Some weekend reading, before loopholes are plugged

More censorship on the way. Enjoy what’s left while it lasts.

More good commentary on the Peng Shuai affair, from World Politics Review.

And Asia Sentinel offers a conspiracy theory – that Peng’s accusations were part of a pre-emptive Xi-ist attack on the Shanghai Gang (in the form of Zhang Gaoli) days before the Sixth Plenum and its ‘historic resolution’, at which the Jiang Zemin faction threatened to depose (or something) the Emperor-for-Life. The explosion of the issue on the international media stage was thus an unintended hiccup (‘obfuscates the original allegation’ as the Guardian puts it). Interesting idea, with parts that add up, but unlikely to impress fans of Occam’s razor.

Reading for the weekend…

From Al Jazeera: how Hong Kong’s NatSec Regime leaves low-paid workers worse off; Hong Kong’s decline as a media hub; and ‘Why I left Hong Kong’ by a journalist.

HKFP op-ed on the vagueness of the NatSec Law. And a link to a Stand News story on the government starting to assign Beijing-friendly lawyers to defend people accused of political crimes. Insert ‘Mainland-style’ as required. In case you didn’t read it the first time – another plug for Jerome Cohen’s piece on the Hong Kong criminal justice system’s transformation to a tool of oppression. This piece contains the lot.

After Foodpanda, a nice story – Black Sheep restaurant chain pays US$650,000 to send staff to see families worldwide and do quarantine on return.

A review of Anita – the Anita Mui biopic.

Academics Steve Tsang and Olivia Cheung in a (very) long essay asking whether Xi Jinping has made China’s political system more sustainable.

Leftist but fairly economically literate (and non-tankie) Jacobin on property and the future of China’s ‘state capitalist’ economy. 

Former lawmaker Charles Mok on Beijing’s plan to establish its own definition of human rights. The Hong Kong and Macau quasi-elections, he says, are trials for fake universal suffrage in the Mainland.

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Shock survey result: one in three takes ‘election’ seriously

Beijing-backed Ta Kung Pao accuses opinion pollsters PORI of inciting misleading incitement or something, for reporting that only 34% of citizens definitely plan to vote at next month’s quasi-election, and 52% think they probably sort of might (as the slide shows, normally some 80-85% say that, though of course fewer actually go). Indeed, many don’t even know who’s running. Frankly, the CCP should give PORI a medal for suggesting that as many as a third of the population care deeply about the pointless exercise.

Beijing seems sensitive about the fact that it’s new ‘improved’ patriots-only elections are widely perceived to lack legitimacy. Officials will set up polling stations at border checkpoints in the hope that Hongkongers living in Shenzhen or even beyond might go and cast ballots. And a Mainland think-tank type has proposed that the local authorities issue a turnout figure that averages out the voting rate among all 90 races – including the 70 for Functional and Election Committee seats with tiny electorates of just a few hundred or thousand loyalists.

The obvious comparison is going to be with the District Council elections two years ago: 2.94 million voters participated – a 71.2% turnout. Pro-democrats were allowed to run, and won a landslide.

HKFP finds that many candidates do not reveal contact details on their nomination materials. But this is a CCP-style election in which the winners have essentially already been decided. If you were the designated loser in a fake race, would you want to give everyone your email address or phone number? It’s bad enough that they’re allowed to know your name.

To get into the election mood, watch Carrie Lam waffle in response to a question on whether it is legal to cast a blank vote. And maybe read the HK Democracy Council statement on the sentencing of Tony Chung (background here).

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Out of the Loup

A letter in the FT several days ago, and one of the replies…

On Peng Shuai: Beijing demands that foreign forces stop ‘deliberately and maliciously hyping up’ the affair. China Media Project didn’t get the memo. Nor did ‘mixes creepiness and cutesy’ Quartz. Human Rights Watch joins in with criticism of the Olympics mob. RTHK, on the other hand, deletes its coverage.

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Anti-Pedestrian Dept delivers another horror

From Transit Jam – Hong Kong’s psychopath transport planners strike again. Although only 10% of households have them, private cars account for 47% of visits to the West Kowloon Cultural Hub-Zone District, and taxis another 31%. There is no legal way to access the site by bicycle.

Is this because the main attractions – notably a park with grass you can sit on, plus the new M+ Museum – appeal mainly to the wealthy? Or is it that MTR/bus/pedestrian links are so bad that non-car owners find it too much hassle to bother going? 

The article says project managers estimated that only 8% of visitors would use private cars, and provided 2,000 car-parking spaces. Now surrounding roads are clogged with illegal parking.

Why didn’t they design the complex, which is in a core urban area adjacent to major bus routes and MTR lines, as car-free? Because the bureaucrats who decide transport priorities all use private cars and arrange everything to suit themselves and their families – and screw the 90% who take buses or the MTR, or walk. 

