HK’s latest ‘common sense by stealth’ step

Let’s pretend we’re not moving away from China’s Zero-Covid policy while pretending we are!

Hong Kong reduces hotel quarantine for arrivals from seven days to three (by three we mean more like four), followed by four days’ isolation at home (by which we mean you can take public transport and go to the office, but not enter a restaurant), during which time you will have a ‘Yellow’ code.

So the ‘balance’ the government insists we strike shifts from around 70% stupid-30% common sense to 60%-40%, by which we mean 65%-35% when you look at the details. This is cause for joyous celebration. Not totally unwarranted in my case, as I am preparing for a long overdue trip to the free world and was not looking forward to a whole week in a hotel room afterwards.

Thus Hong Kong continues its tortuous (tortoise-like?) efforts to extricate itself from China’s zero-Covid policy without being too obvious about it, so the city still appears dedicated to the patriotic mission to crush the virus. We don’t know whether local officials are conning their Beijing counterparts in this, or (more likely) sympathetic Mainland overseers are smoothing things over with their superiors back home. Introduction of the health code tracking system – potentially a permanent social-control mechanism, or at least pain in the ass – is no doubt part of the deal. 

As critics rush to point out, the 3+4 model will do nothing to bring tourists back. There’s always a bright side!

On the subject of common sense – an article by HKU experts a few weeks ago diplomatically but clearly outlining the reality of the health threat Covid now poses to Hong Kong. Essentially, we are moving to endemicity and should follow what Singapore does.

Alternatively, Chinese health workers swab freshly caught fishes’ mouths to test for Covid.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Democracy as the new foot-binding

Still a few weeks away, but I am arranging a trip overseas – my first since December 2019. Now I read this about the airport procedures when you return to Hong Kong. And this. The amazing thing is that anyone is still living in this city.

In recent years, the CCP has started promoting traditional filial piety. But one Hong Kong pro-Beijing ‘politician’ still prefers the Mao-era practice of denouncing politically wayward parents. Eunice Yung strikes a blow for Chinese women by refusing to accept the traditional role of meek and obedient daughter-in-law. Like the West’s hip and trendy student radicals of the 1960s, she shocks her elders by embracing Communism. Or – perhaps a more culturally appropriate angle – she rebels against the older generation’s outdated culture and values, and rejects democracy like her forebears fought foot-binding. 

Some links from the weekend…

Interesting Fortune story on challenges facing Nicolas Aguzin, CEO of HKEX.

Harris Bricken’s China Law Blog on why Beijing’s reactions to the Ukraine invasion and the Pelosi visit suggest businesses need to reduce China exposure…

I have seen an increase in China risks (and a concomitant need for China footprint-lightening) in just the last few days, based largely on what has become clearer about China, and Russia and the world.

From China Media Project, how China’s state media relegated the Pelosi Taiwan visit to page 3, and the ‘borrowed voices’ supporting Beijing’s stance on international affairs – such big names as Eduardo Regalado of the International Policy Research Center of Cuba (CIPI) and Bambang Suryono, chairman of Indonesia’s Asia Innovation Study Center.

For enthusiasts, a long learned paper slated for China Quarterly on the ‘myth of the “One China” consensus’ 1972.

Short thread on why Mainlanders are so insistent on ‘Taiwan, China’.

…ironically, for nationalists, Taiwan is special … I passingly referred to Ang Lee as a “Taiwanese director.” [Chinese friend] corrected me: “Chinese director.” 

…I knew little about Taiwan then. But I knew enough to know people wouldn’t bristle if I referred to Hong Kong or Shanghainese people or cultures. Why Taiwan? (A Chinese friend later clarified: “Because those places actually ARE part of China.”)

…The irony of all this is that, because Taiwan’s status is indeed unique, patriotic piety over-corrects. We need not say “Shanghai, China” but must always say “Taiwan, China,” which gives away that the latter is not (yet) a reality. 

Unherd asks how Chinese is Taiwan? Clue: it had a whole eight years as a Qing province before the Japanese took it over…

A few months after Japan’s surrender, a nervous group of Chinese officials arrived on the island and began to set up a new administration. But there were many in Taiwan who had no wish to be incorporated into the Republic of China. Some had benefited from the Japanese occupation, some objected to the corruption of the Chinese government, while others were simply hostile towards incomers from the mainland.

Posted in Blog | 8 Comments

How about ‘never “technically” a colony’?

