HK media undergoes rectification

Widespread international attention, plus a 500%+ boost to Apple Daily’s sales – and Jimmy Lai and other NatSec arrestees are out on bail the next day anyway, feted as local heroes. Whatever the CCP’s henchmen are trying to do, it seems their Mainland methods don’t translate well to Hong Kong. It’s harder to intimidate and crush dissent out of existence in a place where people have for decades taken freedom for granted.

Things will get even more fraught when Jimmy Lai, Agnes Chow et al appear before a politically obedient NatSec judge (if not on the other side of the border). Bloomberg links the arrests to the loss of overseas confidence in Hong Kong’s courts, citing locally based Beijing officials who declare the accused guilty before there’s even a trial. (Maybe the CCP’s Han nationalists will be heartened to see that Hong Kong is upholding the noble ideals of an ancient legendary Chinese icon – the righteous magistrate. Or maybe not.)

One of Beijing’s most stolid and dependable stooges, Lau Siu-kai, explains that, in Apple Daily, the authorities are not targeting a media organization but a ‘political group’. By which he presumably means not backing the government.

The Guardian explains

“China sees the role of the media as to serve the regime … now it is imposing this view on Hong Kong,” said Mak Yin Ting, veteran journalist and former chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

The foreign press won’t escape. The FCC asks the Immigration Dept to clarify things after reports of Mainland-style visa delays for overseas media personnel.

New York Times staff might be waiting an especially long time for passport stamps after its latest scoop: an expose of the daughter of China’s number-three leader and her tons of luxury real estate here

“Members of the Red aristocracy in China, including the princelings, have made huge investments in Hong Kong,” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor of China studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “If Hong Kong suddenly loses its financial status, they cannot park their money here.”

As with some other links, this is behind a paywall. But the background on how NYT wrote the story is almost better than the piece itself – a ripping yarn of forensic journalism requiring evidence carved in stone (literally), plus of course a guest appearance by Deutsche Bank, and lots more. This is the sort of story that has also made Jimmy Lai’s Next Media so hated in Beijing, and it builds on their past investigations, and on the work that got Shirley Yam fired from the SCMP. CCP elites’ families and their offshore wealth are about as touchy as it gets.

A quick review of Jimmy Lai’s son’s Cafe Seasons in Central – a hotbed (or hotpot?) of subversive culinary activity, serving up splittist toast and similar colonial running-dog race-traitors’ fare.

And the BBC picks up the ‘Agnes Chow as true Mulan’ meme. The Twitter political correctness patrol is not happy with the ‘doe-eyed Oriental babe’ angle when profiling the 23-year-old who strikes fear into Beijing. Ditto with the ‘scrawny bespectacled’ Asian-geek stereotype used to portray Joshua Wong. Which is understandable – these young activists are not fantasy manga characters but real, smart and tough. (Why else would the SCMP’s Alex Lo and other aging blue-ribbons have such visceral loathing for them?) But while pushing such imagery is facile and even insulting, it gets clicks and convinces audiences that might not otherwise notice that the CCP are thugs. Whatever works.

We’re not done with Jimmy Lai. The Diplomat links the arrests with the government’s woefully unconvincing virus-stopped-the-elections argument…

Dispelling the myth that Hong Kong’s public health crisis is insurmountable compared to other countries reveals the postponement for the transparent ploy that it is: A desperate attempt by the chief executive to buy time for security officials to marginalize and silence pro-democracy activists within the city.

The arrests of Jimmy Lai and others were only possible because the elections were cancelled. Any election weeks after a dozen popular figures found themselves politically purged would have guaranteed a democratic landslide. But remove public accountability and the government can act with impunity.

The public will just have to find another way to express their views.

Posted in Blog | 8 Comments

Latest national-security threats: free press and a 23-year-old

Yesterday was a Hong Kong banana-republic day: NatSec arrests of Jimmy Lai and family and colleagues, plus separately of 23-year-old Agnes Chow and of Wilson Li; hundreds of cops searching Apple Daily’s offices; and (among various tightening press restrictions) a creepy HK Police policy of admitting only ‘trusted’ media into briefings.

This exciting new ‘trick’, as Commissioner Tang puts it, excludes most sources with credibility, like RTHK, Reuters and AP. If other public-sector organizations abandon normal PR practice like this, it points to greater restrictions on access to government information generally. Not a high priority, but when the CCP’s new parallel administration notices Hong Kong’s relatively high level of official transparency (non-flattering economic and social statistics, for example), it will come as a shock.

