Starry Lee as spectator sport

More fun to watch than badminton: pro-Beijing ‘politician’ Starry Lee backtracks on her previous criticism of colleague Nicholas ‘Diu Lei Lo’ Muk, who freaked out about a black-shirted – thus evil, unpatriotic – member of the Hong Kong Olympic team.

If anyone thought for a brief moment that the Olympics might heal the rift between the Hong Kong people and the pro-Beijing camps/government, they can relax.

Starry originally distanced herself from Muk’s embarrassing outburst when a public backlash accused Muk of putting the athlete off his game. Now she reverses her stance after ultra-loyalist pro-CCP knuckle-draggers attack her. Meanwhile, police (paid by your taxes) are examining video footage of people at APM Mall allegedly failing to respect the national anthem during the screening of fencer Cheung Ka-long’s gold-medal ceremony. 

Some weekend links…

Bloomberg op-ed on Hong Kong’s Olympics effect

For a few short days, it has been socially and politically acceptable once again to celebrate Hong Kong’s separate identity as part of the People’s Republic. 

HKFP on the weakening of Hong Kong’s civil society under the NatSec regime.

A long ProPublica story on Beijing’s Operation Fox Hunt, pursuing and intimidating fugitives anywhere in the world.

In the ‘it could be worse’ department, North Korea soldiers are mugging civilians for food. (Apparently not a new problem, but it’s getting worse – even after the country has shortened military service from 13 years to a mere eight.)

Your handy, illustrated guide to Xi Jinping Thought Research Centres.

The photos of Xinjiang that Kodak deleted.

I’ve noticed it, but never realized what it was: ‘Prison Gothic’ – the wonky hand-painted/stencilled Chinese characters found on older Hong Kong road signs.

For politico-historical-urban geography fans, Hong Kong, China: The Border as Palimpsest (cool title or what?) from the Made in China Journal. If you like that, you’ll probably also enjoy Embodied Borders: The Sino-British Maritime Frontier, 1950–1957 in the same publication. Indeed, geeky types who use words like ‘liminal’ will be in heaven reading Made in China Journal’s numerous articles on this broad theme – Narrating Mobility as an Achievement on the Shenzhen–Hong Kong Border (about the various travel-permit arrangements across the ‘boundary’); Border at the Centre of Myth: Fishing Village, Caiwuwei, Shenzhen (about the SEZ’s independent urban villages); Politically Correct Masks: Navigating the China Hong Kong Border During COVID-19; and The Enduring Importance of Space Within a Virtual Border: The Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s Trading Hall (about the trading hall, no less). 

Also on history: another interesting illustrated thread. Were Romans in Gansu 2,000 years ago? And did modern-day local governments use horribly tacky ways to claim they did in order to promote tourism? The answers won’t surprise you.

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A little ray of sunshine for Thursday

As well as a modest but still impressive haul of medals, the Olympics gives Hong Kong cause for celebration in the form of minor pro-Beijing politician Nicholas Muk, who manages to humiliate himself rather nicely over badminton shirts. Yet again we see: he who lives by the shoe-shine dies by the shoe-shine.

More on the Tong Ying-kit NatSec trial from Quartz… 

…the standard for criminalizing speech is now the possibility that a given word or phrase has multiple meanings, among which is at least one that authorities deem illegal, and not that the speaker specifically intended to make an unlawful expression. It also means that the onus is now on the speaker to prove that they did not mean something—an undeniably harder challenge than the prosecutor’s task of sketching out multiple interpretations.

Also Atlantic (for ‘home affairs’ here, read ‘security’).

David Webb comments on Financial Secretary Paul Chan’s appointment of a Financial Investigator into Next Digital. He points out that the role of FI has been superseded by other regulatory measures, so the move has no practical purpose (but it serves to persecute the CCP’s enemies, rather like weaponizing archaic conspiracy/incitement sedition laws against speech therapists).

Webb also wonders if the FS’s ‘political grandstanding’ could be aimed at impressing Beijing with a view to being in the running to be the next Chief Executive. Not that it makes much difference who occupies the post, but is Paul Chan – whatever else we might think of him – really that deranged? Maybe his intention is exactly the opposite: perhaps, by overtly kowtowing to Beijing, Chan is hoping the CCP will let him quit this hellish puppet administration and retire in peace somewhere far far away.

