Rising NatSecs cases not just your imagination

A 48-year-old housewife arrested on sedition charges is denied bail

The 48-year-old homemaker stands accused of “doing an act or acts with seditious intention” linked to posts on Facebook and Twitter. She was said to have intended to “bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection” against the Hong Kong and Central governments,” incite violence and “counsel disobedience to law,” among other intentions, according to the charge sheet.

Local media outlets reported that the content included the popular 2019 protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times” and pro-independence chants, as well as an image of Hong Kong’s flag in black and white – known as the “black bauhinia” flag.

At this rate, merely linking to content including the wrong slogan or flag will soon be ‘sedition’. Or is it already?

The WSJ (paywalled) reports on how arrests like this have been accelerating… 

The arrests picked up pace after Mr. Lee returned from the capital on March 6. He went there to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and other top officials as the opening session of the National People’s Congress got under way to rubber-stamp Mr. Xi’s unprecedented third term in office… 

Two days later, national security police embarked on a spate of arrests, signaling that authorities have no intention of relenting on former activists who have shrunk from public sight and have ceased to take part in campaigns in Hong Kong. 

From the HKDC, why some accused plead guilty to NatSec/sedition/protest charges…

#NSL & #sedition trials have so far a 100% conviction rate among the only 15 who’ve plead not guilty & received a verdict. Trials of protesters–by far the majority of political trials–have a little lower conviction rate but not much–around 90%.

…Most defendants don’t see their trials as a matter of principle but of math in a rigged system. The charges are bogus & the judges biased–in #NSL & #sedition trials, they’re “designated” by the #CCP-appointed CE. In riot trials wearing black is enough to get you years in prison.

…On top of all that, lawyers are expensive, & these days, there’s almost no legal aid. It used to be groups like #SparkAlliance & #612HumanitarianReliefFund covered legal fees of protesters. That’s why the Hong Kong government smashed them.

I don’t think it’s any secret that at least one prominent defendant in a NatSec case has told co-defendants to plead guilty and even give evidence against him, to help themselves.

Meanwhile, a retired cop gets seven days’ jail for a road-rage assault of a van driver who subsequently died.

Elsewhere in Hong Kong…

Standard editorial on importing workers. It should be obvious that the problem here is not a shortage of labour, but an excess of pointless artificially-driven economic activities, namely unnecessary infrastructure mega-projects and mass-tourism. Plus an aversion to letting market forces push up wages.

Want a pictorial on low-budget tour groups? Voila!

Some weekend reading…

The Diplomat (specifically Eric Lai, ‘visiting researcher at the Dickson Poon School of Law’) on the challenges of telling ‘good Hong Kong stories’ when the government is taking over law courts’ powers to decide on admission of overseas counsel.

Asia Nikkei on how China has pushed the Philippines closer to the US…

China, for its part, continues to make blunders. February’s laser incident was not the first between China and the Philippines. In April 2020, a similar incident took place when a Chinese ship directed a laser at a Philippine naval vessel. At that time, Manila had already informed Washington of its intention to annul the VFA, and the accord would have expired in August that year. If that had happened, the U.S. would no longer have been able to conduct military exercises and training in the Philippines, which had been held 300 times or more a year.

But Beijing blew a golden opportunity to expand its influence in the region. After the laser incident, Duterte reversed course and kept the agreement intact, yielding to pressure from the Defense Department and the armed forces

Why are Belgian security officials monitoring Huawei lobbyists in Brussels?

The intelligence gathering is part of security officials’ activities to scrutinize how China may be using non-state actors — including senior lobbyists in Huawei’s Brussels office — to advance the interests of the Chinese state and its Communist party in Europe, said the people, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

CMP on the ‘CPP’ versus ‘CPC’ debate

Considering the enduring confusion, it comes as no surprise that the messages put forward by different organs of the party-state are not only inconsistent but even contradictory. The Party itself says “CPC” is superior because it emphasizes the Party’s Chineseness, while the Global Times argues “CCP” is racist because it emphasizes the Party’s Chineseness.

(A comment – ‘One example of how vacuous the pro-CPC crowd’s argument is: 中国人民政治协商会议 is officially translated as CPPCC. According to the dogma, it should be PPCCC instead’.)