Hong Kong’s Education Bureau tries to explain why they want school kids to learn that the city was never a British colony. This follows controversy and mockery that moved one normally-dull legislator to something approaching wit…

Lawmaker Priscilla Leung said during a Legislative Council meeting in early July that saying “Hong Kong was never a colony” was nothing new. “But many people reacted as if a new continent had been discovered…”

Despite how it sounds, the point of the ‘not a colony’ stance is not to claim that the British never governed Hong Kong (the word ‘British’ is redundant here). The intention is to underline China’s long-standing principle that the territory was all along legitimately part of China and never entitled to self-rule (ie independence). Hence the removal back in the 1970s of Hong Kong and Macau from the United Nations’ list of territories slated for ‘decolonization’.

The problem is that the authorities assume everyone defines the word ‘colony’ as ‘a place that deserves to be independent’, when most people simply use it to describe the pre-1997 order. Rectification of Names officials further imagine that this supposed misunderstanding encourages thoughts of Hong Kong independence, when in reality such sentiment arises from distrust or hostility towards the CCP’s party-state. Pushing a dumb phrase like ‘Hong Kong was never a British colony’ doesn’t help.

More on phrases… Human Rights Watch notes how years of excessive rhetoric on Taiwan has produced ultra-nationalist – even anti-government – attitudes in China…

Chinese social media is awash with … videos and posts calling for violence against Taiwan … This reflects in part incessant state propaganda and censorship over territorial, ethnic, and human rights issues.

…Discussions challenging these Chinese Communist Party platitudes are strictly prohibited and could send one to prison … Much of what remains online is a cacophony of rage and hate.

…Some netizens are calling on the Chinese government to dissolve the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, the government body dealing with Taiwan, arguing that these officials are “traitors” in need of “punishment.”

Maybe some Taiwanese would support this idea.

Posted in Blog | 10 Comments

Choreographed Pelosi-trip mouth-frothing in summary

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee holds

…a meeting with his top ministers to condemn US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, and pledge his administration’s full support for all necessary measures by the Central Government to safeguard national sovereignty.

He also blasts Pelosi for ‘maliciously criticizing Hong Kong’s democracy and freedom’.

The Hong Kong government issues six statements (here) under the names of various officials and bodies. For example

[Financial Secretary Paul] Chan said Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s sacred territory. The country’s stand on the Taiwan issue has long been very clear … China’s internal affairs … interference by outside forces … grossly prejudiced China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity … one-China principle and the three Sino-US Joint Communiques [etc].

Other departments posted similar stuff on Facebook.

RTHK reports that all the pro-Beijing/establishment political parties declare their condemnation of the trip and quotes ex-Chief Executive CY Leung as saying…

“Pelosi’s Taipei visit is not in service of human rights, democracy, or freedom of the people of Taiwan. It is for American interests.”

(Maybe he could check with people in Taiwan to see how they feel about it.)

Regina Ip joins in with stock cliches…

The US is playing with fire if it aims to play the Taiwan card to thwart China’s unification and suppress China’s rise.

One factor that once made Hong Kong comfortable for international companies was the political neutrality of the government under ‘One Country, Two Systems’. Foreign-owned businesses on the Mainland might fear repercussions when Beijing went off on anti-American or anti-Japanese rants. But in Hong Kong, firms could be confident that the local officials (typically overseas-educated and holding Western passports) would be apart from that sort of nationalism. The hob-nobbing will never be quite the same.

In theory, China is angry because Pelosi crossed its ‘red line’. It’s obviously humiliating that she ignored vitriolic warnings not to visit Taiwan. But the real pain must lie in the boost to Taiwan’s international image and identity and the contrast with Beijing’s contrived and undignified outrage. Taiwan does not quite enjoy the ‘soft-power’ cool of Japan or South Korea, or the victim-sympathy of Ukraine, but Beijing is doing all it can to help it get there.

Beijing’s rhetoric is also frustrating many Chinese people…

Chinese propaganda emphasizes how supposedly quick, easy, and unstoppable a Chinese attack on Taiwan would be. That’s highly unlikely to be the case in reality, but it seems to be believed by most Chinese—creating a credibility gap when war keeps failing to come.

The Foreign Policy piece goes on to explain the impact on Taiwan’s public as well…

The attempt to coerce Taiwan’s public into submission has largely backfired; support for independence is at record highs, and Taiwanese self-identification as “Chinese” is at record lows, driven mostly by Beijing’s behavior. 

How different things would be if Beijing could calm down. Few would have cared about Pelosi’s trip if China had simply remained silent. 

