary Chris Tang thinks two years in prison for publishing sheep cartoons is too lenient, so the Article 23 NatSec Law should introduce tougher penalties when it addresses sedition. Presumably the same applies to wearing the wrong T-shirt. 

See also an extract from a forthcoming China Media Project interview with CUHK’s Francis Lee of the CUHK School of Journalism…

It’s not easy for journalists to run afoul of the NSL as long as you stay away from Hong Kong independence and foreign funding, and follow a few other simple rules. That requires a bit of self-censorship, but at least there are ways for you to stay away from that. But sedition is different because anything that arouses hatred against the government can potentially be seditious. And basically, that means that whenever the news media tries to perform its watchdog role, it’s potentially in the gray area already. Of course, the sentence for sedition is at most two years in prison, which is nothing compared to NSL. But at the same time, it’s much easier for the news media to run afoul of.

…I think the legislation more journalists will be worrying about — or have been worrying about — deals with “fake news laws,” which the government has said they are studying but which we still know very little about. [State secrets] might require you to, again, to self-censor on a number of topics, but you can still avoid it. But disinformation, depending on how it’s defined, could be much harder to avoid.

From HKFP, Not One Less Coffee closing down after repeated inspections by inspectors from (take a deep breath) the Food and Environmental Hygiene Dept, the Fire Services Dept, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Dept, the Inland Revenue Dept, the Police force, the Labour Dept and the Buildings Dept.

Some other reading and viewing for the weekend…

CMP on how the Hugo Awards for science fiction seem to have been co-opted by China.

The winner of 2023’s Best Novella category was the hitherto unknown Chinese author Hai Ya (海漄), whose quick read, The Space-Time Painter (時空畫師), revolves around a tough-as-nails cop who investigates spooky reports of a ghost in Beijing’s Palace Museum, known worldwide as the Forbidden City. The cop traces the spectral source to a real-life treasure of the museum — an ancient scroll painting by Song dynasty artist Wang Ximeng (王希孟), whose ghost is trying to make contact with contemporary China.

…Readers point to clunky writing and clichéd plot points, expressing disbelief that the work is a prize-winner. “Could it be that the award was forcibly given because the home turf is in China,” one user posted. “With so many better works than this one, how did they pick something so unappealing?”

In a commentary on the video site Bilibili, one online influencer said Hai Ya’s novella had the quality of a decent topical essay by a high school student. The work was not meant to satisfy Chinese readers, he said, but “to swipe an award from the English-speaking world.”

From the Guardian – how China is the second most expensive place in the world to raise children.

A good YouTube interview with David Rennie of The Economist about Chinese people’s loss of faith in their government following the end of Covid and the decline of the property market, and Beijing’s efforts to increase national resilience in a hostile world.

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Some of our 20-somethings are missing

The latest population figures include a rebound in Mainlanders coming over on one-way permits – presumably there’s a backlog from Covid. These are family-reunion cases and are probably mostly middle-aged and not especially well educated. There would be other Mainland migrants coming in on the various talent-attracting visa schemes. 

The breakdown for particular, younger age groups reflect something more drastic. The trends for the numbers for younger people could in theory be skewed by changing patterns in, say, parents sending kids overseas (or not) for school. The drop in 0-9-year-olds could partly be caused by couples putting off having babies during the protests and Covid. But what – apart from emigration – could possibly cause a fall in the population of 20-29-year-olds by well over 20% since mid-2017?   

Not often that I go back and read an angry government press release, but I just checked to see if anyone has noticed – or corrected – the one in awful English from yesterday. And it’s still there

…the joint statement by Hong Kong Watch and other organisations smacked of deliberate smears and was no further from the truth … it is fully justified for the Hong Kong SAR to put forward measures that could be considered … such practice interfered through intimidation in the affairs of Hong Kong that are purely China’s internal affairs, which not only violated the international law and basic norms that govern international relations, but also allegedly constituted the offence of “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security”…

Maybe native speakers, as non-citizens, are barred from working on NatSec-type press statements?

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Official press releases not what they used to be

HK Watch issues a joint statement with dozens of other NGOs asking the Hong Kong government to ensure that the Article 23 NatSec law complies with human rights, and – among other things – urging other governments to sanction Hong Kong officials. (Site blocked in Hong Kong.)

