The (or a) Zen trial starts

The trial of Cardinal Zen and others begins (background here). The only charges are a minor and rarely enforced technicality: failing to register the 612 Humanitarian Defence Fund as a ‘society’, which carries a HK$10,000 fine. The retired Catholic cleric, Margaret Ng, Cyd Ho, Denise Ho, Hui Po-keung, and Sze Ching-wee were arrested in May on suspicion of ‘collusion with foreign forces’ – a serious NatSec Law offense. 

Are the authorities going to chicken out of pursuing the six through NatSec courts with hand-picked judges, no juries, and probable multi-year prison sentences? It would be out of character for the vindictive NatSec system to go easy on high-profile local critics of Beijing, and even now the prosecution is emphasizing the group’s (surely irrelevant) political stance and international ties. But imprisoning a highly respected 90-year-old former bishop, an equally venerable lawyer and a popular singer would attract some pretty damning international coverage (even if the Vatican studiously looks the other way).

Not that Hong Kong’s reputation is usually uppermost in the minds of the people who make these decisions. The NatSec investigation appears to be ongoing.

Not totally unrelated – an HKFP op-ed on Beijing’s awkward support for Putin…

China’s current friendship with Russia is contributing to a trend: officials and business leaders around the world are increasingly questioning the judgment and effectiveness of China’s ruling elite. From Ukraine to Taiwan to Covid-19, it seems to be out of step with global opinion, and indeed out of step with reality.

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Enjoy it while it lasts

I feel happy for these guys celebrating their last day of Covid testing at the airport. Mainlanders, according to the SCMP, are frustrated that they still can’t come to Hong Kong because of quarantine rules on their return.

Sounds like a ‘win-win’. Big event of the weekend was my first ever trip to Ocean Park (swam at Water World a few times back in the late 80s). Must be hellish when it’s packed with tourists, but definitely worth a visit for the time being. The pandas are predictably ‘meh’. Highlights include the cable car, the ‘Hair Raiser’ roller-coaster (sign warns you not to ride it if under the influence of alcohol or drugs), the penguins, a walrus, the sharks, and the jellyfish (no drugs warning – could be quite an experience). 

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But at least we’re arresting seditious harmonica-players

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dips below 18,000. Interest-rate rises threaten the property market. The city loses a number-three financial hub ranking to Singapore (as its share of Asian IPOs slumps to 7%). Consumers flock to outlets selling cheap lunch boxes. And the Financial Secretary expects the city to end the year in recession.

In the past, cool heads would be buying stocks now on the assumption that everything would be back to booming business as usual in a couple of years. But that was when China’s growth potential looked boundless. CSIS on the big financial picture

One asset class after another has become unsafe for investment, starting with peer-to-peer lending networks in 2018 and continuing with corporate bonds, local state-owned companies, trust companies, smaller commercial banks, and property developers.

Andy Xie in the SCMP on the end of China’s property bubble…

With about 7 billion square metres in residential property under construction and unsold, if every marriage leads to a property purchase and the number of marriages doesn’t fall further, it would still take about 10 years to digest the inventory. Given that both assumptions are wildly optimistic, and that land banks, meanwhile, will only add to the inventory, it will be a long slog before the market returns to stability.

With Mainland ‘integration’ a political imperative, there’s no chance of Hong Kong carving out a new role of its own. 

Title of Paul Chan’s next Budget speech: ‘Seizing Limpest-Ever Bounce-Back Opportunities’.

We have NatSec-driven emigration. We have Covid restrictions-driven emigration. Now add plain economy-driven flight.

Just in: Chief Executive John Lee calls on ‘patriotic’ journalists to tell more good Hong Kong stories.

Not Bitcoin – Link REIT.

Also just in: a clip of CX’s fleet these days.