The Hong Kong government is about to make a similar mistake in freaking out about plans for a Hong Kong parliament in exile. If the local authorities treat the concept with this degree of seriousness, so will everyone else.

Now – let’s say something nice about the Hong Kong government: the new fruit stamps are delicious…

Posted in Blog | 9 Comments

HK launches new weight-loss trade fair

Hong Kong reveals its latest bizarre Covid rule: no eating allowed in the city’s Food Expo. According to the Standard

…the expo will employ staff to go around the area and see if anyone tries to taste food in the convention center…

Onlookers can mock. Will mock. Should mock. But it’s important to remember that the aim here is not to create and implement scientifically effective public health measures. The goal seems to be to devise rules (like closure of barbecue sites) that may be obscure but are still onerous enough to provoke some loud complaints. That way, local officials can point to their Beijing overseers and show them how Hong Kong is assiduously and loyally implementing Xi Jinping-style ‘dynamic zero Covid’. The public are angry about the restrictions – therefore we must be doing our job well.

Of course, thanks to the compulsory quarantine rules, the trade fair won’t exactly be bursting with overseas visitors either.

I am proud to notice that the Food Expo (opens August 11) coincides with the Hungry Ghosts festival (August 12)!

Painstakingly curated mid-week links…

In the SCMP’s once-a-month positive-energy-free op-ed, Michael C. Davis summarizes the UN Human Rights Committee’s recent criticism of Hong Kong, and begs the authorities to restore the city’s reputation as a free society.

An HKFP explainer on Hong Kong’s resurrection of archaic sedition laws as a way of silencing and jailing critics.

Al Jazeera video on the decline of press freedom in Hong Kong

China Change presents a translation of a marathon seven-part history of the HK Alliance published last year by Stand News.

From the Wire China, evidence that China’s population is falling faster then officials are letting on.

Andrew Batson on China’s housing crisis, partly due to a Hong Kong-style of pre-completion sales of new homes and ‘a failure of ethics and the rule of law’…

China’s system for financing the construction of new housing put an unusual amount of risk onto households [and] the legal safeguards in place to protect households from those risks were in practice routinely ignored.

Foreign Affairs on China’s efforts to boost its international clout following the Russian invasion of Ukraine – notably its ‘global strategic initiative’ to win over anti-Western and non-aligned countries.

The Diplomat compares and (mostly) contrasts the Russia-Ukraine and China-Taiwan situations. One similarity is the unwillingness of the target countries’ people to embrace their overbearing neighbours’ nationalist narratives…

Since the late 1980s, the Chinese government has been eagerly promoting cultural, social, and kinship ties with Taiwanese people. The initial purpose of this move was the understanding (or misunderstanding) that with more cultural and social communications, Taiwanese people would grow more like mainland Chinese people and feel increasingly their belongingness to the “motherland.” Identity politics, however, shows reversed effects. With more communications and contact, the Taiwanese people instead increasingly saw their differences from mainlanders.

Posted in Blog | 9 Comments

Preparing for mega-freak-out rant-meltdown

From SCMP. Didn’t read. ‘Author doesn’t write the headlines’. Probably profound and insightful.

Painting itself into yet another corner, Beijing goes ape-shit threatening to go ape-shit about being provoked into being forced to go utterly ape-shit if a woman visits an island. Child psychologists tell us that the best thing to do when faced with such tantrums is to ignore them and carry on with your life (just as Beijing could have shrugged off the prospect of Pelosi going to Taipei). But there’s no fun or clicks in that. So an anxious world is on tenterhooks watching with bated breath on a knife-edge to see whether Nancy turns up.

The Spectator warns of a Chinese blockade of Taiwan someday…

If a naval blockade gave Beijing control of the export of the island’s semiconductor industry, then western leaders would find themselves beholden to China to keep their economies going.

The US must have played this scenario over and over in the last 10 or 20 years, complete with the PLA threatening to attack the hundreds of foreign ships and aircraft that enter or leave Taiwan every day. Two things: China needs Taiwan’s tech exports as much as anyone; it also relies on the rest of the world for food and energy.

Meanwhile, Xi Jinping urges the CCP to ‘win the hearts and minds of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan people and overseas Chinese, and help more foreigners understand and become friendly to China’.

Posted in Blog | 8 Comments

Nancy Pelosi-free links

Atlantic on Hongkongers in the UK, and the nostalgia for a colonial era many of them never knew.

The crowd gathered in a wood-paneled London hall struggled to contain their enthusiasm: Like music fans catching a glimpse of their favorite act peering out from backstage, people excitedly clapped and chattered when Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, entered to take his seat.