The English version of the government’s response portrays the statement itself as justification for a new NatSec law. Perhaps what’s most striking is not just that it’s overwrought, but that it’s so poorly written/translated – giving it a weirdly semi-sinister feel (allegedly).…

The Hong Kong SAR Government said the joint statement by Hong Kong Watch and other organisations smacked of deliberate smears and was no further from the truth, adding that it must refute them and set the record straight.

…It is fully justified for the Hong Kong SAR to put forward measures that could be considered, having regard to the relevant laws of foreign countries as well as the shortcomings as revealed from experiences gained from handling cases concerning offence endangering national security.

…Regarding the joint statement’s appeal to foreign chambers of commerce and international companies based in Hong Kong to re-evaluate risks, as well as its request for them to impose so-called “sanctions” on officials handling the Basic Law Article 23 legislation, the Hong Kong SAR Government said it totally disrespected the constitutional duty of the Hong Kong SAR and blatantly trampled on the city’s legislative process.

The Hong Kong SAR Government pointed out that such practice interfered through intimidation in the affairs of Hong Kong that are purely China’s internal affairs, which not only violated the international law and basic norms that govern international relations, but also allegedly constituted the offence of “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” under Article 29 of the National Security Law.

What the joint statement advocated squarely reflected the ongoing national security threats which anti-China and destabilising forces pose, the Hong Kong SAR Government added. 

Presumably, the English-language audience is an afterthought. As perhaps is that of the traditional-characters Chinese version.

CE John Lee says the consultation exercise…

“…gives me the impression that [respondents] are in support of the overall goal of enacting Article 23 to ensure that we protect ourselves when people want to cause damage to us,” he said.

“A lot of the opinions subscribe to the idea that this is a piece of legislation that will ensure when other people want to break into our house, cause harm or damage to us, the Article 23 enactment should be able to protect them from all these threats, attacks, break-ins and harm.”

The ‘door and lock’ analogy also appears in the official response to the Nikkei Asia piece about the shortage of judges. ‘Lines to take’ were never a strong point.

On other matters…

Twitter thread by Holmes Chan on going to see a movie with no title – Beijing Bastards at M+…

The film’s title was blacked out on brochures by hand. Outside House 1, there was no indication what movie I was going to see … Opening credits list screenwriters, producers, director… but no title.

Also on Twitter, a graphic showing the top consumers of various types of meat (including seafood). Hong Kong is top in pork – with each inhabitant apparently getting through over 2lb of the stuff per week. This puts the city in top place for overall meat consumption, at 8lb a week – a third more than the US. Further down, Macau comes top in seafood consumption. After feeling slightly ill for a moment, it occurs to me that tourism is probably pushing up the per-capita figures. Though that wouldn’t be the case with the sheep/goat stats for Mongolia. Maybe it’s just waste.

From China File – six experts’ expectations for the Chinese economy. Most foresee problems in boosting household consumption and ramping up tech/industrial capacity without provoking protectionism overseas. The essential one is Anne Stevenson-Yang…

After the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, fearing a bank contagion and declining exports, leaders put the investment model on steroids. Under instruction from Beijing, banks threw caution to the winds. In five short years, Chinese banks added loans worth the entire value of the U.S. banking system—which had taken 150 years to create, in a country with a much larger economy. Those loans went to industrial schemes and much more infrastructure than the country actually could justify, but very largely, to real estate.

…The illusion of property values that would rise forever was burst in 2021, and since then, China’s economy has weakened. What to do? The whole Chinese economy has kited atop property speculation, and no official dared allow it to stop. Now, banks say that 70 percent of assets are invested in the property sector. Bloomberg Economics calculates that a 5 percent fall in housing prices would equate a loss of 19 trillion renminbi (U.S.$2.7 trillion) in wealth.

…To revive the old model and save the defaulting assets, the government would need to hose trillions on the economy. But all that cash would break the renminbi’s peg to the U.S. dollar, and that is a consequence the Chinese Communist Party cannot accept: It would mean massive capital flight, an angry populace, and the end of the dream of great wealth.

So, China’s leaders pace like caged tigers, lunging at half measures like new bond issues and a “stock market stabilization fund,” as if these efforts might bring back the glory days. But half measures will not work.

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Dragon slayers’ plan: ransack shops, push officers in closer proximity to bombs

AFP reports that the first trial under new anti-terrorism laws is to take place in Hong Kong. The majority of the 14 defendants face up to life imprisonment…

Members of the radical protest group known as “Dragon Slayers” were rounded up after a long investigation into an alleged bomb plot that was to be put into action during an International Human Rights Day rally on December 10, 2019.

