Some links to end the week

Westerners who are outspoken blue-ribbons are especially unpopular in some pro-protest movement circles, and the classic example last year was retired businessman Peter Bentley, who has died. (It says so here, so it must be true. Typo in the column – Nury means July 2019, not ‘last July’.) 

I met this guy several times, and as the videos show, he was a bit of a crusty and forthright character. Kind of amusing to be with, but you were glad to get away. From Bristol, England, he was one of the pioneer managers to go ‘into China’ in the 80s-90s. I think he ran some sort of metal-products factory in Wenzhou, and married there.

He was impressed by China’s development and was a fan of the CCP. He once mentioned considering joining the pro-Beijing DAB party. He also totally believed the ridiculous Gavin Menzies books claiming that the Chinese beat Columbus to the Americas and got to the Mediterranean. Last time I met him he was equally enthusiastic about a supposed discovery of the tombs of Jesus Christ’s family. 

Some assorted links to end the week…

Jerome Cohen – the National People’s Congress Standing Committee didn’t clarify Article 38 (the extraterritorial stuff) of the NatSec Law at its last meeting. 

An SCMP editorial asks (way too gently, but still) why the Hong Kong government has taken fright of the first microscopic signs that home prices might weaken and scrapped a plan to tax developers’ vacant apartments. Sadly, the paper is too timid to speculate about possible reasons.

HKFP have put together a digital archive of the materials that will probably disappear in the new Hong Kong Story exhibition at the History Museum.

A quiz on Hong Kong landmarks from M+ (I got 8 out of 10).

Vivienne Chow in ArtNet News on the protest/NatSec generation of young Hong Kong artists.

Zolima Citymag on the history of the State Theatre in North Point. It must have looked amazing in the low-rise 1950s, but I can think of dozens of more impressive structures worth saving. Unpopular view: despite its undeniable heritage/social-history role and some unique architectural features, this is a building that screams ‘tear me down’ – at least without major refurbishment. 

A report on the ideological side of China in Africa – executive summary worth a read if you’re interested…

Instead of offering a proactive ideology, the CCP acts as a PARTNER or MENTOR in illiberal governance.

From Project Muse, a report on China’s many efforts to impose ‘ideological discipline’ overseas.

People seriously discussing a full-blown Chinese invasion of Taiwan. This would be a mini-Operation Overlord. Pre-positioning the men and equipment would take months and be impossible to hide. If Beijing was deluded enough to do it, Chinese forces would risk significant losses. The CCP could fall from power. You almost wish they’d do it. Discussion of why it almost certainly won’t happen here.

In other totally unrelated news: the great James Randi – who debunked Uri Geller, water diviners, faith healers and other swindlers – has died aged 92. And similarly-aged Tom Lehrer (my father introduced me to his songs) thinks ahead and puts his whole work in the public domain. Sample lyric from I Wanna Go Back to Dixie: “The land of the boll weevil, Where the laws are medieval…”

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‘Integration’ = absorption = neutering

Following the Emperor-for-Life’s recent visit to Shenzhen, lots of scary-sounding stuff about how Xi Jinping is favouring the Special Hub-Zone over Hong Kong, Shenzhen is ahead, blah blah. 

After SARS in the mid-2000s, Hong Kong officials tried to divert attention away from ‘politics’ (ie bad governance) by launching a contrived campaign of alarmism about the city’s supposedly declining competitiveness vis-a-vis Shenzhen and Shanghai. Skeptics replied that the whole purpose of Hong Kong since the 1840s has been to serve as a location where you can do things you cannot do on the Mainland. There is no point in Hong Kong trying to rival Mainland cities at their own game.

Since the CCP can’t tolerate a free press, independent judiciary and free flow of capital on the other side of the border, Hong Kong’s distinct advantages and roles should be secure. The Leninist system that keeps the party in power in the Mainland also prevents the Mainland economy from evolving to compete with Hong Kong (or surpassing middle-income status generally). Without serious institutional reforms that weaken CCP control, a Mainland city can’t ‘overtake’ Hong Kong, regardless of the size of its GDP or its tech industry.

But of course you can reverse the process by tightening CCP control in Hong Kong – weakening independent institutions – and bring the city down to the Mainland’s level. 

Officials (and many commentators) frame this discussion around visionary economic Bay Area-type plans – hence official denials that Beijing is engineering the sidelining of Hong Kong. However, it is not about economics. Whatever sidelining now happens will be a side-effect of the real project: to eliminate Hong Kong as a political threat to the CCP. 

