Happy Handover 25th Anniversary!!!

In case you missed it, some more background on the Standard/Sing Tao’s coverage of Kaisa’s special tiny apartment on sale by tender…

Would that be the same Mainland group … Kaisa whose executive director and vice chairwoman Kwok Hiu-ting, the daughter of Kwok Ying-shing (Chairman of Sing Tao News) and co-CEO of Sing Tao News, suddenly resigned from the day before the company defaulted on principal and interest payments on a US$400 million note “to devote more time in other business commitments”, three days after her two sisters, Kwok Ho Lai and Kwok Hiu Yan, resigned from the board of a Kaisa Group healthcare subsidiary “to devote more time in their personal commitments”?

(Deathly silence as no-one faints in amazement.)

While many media organizations were not invited to cover the July 1 inauguration in the first place, the authorities have turned down more reporters – even from fairly pro-government outlets – for ‘security reasons’. Because of quarantine/testing requirements, they can’t be replaced.

It could be that the NatSec people decided to get extra paranoid at the last minute about media organizations. Or it could be the SCMP, Ming Pao, HKET, TVB, Reuters and other journalists have been blacklisted as individuals because of previous work they had done. It seems even Ta Kung Pao and Government Information Service personnel were included, though cynics might say that’s for show, so the government can say its decision was ‘balanced’.

Not that the sleuth reporters will miss much breaking news in the Great Hall of the Wanchai tomorrow.

Some Handover 25th Anniversary Long Weekend links…

Bloomberg on growing business uncertainty in Hong Kong…

In private conversations with diplomats, [Carrie] Lam has said she doesn’t have the power to eliminate quarantine even though she personally wants to open up to international travel, according to a person familiar with the situation. In an interview with Bloomberg this month, Lam acknowledged that Hong Kong’s quarantine policy “weakens our position as an international city” without saying when or how it might change.

…At the time the security law was unveiled, Hong Kong officials said it was mainly targeted at a few activists and said the stability it brought would reassure the business community. Yet the pandemic has shown the erosion of autonomy in the wake of the protests has affected almost every aspect of policy making in the city.

Unflattering juxtapositions of photos of Hong Kong when the Queen visited and Hong Kong when Xi visits today: here, here and here.

The latest update from the HK Democracy Council…

Hong Kong now has one of fastest-growing populations of political prisoners in the world, rivaling Belarus, Burma, and Cuba…

An RFA interview with Chris Patten…

The fact that the independence movement has grown in Hong Kong is an indication of how badly China has behaved and how little people actually trust China today. It’s an extraordinary thing that so few people are actually proud of Hong Kong being part of China now. There’s a great sense of Hong Kong citizenship, and there’s a great sense that people are Hong Kongers but only a small number think of themselves as Chinese.

Phrase-Coining of the Week Award goes to George Magnus, commenting on an FT report on superior job opportunities enjoyed in China by graduates in Marxist theory: ‘Nothing to lose but their brains’. The story

“The purpose of the major is to train thought police to brainwash the entire population,” said Ming Xia, a political-science professor at the City University of New York. Chinese universities offering Marxism degrees inculcate students in the philosophy developed by Karl Marx as interpreted by Xi and his revolutionary idol, Mao Zedong. A curriculum for a three-year masters program in Marxism at a university in central Henan province includes a module on the “principle and methods of thought education” and 18 hours of study of Xi’s speeches on education.

It is a selective interpretation of Marx…

Xi’s government has cracked down on young people who apply Marxist analysis too critically to abuses of labour…

How a Chinese fantasy novelist inserted fictional Russian history into Wikipedia…

Over more than 10 years, the author wrote several million words of fake Russian history, creating 206 articles and contributing to hundreds more. She imagined richly detailed war stories and economic histories, and wove them into real events in language boring enough to fit seamlessly into the encyclopedia…

“Characters that don’t exist in the English-Russian Wiki appear in the Chinese Wiki, and these characters are mixed together with real historical figures so that there’s no telling the real from the fake. Even a lengthy Moscow-Tver war revolves around the non-existent Kashen silver mine.”