…The “Dragon Slayers” would ransack shops to attract authorities while then-18-year-old member David Su would push officers in closer proximity to the bombs, the prosecution said.

“The group planned to take the police guns for their own use after the officers were killed,” [prosecutor Edward] Lau said.

…Other than the woman admitted late in the trial, all of the accused have been kept behind bars for more than 1,000 days.

Will they be getting the Jimmy Lai treatment? Vid of the road closures and police escort for his trip back from court to jail.

In case you missed it: the PRC – a nuclear power with the world’s largest navy – narrowly escapes the threat posed by a 78-year-old with terminal cancer, who gets nine months in prison for ‘carrying the purpose of overthrowing Beijing’ via a plan to protest with a home-made cardboard coffin.

And the trial of HK Alliance members accused of planning to ‘subvert state power’ (hold a Tiananmen vigil) will not start until November at the earliest.

Which brings us to a Nikkei report on Hong Kong’s shortage of judges…

Three out of six potential High Court judges put forward by the Judicial Officers Recommendation Commission (JORC) in its last round of suggestions in 2021 were never appointed by the city’s leader. One candidate pulled out of the process due to concerns over sweeping changes in the legal landscape made by the national security law that Beijing imposed in mid-2020, while another failed to pass a background check…

…Amid the shortfall of appointments, national security cases like Lai’s have been pushed back repeatedly and a record number of defendants are behind bars awaiting trial.

Only 161 of 211 positions within the judiciary are filled, with the highest ratio — 36% — of vacancies at the High Court judge level…

…Withdrawing an application by a nominee is unheard of, according to legal professionals, due to the rigorous and lengthy interview process. However, senior lawyers who spoke to Nikkei Asia on condition of anonymity said the ripple effects of the security law have made the position of a judge less appealing.

Since the enactment of the law, judges must pledge to uphold national security and to protect the “overall interests” of Hong Kong. The oath also spells out that “any acts that undermine the order of the political structure led by the chief executive” are a violation.

…Melissa Pang, the former president of the law society, told a closed-door panel in November that the U.S. [sanctions] bill would make it even more difficult for the judiciary to attract talent, according to lawyers who attended. Judges in Hong Kong are unable to return to private practice once they resign.

Experts say the prestige that once came with being a judge has been overshadowed by the security law. “Who would want to put themselves out there and risk their reputation?” another senior lawyer said.

This has left cases piling up and defendants stuck in jail. The chief justice said in 2022 that a ruling must be handed down up to nine months after the conclusion of a hearing. Hong Kong had 3,304 people in remand as of September 2023, according to the Correctional Services Department. Put another way, over one-third of people in prison were defendants.

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A quick public inquiry fantasy

HKFP op-ed says that the Article 23 consultation document uses a slanted version of the 2019 protests to help justify the additional NatSec law…

The official view is generally disseminated via editorials, press releases, official documents, press conferences, trial prosecutions, and public speeches. Authorities have refused to hold an independent inquiry into the events of 2019. Such an inquiry would include the government’s role in triggering the protests.

…Endlessly repeated, the government characterises the events as “black-clad violence,” “colour revolution,” and “insurrection.”

Even “soft resistance” makes an appearance, still undefined. These characterisations appear to be a mix of police and pro-establishment political elite perceptions, led by a Chinese Communist Party verdict, delivered without a publicly available investigation. 

…Pro-Beijing scholar Lau Siu-kai has argued that the 2019 anti-government protests amounted to an unsuccessful colour revolution…

The article calls for a public enquiry into the causes of the discontent, as under the colonial government after the 1968 unrest. Such soul-searching is obviously not on the agenda. If it was – in a parallel universe – there would probably be broad acceptance among Mainland officials and the local population that the Beijing-picked post-1997 administrations massively failed to meet public expectations (housing, influxes of Mainland immigrants/tourists/white-elephant projects, extradition bill, refusal to listen). Protests in 2014-2019, culminating in the 2019 District Council elections, reflect the fact that the majority of Hongkongers thought the best solution was a more representative system of government. 

Beijing, on the other hand, believed the answer was a more authoritarian one. Implementation of Article 23 is the next step in that process.

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