Former President of Taiwan Ma Ying-jeou’s visit to China prompts criticism among Chinese ideologues. (I bumped into Ma – who was born in Hong Kong – when he was riding, smiling and waving on the Mid-Levels Escalator during his sort-of historic trip here as mayor of Taipei back in the CH Tung era. He was denied a visa to visit again in 2016.)

Economists and others have a go at Jeffrey Sachs over his stand on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The sharp-eyed will notice a connection between one of the above items and a recent Oscars winner. Which is a circuitous way of getting to Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, which I have now seen. Amazing visuals; total mess of a plotline (though it’s easy to glide over and perhaps the whole multiverse point); digestible treatment of ‘road not taken [Asian immigrant edition]’ theme. Fun.

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Changes in HK population by district: Hong Kong Island down 7% on average, while Sham Shui Po is up 7%. Probably gives a good picture of who’s emigrated. But why would the population of Sham Shui Po go up so much? Is this purely internal migration? Where are the extra people there living? Perhaps SSP housing supply has increased.

Speaking of which – housing prices rise for second consecutive month. Still down year-on-year, and probably a post Covid/CNY bump. Or… maybe Hong Kong is in an economics parallel universe, where the lower the population gets, the more expensive the apartments become. (An alternative view: ‘the main property-market theme for this year is destocking’.)

More parallel universe logic: we must cram more tourists into Hong Kong to create jobs, and build more white-elephant projects to accommodate a growing population – therefore we must import labour because of a shortage of workers.

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Stand News trial enters 4th dimension

In the Stand News trial, the prosecution finally wraps up its questioning of the outlet’s former editor. The trial has been worth following for its sheer weirdness. It must be especially strange for reporters covering the case, seeing members of their own profession being accused of ‘sedition’. And now, they themselves become part of the (or a) wider story after complaints of being followed. 

The HK Police seem very touchy about the HK Journalists Association suggestions that they might be connected to the creepy people tailing the reporters…

Apart from the incident where an HKFP court reporter was followed from her home to her workplace last week, HKJA said several journalists from other outlets had said two men attempted to follow them after the Stand News trial last Tuesday.

According to the HKJA, the men had waited outside the press room at District Court. The journalists making the allegation said that the pair had showed their credentials to the court security guard.

One of the men stayed outside the press room for more than an hour, and a reporter told the HKJA that he had attempted to follow them as they left the courtroom.

HKJA also said that the reporters had said they suspected the men were plainclothes law enforcement officers “based on their behaviour and outfits.”

What are the cops more sensitive about – being accused of tailing reporters, or of having plainclothes officers who stand out a mile?

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Welcome to Asia’s low-quality tour-group hub!

The scumbaggiest part of the always-tawdry tourism industry demands an increase in squatting, lunchbox-munching-outside-toilets group tours…

A tourism trade representative said on Monday that there’s a need for Hong Kong to operate low-cost tours, saying it doesn’t necessarily mean that they would engage in forced shopping.

Last Friday, Chinese newspaper Oriental Daily reported that such tours have filled parts of Kowloon, with mainland tourists having to eat cheap takeaways on the streets.

The industry says such tours are essential ‘to revive the [tourism] sector’. So how about not reviving this parasite industry? Why does a developed economy, with a shortage of both manpower and space, need millions of low-spending visitors? Or is pushing up rents and angering the populace the whole point?

On the Mid-Levels escalator over the weekend, I encountered a parade of maybe two dozen bewildered and depressed-looking elderly Westerners – all in disposable plastic raincoats – being led by a sleazy-looking flag-waving guide. No instant noodles, so presumably they were at the classier end of the mass-tourism spectrum. But even so, they were in serious danger of being flung over the side by irate locals with things to do. 

Modest proposal: make members of ‘low quality’ tour groups wear numbered tags and confine themselves within a strip of barrier tape, which they must carry themselves.

Photo of the Day: if Regina Ip and her entourage stooped over and pointed at you, wouldn’t you feel like a fish out of water?

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New-look freedom of assembly wrapped in red tape

Hong Kong’s first post-Covid protest – a few dozen Tseung Kwan O residents campaigning against reclamation – resembles a procession of Japanese kindergartners. Footage of the event, complete with compulsory numbered tags around necks and a ‘moving cordon’ strictly enforced by cops…

After the rally organiser Cyrus Chan said police went through the design of all banners, placards and leaflets and “communicated” on what slogans to chant to prevent “politically sensitive or seditious words”. Participants should not wear all black outfit or yellow raincoat. 