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Virus now transmitted only by political slogans and sand

With Covid largely under control, the Hong Kong government is to further relax restrictions on social gatherings – this time by allowing bigger tour groups and wedding ceremonies. If this trend continues, the list of unrestricted activities will become huge and unmanageable. Maybe it would be easier just to say which activities are still banned public health risks. The list would be: a) pro-democracy protests; b) beaches; and that’s it. Much simpler.

Obviously a CCP puppet administration fears dissent. But what’s with the sandy-shorelines hang-up? HKFP asks why the Hong Kong government is still keeping beaches closed when malls, restaurants and other indoor facilities are allowed to operate. They fail to find an answer, unless you count the relevant organs’ mumblings about swimmers being unlikely to wear masks in toilets and changing rooms.

A few days ago I tentatively suggested that Xi Jinping would get a name-check in Hong Kong’s delayed-for-rectification policy address, and the great man’s ‘Thought’ might even be mentioned. Seems the tentativeness was unnecessary

The esoteric concept is expected to be written into the five-year development blueprint that will be unveiled after party meetings later this month. Everyone from diplomats to executives to sci-fi writers are under pressure to incorporate the broad, often fuzzy tenets of Xi Thought into their policies.

For the first time in many years, I am actually looking forward to a policy address. It will be interesting to see not only how much extra Mainland-style rhetoric and ideology it includes, but whether Beijing’s officials throw out the traditional lame livelihood initiatives – or even change the longstanding and tedious structure of the speech (which reflects the fact that it was written by a committee going through each policy bureau’s area in turn).

Apple Daily reports that the Mega-Bridge to Nowhere’s revenues equal just 4.3% of running costs. We don’t get a breakdown (basically a state secret), but the paper says revenues just about cover staff costs (presumably relatively low-paid Mainlanders). The really big recurring item must be maintenance. And what are the electricity bills like? (I guess immigration and other officials are paid for directly by the relevant taxpayers.) Forget about debt servicing. Clearly, it would be wrong to say the Zhuhai Bridge was an incredible squandering of wealth – it will go on being one for decades.

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Some early mid-week links…

…while we’re waiting for the next eruption of horror.

Professor Michael Davis in HKFP on Beijing’s plan to bring the courts into line, and some grim thoughts for the future.

“Hong Kong people have been demanding democracy, because they want a government that has a voice… [to] explain to Beijing officials why certain core values that are important in Hong Kong are missing here.”

“Instead, you get Hong Kong officials doing the opposite: explaining to Hong Kong people why their core values don’t matter.” 

Hong Kong’s David Webb gets a name-check in a new book about virtue in the finance industry. The fund managers and others mentioned are not heroes, the author says, but they are proof that not everyone in the industry is a scumbag.

Which brings us rather neatly to formal announcements that Jack Ma’s Ant Financial will go ahead with its dual Hong Kong/Mainland mega-listing. From a few weeks ago, Deep Throat IPO, scourge of Alibaba, turns his unique spotlight on this fintech giant – it’s not pretty.

An in-depth feature in New Bloom about the (mainly ethnic Chinese) pro-Beijing leftist tankies who would sooner back a totalitarian state than take a position that overlaps with the evil capitalist West. Looks more like a sort of offshore Chinese nationalism wrapped in ‘progressive’ clothing.

Michael Cole analyzes how supposedly modern superpower China’s paranoia leads it to pursue hostage-taking and forced confessions more befitting a minor dictatorship or terrorist group – the tactics serve to feed the paranoia itself.

The Diplomat tells you all you need to know about Beijing’s anti-Mongolian-language campaign in Inner Mongolia, plus some interesting stuff on the Mongol alphabet (which has its roots in ancient Aramaic, the author says).

A big piece from the Intercept on the Eric Branstad saga, ‘epitome of white privilege’ and son of a former US ambassador to China.

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Coming soon – the Museum of Rewritten Rewritten History

People lined up over the weekend to see the Hong Kong Story exhibition one last time before the Museum of History gives it an ‘extensive revamp’. They especially came to photograph the colonial-era displays, on the assumption that items like Governors’ portraits will be scrapped in a more Glorious Motherland-themed show when it reopens. (We can be sure the CCP will at least get rid of the flock wallpaper, which looks like something out of a Merchant Ivory set.) 