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Guilty of waving a flag

To no-one’s surprise, Hong Kong’s first ‘national security’ trial, with hand-picked judges and no jury, ends with a guilty verdict for Tong Ying-kit. Some discussion on the judgement, on what it means, and (in case you didn’t catch that) what it really means, bluntly. HK Watch’s reaction.

Essentially, if you were hoping that judges might protect freedom of speech, or the court show some independence, you were wrong. (But did anyone?) Tong is now liable for life in prison; whoever makes these decisions will probably order a sentence of 10 years or so, to balance ‘his first offense’ with ‘need to send serious message/gravity of crime’ blah blah. Judgement here if you can face it. When it comes to waving a flag, the defence lawyers might as well not show up.

Another fencing meme for you (or a piano version if you like).

Thomas Piketty and Li Yang’s paper analyzing the significant rise in inequality in Hong Kong since 1997 is pretty damning. The main paper is here. Not an especially easy read (non-native English-speakers and economists), but tons of comparative data showing Hong Kong as a real outlier in terms of inequality. Plus it coins a nice phrase – ‘pluto-communism’.

The research predates the 2019-onwards protests and NatSec regime, and focuses on effects rather than policy or other causes. It notes rising female participation, rising education levels, the fall of manufacturing/rise of services, and thus the rising role (and wages) of professionals and managers (all found in many economies since the 1980s). But it does not examine such specifics as the impact of a million low-skilled Mainland immigrants, the role of Hong Kong in storing/processing Mainland wealth, or the city’s perverse land/housing policies. Needless to say, housing prices have been a major contributor to wealth inequality…

Hong Kong’s 𝛽𝑡 ℎ𝑜𝑢𝑠𝑖𝑛𝑔 started in quite low level compared to other economies in 1980s. Driven by the soaring of the assets price, it then raised to 363% national income in 1997. During the Asia Financial Crisis, it fell badly to 122% of national income in 2002; ever since it has raised phenomenally, in 2018 𝛽𝑡 ℎ𝑜𝑢𝑠𝑖𝑛𝑔 reach to 450%, which is unparalleled by any other economies since 1980. 

On the subject of Hong Kong’s financial-services sector’s focus on Mainland opportunities…

A good dummy’s guide to Evergrande, plus Anne Stevenson-Yang on the repercussions of Beijing’s clampdown on China’s tech companies…

We are now witnessing the roll-up of the Chinese reform experiment. There is only one direction for this to go, and it’s not pleasant for foreign investors.

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NatSec regime finds new charge for Benny Tai

Let the fencing memes begin.

In the NatSec horror du jour, the graft-buster-turned-CCP-enforcer ICAC concocts an election-related charge against jailed law professor and pro-dem activist Benny Tai and two others. Do citizens have a basic free-speech right to publicly endorse particular election candidates? Does this include buying advertising space in newspapers? If not, why wasn’t Tai charged in 2016, when the alleged offence took place?

Some mid-week reading…

An English translation of allegedly seditious children’s cartoon book The Defenders of Sheep Village, which few would have heard of if the CCP’s NatSec enforcers had but ignored it.

852 Spirit have been uploading RTHK Hong Kong Connection episodes on YouTube. The government seems to be trying to get them taken down.

Kevin Carrico on why ‘sanctions are great’

Prior to the implementation of sanctions on Hong Kong officials, there was officially no downside to obeying the orders of the Liaison Office and its enablers in the city. Sanctions change that forever.

Who really wants to work in the national security office, knowing that one may never be able to open a bank account or travel internationally?

Who really wants to be the next Chief Executive of Hong Kong (other than Leung Chen-ying, Regina Ip, and the already sanctioned incumbent) knowing that the policies one has to enact in this position will lead to the implementation of global sanctions against oneself and one’s family?

The Hong Kong government’s handling of pandemic/travel is a mess (the conference crowd are the latest to complain), but it looks like the aim is to emphasize ‘one country’ and prioritize inbound Mainland tourism over outbound international travel. Of course, Mainland tourists have never been hugely popular in Hong Kong. 