…It was a remarkable scene, the aging head of a former imperial power emphatically cheered by former subjects who had fled their ostensibly decolonized homeland.

Remember One Way – the almost-tragi-sit-com documentary on the Chow family moving to the UK? (With the gutsy mother, McDull-like dad, and the little girl Nam Nam who wanted more mathematics in her Year One primary class?) Here’s an update on the film and family from the directors (links to the original two-part series on YouTube page).

A less heart-warming video – Security Secretary Chris Tang sings (allegedly) Disney song A Whole New World. Good example of how an appalling off-pitch delivery becomes really apparent when the (in this case female) harmony kicks in.

A BBC report – denial of bail is silencing Hong Kong’s democrats…

Critics say this pre-trial detention undermines the idea of innocence until proven guilty – and is designed to break the will of those accused.

In HKFP, John Burns considers Hong Kong’s study sessions on Xi Jinping’s important speech, and the need for local officials to deliver results rather than learn slogans…

…these activities run the real risk of formalism, that is, of simply performing performance, ticking boxes, and meeting some informal key performance indicator for the number and size of study sessions … the Chinese Communist Party recognises formalism as a serious deviation from party-identified political correctness.

HKFP looks at the project to preserve ‘Prison Gothic’ – the Chinese font used on older Hong Kong road signs. And, as officials promote the CCP version, efforts to remember the multinational resistance to the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong (while tactfully not contradicting the official line).

From ArtNews, how Singapore is gaining as an arts and culture hub at Hong Kong’s expense.

China is demanding that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet suppress a report on Xinjiang. To bolster its opposition to the report, it has organized an open letter from Chinese NGOs that are obviously United Front operations. Letter and signatories here. The 923 groups include the China Bee Products, Road Safety, and Weighing Instrument Associations, the Dragon Design Foundation, and the Xinjiang Desert Soil Art Museum. ‘We call on you and the OHCHR to stand on the right side of history, and not to release an assessment full of lies.’

Hong Kong – Global China’s Restive Frontier by Ching Kwan Lee, published by Cambridge University Press, is available for free as a pdf file here. It ‘argues that what happened to Hong Kong in the past two decades is part of China’s interventionist and repressive turn toward the world at large’. Just had a skim-through so far, but interesting.

Posted in Blog | 8 Comments

More on the UNHRC report

Mirror concert disasters – first this, then this – as metaphor for collapse of Hong Kong. The (hurriedly copy-edited) Standard quotes an expert in misfortune causing misfortune…

“Estimating the monitor weights 90 kilograms, and at 10-meter high, and if it hit the dancer with its corner, it will create 708 pounds of force, which we could not rule out causing the dancers to death.”

But he added that since the monitor first hit the ground, and then crushed the dancers like a chopper, the force created is only one-third of the estimated.

(The video footage seems to show the monitor landing straight on a dancer.)

Samuel Bickett reviews the UN Human Rights Committee’s surprisingly forthright criticism of Hong Kong. He thinks some of the report is a bit weak, but is generally impressed…

UNHRC called for the repeal of the NSL as incompatible with the ICCPR, which perhaps went further than many expected. It used strong language that puts the Hong Kong Government in an uncomfortable position. The ICCPR is not only written into Hong Kong law via the Bill of Rights, but it is also expressly incorporated into the National Security Law via Article 4, which states that the ICCPR’s rights shall be protected in accordance with the NSL. 

As he points out, the Hong Kong government felt it had to issue a relatively diplomatic press release…

There is little new in the statement, but note the difference between its polite rebuttals of the UNHRC versus its wolf-warrior-esque attacks on other critics like national governments, activists, and media … nothing close to the Hong Kong Government’s claim two weeks ago that the US Government “manifests its hegemonism by disseminating slanders and attempting to intimidate prosecutors of the HKSAR Government.”

See also the threads by Georgetown Law academics Eric Yan and Tom Kellogg.

Meanwhile, Ta Kung Pao comes for the lawyers. Will Justice Dept prosecutors have any qualms about eating their own learned friends? Will they foresee a time when the Beijing press turns on them? Presumably not.

More on the plans for a Hong Kong parliament-in-exile. As a practical matter, the logistics of electing such a body would be tricky, especially if the authorities threaten to prosecute anyone worldwide who participates. In terms of symbolism, it will drive certain people nuts. At best, the phrase ‘so-called’ would explode in government statements. At worst – who knows, maybe a ban on media even mentioning the thing?