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Bikini-gate uproar mayhem horror

Big local news today concerns TVB’s Miss Hong Kong contest. A younger (say, 60-something) member of the Independent Police Complaints Council might object to the beauty pageant as outdated or tawdry. But 81-year-old former Education Director Helen Yu says it is among the causes of violence, obscenity and child abuse. While she doesn’t back this up, she may have a point in criticizing the swimsuit segment part of the show, which she implies involves the ladies wearing ‘very little clothing’ while being leered at by a TV station boss…

“Is it necessary to answer questions in an air-conditioned room in front of Eric Tsang Chi-wai, who looks straight at you? Why do they have to answer questions while wearing a bikini? I really don’t understand.”

Sounds cruel. But of course, former Miss Hong Kongs can become rich and famous. With octogenarians hogging public-sector jobs and Covid rules wrecking the rest of the economy – it’s either that or Greater Bay Area opportunities.

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‘Inappropriate’ to call emigration ‘emigration’

All those farewell gatherings you’ve been going to didn’t happen. A Beijing official says there’s no major emigration trend from Hong Kong, notwithstanding the fact that people here have always been mobile; and the city isn’t being Mainlandized (governments jail people for cartoon sheep or harmonica-playing everywhere in the world, you see). The Standard reports

Huang … said it’s “inappropriate” to say Hong Kong is facing an emigration wave despite more than 110,000 people having moved to other countries over the past year.

He said the decline in population was caused by various reasons, including deaths, and there is no evidence to show the drop was caused by an emigration wave.

So – where are the missing people? Have they become invisible?

Whatever it is that’s not causing emigration, Tian Feilong promises more of it

…”Such changes have shown the central government now has a more scientific and complete recognition of its role and functions in one country, two systems.”

But he said Hong Kong still has a long way to go in fulfilling the requirements of the new chapter of one country, two systems in areas like education, rule of law, social culture and sense of national identity. So the SAR has to make improvements to offset its deficiencies.

Now onto improvements to offset Cardinal Joseph Zen: The Conversation on why the elderly cleric scares Beijing.

By way of rectification after implying Lausan Collective are tankies (they just use words like ‘colonialism’ and ‘imperialism’ way too much) – their approving coverage of Hong Kong students who support Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

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Last pain-in-the-ass PCR tests done…

Life finally returns to normal. In other words, another week of government-by-patriots-only. Or is it government-by-bivalve-molluscs-only? Hard to tell.

A veteran Hong Kong journalist does a better-than-average summary of the city’s plight…

Hong Kong is on a losing spree.

The first thing I saw after walking out of my quarantine hotel last week was a long line of people clutching flowers outside the British consulate. As I watched, a police van drove past, and a cop in the front passenger seat seemed to be adjusting a device that looked like a hand-held radar gun, but I guessed was a heavy-duty video camera. I vaguely assumed the cops were filming the mourners. Hundreds were still turning up last night, when – inevitably – Glory to Hong Kong broke out. One harmonica-player arrested.

Lausann Collective joins all the other peeved tankies in telling the Hong Kong public what they should feel and do. Another delusional rant here, if you must. HKFP does a better job explaining the apparent outpouring of grief for the Queen in the former colony…

“It has been a long time since I have taken part in an event in a public place with people who, I think, share some of my ideals.”

Both articles mention the cliche-fact that ‘the British never gave Hong Kong democracy’. Might be worth recalling that the UK gave dozens of colonies self-government in the 1950s-70s, and Britain had no reason in principle not to do the same here. The difference was that Beijing made it clear from back in the late 50s that any such move would be unacceptable. It was the CCP that forbade democracy in Hong Kong, then as now.

(While we’re at it, it was also Beijing that insisted on tight land-supply in the late 80s-90s, culminating in the property bubble and crash in 1998-2003. Donald Tsang got his knuckles rapped for pointing this out when he was Financial Secretary under Tung Chee-hwa. Mainland officials’ less-than-convincing argument had been that the Brits might run away with the money if they sold more land. As with refusal to allow representative government, a perpetual property bubble has been fixed policy since the handover.)

