Float in Peace

The pre-written obits must have been gathering dust. Jiang Zemin was not a warm and cuddly liberal. Nor was he oozing charisma. It just seems that way because spoke and acted with a spontaneity unimaginable among today’s leadership, which tightly manages public image to the extent of suppressing all evidence of personality. It could be that Xi Jinping’s generation – raised during the Cultural Revolution – missed out on schooling enjoyed by older (and younger) cadres and thus lack Jiang’s panache-with-Chinese-characteristics. But we have no way of telling.

Even before Jiang’s death – and chatter about parallels with Hu Yaobang/Tiananmen – Beijing’s propaganda machine had been scrambling last week to counter nationwide protests against Zero-Covid. It must be foreign forces. Asia Times reports

Chinese columnists have launched a propaganda campaign calling on the public to trust the ruling Chinese Communist Party and government while urging them not to be used by foreign powers to undermine stability. They also criticized some Covid testing firms for providing fake data to local governments in a bid to get profitable mass test contracts.

An interesting look at the conspiracy theory that the US has a $500 million budget to create unrest in China.

Maybe Hong Kong gets a slice of that? Security Secretary Chris Tang sees local gatherings commemorating the victims of the Urumqi fire as a fledgling ‘colour revolution’… 

The city must take “preventive measures” to avoid returning to the “chaotic state” of 2019, he said.

“Later they will occupy the streets, use violence, throw petrol bombs and ravage our university campuses again. And after that, there will be large-scale riots and plunge the society into chaos,” he said.

…phrases such as “power abuse,” “leaders, step down,” “dictatorship” and “revolution,” which had appeared at demonstrations over the past few days, could be seen as endangering national security and thus violating the law.

If you think that’s a bit wild, try pro-Beijing lawmakers demanding that the government rearrange Google’s algorithms…

…e-books on Hong Kong independence have been published on online platforms, and a song on Hong Kong independence which is claimed as the “national anthem of Hong Kong” has even appeared among the search results of Internet search engines. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

 …whether the Government has studied ways to regulate online platforms (e.g. the Google e-books platform) to prevent such platforms from selling books that violate the Hong Kong National Security Law…

[and] use technologies to review the search results of Internet search engines, as well as inform the relevant operators about any false information (including false information concerning national sovereignty) and request their removal of such false information…?

Which leads us to the latest censorship directives from the Mainland, courtesy of China Digital Times

…all search engines should continue implementing a clean-up of search results related to bypassing the Firewall, and limit the spread of keywords such as “Firewall circumvention,” “accessing the Internet scientifically,” etc.

To prove that even patriots can make honest mistakes. Former Justice Secretary Elsie Leung finds herself backing the wrong side after defending the courts for rejecting government attempts to ban an overseas lawyer from defending Jimmy Lai. 

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More on ‘interpretation’

The Bar Association politely hints at mild semi-discomfort over NPCSC ‘interpretation’ in the Jimmy Lai/Timothy Owens case. An SCMP article raises the possibility (apparently slim) that the NPCSC ruling might even lead to a special list of local lawyers permitted to handle NatSec cases. It also quotes Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun, former law dean at the University of Hong Kong, as saying…

…the seven-day adjournment was unfair to the defendant, as Lai would be unable to find an alternative lawyer in such a short time.

“No counsel would be able to take up such a big case within seven days, and further adjournments will be inevitable,” he said.

The official line that foreign lawyers somehow lack knowledge of NatSec doesn’t make much sense: that would be the client’s problem, not the government’s. Similarly, the claim that overseas counsel may be beholden to foreign powers is unconvincing: their priority is surely to protect the defendant’s interests. But no-one at press conferences or in op-eds seems to be asking why exactly the authorities are so desperate to keep Owen from defending Lai. Here are some interesting SCMP reader comments…

If the charges and evidence are robust, no matter who represents Lai, he should be convicted.  The only possibly motivation is a fear of losing both the case and face … if indeed the charges and the law is robust and Lai is convicted despite being represented by a foreign lawyer, it will show the world that the law is clear, fair and justly applied.  By denying him a choice of counsel, it actually weakens the credibility of NSL, the judiciary and the legislature.

And…

Any local lawyer who takes over this case would feel way more pressured than a foreign one.