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Luxury is a recess on the wall for toiletries

Still no word on whether Xi Jinping will appear live and in person for the July 1 handover anniversary/inauguration bore-fest. But Wanchai is being fortified, with an MTR station being completely closed, and activists and a pollster are being told to keep their heads down. (The idea of NatSec Police and LSD people sitting down together for a friendly chat – albeit one denying the group basic rights – seems almost touching these days. Jails too full for preventive detentions?)

Some light relief from the Standard. The paper (part of Sing Tao) has always talked up developers’ new projects, and the property market in general. Today it carries a glowing business news ‘story’ about Mainland group Kaisa offering, by tender, a ‘special’ furnished high-floor apartment at a development called the Concerto in exotic and classy Cheung Sha Wan. 

Sounds like a sprawling luxury penthouse with its own swimming pool and private elevator. But it turns out that it’s 294 sq ft – barely two car parking spaces, some of which will be a tiny balcony. And among other exciting exclusive features…

The bedroom has space for additional furniture, such as a wardrobe, for convenience and comfort. The room’s nearly floor-to-ceiling glass windows provide lighting and outdoor vistas, enhancing the sense of space.

An open kitchen with a gray marble worktop is practically designed with cupboards house [sic] appliances and utensils.

The bathroom has a separate shower cubicle to keep the wet and dry areas separate, with a recess on the wall for toiletries. There is also a window in the bathroom to enhance brightness, increase air circulation and keep the area dry.

Oh, and you get a floor! Light-coloured wood!

Real Hong Kong luxury apartments get bought by daughters of Uzbek dictators and mysteriously sold for the equivalent of 68 million Canadian dollars – which vanishes – before post-revolutionary justice has time to catch up. Good investigative work from the Globe and Mail. (And of course a glowing Standard report at the time on what seems to be the place.)

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‘Security Bureau’ is the new ‘fast track’.

Who says Administrative Officers have no future in Hong Kong’s new patriotic NatSec system of governance? Having neutered RTHK as a public service broadcaster, Director of Broadcasting Patrick Li gets promoted to Permanent Secretary for Security from July 1.

Valiant NatSec Police arrest people in possession of toy guns, communications devices used for ‘seditious messages’, and anti-government flags and (oh the horror!) badges – here and here

On other vexillological matters – the Standard gets Headline of the Week Day Hour Award for its report on Ping Shek Estate’s display coming down after someone started defiling them. 

A nice example of trying too hard from a China Daily columnist who dredges up fancy Latin legal terms (‘nullum crimen sine lege’, ‘ne bis in idem’) in an attempt to prove that Hong Kong’s rule of law is intact. Also neatly shunts blame for the choice of NatSec judges onto the Chief Justice.

Some mid-week links…

Nikkei Asia on the exodus of Hong Kong academics…

“Hong Kong gradually has to choose between China and the international community,” the lecturer said. “It’s suffocating.”

More from Lokman Tsui.

The Diplomat on how Scandinavian countries went off China.

Why did a property developer in Henan offer to accept down-payments for new homes in the form of garlic at way above market value for the crop? (Why do you think?) Over in Guanxi, Yulin city is trying to lure nearby villagers (average annual income CNY5,000) into buying homes, and ordering local civil servants to push family and friends into purchases. 

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Put out more flags

Former Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung drags out the old ‘economic city, not political city’ argument. Politics is the means by which a society decides how it should be run, notably as an economy (fairness of competition, prioritization of taxes and spending, etc). If you have an economy, by definition you have politics. The ‘not a political city’ phrase is code for ‘the population have no input into how their community is run’. In other words, a small group of unelected insiders make all the decisions, and the role of the people is essentially that of sheep.

He also says Hong Kong must win back Beijing’s trust. The government has lost confidence in Hong Kong, and will abolish the city and appoint a new one.