The next NatSec show commences. The HKJA’s Ronson Chan is charged with obstructing police, and Al Jazeera on why Cardinal Zen (along with Margaret Ng, Denise Ho, et al) is on trial

“The Chinese government wants to cut off all forms of organizing and solidarity that run outside of the Communist Party’s control in Hong Kong,” William Nee, research and advocacy coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said…

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But can we reopen BBQ sites?

My third and last compulsory PCR test – day six after release from quarantine – is this morning. Hong Kong Covid policies being the gift that keeps on giving, I must still take a daily RAT test for a few days, and upload a pic thereof to a government app. Chances are no-one will notice if you just ignore this whole thing, but I’m not keen on finding out when there are fines and prison sentences on offer for delinquents. Obviously, I wouldn’t dream of sending a pic of the same used test cartridge for days in a row. 

As whining reaches a new crescendo, another incremental relaxation of quarantine requirements – to 0+7 – looks possible. In order to go ahead, officials face the challenge of finding a coherent and credible reason why, after relying on misleading stats to insist the previous stupidity was essential, they can now move away from it. ‘We suddenly realized it was stupid’ is presumably not an option…

Clearly it would be foolish to suppose that I am the only person who has noticed that policy is now being made on the basis of fictitious statistics. The danger is not just that erroneous fears or hopes could lead to misguided policies. The danger is that people will entirely lose faith in the government’s public health efforts.

If you think that’s tough, how will Beijing explain an abandonment of zero-Covid – to Guiyang residents, for example, if and when it ever happens? (And will they make an announcement that when it’s OK to touch foreigners again?)

Thread by a guy at TriviumChina on why Beijing won’t end zero-Covid before sometime in 2023

Some links…

BBC video on the UK’s new migrants from Hong Kong. And a video on Hongkongers learning to change plugs and caulk bathtubs before emigrating to do-it-yourself societies. Article here.

Merics on why, to Xi Jinping, everything is about national security.

And ‘color revolutions’ must be prevented.

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Regina wants your sperm

Professor Michael C. Davis on the vigorous use of Hong Kong’s archaic sedition law…

Public advocacy that had previously passed as legal public protests and critical debate has now been branded sedition, with over 60 arrests so far. 

…The court judges that tens of thousands of 2019 protesters “did not recognize the sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China over the HKSAR and did not support the policy of the ‘One Country, Two Systems,’” while supporting calls for “independence and self-determination.” From this characterization it then appears that the defendant [cartoon sheep] book authors, by raising awareness of the protest in children’s books, suffer guilt by association with such allegedly illegal protests.

The local ‘Article 23’ NatSec Law will probably absorb this old legislation, and increase the sentences.

Regina Ip proposes financial incentives for people to have kids, and to freeze eggs and (for some reason) sperm. Interesting that she implicitly admits Hong Kong has a serious demographic – also known as emigration – problem. She’s also pushing ‘Chinese medicine’ to relieve pressure on the scientific sort.

(Won’t ingenious crooks find ways to game this system? For example, organized syndicates giving Regina samples of other people’s sperm every week just for the cash? Or borrowing babies. Or something.)

Ta Kung Pao runs a commentary accusing ‘anti-Chinese elements and anti-China media’ of ‘whitewashing colonial rule’ by encouraging mourning of the Queen. Has anyone ‘encouraged’ this spontaneous public display? (Apart from the taxi driver who picked me up from the quarantine hotel near the British consulate. He was delighted at carrying people laden with flowers up to the place.) They could have just stayed silent rather than show how thin-skinned they are – but no.

Vice looks at the overt expressions of grief – for the death of Hong Kong, if not of Elizabeth II – that riled the CCP paper.

An aging Hong Kong actor retracts his expressions of condolence and expresses deep love for the motherland.

(While we’re at it, all of Private Eye’s past covers featuring the Queen.)

The perversity must continue: Beijing censors the WHO announcement that the Corvid pandemic is coming to an end. 