Photos of the photo-takers here, here, here and – singing the anthem – here. Hong Kong’s latest contribution to popular political rebellion guerilla techniques: museum visits.

HKFP offers a good summary of the existing exhibition, which – when it opened in 2002 – struck many as downplaying the colonial period and Hong Kong’s older claims to a distinct regional culture. Little did they know what 2020 had in store.

The word is that the new-look exhibition will have a bigger focus on the post-1997 period – in other words the many wondrous benefits the city has enjoyed from Beijing’s sovereignty. It will also be interesting to see how much other periods from the Bronze Age onwards at The Hong Kong Story are changed in keeping with the CCP’s official archaeological and other revisionist and airbrushed treatments of the past.

Also at HKFP, the hounding of Hong Kong’s Education Secretary for not being sufficiently rabid about hounding and purging ideologically unreliable teachers, like the one who had a 50-minute lesson plan that mentioned Hong Kong independence…

So here’s the deal: if you are a fraudster, a rapist, a murderer or a paedophile, then education officials are happy to leave it up to the school whether it wishes to employ you or not. You may be a religious nut who believes the world is flat or a rightwing fanatic who believes the world is run by a secret global network of Jews … It doesn’t matter. You may be registered, and you may stay registered.

Draw up a lesson plan which goes down badly with Ta Kung Pao, on the other hand, and you face banishment for life from the profession.

Asia Sentinel examines a leading instigator of this hounding: ex-Chief Executive CY Leung, whose hobby these days is demanding a new Cultural Revolution on Facebook.

Obviously, loyalists wouldn’t indulge in this nasty zealotry if Beijing’s officials didn’t approve, but it could be they are devoting extra unsolicited witch-hunting effort in the hope for rewards from the CCP…

A comeback to chief executive for CY would have seemed impossible two years ago. But…

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Another week of CCP control

Citing non-existent public demand, Hong Kong’s puppet administration wants to give votes to citizens living in the Mainland. Pan-dems complain that this leaves out voters in foreign countries, will make it easier for the pro-Beijing camp to control the legislature. and equates to electoral fraud. All true but missing the point. 

Hong Kong is run by the CCP, and the CCP rigs elections always always always. A legislative body in China is a rubber stamp – end of story. If the CCP can’t control LegCo, it won’t exist. It’s not supposed to represent the people.

The curious thing is why Beijing’s officials want to go to this trouble when they can use far simpler methods like disqualifications to reduce the opposition’s presence. Presumably they are desperate for a veneer of legitimacy.

This is why pan-dems should stay out of the Legislative Council rather than lend it credibility by believing it is some sort of parliament. As things stand, the government simply uses the chamber as a way to torment pro-democrats, goading them into stunts like filibusters and other disruptions that enable pro-establishment media portray them as oafs. Stop taking LegCo seriously.

In other One Country One System news, the police raid a small office belonging to pro-dem publisher Jimmy Lai. Lai’s assistant Mark Simon explains that “…the police [or CCP] are looking to cut off the funding for Apple Daily.” Lai offers more comments here.

And the SCMP quotes a mystery government ‘insider’ as suggesting that Chief Executive Carrie Lam had been yearning to incorporate Beijing’s Five-Year Bay Area Hub-Zone plans into her policy address. The face-saving implication is that the postponement of the speech was basically her idea, so she can seize the opportunity for consultations up there. Sure!

In last week’s competition, readers were asked to guess which Hong Kong government department would be next to be taken over by the CCP. And the answer is: Air-Traffic Control. Nobody got it.

China Media Project on Xi’s speech in Shenzhen, and the provincial governor’s shameless praising of Xi Jinping thought. Can’t wait to see if similar wording appears in Hong Kong’s delayed policy address.

On a brighter note, Hong Kong will get a ‘travel bubble’, allowing those of us who test Covid-negative to take a vacation without quarantines, etc. The catch: it’s with Asia’s most boring destination.

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Meet the GBAHYCF

A new shoe-shining quasi-organization has been discovered: the Greater Bay Area Homeland Youth Community Foundation. Launched last year – presumably as a gesture during the height of the protests – but hitherto unnoticed. If it comes to our attention right now, it’s probably because Xi Jinping wants Hong Kong’s kids in Dongguan.