Incidentally, no CE was more focused on politicking – specifically belittling and fighting opposition – than CY himself. So far.

An HKFP op-ed on the elaborate but vague preparations being made for the possible visit of a ‘state leader’ on July 1. Two things seem pretty obvious. First, the big uncertainty is whether Xi Jinping feels personally safe outside whatever closed loop/bubble normally surrounds him – the recent Covid cases over the border and in Macau can’t have helped. And second, Hong Kong officials will be the last to find out if he’ll definitely show up.

Assuming he does come, at least for a few hours, it will be interesting to see what sort of distancing measures, physical anti-infection barriers and other precautions are in place. Wouldn’t the ambience be great if everyone in the Great Hall of the Wanchai except Xi has to wear a hazmat suit?

From the HK Landscape Photography Society – photos of flags hung inside the wells in public housing blocks – looking like the entrance to the July 1 underworld. And someone’s found a deathly lookalike.

Despite the compulsory patriotic view, the tenants at least have a halfway decent home. Also in HKFP – families living in HK$7,000-per-month 180 sq ft subdivided apartments don’t expect the new (unelected) administration to make (the political decisions required for) a difference to the housing situation. Sensible people.

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More boosts to Hong Kong’s image

Who would have thought it? Shutting down parks, playgrounds, gyms and beaches makes people fatter. On the NatSec front, police arrest martial arts trainers for ‘seditious intent’ (including possession of a photo of dead protester Chow Tsz-lok), and the trial of Stand News editors for ‘seditious publications’ is set for October.

Meanwhile, incoming Chief Executive John Lee makes another pledge to fight overseas ‘fear-mongering and badmouthing’ of Hong Kong. 

Which brings us to the last few days’ international media coverage of the city (some possibly paywalled)…

The latest journalist to leave Hong Kong is Atlantic’s Timothy McLaughlin, whose parting shot is a damning critique of the Hong Kong (ie Beijing) government’s revisionist version of what happened in 2019…

The narrative of the 2019 prodemocracy movement—in which millions defended their liberties and pushed for more freedom—now recounted by Beijing and its loyalists in Hong Kong is one of paid protesters, foreign agitators, and unpatriotic internal opposition.

…This is a false and deliberate strategy, one that pins all of the blame on a few “black hands” or “hostile forces” and carries a long historical precedent. Beijing deployed the same language at the time of the Tiananmen demonstrations, and more recently during 2008 protests in Tibet. The intent is to strip Hong Kongers of their own agency and assign blame to just a few select individuals, brushing aside the many legitimate grievances of city residents in favor of a more simplistic tale. 

…[Carrie] Lam’s bid to be Hong Kong’s chief executive started, she said, five years ago, with a call from God. It ends with a flourish of lies.

(The lying and gaslighting seem to feed Hong Kong officials’ frantic insistence on ‘explaining the truth’ to overseas audiences.)

An FT piece headlined ‘She was loved for standing up to China. She may die in jail’…

Just after dawn on January 6 2021, Claudia Mo’s housekeeper heard a sharp knock at the front door. The early hour, and Mo’s profile as a prominent opposition politician, made the housekeeper wary. She opened the door a crack, leaving the safety chain in place, and saw a troop of police outside. The housekeeper rushed to wake Mo, but the officers smashed through into the living room. “It was just thuggery, sheer thuggery,” said one person with knowledge of the raid. 

Mo, who was then 64 years old, was arrested and taken to Aberdeen police station on the south side of Hong Kong island … Similar scenes were playing out across the city as hundreds of police officers pulled a dragnet over Hong Kong and arrested more than 50 pro-democracy advocates — academics, activists and politicians.

A 25th handover anniversary offering from New Statesman

Yet only halfway through the agreed term, those promises have already been broken – and Hong Kong’s vibrant civil society has been crushed.