The Foreign Correspondents Club’s complaint about the raid on Apple Daily earns a prompt slap on the wrist from Beijing’s officials.

The arrests seem to be linked to alleged calls for overseas governments to put sanctions on Hong Kong officials. The irony is that they will increase pressure on more countries to follow the US’s example. It will also encourage an exodus of overseas media to other parts of Asia – which suits Beijing fine. Making Hong Kong more like the Mainland is the whole point. 

How long before the authorities start banning major media outlets online? Internet censorship, like the development of an all-propaganda local media scene, is just a matter of time.

The cops are also pressing some sort of fraud charge on Jimmy Lai – presumably to smear him as a common criminal and to drag his kids into legal trouble. This sort of thuggishness works on the Mainland. But it will just make Hong Kong more angry (and note the silence from most pro-Beijing figures right now). At some point, we will return to mega-protests on the street.

Some other things for the next couple of days…

Activists in UK are planning private prosecution of British cops in HK for torture (donations welcome). And another little ray of sunshine to warm our hearts – US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has had a nice time in Taiwan. 

Some insight into top-level CCP thinking on the whole dangerous and scary concept of a free society like Hong Kong.

Kevin Carrico in Apple Daily looks at how China extends its empire of hurt feelings (wish I’d thought of that), with reference to manipulating the right to express opinions on Australian campuses – but it could be anywhere.

On a related topic, an interesting and quite amusing round-up of Mainland academics’ theories on how to improve China’s ‘discourse power’ through media and diplomacy. They see the problems quite clearly – for example, the way freedom from political control gives Western media greater credibility (or ‘the appearance’ of it). Their proposals to improve matters reflect the fundamental problem. They can’t suggest obvious solutions like allowing freedom of expression, but view the task as a centralized top-down engineering project. 

Only if you’re desperate for something to read – senior military officers from impoverished backwaters (South Sudan, Surinam, etc) gather to eulogize Xi Jinping’s latest book. How long before Carrie Lam starts doing this?

And headline of the week

Posted in Blog | 25 Comments

You wreck other people’s kids’ lives, so…

The sanctions saga continues, with targeted Hong Kong officials alternately shrugging off the measures as meaningless, and angrily denouncing them as a crime against humanity. Beijing issues a hysterical outburst describing the moves as… guess what

Here’s the poster for the forthcoming movie. Carrie Lam’s son Joshua – a UK citizen – seems to have abandoned his studies in the US and arrived in Hong Kong. His namesake Wong meanwhile pushes a fascinating campaign to encourage our elites to prove their love of the motherland and loyalty to Xi Jinping.

I haven’t heard any expressions of sympathy for innocent bystanders like Josh Lam. I guess the pro-Beijing types don’t want to admit the sanctions cause pain, while pan-dems are too polite to mention it. 

Your mother and her colleagues implicitly approved hundreds of police assaults against Hong Kong people your age, who ended up needing hospital treatment. They are complicit in trying to wreck thousands of young people’s lives through arbitrary arrests and trumped up ‘riot’ and other charges punishable by prison. Some young activists are in exile, and thousands of families are planning to leave. If this were Burma or Congo, other countries would look the other way. But this was Asia’s greatest, freest and most international city – and these overpaid-by-the-taxpayer ‘elites’ willingly helped turn it into a police state. Actions have consequences. And you’re not alone – even the banks have to choose between non-compliance in one or the other jurisdiction.

The CCP is hanging its local puppets out to dry here. They’ve now arrested Jimmy Lai and others for suspected collusion with evil foreigners. He has friends in high places in the US, and such a move invites further sanctions and other measures that will make life unpleasant for Hong Kong government officials. Maybe that also goes for the specially picked loyalist judge who gives Lai (potentially) a life sentence. The Mainland apparatchiks no doubt have their own banking, education, false ID and other arrangements – and less cosmopolitan lifestyles – and can more convincingly laugh the sanctions off.

Sorry Josh, not sorry.

Posted in Blog | 24 Comments

As ye sow…

Christmas comes early to the people of Hong Kong this year as the US slaps sanctions on Carrie Lam and the gang. 

Here’s the actual Official Treasury Dept Naughty List Update. Amusingly, the Feds drop some African torture squad leader among all the Hong Kong and Mainland names – as if to say, hey, they’re all tinpot banana-republic scumbags to us.

The targets, like Police Commissioner Chris Tang, put on a brave face and say it makes no difference to them. The official responses tell a different story.