Police say the aim is to keep ‘criminals’ away – and indeed, any criminals planning to join an anti-reclamation march would probably balk at the inconvenience and humiliation. Also, restrictions on reporters’ movements at the scene. 

Sports federation officials deny scapegoating their member-group underlings over national anthem blunders. It’s not merely scapegoating, but overwrought criticism-as-performance and dump-on-your-colleagues in order to appear patriotic and loyal. Can’t imagine why anyone would want to head up an ice hockey association in Hong Kong at the best of times.

ArtNews on the removal of video installation No Rioters at Sogo…

For [artist Patrick] Amadon, the removal of No Rioters “irrefutably” demonstrated how much things had changed in Hong Kong compared to a few years ago, in contrast to the positive news coverage the city’s reopening. “I think the piece being pulled down completed the piece,” he said. “A lot of people in the art world saying ‘Hong Kong is back’ was completely glossing over the erosion of freedoms.”

Some links from the weekend…

HKFP op-ed on the numerous ‘sedition’ cases in Hong Kong…

…Most common law countries have either abolished sedition altogether or restrict it to advocacy of violence. Observers in those countries are unlikely to be impressed by the number of cases now cropping up in Hong Kong, or the rather imaginative connection with violence involved in some of them.

It is no good our government complaining that overseas writers or officials are “scandalising” our judicial system if its conduct is by their standards scandalous.

Samuel Bickett on the first anniversary of his release and deportation from Hong Kong.

Interesting thread on Hong Kong’s role in the fight against TB.

Reuters report on US-China rivalry over subsea fiber-optic cables.

Minxin Pei on the potential pitfalls for Beijing of a closer alliance with Russia…

The more dire Russia’s straits, the more sensitive and solicitous Beijing must be to avoid slighting ordinary Russians, many of whom may not have fully absorbed how much richer and more powerful China has become. Unfortunately, stroking the national egos of weaker powers is not something for which China has shown notable talent.

Excellent China Media Project piece on the big missing part of Beijing’s revanchism: ‘lost’ Russian territory…

Whereas the retrocession of British Hong Kong and the taking of Taiwan — two much smaller possessions ceded in Qing-era unequal treaties — are considered sacrosanct milestones for the “Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation,” the area known now as Outer Manchuria is politely overlooked.

…The window of acceptable discourse takes on very different dimensions depending on whether one is looking out over the East China Sea or the Siberian taiga. In the case of the former, talk of restoring imperial borders is familiar to the point that it has become mere background noise; the latter, however, provides a sobering vision of what happens when such “historical claims” are applied evenly and taken to their logical, bloody conclusions.

From CNN: the ROC is losing its few remaining full diplomatic ties with small Latin American and Pacific states (Honduras was demanding big bucks) – but Taiwan builds far more meaningful de-facto relations with Western countries.

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Just some worthwhile weekend reading…

PEN America protests Hong Kong’s criminalization of book-selling.

From China File, some brief analysis of XI Jinping’s visit to Putin.

Jamestown Foundation’s Willy Lo-lop Lam asks (rhetorically) whether Xi Jinping Thought can lead the way to the end of politics in China and Marx’s envisioned communist utopia.

A Guardian story on a UK lawmakers’ visit to Taiwan deserves credit for three things. First, the succinct summary of the China-Taiwan situation…

China’s Communist party government claims Taiwan as a province, which it intends to annex, by force if necessary. Taiwan’s democratically elected government and the vast majority of its people reject the prospect of Chinese rule.

Second, referring to Beijing’s response to UK military sales to Taiwan (‘a serious violation of the one-China principle’), the accurate but all-too-rare summary…

The one-China principle is a domestic Chinese edict which encompasses its claim over Taiwan. Other governments maintain their own one-China policies, which dictate the varying levels of recognition given to China’s principle

And third, the paper ignores Beijing’s inevitable ‘anger’ over the parliamentarians’ trip.

Finally, Andrew Batson looks at the lack of separate ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘it’ pronouns in spoken Chinese.