The National Post of Canada on the interview in which former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin was asked about her continued role on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal…

McLachlin’s last remaining justification for remaining in her post is her contention that the Hong Kong bar wants her to remain. It is unclear if she is aware that its leadership has already been purged of all dissidents, leaving behind only pro-Beijing loyalists. In March of 2022, the former head of the Hong Kong Bar Association fled the country after he was summoned to an interview by the national security police.

(What’s the deal with these retired Western judges? Do they get such tiny pensions that they need the Hong Kong money? Are they too ashamed to admit they might have made a mistake? Don’t they know what’s happened to the local courts?)

And the Guardian on Hong Kong’s rapid decline in human-rights rankings.

Some more varied reading for the weekend…

A longish explanation of China’s claim to own Taiwan…

In their pursuit of the “One China” policy and Anschluss with Taiwan, Chinese authorities have imposed an ideological and political prism through which Chinese researchers operate…

…including a theory that Taiwan’s aborigines are descended from Guizhou inhabitants displaced by Han settlers some 4,000 years ago.

(This last claim takes some anthropological/archaeological balls. It’s like the UK claiming a chunk of Norway on the grounds it was settled by pre-Celtic inhabitants of what is now Wales – who migrated to Scandinavia via what’s now Belgium and Poland – even though no such population movement ever occurred.)

On out-of-area matters, a post from a Russian ultra-nationalist who has, let’s say, ‘issues’.

If you have an hour and a half to spare – a documentary Broken Ties by Andrei Loshak on Russians arguing with family and friends about the war in Ukraine.

No offense to the faithful, but your regular reminder of the absurdity of crypto.

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Big face, small job for 16

In today’s episode of Who Cares? – the exciting new Executive Council line-up

Obvious question: what is ExCo, the so-called policy-advising ‘cabinet’?

In colonial times, the EC comprised the Governor, the Chief Secretary, Attorney-General, and Financial Secretary, the Commander of British Forces, and a few ‘non-official’ members, typically taipan-types from Hongkong Bank, Jardines or Swire. At weekly meetings, each bureau head would go in one by one and get quizzed about the latest situation in Education, Health, Public Works, Lands, etc – and get a pat on the head or kick up the rear, as circumstances warranted.

Today, the EC is four or five times bigger, including all 16 of the bureau heads, plus a similar number of outsiders such as pro-Beijing legislators and shoe-shining finance/business folk. Membership supposedly confers social status, so is used as a reward for loyalty or (as with Regina Ip being named ‘convenor’) a consolation prize. The average age of the new non-officials is (I read somewhere online so it must be true) 65.7. Proceedings are confidential, but we can be fairly sure – judging by quality of governance – that this large group does not offer advice so much as receive instructions on the ‘lines to take’. Under a principle of collective responsibility, members are required to openly support government policy.

As with the ‘improved’ patriots-only elections, Legislative Council and most publicly visible ‘politics’ in Hong Kong, ExCo is essentially ceremonial. The real decisions are made elsewhere. 

Hence Hong Kong’s nonsensical and apparently never-ending Covid restrictions. Despite the quarantine/hotel requirements that make inbound travel extremely difficult, the Rugby 7s organizers are hoping to hold an international tournament later this year, using a ‘closed loop’

Presumably, they are hoping the Covid regime will in fact be ended by November, as the proposed arrangements (teams being confined to hotels when not playing/training) sound too onerous for the average rugby player to bother with. Hong Kong’s top rugby doc foresees medical-care problems…

It’s not possible to have a WR rugby tournament without a concussion specialist pitch side.

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Weather forecast for tomorrow: swarms of frogs and locusts

Your Hong Kong handover 25th anniversary metaphor du jour – a burning bridge collapses

Some insider/expert views on the sinking of the Jumbo from TransitJam. Seems hardly any insurers would cover the barge’s trip over high seas – but scuttling would be a convenient and cost-effective way of just dumping the thing. 