In its predictably over-lengthy and over-whiny press release, the HK government ‘vehemently criticizes the so-called “sanctions” as shameless and despicable’. The statement uses the petulant phrase ‘so-called’ four times. It also complains about the Treasury Dept releasing addresses and ID details – as it must to inform banks – as ‘state-sanctioned doxxing that is a serious breach of privacy and personal safety’. The bitterly indignant tone of the whole thing suggests that someone is unhappy.

Commerce Secretary Edward Yau calls it ‘savage, disproportionate and unreasonable’. He’s still learning how to do this sort of thing. Mainland officials in Beijing’s Liaison Office – who are experts at being pithy when pissy – denounce the move as ‘barbarous and rude’.

The Hong Kong public eagerly awaits gory details of the inconveniences and humiliations awaiting Carrie and friends, who will never visit the US again and perhaps find their credit cards being swallowed up by ATMs wherever they go. Here’s an intro to the system

Posted in Blog | 10 Comments

Government on alert for creation of issues

A UK parliamentary group criticizes the Hong Kong Police for breaking international conventions in their treatment of volunteer medics at protests. The government denies it and goes into predictable whiny petulant foot-stamping mode. 

(If you like that official statement, you’ll love this little one lashing at social media posts ‘creating issues’ with fake news. The Hong Kong government has for years, of course, assiduously avoided ever ‘creating issues’, let alone spouting falsehoods.)

Presumably with a view to solving ‘issues’, the authorities pile heaps of petty charges arising from the June 4 vigil onto every activist they can think of. (RTHK report.) The alleged offenses have nothing to do with the NatSec Law, but the round-up is certainly in the same spirit and intended to add to the overall ambiance: no-one is safe, and the cops will spare no effort in dredging up the flimsiest reasons to arrest and intimidate. 

With big names like Joshua Wong and Jimmy Lai involved, this will attract more international attention. In its obsession with keeping itself safe from the Dreaded Hong Kong Teenager Threat to the Nation, the CCP encourages such measures as Magnitsky Act sanctions or visits by Western cabinet members to Taiwan. It’s all linked. I know some people find Joshua Wong slightly annoying, but he does seem to realize this – and is prepared to be put in jail as part of the process.

If I had to make a prediction, I would say the next big (2019-style) street protests will be provoked by the imprisonment of pro-dem grandees including Martin Lee or Margaret Ng on idiotic ‘subverting the state’ charges – if Beijing is dumb enough to order it.

In Mekong Review, Kong Tsung-gan offers a full analysis of Hong Kong’s new regime…

…the edict is not a law in any normal sense of the word. Nor does it have anything to do with national security, again in any normal sense of the word. It is entirely a misnomer. It is an imperial edict imposed by the rulers of China upon their colonial subjects…

As mentioned above…

…the edict and the already ongoing crackdown on the freedom struggle intertwine.

Some more interesting reading… 

Nikkei Asian Review finds evidence to suggest that China’s Chairman-for-Life Xi Jinping may really mean it – and stay in power through to 2035. (At least, I would say. Nothing more pathetic than someone who has to go around introducing himself as ‘former Chairman-for-Life’.)

Not news, but Hollywood is self-censoring to please China. ‘Appeasement means profits’.

And (after U of Queensland, if you’re following these things) another Australian university becomes an arm of the CCP’s United Front. Obviously, this comes down to money, but it’s fascinating to see how personally invested some university officers have become in the big win-win Panda-suck friendship thing. Eeewwww… this is humiliating.

New Statesman explains (slowly, using easy words) to leftists why they should oppose China’s human rights horrors even if it means taking the same side as the evil imperialist West.

Plucky little Romania produces a precisely crafted list of conditions for 5G equipment suppliers, almost as if they had someone in mind…

…companies controlled by a foreign government, that don’t have a transparent ownership structure, have a history of unethical corporate behaviour or are not subjected to an independent justice system in their home country, are not eligible.

(As a teenage pioneer-explorer in the late 70s, I hitch-hiked through Romania en route to Istanbul. The greatest impression the semi-medieval country made on me was empty shops and a massively bloated, near-to-bursting, dead horse in a ditch with its legs sticking in the air. Until now.)

Fascinating background to a new book about Jewish refugees in WW2 Macau. (Includes a reference to this place – if I ever heard of it, I’d forgotten. That site is a snare. Next thing, I’m engrossed in this

The execution chamber was considered unique in Asia in that it carried out death by hanging, with the body dropping through a trapdoor directly into the prison hospital’s morgue. 