Sesame Street is brought to you today by the phrase ‘三个坚定不移’, or ‘three unswervings’. (Maybe ‘three steadfasts’ would sound less silly. Or maybe not. Or ‘firmnesses’. All from Xinhua – translate as you see fit.) On the face of it, the three things are all about not deviating from protecting the people by fighting Covid. But they seem sufficiently overblown to suggest an underlying agenda of relaxing some extreme policies while maintaining that there’s no reversal going on.

Some more reading on the situation in the Mainland…

HKFP interviews a couple of Mainland students studying in Hong Kong on their thoughts about what’s happening back home.

AFP’s round-up of the weekend’s events.

Minxin Pei in Asia Nikkei

The Chinese police can put protesters behind bars, but omicron will still be lurking. The economic and social toll of zero COVID will keep piling up and fuel future protests. The public image of Xi would take another hit, an inauspicious beginning for his unprecedented third term.

Leaders have to make tough choices. Ending zero COVID would be by far the lesser of two evils, however unattractive it may seem to Xi and the party.

Michael Schuman in Atlantic

…after four decades of “reform and opening up,” as the Chinese call it, China’s citizens have become too connected to the world and too self-confident to be herded like obedient automatons by an unfettered state.

Hmmm.

From NPR

…the emergence of the omicron variant a year ago caught the party flat-footed, and it’s had a hard time pivoting. A never-ending string of lockdowns and travel restrictions have hurt the economy and eroded public goodwill.

But dropping the policy and letting the pandemic spread would have its own high costs…

Chinese experts estimate if Beijing was to lift lockdowns immediately, the overwhelming number of hospitalizations would collapse its medical system.

A thread on the near impossibility of protesting in China without risk of individual identification by authorities.

And Jamil Anderlini on Chinese young people’s lack of awareness of earlier protest movements.

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Case goes to Court of More Final Appeal

Weeks after Hong Kong holds a conference and sends emissaries overseas to maintain that the city still has rule of law, Beijing will overturn the Court of ‘Final’ Appeal’s rejection of the government’s attempt to bar British lawyer Timothy Owen from defending Jimmy Lai. Officially, CE John Lee is ‘requesting’ the NPC Standing Committee to ‘interpret’ the NatSec Law. In practice, Beijing will redefine the wording and amend or expand the meaning of the law.

HKFP quotes Lee as saying…

“Hong Kong residents have the right to choose their own lawyers. According to previous cases, the right of defendants to choose their legal representation refers to choosing from lawyers who are fully qualified in Hong Kong, not overseas lawyers who do not have those qualifications.”

The Standard reports

Lee’s announcement was backed by the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office…

A spokesman said on Wechat: “The decision made by the relevant court in Hong Kong in approving a British King’s Counsel handling Lai Chee-ying’s case has contradicted the rule in the NSL where the administrative, legislative and judicial authorities have to prevent, stop and punish actions and activities that endanger national security.

“The decision has also been against the purpose of legislation and logic in legal contexts.” The spokesman said the decision has raised strong discontentment among people who “love the country and Hong Kong” and “those with righteousness in the legal sector.”

“They all said some judges simply used the principles and proceedings in normal cases to regulate the application and enforcement of the national security law. The judges have insufficient knowledge on the constitutional status of the national security law, and have neglected its authoritative and overriding nature,” he said.

It quotes Lee as saying…

“There’s no effective means to ensure that a counsel from overseas will not have a conflict of interest, and there’s also no means to ensure that he has not been coerced, compromised or in any way controlled by foreign governments, associations or persons.”

Has any of this ever been an issue with any overseas lawyer? Can it be?

From the SCMP story

…legal scholar Thomas Kellogg, who studies the Hong Kong situation at Georgetown University in Washington, said Lai’s case underlined a wider issue.

“This move to block Tim Owen’s participation is part of a broader pattern of blocking due process rights in national security trials, which includes blocking the right to a jury trial and holding individuals – including Jimmy Lai himself – for extended periods in pre-trial detention, without access to bail,” he said.

Those desperate to see a bright side can at least say that the CFA displayed its independence in rejecting the government’s application. But what practical purpose is there to a purely symbolic or nominal ‘independence’ that can be overridden on a whim?

Lai’s case will presumably be postponed – which leaves more time for the authorities to pursue him for his other alleged crimes.