Will Xi Jinping be visiting Hong Kong for July 1? The sharp reduction in quarantine time for ‘elites’ slated to be in his presence raises suspicions he might not. Also, People’s Daily chooses this moment to remind us how greatly he cares for the city, which you may or may not think suggests he’ll cancel. More likely, he will turn up – but for a few hours at the most, and the ‘elites’ will not be allowed near him.

From Chris Patten – a pointed letter to the Times, and remarks on whether Hong Kong was a British colony…

“I’m delighted to be able to demonstrate that as the last governor of Hong Kong, that I do actually exist, that I’m not a figment of my imagination,” Patten said, referencing the proposed textbooks.

A quick Patten Q&A on ‘post-peak’ China’s ability to maintain Hong Kong as an international hub – and some cheeky advice to John Lee and family. 

More on the last governor’s book-plugging event from AP.

Some worthwhile mid-week reading…

From HKFP – an op-ed on the John Lee administration members’ uniform, and how the Hong Kong authorities are extending film censorship.

A Diplomat piece says the NatSec Law has left Hong Kong ‘unrecognizable’, while HK Rule of Law Monitor offers a depressing round-up of legal developments for April-May.

Good CCP Watch interview with Timothy Cheek on ideology in China…

The amazing flip-flops in actual policy during Mao’s life and since then certainly raise your question [‘Can the Party simply appropriate any ideologies that become effective or popular over time?’]. It’s like, they just keep changing all the time, and is there a there there? One answer is, it’s all about power. And you just look at the Chinese version of the focus group and say, what will keep us in power for the next five years, and then we’ll say that. 

Another ‘could China invade Taiwan’ article. One scenario – hitting US bases in the Pacific – essentially means starting World War III. Why would Beijing throw away all the progress China has made in the last three decades just for an island whose people clearly don’t want to be part of the country? It looks like a contrived ‘sacred mission’ too far.

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Jumbo takes metaphor-for-HK role to limit

What sort of cynical embittered world are we living in, where you can’t tow a decrepit money-losing floating restaurant out to the Paracels where it tragically sinks in deep water, without nearly everyone instantly muttering about insurance fraud? Shocked!

Some more on the ‘Hong Kong was never a British colony’ hoo-hah from AP. Basically tortured semantics – Hong Kong wasn’t a British colony because we didn’t recognize it as one. A Rita Fan quote in this item in Global Times gets to the heart of why this arcane point is being put into local school textbooks…

…if we were a colony, we would be able to declare “independence” and have our own nationality and culture. “But the fact is Hong Kong people are Chinese, and our culture is Chinese culture,” Fan said.

Citizen-subjects do not have the right to perceive their own heritage. We decide your identity and culture – not you. 

A Reddit meme to clarify the issue, or not.

While we’re on the subject of conflicting and shifting meanings of words – the end of ‘One China’, from CSIS…

As [the 2024 presidential election] approaches, growing repression in Hong Kong and shifting demographics in Taiwan may finally convince the KMT to modify or relinquish the last planks of its unification platform. If not, the party risks falling into irrelevancy and Taiwan’s democracy risks losing its loyal opposition.

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The new ‘rectification’ line-up

A raucous fanfare of barrel-bottoms being scraped heralds the announcement of Hong Kong’s new cabinet. The daunting task was to find 21 people unlikely to outshine the new Chief Executive in terms of charisma or other qualities. It seems they pulled it off!

Full line-up here (some cool English names: Horace, Algernon, Ingrid). 

Carrie Lam’s stalwarts are out. The new Health Secretary is ‘falling and clutching his knee’ guy from 2015 – and a zero-Covid fan. The new Justice Secretary was ‘voted out as Bar chair’. The new Chief Secretary is yet another longtime Security Bureau guy (Immigration Dept) and was formerly chair of the local ‘Committee for Safeguarding National Security’, which reports to Beijing officials. The new Education Secretary is a Putonghua fan and former head of the patriotic teachers’ union (more on her and the new Tech-Innovation guy here). The new Commerce Secretary left the Cathay group to run Mainland-owned rival start-up Greater Bay Airlines (and is of Qing-era patriotic stock). Others have been plucked from LegCo (Alice Mak for the Home Affairs and Youth portfolio) and/or obscurity.