Posted in Blog | 24 Comments

Meanwhile, just across the street…

Despite the rain and the gloomy skies, the neighbourhood suddenly looks brighter… 

This six-floor walk-up probably dates back to the 1960s-70s. Normally, if a developer acquires a whole building like this, they knock it down and build a 40-floor block in its place – even if it’s a thin ‘pencil’-type structure. But if memory serves, you can’t do that on certain lots (this one is at the end of a cul-de-sac, which might be the reason). 

Around three years ago, the coarse blackened concrete and rusty window frames disappeared behind netting. Since then, workers have been in to do renovation occasionally for no more than a few weeks at a time. Maybe the owner is short of funds, or simply isn’t in a hurry. 

Now the shroud has come off, and we see a gleaming new exterior – a slight art-deco effect with a ziggurat on the roof (top of stairwell and access to roof, I guess). And much bigger windows than before.

I haven’t had a proper snoop, but there’s no sign of an elevator being installed, so it presumably remains a walk-up. I would guess it originally had two 300 sq ft (max) apartments per floor. Are they now studios, or knocked together to create one flat per floor (or subdivided into micro-coffins)? Does the owner plan to sell units, rent them long-term, or let them out as AirBnB? Have his calculations been affected by the unforeseeable changes Hong Kong has been through since he began the project?

Just nosy.

On more pressing national-security matters – that PLA video goes Village People’s Army. And while their backs are turned…

Posted in Blog | 9 Comments

An attack of obsessive-compulsive dem-elimination disorder

HK01 report that Beijing is trying to disenfranchise or disqualify pan-dems from joining and voting in the Chief Executive Election Committee. This is apparently because the dems’ landslide victory in the district council elections boosts their numbers on the 1,200-strong body. A clear case of CCP officials’ obsessive-compulsive democrat-eradication disorder.

Although it is in theory largely formed by a multitude of small-circle elections among a range of ‘sectors’, the CEEC is carefully designed, to have a comfortable majority of CCP-controlled votes (NPC/CPPCC members, representatives of local United Front groups, fisheries, Chinese medicine, etc). The bulk of the remaining slots comprise slimy functional-constituency representatives who will probably vote in line with Beijing’s orders but are not totally trustworthy (bankers, real-estate tycoons, etc). 

This leaves a minority of a minority representing the people: directly elected lawmakers and councilmen, plus teachers, lawyers, etc – the pan-dems. Even bolstered by a healthy crop of new district council members, their presence is purely cosmetic.

Indeed, the whole CEEC is a solely ceremonial body. The CE is decided in advance by Beijing – end of story. The Election Committee (and the nomination and CE ‘election campaign’ charades) are just for show.

So why is Beijing so desperate to bar pan-dems from a body with no actual power, and whose composition is rigged to keep them in a small minority in any case? We see the same redundancy and overkill in Beijing’s desperation to disqualify pan-dems from the Legislative Council elections when the poll is going to be postponed for a year, and perhaps additionally rigged, anyway. 

The need to cleanse even inert ornamental institutions of pan-dems verges on a phobia. The CCP rewrites inconvenient players out of history. It seems determined to rewrite Hong Kong’s pan-dems out of the present.

The emperor – livid at free thinkers’ refusal to kowtow – orders them to be extinguished. Wait for their lawmakers to be airbrushed from past Legislative Council group photos.

On the subject of extinguishing – an update from Kong Tsung-gan on the number of protest-related arrests and trials. The courts are swamped with this stuff.

Not wanting to put ideas into anyone’s head, but here’s a guide (in lots of languages) to using Magnitsky acts to give human-rights abusers a bad time

Posted in Blog | 9 Comments

Beijing aggression reaching new heights

First Beijing aimed threats at exotic mist-shrouded and harmless Bhutan; now it’s targeting the sturdily neutral yodelling chocolatiers of Switzerland. China extends its Everyone’s Making Us Really Angry foreign policy into the most inaccessible and inoffensive landlocked mountainous nations. Plucky little Andorra is next.

Some mid-week links…

An interesting thread on a shadow parliament and other ideas for pan-dems in NatSec-era Hong Kong. 

It never hurts to see your persecutors as ludicrous (eg, imagine your interrogator naked). Behold the PLA Hong Kong garrison trying to look hip and tough (or something).

If you’re into intellectual name-dropping, it’s time to learn more about Carl Schmitt, mid-20th Century ‘philosopher of illiberalism’. The German political and legal theorist who provided deep thinking to justify the Nazis’ policies has – surprise! – become increasingly popular among Chinese academics pushing the idea that Western democracy is finished and CCP dictatorship with Xi characteristics will save the world. The NYT has a good intro on the subject with reference to the Hong Kong clampdown. Here’s the long, heavy background (the second half is about the CCP angle). You can now use the word ‘Schmittian’ with confidence.