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Going to be an interesting week

Lots of open (and from CCP’s viewpoint, apparently coordinated) protest and defiance in China this weekend. The censors are too overworked to delete all the videos on social media. The consensus seems to be that this will be suppressed or smoothed over one way or another, and not destabilize the government. Unless rebellious elites in the power structure decide to leverage the disaffection as a way to undermine the leadership – which is probably unlikely, given all the purges and concentration of power over the last 10 years.

Good thread on what has/has not been happening in Urumqi as the Uighur/Han populations protest Covid regimes.

Main issue is how Beijing extricates itself from its zero-Covid policy from now on – interesting thread here

This raises the possibility of a faster return to normal in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, if you have family visiting – Tripperhead, tireless chronicler of Hong Kong’s Covid regulations, distills thousands of words of impenetrable government jargon into a clear, plain-language guide for anyone bold enough to travel to the city. It’s still pretty daunting.

On other matters…

The Vatican is upset that Beijing has broken a deal on appointing Bishops. Say three Hail Marys and promise not to do it again. Thread proposing that two sides are testing each other.

It’s not too soon for a preliminary round-up of 2022 in Hong Kong. (Was the hamster massacre in the last 11 months? Seems like ancient history. I guess it is in hamster years.)

The Court of Final Appeal will announce its decision today on whether to let Timothy Owen KC represent Jimmy Lai. One pro-Beijing figure is muttering about an ‘interpretation’ to overturn the court if it confirms earlier rulings that overseas counsel should be permitted (though other loyalists quoted have different opinions). Whichever way they decide, the judges are going to outrage someone.

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Some quick Jimmy Lai background

Jimmy Lai’s collusion etc NatSec trial starts next week. Meanwhile, he is convicted of using 0.1% of the Apple Daily HQ (at a public-sector business park) for non Apple Daily use. A minor breach of lease conditions sounds like a civil case – but someone decided they must pursue him for criminal fraud. 

The Court of Final Appeal today hears the government’s last (or at least latest) attempt to bar Timothy Owen KC from defending Lai in the NatSec case. State-owned media carry quotes from a pro-Beijing commentator saying use of a foreign lawyer poses a national-security threat, and the trial could be moved to the Mainland. And more. (Who wants to take bets on the CFA folding?)

Aaron Mc Nicholas on the Apple Daily content likely to be used as evidence

After listing the title and the date of publication, prosecutors use the phrase “despite its appearance as a news article,” before going on to describe how the content deviates from news reporting. In many examples, the document asserts that the offending content actually served as an appeal to the public to take part in a particular protest, served to incite hatred against the Hong Kong police or against the Chinese central government, or served to praise acts of violence during the 2019 social unrest.

…The pattern of calling into question whether Apple Daily’s news coverage was truly news continues throughout the document…

…“Lai’s Twitter account contained English content with tagging or interaction with external elements, including various political figures, representatives, agents of and/or persons affiliated with the US, UK, Japan, the Taiwan region, etc.”

From our own comments, ‘Del Boy’ makes a prediction… 

I know exactly what Jimmy Lai’s QC will be doing. He won’t even get near discussing the various charges against the man. He will simply rip into the court proceedings, pointing out how none of it is compliant with either common law or the basic law … [He] will take his report back to Europe and the United Nations … Jimmy’s going to jail anyway. He’s going to go there with the satisfaction of knowing the territory ‘elite’ will be further isolated from the global community.

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55 metric tons of NatSec wasted per day

The government’s appeal to bar an overseas lawyer from defending Jimmy Lai takes place tomorrow. Commentary in the state-owned local press rails against foreign counsel as NatSec threats and suggests sending Lai to the Mainland for trial.

Hong Kong’s NatSec enforcers have a big budget and manpower. They must find more than Jimmy Lai and pro-dem politicians to arrest and prosecute, even the obscure or pitiful. From yesterday, anthem-related ‘sedition’ (commenting and sharing posts online) cases in which an 18-year-old pleads guilty and a 42-year-old courier is denied bail. Among other things, how much are these trials and detentions costing taxpayers?