On other matters…

How Hongkongers are making new lives – and becoming the ‘new Windrush generation’ – in the south London borough of Sutton. (Have other astute masochists noticed that every SCMP story on teachers’ and other emigration includes a cut-and-paste reference to some Hong Kong migrants in the UK having a bad time?)

Two academics examine how Beijing is using ‘discourse power’ in archaeology and history to establish a case for a ‘Chinese civilization’ dating back millennia and including non-Han cultures – Xindiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ding.

Posted in Blog | 11 Comments

The importance of being Xi Jinping’s speech

More on the ‘important speech’ study sessions… HKFP counts no fewer than 60 such events in the month since Xi Jinping’s historic oratory. Organizers include local and central government departments, pro-Beijing groups and schools. Participants range from senior civil servants to kindergarten kids.

“I believe this is a gradual transfer of the mainland’s political culture to Hong Kong. Hong Kong was not used to having to learn about a leader’s speech. That [practice] has a long history in the mainland though,” [academic Ivan] Choy told HKFP.

…“Those who used to criticise Hong Kong for being too political now support these political learning sessions,” Choy said.

Not sure whether ‘gradual’ is the right word. The NYT has also picked up the story…

In a government news release describing the [study] session, the term “important speech” was used 10 times, in nearly every paragraph.

…While Hong Kong has long had to abide by Beijing’s decisions over major issues, the bureaucracy’s conspicuous embrace of Mr. Xi has crystallized the city’s new identity as a territory firmly in Beijing’s grip. The performance of loyalty to Mr. Xi is the latest feature of the Communist Party’s assertive approach to Hong Kong and its efforts to tame the city’s defiant political streak.

It’s one thing to have all these loyalty-focused rituals in the Mainland, where the practice goes back decades (centuries, millennia) – but surely different to impose them almost overnight in a previously free and pluralist environment.

If officials try too hard to appear avid in the eyes of Mainland overseers, they risk looking farcical to much of the public. That said, one possible side-effect of forcing Hong Kong’s local elites to perform overt patriotic rituals will be to drive a symbolic ‘values’ wedge between them and their erstwhile peers overseas. It must be tough to hobnob as an equal with your Western buddies while clutching a copy of Xi’s latest must-read volume.

I could think of more effective ways of winning hearts and minds – especially in a city with serious inequality and ample resources. But, as a multitude of observers remind us, the idea is not to gain sincere admiration from the populace, but simply to force them to acquiesce, if not kowtow. That is the way to create harmony, progress and thousands of years of civilization.

Your daily whiny outburst-tantrum comes courtesy of the official response to the UN Human Rights Committee, which has modestly requested Hong Kong to repeal or at least suspend the NatSec Law. (Did Luxembourg get this upset as well?)

But that’s nothing compared to the ballistics we can expect if overseas activists go ahead and set up a Hong Kong parliament-in-exile. Cynics might doubt such a body would have any credibility – but that’s before the mouth-frothing rants start.

Posted in Blog | 10 Comments

Just some assorted links…

Hong Kong’s last remaining radical group gets the Wen Wei Po treatment.

Where to get a copy of Chris Patten’s Hong Kong Diaries (hint: not Bookazine).

But if you want to read whiny defensive letters from Hong Kong officials complaining about overseas news coverage – they’re everywhere.

A good interview with Michael Davis, formerly of HKU, on what has happened to Hong Kong.

CNN on apparent Chinese surveillance and monitoring activities in the guise of telecoms and other sites in the US…

Since at least 2017, federal officials have investigated Chinese land purchases near critical infrastructure … and stonewalled what they saw as clear efforts to plant listening devices near sensitive military and government facilities. 

A thread by Michael Pettis on why – despite what some think – China is on course for Japan-style long-term stagnation.

Axios on the new report on the modern-day role of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. Intro to the report by one of the authors.

Andrew Batson on China’s hard-to-believe statistics on self-employment levels.

Proof that vaccination makes you more intelligent!

A poll in Austria found that most vaccinated Austrians believe Russia is responsible for the war in Ukraine, while the unvaccinated mostly blame the US and NATO. 

OK – the common denominator is people who swallow Russian disinformation crap.

Speaking of which… Maybe of interest to those enjoying some heated debate in the comments, a look at how Christian nationalism has taken over evangelical churches in the US. This isn’t really about ‘Christianity’ so much as how the faith has been hijacked by a campaign to con bitter and gullible people into voting for tax-cuts for billionaires. It works.

Posted in Blog | 6 Comments