Which brings us to Thought for the Day: Once the number of Mainland visitors goes back above ‘noticeable nuisance’ levels (say 10-20 million a year), what sort of special post-NatSec reception will they get when their Hello Kitty wheeled suitcases trundle over local residents’ toes?

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Can LegCo have full zappy NPC-style credibility?

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council now attracts little media or public attention, has no debate, asks no awkward questions, and rubber-stamps the administration’s decisions. Even some loyalist lawmakers feel redundant. One result of Legco ‘working efficiently’ is that the government has been

…acting too swiftly in seeking approval for funding requests for major infrastructure projects that would have previously been delayed by the opposition … projects were endorsed at such a speed that it resulted in high bid prices.

An HKFP op-ed looks at whether Beijing can contrive some shred of credibility for the body, for which ‘elections’ (restricted to Beijing-approved candidates) take place in December. The article includes a fairly full history of the CCP’s co-option of minority parties since the late 1940s before describing signs of a similar United Front approach in NatSec-era Hong Kong, after most leading pan-dems have been jailed.

The democratic survivors essentially have two choices. To take part is to signal a measure of acceptance, thereby lending legitimacy to the new national security regime. But to boycott is to remove themselves from the political arena altogether, lose whatever influence they might be able to exert, and risk sinking back into the political inertia of colonial days. 

In reality, the first choice does not exist. There is no ‘political arena’ or influence on offer. The United Front will be inviting them to play a purely ceremonial role. That’s all the DAB and other loyalist and shoe-shiner lawmakers now have – like the stooges who rubber-stamp motions in the National People’s Congress every Spring. 

Any argument along the lines that ‘moderates should continue to engage to have input into process’ is garbage: in a Leninist system, no-one outside the small, self-selected core – who do not share power – has input. Any rump Democratic/Civic Party elements conceited enough to join in this farce will be declaring themselves useful idiots. Holden ‘spot the brain cell’ Chow would be more deserving of your vote.

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Cops save nation from dastardly speech therapists’ sheep

The Hong Kong Police National Security Department’s valiant Anti-Sheep Squad launch a heroic raid on speech therapists, arresting five of the sociopathic maniacs ‘on suspicion of conspiracy to publish and distribute seditious children’s books with the intent of inciting hatred against the government and instigating violence’.

The NatSec Dept’s Senior Superintendent (Allegorical Literature) Steve Li explains that in one of the books, Guardians of Sheep Village, sheep “…use their horns to attack. A sheep is such a kind-hearted animal, and they [producers of the book] have to say that it has some attack ability, and has to commit some violent acts.” Li is also concerned that the portrayal of wolves is inaccurate: “The books, for example, featured the wolves as throwing rubbish and spitting all over the place. In reality, is that even true?”

(Remember when Mainland censors banned the movie Babe because pigs shouldn’t talk? And since we’re being pedantic, is Li being truthful in claiming that sheep are ‘kind-hearted’? In my experience, they are not, particularly.)

The Guardian was among the first international media to break the story overseas – and no doubt reassure nervous investors that the Hong Kong Police are keeping the city free of subversive cartoon books that will turn kids into deviants. 

An illustrated audio version is here, and has over 110,000 views by Friday morning. (Warning: watching this video may make you hate the Hong Kong government – which you obviously never would have otherwise.)

Three predictions, or at least possibilities: the hitherto unnoticed (published over a year ago) village sheep will become a subversive companion-meme to LIHKG pig; speech therapists overseas will express solidarity, and the HK government will respond with a long whiny press release; Senior Superintendent (Children’s Cartoons) Steve Li will be awarded a Silver Bauhinia Gallantry Medal.  

A few things for the weekend if you’re desperate…

From China Media Project, a translated account by someone who was stuck on the subway in Zhengzhou as flood water started to fill the tunnel and then the train. Doesn’t sound like fun.

Almost as hellish, a Sixth Tone report on an ‘exclusive’ culture-themed nouveau-riche-targeting beach-resort property-project apparently near Beidaihe. A reminder that China has ‘normal’ horrors too.

Fans of Babe might enjoy this discourse analysis of pigs in motion pictures – a PhD dissertation – that explores such themes as ‘pig agency’ in the film. (I said ‘might’.)