Is it more than Covid testing, or less? Weird statistic of the day: Hong Kong produces 55 tonnes of used RAT tests per day. (Trying to picture how big a pile that would be – the kits can’t weigh more than an ounce a piece. What’s the total for China? On a related matter, things getting wild at the Foxconn plant. Background here.)

With hopes of a quiet Friday so I can finish Kevin Carrico’s book – some weekend reading…

Diplomat interview with Andrew Small, author of No Limits: The Inside Story of China’s War with the West

Journal of Democracy on Xi Jinping’s move away from prioritizing the economy…

Had [Xi] chosen to continue the economy-centered program rather than introduce the “struggle for security,” he would have had no excuse to stay in power, and the Twentieth Party Congress would have witnessed his handover of power to someone else. 

CSIS paper on why invading Taiwan would be more trouble than it’s worth for Beijing.

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The Just-won’t-let-go Dept

Like the proverbial rottweiler with its throat-clamping jaws, Hong Kong’s Justice Dept goes to the courts for a fourth time to prevent Timothy Owen KC from defending Jimmy Lai at a trial due to start next week. The department is applying directly to the Court of Final Appeal for leave to appeal the last rejection.

Why the determination to bar overseas counsel? Six of Lai’s former media staff are pleading guilty to ‘conspiring to collude with a foreign country or foreign elements’ at a NatSec court with its handpicked judges and possibility of sentence-reduction. Some will testify against Lai. Evidence heard involves ‘lunchbox meetings’ and planning for ‘seditious’ news and comment articles calling for public participation in protests and foreign sanctions against China and Hong Kong. (More here.) What many would consider fairly typical Apple Daily editorial work is being presented as a threat to national security. What will a foreign lawyer, with few local ties but a potentially sensitive or influential overseas audience, have to say about this, in or out of court, if he is permitted to defend the high-profile Lai? 

An even bigger question is how the authorities will react if the CFA denies the attempt to bar Owen. Is the whole judicial system getting into a situation where higher powers see fit to impose whatever ‘enhancements’ it takes to ensure it does not conflict with the sovereign’s ‘comprehensive jurisdiction’?

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Site up again, maybe

Seems to have been undergoing ‘maintenance’. A few things in the news…

The Court of Appeal dismisses the government’s latest attempt to prevent Jimmy Lai from having an overseas barrister in his upcoming NatSec trial. This looks like the Justice Dept’s last chance. But someone seems to be very keen to make sure Lai does not use KC Tim Owen. Will Beijing directly override the judges’ decision? Or at least issue some sort of ‘interpretation’ that bars foreign lawyers from defending persons accused of future NatSec offenses?

(Samuel Bickett’s thread on why the authorities have been so determined to keep Owen away from the case.)

Just as we thought it might be dying down, rugby Anthem-Gate becomes a HK Police Organized Crime and Triad Bureau investigation…

Members of the Hong Kong Rugby Union on Monday were interviewed by police, and records of the group’s communications seized…

…[police are] also investigating whether the incidents constituted breaches of the National Anthem Ordinance, the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance or any of the city’s other laws.

The cops also separately make an arrest over the anthem outrage-horror – not for playing the wrong tune at a Korean stadium, but for reposting a video of the incident with a comment thanking the games’ organizers, which counts as ‘incitement’.

The SCMP on Beijing’s Covid dilemma. As well as a practical challenge in terms of health-care capacity, there’s a major problem with public perceptions… 

…every step China now takes to coexist with the virus, such as ending mandatory PCR tests, will fly in the face of its own words. The logic is simple: if the state has been insisting that the measures are necessary to protect peoples’ health, then how can the measures be abruptly recalled?

…the state never informed its people that Covid-19 had evolved into variants that were much milder, but more contagious … If Chinese were told six months ago that humans can coexist with Covid-19 and that the country has to search for a way out, the current relaxations would have gone smoother.

Instead, China doubled down a one-sided propaganda campaign to enhance perceptions that the virus was “a deadly threat to everyone”, offering advice to “stay away from the virus whatever the cost”. These perceptions are so deeply entrenched that it will be a big challenge to undo them.