Atlantic on how Xi Jinping has screwed up massively on the international stage…

Foreign-policy observers have long debated: What if Beijing were handed a golden opportunity to strut on the world stage, absent a more powerful United States? Would it seize the opportunity, acting for the good of all and convincing the globe of its peaceful intentions? Or would it pursue a cramped vision of national interest? The world has inadvertently run that very experiment since January.

Having an Emperor-for-Life doesn’t help. From China Media Project: Foreign Minister Wang Yi goes overboard (grab a sick-back before reading) in lavishing praise on Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy.

A reasoned, non-wacko thesis – so far as I can see – that the Covid virus did escape from a Wuhan virology lab.

Posted in Blog | 18 Comments

Farewell to July 2020

Make a quick list of all the horrors from the first 31 days of Hong Kong’s National Security Regime. Chances are you’ll miss at least a few. HKFP count 11 – one every 2.8 days. ‘Like obituaries one after the other’, quotes Louisa Lim in the Guardian describing the new normal in the city…

Every day, the rules of political life are being drastically rewritten and the contours that are emerging are of a system that brooks no dissent. 

SCMP has a what-a-month-that-was wrap-up. The Spectator also joins in marking the one-month anniversary of authoritarian Hong Kong.

July ended with Hong Kong Police issuing arrest warrants for people living overseas (here and here), Including US citizen Sam Chu. This could provoke more of a reaction overseas than any other feature of the new NatSec system – and that’s assuming the CCP aren’t dumb enough to try harrassing exiles like Nathan Law, or their families still here. But why wouldn’t they? Carl Minzner on Beijing coming for the HK diaspora.

One last excitement as the month ended: Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung handed in his notice, ‘not seeing eye to eye’ with the Justice Secretary. You may think ‘at last, how refreshing to see a civil servant with a sense of justice and decency’. Or you might consider that his department has spent the last few years charging activists and whoever the police just rounded up at protests with trumped-up riot, obstruction, offensive-weapon, incitement and other charges, a la CCP lawfare.

Judging from his email to colleagues, his main complaint is over bureaucratic turf – he is being sidelined where NatSec prosecutions are concerned. What would anyone expect? The NatSec structure (NatSec HK government committee, NatSec police, NatSec prosecutions, NatSec courts) is a parallel government, all reporting to Beijing’s NatSec Hotel Lubyanka-Metropark in Causeway Bay.

All this keeps international attention on Hong Kong – and thus on local English-language news media. Atlantic examines the SCMP’s struggle to maintain credibility during and since Hong Kong’s 2019 uprising. 

A peculiar situation. At the top, senior management serve beholden-to-CCP Jack Ma, and at the bottom, dedicated reporters try to get their stories published untwisted. Between the two, a small and apparently not-very-pleasant group of senior editors are noticeably eager to ensure a pro-police/government slant. (Atlantic names names, but spares us sordid explanations. My wild guess would be that the latter group were won over by over-generous pay plus the chance to indulge in a little control-freakery.)

An early draft of an initial story about the [8-31] incident … had an opening that detailed “chaotic and shocking scenes” as officers went after “cowering commuters.” That was not the account that was eventually published, though. The SCMP’s edited story (which was subsequently updated) instead recounted how “elite Hong Kong police” had chased “radical protesters” wearing “masks” into the subway station.

The author’s own dealings with the top management revealed Mainland-tinged hyper-sensitivity. More insider-ish comment on the story here. Wonder how much a subscription will cost when they put up their paywall?

We declare Month Two open with a solid guarantee that Mainland medical staff collecting virus test samples here will Absolutely Never Not collect your DNA. To convince you of its sincerity, the government is looking into arresting anyone who suggests otherwise. 

Posted in Blog | 10 Comments

Well, at least they take an interest in local affairs

I don’t nose around Reddit much, but here’s something for aficionados of Hong Kong gwailos who are staunchly pro-blue ribbon/CCP. A guy called ‘Dan’, originally from Melbourne, who goes around painting over Lennon walls. Best jump straight to the vid on YouTube.

What’s with these people? In my experience (a sample of two), they often have China business/career/family exposure. Personality-wise, they tend to have a sincere sense of right and wrong, and relish being outspoken for an unpopular but noble cause, but they are also total suckers for things like fake Facebook junk and urban legends – an unfortunate combination.

Posted in Blog | 9 Comments