(For another example of the Alphard-first idiocy, look at the reclamation between IFC and the Central ferry piers, where planners somehow managed to cram half a dozen separate parallel two-or three-lane roads into an area a few hundred yards across. Probably a third of the roads’ surfaces are de-facto, though illegal, car parking space, while pedestrians are crammed onto narrow overhead walkways. The people who designed this are retiring on massive pensions.)

More on the Peng Shuai saga: a sports/politics expert in HKFP explains why the Women’s Tennis Association stands up to Beijing (read this – it’s great); and a summary of the propaganda mess from ASPI.

In case I’m too busy complaining about the cold over the next day or two, a few fun things from Twitter…

Micheal Pettis points out – diplomatically – that China’s GDP is overstated and one day they need to fill in a big hole. (Devaluation of the RMB would be one way.)

Magnificently Bitchy Quote of the Week, from Geremie Barme (via here): ‘The Xi personality cult is a cult without personality’.

A 1963 description of Taiwan nationalism. If you see parallels with Hong Kong post-97, keep them you yourself.

And the Almighty replies to a vaccine skeptic.

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Who needs the public’s trust when you can jail them?

An HKFP op-ed asks how the Hong Kong government can regain public trust if it doesn’t admit its own role in provoking and escalating the 2019 protests (let alone 20 years of incompetence beforehand). The key issue is accountability… 

…for authorities to beat the people with our legal system while giving themselves a free pass for their role in the 2019 chaos is utterly outrageous. Every prosecution, every conviction and every jailing of protesters reminds us that the government itself has not been brought to account.

The Basic Law by design is vague about how the people may hold the Hong Kong government to account. It allows the authorities to decide if and when they will be held to account and with what consequences. This is not a system that encourages responsible government…

Neither more affordable housing nor social welfare will fix this problem. The government cannot buy respect or legitimacy. Either the central government must begin holding our local government to account, or the central government must give us the tools to do it ourselves.

Representative government is obviously not going to happen. Beijing could conceivably force Carrie or others to make self-criticisms one day – weirder things have happened when the CCP tosses its sycophants aside. But otherwise, the regime will forget about winning public trust and simply rely on force and fear in order to rule.

Jerome Cohen spells this out in a (lengthy) piece for Academia Sinica on how Hong Kong’s criminal justice system has become an ‘instrument of fear’.

And Chow Hang-tung (recently denied bail) writes on being conditioned by the system – prison in her case, the NatSec regime for those of us outside.

The Germans have a word for it: ‘Gleichschaltung’, referring to the ‘harmonization’ of society through creeping Nazification in the 1930s – not unlike United Front work in a Leninist takeover. English Wikipedia has a worthy entry here, but for a more vivid picture try the German site’s version using Google translate if necessary. (And, if you never have, read Victor Klemperer).

And right on cue…

HKFP on the disappearance of books on the Beijing massacre from Hong Kong public libraries. Social workers will have to take oaths. And, from Australia’s Saturday Paper, Hong Kong film censorship sets in…

It’s a quiet erosion of rights, of expectations. Things are being lost very quickly. The right to protest. The right to run for office if you aren’t pro-Beijing. The freedom to speak or display words calling for democracy. The opportunity to make – or see – films that don’t toe the party line.

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On the way to the vaccination centre

Just a few days ago, I briefly wondered for some reason how long it would be before Chickeeduck closes in Hong Kong if landlords won’t rent them space. And voila! I would like to say how prescient I am, but it was just an average no-brainer wasn’t it? HKFP story.

The company’s premises have been subject to spot-checks by health, fire and other officials, and local staff and Mainland suppliers pressured. Next time you hear Hong Kong officials blather about a ‘creative industry hub’ etc, remember that Chickeeduck could have become a big local brand selling local design and style to the world – but now won’t.

Anyone who had two doses of SinoVac may now get a third/booster shot, regardless of age, occupation or social usefulness. Our local leaders go for Sinovac for their third dose, even though…

A government expert committee said in October that the “Comirnaty [Pfizer-BioNTech] vaccine offers greater protection,” though adding that “personal preference is respected.” 

Obviously, in an environment where they kill off budding brands for ideological reasons, officials will accept a vaccine less likely to protect them from a deadly disease to prove how patriotic they are. (Cynics might wonder if they in fact received a sneaky dose of BioNTech when no-one was looking.)

I suppose we should be grateful that the rest of us are still allowed to choose the product of evil foreign forces that will preserve our health more effectively. As it happens, I’m getting mine [checks watch] right now* (under the ‘social usefulness’ category, naturally).

As the tennis world asks where Peng Shuai is, an AP interview with Grace Meng, wife of China’s Interpol boss now purged and disappeared in the Mainland. China is meanwhile trying to get another of its officials into the top ranks at the agency.

And a weekend long read… the (non-CCP) leftist Lusan on the early 70s Baodiao movement as a precursor of the Hong Kong localist and other struggles. 