It’s not hard to suspect a broad common theme here: nationalism and chips on shoulders against pro-democrats, foreigners, the West, and colonial-era institutions. These people have been picked to carry out an ideological mission handed down from above. Note that the transport, housing, lands and works bureaus, which deal with key quality-of-life issues, are all going to bland technocrat civil servants – so those functions can just continue on auto-pilot. The only policies that matter are NatSec and ‘integration’.

Quite a few commentators desperately cling to the idea that the incoming John Lee administration will magic away the Covid restrictions. As it is, we see pubs’ business down 60%

Lan Kwai Fong landlord Allan Zeman is sorely vexed at the heavy-handed enforcement of new Covid rules in his nightlife district, including at ‘upscale’ establishment Carbone (Catbone? Dogbone? Ratbone?). As he points out, only a tiny proportion of Covid cases come from bars, so the new RAT test system for them (but not pure restaurants) is absurd. But did the fervent government loyalist expect to be immune from Hong Kong’s NatSec/Covid-era priorities and style of policing? 

Not all that money on PR advice went to waste: HK government manages a family photo that doesn’t show zombies standing to attention.

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John Lee to fix HK legal system’s image

Engineering firm Analogue Holdings is accused of collusion with a competitor on bidding for air-conditioning maintenance contracts. Interesting timing: it’s not exactly every day that Hong Kong takes action against cartels, and boss Otto von Poon is the husband of outgoing Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng, whose performance has (some say) not totally pleased Beijing.

The stock plummets 10%. (I actually own a few shares in them, on account of the juicy dividends. Maybe not quite so juicy now.)

Some links for the weekend, starting with a legal theme…

Buried away in the statistics, a minor but telling example of the decline of Hong Kong in recent years: as of end-March, 35.4% of people being detained by the Correctional Services Dept were awaiting trial – supposedly innocent until proven guilty. 

Incoming CE John Lee promises to promote Hong Kong’s legal system in the face of ‘self-interest political bad-mouthing in international politics and punditry’.

Which leads us to the submission on rule of law in Hong Kong to the UN Human Rights Committee on Hong Kong by Georgetown Law. An introduction/thread… 

Beijing and the HKG … view the need for complete control as so overwhelming that they are employing a number of different tools to achieve their national security goals. 

That’s why the government has effectively ruled out jury trials for NS cases; why only pre-selected judges can hear NS cases; why only a select few NS defendants are allowed bail; and why there are growing limits on legal aid for NS (and other) cases.

It’s overkill, for sure — no doubt the HKG could ease up on some of its procedural restrictions, and still get the outcomes they want from a sadly (thus far at least) too-compliant and insufficiently rights-protective judiciary.

Another report – somewhat broader in scope – from Hong Kong Human Rights Information Centre/ Hong Kong Rule of Law Monitor. 

Expect some angry hyper-ventilated mouth-frothing official statements about interference in Hong Kong affairs.

Or, if you prefer, a former Chief Justice advises Hongkongers not to focus so much on their rights.

Three years ago yesterday, two million on the streets. Whatever the number was, the whole area, plus all transport connections, were crammed – there was literally no room for more.

Regina Ip gets a tatty consolation prize – ‘convener’ of the rubber-stamp Executive Council. 

Plans to build lots more roads, especially nice expensive tunnels, in Lantau as part of a ‘fundamental change to the island’s function’. It will henceforth be a parking lot hub-zone.

From Atlantic, an account of returning to a newly repressive China…

China under Communist Party rule has always been an autocracy with overwhelming repressive capabilities. But in the era of Xi Jinping, the state has been empowered to tighten its grip on society and equipped with enhanced surveillance technology to make that possible. The pandemic has offered the state further rationale and opportunity to expand this power.

In Foreign Policy, a perhaps rather over-excited portrayal of China’s economy as toast.

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