Slowly proceeding with Kevin Carrico’s book…

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Despair as Anthem-Gate endures

Still recovering from the weekend’s gluttony/money-squandering/guilt trip – a HK$2,500-a-head sushi dinner. The most pleasurable part of the experience was the company of eight foodie veterans of the 2019 marches who had the tiny Uehara restaurant to themselves. Other highlights included: oyster tempura, a range of sake, and a highly respectable lady ecstatically describing the creaminess of sperm in her mouth (that’s fish sperm). But there’s only so much exquisiteness you can cram into handmade morsels of seafood, and I have had equally good sushi for half the price elsewhere (namely Sushi Masa). Would I do it again? Probably.

More rugby anthem woes – with the mislabeling of the correct tune as Glory to Hong Kong on TV broadcasts at two games in Dubai. The Chief Secretary is sorely vexed (’ridiculous and unbelievable’). So is the Culture and Sports Secretary (‘unacceptable and unbelievable’.) (More on ‘no-nonsense’ letters to sports authorities here.) And – as predicted – the HK Sports and Olympics body will release guidelines on the correct hand signals for athletes to make if they find themselves listening to the wrong anthem…

SF&OC will be responsible for keeping review on whether the guidelines were conducted accordingly, [Hon Sec Ronny Wong] added.

“If the Hong Kong team did not follow the guidelines, they could be suspended from the tournament, ” said Pui Kwan Kay, chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association.

“We will also consider boycotting the tournament if the organisers are responsible and conduct the offences repeatedly or deliberately,” he added.

Hong Kong team athletes should stop the “misconduct” of the match on the spot, Pui noted, claiming it is reasonable for athletes to quit the game.

The SCMP reports that, as Chinese officials want to ensure good relations with Seoul right now, pro-Beijing camp might mute their horror and outrage over the South Korean incident.

Some leftovers from the weekend…

Concerning a non-rugby anthem-related case – a woman convicted of insulting the official tune  in 2021 – a HKFP op-ed says

[The magistrate] went on to show a worrying tendency to imitate one of the worst features of recent political cases: a mysterious compulsion to dismiss at length and in detail anything offered by way of mitigation.

As chief economist with Nomura in the late 1990s, Bill Overholt did some amazing analysis of Hong Kong’s property mess. He’s still around. In comments at a recent seminar, he explains why Xi Jinping will not enjoy his third term and China faces major problems…

…we Americans tend to exaggerate the present and future prowess of anyone seen as a rival. We did it with the Soviets and we did it with the Japanese. We’re doing it again.

A London School of Economics academic on the total absence of women in the latest CCP Politburo.

And the Economist (probably paywalled) describes China’s Covid strategy as ‘steampunk’. A quick video clip showing the ‘zero Covid’ policy in action.

To make me feel better about that sushi bill: major banks, a Canadian pension fund and others absurdly invested millions in FTX – the crypto magic-beans exchange run by the hairy kid in shorts. Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek issues a statement trying to rationalize its decision to join in the idiocy.

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Skating rinks, morons and goats

Statement from Samuel Bickett about the Court of Final Appeal’s brusque (three-sentence) rejection of his application to have his conviction overturned.

A week ago, Hong Kong health authorities announced plans for more random-sounding micro-relaxations of Covid restrictions. Among the measures, people entering the city could go to skating rinks and cinemas upon arrival, rather than only after three days. But then, officials changed their minds – keeping movies and ice-skating off-limits to new arrivals (as with restaurants). Whatever, right? But the interesting thing is the Health Bureau’s explanation for the backtrack: 

The bureau said it was “to facilitate differentiation by members of the public and avoid public’s confusion during actual operation.”

What would they do if they were trying to create confusion?

A recent summary of Hong Kong’s various not-confusing-at-all Covid regulations.

Motor Moron of the Month Award surely goes to the idiot who tried to drive a Hiace van along Lugard Road (the walking path below the Peak overlooking Victoria Harbour). More pix here.

A few items for the weekend…

The Art Newspaper on the gloomy outlook for China’s cultural scene following in light of Xi Jinping’s party congress speech’s call to…

…“promote confidence in [China’s] culture, cast new glories of socialist culture”. 

How to write a half-decent, semi-stimulating editorial: the Guardian on South Korea’s soft power

Completely out-of-area and off-topic, but too strange (and wittily written) to miss: the ‘Judas’ goats that led sheep up into the slaughter chambers of Midwestern US meat-packing plants in exchange for cigarettes.

From the acknowledgements in Kevin Carrico’s book

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