* Assuming it’s Friday morning right now. 

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Today’s non-fake news

Lee Cheuk-yan’s mitigation before sentencing for ‘incitement’ and other charges relating to last year’s Tiananmen vigil…

Your Honour, the people of Hong Kong who took part needed no person or organisation to incite them. If there was a provocateur, it is the regime that fired at its own people.

What sentence will he get? It says here… 

A couple who chained their friend’s baby daughter like a dog and beat her with a rattan stick until it broke before her death have both been sentenced to five years and four months in jail.

…while Ma Chun-man got five years and nine months for shouting slogans.

The ICAC will deploy 800 staff (it even has that many?) in polling stations to ‘observe voting and ballot counting procedures’ and deploy others to ‘monitor social media for election-related activity’.

The Hong Kong Cyclothon – an event we had previously never heard of – will ban the slogan ‘Hong Kong add oil’ with police assistance in order to prevent the People’s Republic of China from collapsing.

The government that maintains that evil foreign forces induced two million Hongkongers to protest in 2019 is mulling ways to curb ‘fake news’.

Chinese state media issues a screenshot of an email supposedly from tennis star Peng Shuai assuring the Women’s Tennis Association that she has not been disappeared after accusing former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of pressuring her into sex. Oddly, no-one is convinced, with the WTA being especially skeptical. An analyst notes that

This creepy tweet by CGTN is a good example of the fusion of incompetence and authoritarian hubris in China’s official messaging. 

…messages like these are meant as a demonstration of power: “We are telling you that she is fine, and who are you to say otherwise?” It’s not meant to convince people but to intimidate and demonstrate the power of the state.

Except that the ‘power’ being demonstrated is really no more than obnoxiousness and thuggery, encouraging more calls to boycott the Winter Olympics. Expect Beijing to make Peng read a statement on video while strapped to a chair in a dungeon – or a classy good-taste variant of that tactic – before long.

The BBC on how China has painted itself (and of course dragged Hong Kong with it) into a corner with its zero-Covid strategy

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Under the NatSec regime, even chambers are suspect

Not that 99.9% of Hongkongers will notice, but AmCham chair Tara Joseph decides to quit. The RTHK item says…

…she is resigning as she cannot appeal to the city’s government to ease Covid-19 restrictions at the same time as having to undergo quarantine herself…

“It is not in my nature to advocate on something, and then embark on quarantine like a stooge.” … [She] would face three weeks of hotel quarantine if she returned to the city…

A stooge usually chooses to collaborate. I would have thought speaking out while detained against her will in a quarantine hotel would send a more powerful statement. Or she could just have said ‘this city is going down the tubes and I want to get out’, which would also have been impactful.

From Kong Tsung Gan, a comparative analysis of Hong Kong as a human-rights offender. Hard to have imagined this just three years ago. No more ‘Asia’s World City’ – maybe the government’s PR people can consider ‘Nowhere Near As Bad As North Korea’.

Panda-hugging ex-leaders are a dying breed, so one of many responses to former Oz PM Paul Keating’s recent comments.

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Open season

Officials are considering letting people shoot wild boars again, after one bit a cop. In the old days, the authorities gave a group of guys permits to hunt the pigs for a few days each year. The most prominent participant was veteran democrat and Professional Teachers Union founder Szeto Wah, who was apparently a pretty good shot.

In these better-Red-than-expert days, the NatSec regime will vet marksmen for CCP-style patriotism, and you’ll end up with Holden Chow rampaging round the country parks with a hunting rifle, accidentally shooting Elizabeth Quat while she waves a fake firearms licence.

The government is out for journalists too. It is sorely vexed over a Bloomberg op-ed about the rigged ‘elections’. And it has denied a new visa for Economist correspondent Sue-lin Wong. Perhaps because of the paper’s not-always-flattering graphics featuring Xi Jinping as an emperor?

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HK hit by post-Plenum shoe-shining outbreak

Hong Kong’s top officials give prompt and fulsome praise to the outcome of the Sixth Plenum, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam telling us

…the consideration and adoption of the Resolution on the Major Achievements & Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century at the sixth plenary session is particularly meaningful.

Paul Chan gravely recommends that we all ‘study’ the resolution, and – perhaps fittingly for the Financial Secretary – rejoice in the parts about ‘common prosperity’.

Anne Stevenson-Yang has a less starry-eyed take. She suspects the trendy-sounding wealth-spreading stuff is little more than CCP-elite pork-barrel…

It is not easy to remain at the pinnacle of Chinese power: governing ideology is uncertain and attenuated, and the system is no longer delivering the benefits it once did. It looks like getting money strategically into the right pockets is more important than ever. That is one reason why the blatant handouts in the “Common Prosperity” program make so much sense.

Samuel Bickett’s appeal is about to begin – a Vox report.

To start the week on an upbeat note – From Oiwan Lam, an appreciation of My Little Airport, complete with YouTube links, etc.

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