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Another opportunity to remain silent missed

Today’s NatSec developments: Albert Ho in jail; four former HKCTU members ‘taken to assist in an investigation’; and a martial arts coach appeals against his five-year sentence for ‘inciting subversion’. The No Rioters installation gets taken down (of course). The BBC reports the disappearance of the Winnie the Pooh Chainsaw Massacre movie. And the government complains again about Google search results on anthems (‘the blunder has upset every single Chinese person’).

The Hong Kong government hits back, at great length, at the US State Dept’s ‘so-called’ annual human rights reports…

The spokesperson stressed, “…By issuing the so-called annual report, the US again made despicable tricks, which override law by politics, with an attempt to undermine the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong by politicising human rights issues and slandering the human rights situation and rule of law in the city. It will only expose its own weakness and faulty arguments and be doomed to fail. The HKSAR Government again strongly urges the US to immediately stop using human rights as an excuse to interfere into the internal affairs of the HKSAR of the PRC.”

You might think that the more someone says in this situation, the less convincing they will sound. But the government can’t resist rebutting in detail every main allegation in the report, under such headings as the ‘improved electoral system’, ‘rule of law’, ‘freedom of assembly’, etc…

Trade union rights in Hong Kong are strong and intact as ever, which is evidenced by the marked increase in the number of registered trade unions from 2019 to 2022. It is crystal clear that the free exercise of the right and freedom of association in the Hong Kong has not been jeopardised in any way.

On the subject of excessive rhetoric, Beijing calls a visit by Germany’s education minister to Taiwan ‘vile’. Another word for the Outraged Press Release Bingo.

No connection or anything – just Carrie Lam buying food at Fairwood. I mean ‘so-called food’…

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Another NatSec week underway

Three people get five to 10 months in prison for producing and selling a ‘seditious’ book… 

According to local media, the designated national security magistrate … said the case was about more than spreading seditious messages on social media as it involved designing, producing and printing the publication in question.

Chan was described as the “instigator” and “core offender” in the case, who designed and produced 400 copies of the book. Prosecutors had told the court that the book contained accusations that Hong Kong police condoned criminals and triad activities, made up stories, and disregarded the law.

Does this mean – among other things – that alleging HK Police collusion with triads at the 7-21 Yuen Long incident can land you in prison?

Veteran Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho – already on bail on a ‘Pan-Dem 47’ subversion charge – is arrested on suspicion of interfering with witnesses…

Ho, sources said, had allegedly reached out to family members of a jailed witness for the primary election trial and asked them to pass his message to the witness. 

This seems to be connected with the arrest (on suspicion of ‘collusion with foreign powers’) of Elizabeth Tang, wife of Lee Cheuk-yan. Thread on the links between the five concerned – Albert Ho, Fred Ho/Marilyn Tang, Elizabeth Tang, and Lee Cheuk-yan. 

Movie reviews: If We Burn and Blue Island, neither of which can be shown in Hong Kong. This might be the case with Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey – a low-budget horror film pulled from Hong Kong screens by its Hong Kong distributor… 

Director Rhys Frake-Waterfield told Reuters that “something mysterious” had happened.

“The cinemas agreed to show it, then all independently come to the same decision overnight. It won’t be a coincidence,” Frake-Waterfield said.

“They claim technical reasons but there is no technical reason. The film has showed in over 4,000 cinema screens worldwide. These 30+ screens in Hong Kong are the only ones with such issues.”

I take it AA Milne’s works have recently entered the public domain? Critics with a fondness for Dorothy Parker might argue that gruesome murders could only improve the twee Pooh stories. But a quick flick-through via one of those disgraceful pirated streaming sites – segments totalling about 10 minutes of the movie at most – sadly confirms it is indeed utter crap. 

Hard to believe that someone in the cinema industry in Hong Kong – home of the film Womb Ghosts – has decent cinematic taste. So presumably the distributor simply fears Beijing’s wrath, or succumbed to behind-the-scenes pressure even though the Hong Kong government couldn’t bring itself to openly ban it. 

Banned yet? Digital artist Patrick Amadon includes brief flashes of political prisoners’ names on a video being shown on a big screen at (of all places) Sogo as part of Art Week. A gif of the piece is here. (Surely Sogo will take it down and issue a groveling apology?)

Some mid-week links…

Why hadn’t Beijing planned an exit from zero-Covid? They did, but political ideology overrode science – thread and link to AP investigation.