Like all contrived, elites-driven, Beijing-friendly groups, it is backed by property tycoons and their kids and other business types, along with the usual obsessive-compulsive kowtowers like Irons, Bunny, Rock, plus Allen Zeman as the token non-Chinese. Appropriately for a group purportedly encouraging the young to move north, there are quite a few Mainland executives. Obviously, no actual young people – or anyone vaguely normal – are involved.

A sign of the times is the presence of locally based Beijing officials. Despite that, this is obviously home-grown. A CCP-run United Front group would feature China-rah-rah patriotic symbolism and wording, and it would be in Chinese only. Even the logo looks like a spinoff from the Our Hong Kong Foundation. Plus of course that silly committee-devised name – you could at least drop the words ‘homeland’ and ‘community’.

The PR floozies implementing the vision made videos of inspiring young people who don’t riot. Sounds stomach-churning, but I haven’t looked. 

The tycoons signed up (ie made donations) as a gratuitous display of loyalty. The Beijing officials are lending their names to humour the sycophants. They have their own ways of dealing with a rebellious city’s dissatisfied youth.

Which is keeping them busy behind the scenes.

Apple Daily says: “The independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary could be the final barrier against the CCP gaining complete political control of the city”. It certainly looks that way. But of course the CCP does not and will not tolerate any such barriers.

On cue, another magistrate is reassigned to a lame job after being criticized by a CCP newspaper for not convicting protesters. Beijing officials’ fingerprints are all over this new trend – basically weeding out unreliable judges.

For other examples of how the Hong Kong government and associated agencies are now run by the CCP, try this statement from the Electoral Affairs Commission relaying Beijing’s horror at people organizing their own ‘elections’. And of course the government is introducing a political test in the form of an oath for civil servants.

On a bright note: the US is formally warning banks not to do business with the 10 sanctioned individuals who have taken part in undermining Hong Kong’s freedoms. (The details are in the FAQs mentioned here.) The Feds have removed former police chief Stephen Lo from the list. Maybe they have some reason to go easy on him? 

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Exciting new China-watching phrase coined

Just a bunch of mid-week (mostly Glorious Motherland) links…

China’s thought police go after a Korean boy-band. Never thought I’d like the prancing girly-looking singers, but they have gone up in my esteem. Beijing doesn’t do ‘soft power’, it does ‘sour power’. (‘Sour power’®️ is my latest contribution to China-watching international-relations discourse. It even rhymes. Korea does real soft power – I’m currently binge-watching the second series of Stranger.) 

On the subject of ‘sour power’®️, a praiseworthy French museum has postponed an exhibition after a Chinese counterpart insisted on rewriting history to transform Mongols into Han (roughly).

Lowy Interpreter on China’s exceptionalist vision of sovereignty in the new world order. Speaking of which – an interesting graphic representation of the Sino-centric view of the world (think the New Yorker’s ‘View of the World from 9th Avenue’).

DW on how Beijing is mightily miffed with Germany’s sponsorship of a human-rights motion in the UN, and how Chinese diplomats cajole other countries’ representatives into voting the way they want.

The Diplomat looks behind Xi Jinping’s tough exterior and sees a crisis in leadership.

One small example of Xi’s counterproductive policies: Michael Cole explains how Taiwan’s KMT is going off the CCP. Another from Japan Times: Beijing is encouraging the world to see Taiwan as an independent country. And Atlantic looks at Asian young people’s anti-Beijing Milk Tea Alliance. ‘Sour power’®️ strikes again!

VOA reports 5G in China is overhyped and who needs it? (Who could imagine an incremental upgrade in tech isn’t as wonderful as its proponents insist?) And the Wire China offers everything you wanted to know about ZTE.

Meanwhile, Foreign Policy determines that Belt and Road is not a sinister evil plot, but just a big pile of wombat droppings.

Academic James Millward proposes a new approach to Chinese history by rejecting exceptionalist and nationalist narratives. For example, China’s ‘5,000 years of civilization’ covers as wide a range of regimes and cultures as the Graeco-Roman civilization we still see today in Europe. The ‘tributary system’ was domestic propaganda that the other kingdoms and states treated as a charade. The Qing-based claims that Tibet is Chinese are equally valid to Korea, and the insistence that Taiwan belongs to the PRC would logically apply also to Mongolia. And so on. 

And you’d have thought HSBC has more pressing concerns, but apparently not. The bank’s economists have published an in-depth report on Modern Monetary Theory – a too-good-to-be-true leftist idea justifying the printing of money by governments. Includes cool diagrams of Ptolemaic and Copernican solar systems.