Some (getting stale) links for the weekend…

Foreign Policy on lessons from the Ukraine war for China…

What could be called the Davos view that China is “communist in name only” is fading. In its place, an understanding of the strength of both ethnonationalist and Marxist-Leninist conviction among the Chinese leadership is taking hold. 

In Foreign Affairs, an exiled former CCP official criticizes China’s hubris and paranoia…

Xi seems to be positioning himself not as merely a great party leader but as a modern-day emperor.

…Why, unlike his predecessors, is Xi so resistant to others’ advice? Part of the reason, I suspect, is that he suffers from an inferiority complex, knowing that he is poorly educated in comparison with other top CCP leaders.

And a follow-up on the pitfalls of calling Xi ‘president’ rather than ‘general secretary’.

A bird’s eye view of China’s real estate expansion…

We use an innovative alternative data set – satellite Night Time Lights (NTL) – to quantify China’s expansion in fixed assets (real estate, factories, infrastructure).

China Media Project marks the 20th anniversary of the slogan ‘sneaky visit’.

War on the Rocks on the chances of Beijing pulling off an invasion of Taiwan…

The sheer size, scale, and complexity involved with invading Taiwan likely checks even the most self-serving and impetuous instincts inside the Chinese Community Party. 

And some out-of-area viewing: interview with a sprightly 98-year-old German-born Russian Jew about his time with US forces interrogating captured Nazis.

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HK film directors urged to maintain artistry

Any plans for a quick trip out of Hong Kong in the next few months go out the window as the ‘next round’ of hotel quarantine – Nov/Dec/Jan – seems set to go ahead. The government might also plug the loophole allowing unvaccinated Mainlanders entry. The outcry over this is a good example of how people have been conditioned to accept (in this case, demand) Covid idiocy: wouldn’t it make more sense to demand that everyone from across the world be treated the same way as the Mainlanders?

What have I missed while gorging on kimchi and whining about Covid tests and form-filling at the airport, and cold baked beans in quarantine? Su Xinqi on the flimsiness of Chow Hang-tung’s ‘incitement to subversion’ charge. Lorie Lai’s mitigation (cut short by judge).

The latest sedition/subversion news here, here and here. (Also from HKFP, an op-ed on lengthy pre-trial detentions.) The Department of Justice uses taxpayers’ money to pursue convictions for the most trivial cases. And the Hong Kong movie industry body warns members against attending the Golden Horse Awards because…

‘Taiwanese directors or artists have repeatedly made comments that are unrelated to films, which has mixed politics into films and tainted the independent artistry of films’. 

By ‘artistry’ (‘independent’, indeed), we mean making movies that satisfy Mainland censors. It is an art, I guess.

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…of mini- (two days and 10 hours’) quarantine. Not enough time to have finished Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – a JK Rowling-ish thing lying around on my Kindle for some reason. Trevor Howard would play the lead in the movie.

Now having to do multiple self- and non-self-tests over the coming days. And barred from restaurants. (Which reminds me of the food in Seoul: not just Korean, but amazing Indian, Uzbek, Nepalese and quasi-Jiangxi fare. Portion sizes are probably 30-50% bigger than in Hong Kong.)

Every person arriving in Hong Kong is telling other people around the world not to even think of coming here. A Bloomberg op-ed by a quarantine inmate who notes that the rituals are institutionalized and someone’s making a ton of money from all this… 

Hong Kong’s policies, guided by mainland China’s draconian zero-infections approach, have made misery the raison d’être of this once-vibrant economy.

… what was prudence in March 2020 looks like parody in September 2022.

Dr Owen on why ‘3+4’ has no scientific basis

Continued border quarantine will have a significant negative impact on the economy. At this stage of the epidemic, these policies will do significantly more long-term harm to population health than the disease itself.

A reminder that this a performance: Mainlanders can waltz in with no vaccination or quarantine (though they will be stuck in hotels when they go back over the border), and say hello to the monkeypox camp.

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