From China Media Project – China Daily US’s filings with the federal government shows it spends 12 times on advertising what it gets in ad revenues…

Between June and October 2022, China Daily USA brought in just over 102,000 dollars in advertising profits and a mere 13,000 dollars from subscriptions. The lion’s share of “revenue”— about 98 percent—came in the form of a handout totaling over five million dollars direct from China Daily headquarters in Beijing.

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Meanwhile, back at the NatSec 47 trial…

HKFP is following the PanDem 47 case (here and here), and there’s a short regular HK Watch update (site seems to be blocked on some ISPs, so might need a VPN or whatever). Au Nok-hin, who has turned prosecution witness, is giving evidence. The (slightly) amusing part is that he isn’t helping portray the prosecution’s alleged grand conspiracy so much as recounting endless bickering among the various pan-dems about the supposed strategy behind the primary elections…

…Democratic Party primary candidates refused to sign documents relating to vetoing the Hong Kong Government’s budget…

Common primary platform amongst democrats was not signed due to fears of disqualification. 

Not that it will probably make a difference.

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Exciting new committee of old faces announced

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive sets up a Council of Advisors…

…to advise [him] on the strategic development of Hong Kong, leveraging on opportunities from national and global developments. The formation of the Council is particularly timely and crucial, as Hong Kong is now on the path to resume normalcy after the pandemic, seeking to rekindle momentum to return to the international stage as the most effective gateway between the world and the country.  

It is to be chaired by the CE himself, and comprises three sub-groups containing a lot of familiar names. In the ‘economic advancement and sustainability group’, at least six of the 11 members are sons (or daughter or son-in-law) of a tycoon. These are not generally people with an interest in new ideas on – say – overhauling Hong Kong’s land-use/housing policies or questioning the value of mass tourism. 

This is the latest in a series of advisory bodies like this; Tung Chee-hwa set one up soon after the handover (if memory serves, it included Rupert Murdoch), and little came of it. It looks more like a way of co-opting some prominent figures, making them feel important, and keeping them onside. (And we already have a body that does that – the Executive Council.)

The new Council is 91% male – much to the relief of numerous tycoons’ daughters, no doubt.

One thing the new Council will probably not recommend is learning from past public-health performance. Surprisingly gutsy SCMP op-ed by public policy professor Donald Low on why Hong Kong authorities should allow an objective review of their handling of Covid…

…throughout 2022, Financial Secretary Paul Chan referred to “the ongoing pandemic” to rationalise Hong Kong’s abysmal GDP performance. A moment’s introspection would lead to the obvious conclusion that the pandemic, which was ongoing everywhere else, was not to blame but it was Hong Kong’s excessive Covid restrictions (justified by the need to mimic the mainland’s zero-Covid stance) that delayed the city’s recovery by at least a year.

In a similar vein, when questioned by reporters on why Hong Kong’s Covid death toll was so much higher than Singapore’s, Health Secretary Lo Chung-mau deflected and said that Hong Kong had an older population.

But … Japan has an older population and still had a much lower death toll than Hong Kong. In any case, Singapore’s elderly population is not significantly younger than Hong Kong’s to explain why it had far fewer Covid or excess deaths.

…Singapore’s performance in handling Covid-19 was among the best in the world. A commission of inquiry is not needed since there were no clear instances of governmental incompetence, ignorance, or ideological thinking. The same cannot be said of the Hong Kong government.

…Given how much Hong Kong’s ruling class has become far less diverse and less tolerant of dissent and criticism in recent years…

In short, it is precisely because a truly independent inquiry would raise very uncomfortable questions for those in power that might challenge the veneer of competence and objectivity that they wish to preserve, that even suggestions of it cause annoyance to government leaders.

While he mentions Beijing’s role in influencing local Covid measures, he doesn’t spell out that the central government’s local overseers would not countenance an independent inquiry. 

Some worthwhile reading from the weekend…

HKFP op-ed on the much-diminished post-Covid right of assembly in Hong Kong.

Tribute to Jiang Yanyong, the doctor who exposed Beijing’s cover-up of SARS in Beijing in 2003 – by the Time correspondent he talked to.

CNN on the changing stature of Taiwan’s aboriginal people.

For econ nerds, an interesting thread on how Ireland’s GDP has more than doubled in size in 10 years – yet the Irish are little better off.

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