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Your NatSec Thursday

Police charge four ex-Apple Daily staff – three of whom had already been arrested – with ‘conspiracy to collude with foreign forces’. Their alleged sin seems to have been writing or publishing articles calling for foreign sanctions against Hong Kong and Mainland officials. The government insists that criminalizing opinions is fine. And there’s still vague anti-doxxing and fake news laws to come. (Will it be ‘fake news’ to call lawmaker Elizabeth Quat ‘doctor’?)

For more on the impact of Apple Daily’s demise – plus a bold comparison of the Hong Kong press to defenders against Japanese troops in the Battle of Shanghai – see this interview with HKJA chair Ronson Chan.

Did the authorities deliberately choose the Yuen Long anniversary to bring these charges? If it was a Dept of Justice decision, it’s probably a coincidence. If the cops made the decision, it’s easy to believe they imagined it might ‘divert attention’. If it was Beijing officials, it’s plain spiteful malice. Bear in mind that Beijing’s people are running everything behind the scenes – and have an eye for vindictive detail.

More on Yuen Long: some MTR-themed protest artwork; and a great account of how the official line on the attack shifted in the last two years from initial shocked apologies to denials and falsehoods.

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Another anniversary

To mark the second anniversary of the nearest thing to terrorism Hong Kong has witnessed in recent years – a Stand News investigative video on the Yuen Long attack. 

It mentions disinformation about a protest planned in Yuen Long spread on Weibo by a cop’s (Mainlander/blue-ribbon activist) wife; the same fake news later being regurgitated by the Independent Police Complaints Council in its report; a senior official from the Liaison Office urging local Beijing supporters to be ‘prepared’ for such a protest; pro-Beijing figures suggesting the use of violence against protesters; local chiefs organizing thugs; and the miraculously vanishing police. A relatively charitable reading would be that pro-Beijing elements fabricated a planned protest/invasion of the town, and authorities turned a blind eye to the subsequent vigilante attack on commuters.

Also includes Stand reporters’ confrontations with the New Territories’ patriotic Alphards-and-perms mob. (And on the subject of the police complaints process.)

(A link here also to the RTHK documentary on the subject.)

Also from Stand – a wrap-up of the first NatSec trial (including a ‘terrorism’ charge, plus much debate over ‘incitement to secession’), which has just ended. More from HKFP. The verdict will be next Tuesday. If the judges go with the prosecution’s arguments and reject the defence’s, it will confirm suspicions that NatSec hearings will be kangaroo courts.

Some mid-week links…

Taiwan to Call Itself Taiwan Shock Horror.

Anne Stevenson-Yang on the reasons Beijing pulled the plug on Didi’s IPO, and what it means for Western investors…

…after the continuing house arrest of China’s most visible and successful billionaire, Jack Ma, founder of the company with the biggest IPO in history, one wonders what it will take for the U.S. market to understand that Chinese companies are simply not investable.

She sees one remaining way to make money from China tech: sell Western companies’ Mainland operations to high-valued local counterparts, as Uber did to Didi. She predicts Tesla will do so.

Following Western countries’ recent mass-complaints about Chinese hacking, ASPI Strategist asks who’s behind it (the state) and what the West can do to retaliate (including fun ideas for messing with the CCP by getting banned ideas and content behind the Great Firewall).

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By ‘improved’, we mean ‘why bother?’

It’s unlikely that right-thinking Hong Kong people plan to turn out for December’s Legislative Council ‘improved’-style election. The only candidates you will be able to vote for will be shoe-shiners approved as sufficiently ‘patriotic’ by Beijing’s elaborate new vetting system. Even sycophants are under pressure, and one is trying to display her loyalty by asking the government to advise everyone not to vote for people who will not be on the ballot anyway…

DAB legislator Elizabeth Quat complained that publicity for December’s Legco races does not emphasise strongly enough that only patriots can be allowed to rule Hong Kong … the authorities should … warn people not to vote for anyone who isn’t patriotic, she said in Legco.

With typical thoroughness, the government official concerned agreed with her.

The government will spend HK$38 million on encouraging people to vote. (Maybe HK$38 billion would do the trick – depends how they distribute it.) The HKFP piece also says…

Calling on others to cast a blank or invalid ballot is punishable by up to three years in jail.