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One of our policy addresses is missing

At the last minute, Hong Kong’s annual policy address is delayed until well into November at the earliest.

The address is a colonial ritual, based on the Queen’s speech that opens the UK Parliament. The Chief Executive recites cliches about the need to sort out various problems, and then announces an array of silly ‘policies’ that fail to solve them. The initiatives are usually small and ad-hoc, and designed to appease a long and tedious check-list of interest groups. Many involve spending, so the exercise overlaps with the banal handouts announced in the budget every Spring.

Forget mouth-frothing about how this shows Carrie Lam ‘doesn’t care’ about Hong Kong people. No-one would notice if the policy address were scrapped and the government simply announced serious policies as and when it comes up with them. This is not a hasty postponement just to allow Carrie to see Xi Dada in Shenzhen – otherwise she would deliver the speech next week. 

And the Guardian’s weird theory about a last-ditch attempt to prevent Beijing from downgrading Hong Kong as a financial hub sounds like spin – a sophisticated alternative to blaming Covid-19. Markets, not the CCP, decide where financial hubs will be.

Reading between the lines, it looks like Beijing’s new overseers in town have found out this charade is about to take place, and that our politicians and media consider it a big deal. And they have ordered the finalized draft (along with all those flashy booklets and posters) to be tossed aside so they can rewrite it.

The new knuckle-draggers running the Liaison Office do not have any emotional attachment to the policy address tradition. They will simply see it as another occasion where they must step in and micromanage Hong Kong’s puppet government. 

This is where it gets interesting. We can be sure they will rewrite the speech to boost the ideological correctness of its content. So expect more on patriotism in schools, the need to suppress separatism and terrorist threats, and on Beijing’s plans for the Greater Bay Area. Look for multiple references to the glorious motherland, namechecks for Xi Jinping (maybe even ‘thought’) and belligerent rhetoric of the sort now common in government press releases.

The telling part will be the coverage – if any – of livelihood issues like welfare or housing. The CCP doesn’t do hearts and minds. But even the most obtuse Liaison Office director must have noticed that post-1997 administrations’ contempt for people’s material well-being has played a significant part in generating an angry and alienated populace. We know they are not huge fans of the property tycoons, or of the bureaucrats who usually write insipid policy addresses. The revised speech will show whether the knuckle-draggers want to start running Hong Kong’s social and economic policies. Frankly, it might not be a bad thing if they do.

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How about ‘Pink Panthers’?

Hong Kong’s Correctional Services Dept shows off its hitherto unheard-of* Big Tough Riot Squad, which has the desperately unoriginal – yet even more ill-suited – name ‘The Black Panthers’. 

In an ‘exclusive’, the Sycophantic Cliched Morning Predictable describes the group as an ‘elite’ unit, though they look more cosplay-wargamer than trained special forces. (In fairness, it’s difficult to look macho when you’re clustered around the world’s dorkiest-looking prisons commissioner. But hard to imagine them lasting three minutes against Huey P Newton’s anti-police militia.)

The point of all this, we are told, is to prepare Hong Kong prisons for thousands of dangerous young radicals scooped up in and around the 2019 protests. As well as sponge-tipped pepper rounds that can conveniently be fired through cell bars, such inmates will get special classes in the NatSec Law – which according to CCP penology is guaranteed to correct their thinking. Still no word about how the prisons will fit all the extra thousands in. 

[*I now recall seeing them plodding up and down Lower Albert Rd at the height of the protests late last year. Guess they’re just a bit forgettable.]

Catching up on recent reading…

A load of things from HKFP: how the Mainlandization of Hong Kong government language is undermining the World City brand (not to mention just sounding stupid); the Red Guards are back; CCP-friendly ex-judge Henry Litton apparently commits contempt of court; and a good summary of the unflattering-to-China Pew poll.

Jerome Cohen on Henry Litton’s attacks on Hong Kong courts and on the Hong Kong 12.

From MERICS, a graphic timeline of the first 100 days of the NatSec Law.

And M+ offers a list of 10 Hong Kong movies that would be interesting to see but are probably impossible to track down. Found one or two trailers on YouTube.

The famous root canal. Despite the procedure’s scary reputation, totally painless from start to finish. Now I need to train myself to allow ice-cold San Mig to once again stray to that side of my mouth.

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