…which is news to me. But have no fear – I won’t call on people to go to the polling station at all. (When officials were considering this, they seemed unclear about whether it was possible to criminalize urging a boycott but not the promotion of voting. The Big Scary Thing now seems to be ‘vilification’ of the election.)

In the meantime, there will be an even more absurd ‘election’ in September for the Election Committee – the (mainly appointed) body that rubber-stamps Beijing’s choice of Chief Executive, and will also nominally conduct the screening-out of non-patriots from the LegCo poll and appoint many LegCo members. The EC has always been a farce, but now they’ve given up pretending. Rather than being chosen by 246,440 voters, the body will now be selected by just 7,891 – a 97% drop. The reason is that humans are now barred from voting; only organizations (mostly United Front astroturf ones) will participate…

Under the new electoral list, the education sector has 1,725 voters … this compares with 80,000 voters from the sector in the [2016] election…

Local media also reported that 404 bodies have registered as “grassroots organisations,” a new group. They included such entities as the Modern Mummy Group, Tai Kok Tsui Friends, and “Chinese Arts Papercutting Association”.

Officials trying to boost the numbers of voters turning out for rigged and pointless elections must also contend with net departures. And they’re not alone. School principals coyly call on the Hong Kong government to analyze the reasons for and do something about emigration. Schools are apparently noticing a fall in the ranks of both teachers and students. Maybe the problem will be solved when the principals themselves have left town and there’s no-one left to complain.

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Attempt to feel sorry for shoe-shiners fails

HKFP op-ed from Steve Vines on the hypocrisy of Hong Kong officials whose spouses and kids hold foreign passports. It is possible to have a more sympathetic view of the predicament that at least some civil servants and others are in – given that their co-option by the CCP might have involved pressure, and their families are not necessarily to blame. But to hell with that. Far more satisfying to enjoy the sight of Beijing making its own toadies squirm for their status-symbol Legislative Council and Election Committee seats. 

From now on, sycophants will have to pay for the privilege of being shoe-shiners. The more zombie-like ones will adapt, but those with lives (like lawmakers with companies to run) will find the council attendance rules and impertinent questions about passports far more onerous. And this is before the weekly Xi Jinping Thought study sessions become compulsory.

Issued in the early hours of Saturday morning – the Hong Kong government’s extensive whine, intoning ‘facts speak louder than words’ at the beginning of three consecutive lengthy paragraphs, complete with passages in mellifluous Mainlandese, about something it could just as easily shrug off…

 “The US Administration’s latest attempt to issue a so-called ‘advisory’ to US businesses and individuals operating in Hong Kong based on totally ridiculous and unfounded fear-mongering about the situation in Hong Kong only serves to prove yet again its hypocrisy and double standards, driven by ideological hegemony,” the spokesman said.

Kevin Carrico on the cop-stabbing/suicide Leung Kin-fai

When the punishment for peaceful opposition and violent acts are essentially the same, some people will tragically choose violence.

The police chief suggests that certain views of this case could amount to inciting terrorism or sedition. (‘Could’ depending on what? Funny how the senior law-enforcement officials sound just as clueless as anyone else about what the NatSec Law actually means). 

From Mary Hui at Quartz: a NatSec court spends days debating the meaning of ‘Liberate Hong Kong…’ and whether Malcolm X was a secessionist. 

On which subject, the official trailer of Revolution of Our Times – likely to trigger some upsetting memories.

EJ Ensight op-ed by Neville Sarony on the HK Justice Dept’s embarrassing obsession with letting its lawyers style themselves ‘Senior Counsel’…

One may stick a label on a duck and call it a swan but it remains a duck.

Within the DoJ there are legal officers who are entitled Senior Government Counsel, why would any patriotic legal officer want to dissociate himself from government? Surely, they cannot be ashamed or embarrassed of being so described?

A compliant Legislative Council will be eager to accommodate the SJ’s desire, ably assisted by little green-eyed monsters gazing covetously at a title to which they cannot aspire.

And scenes at the British Airways check-in at Hong Kong airport in the last few days of the LOTR (apply-for-BNO-in-the-UK) system.

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