Shock finding: virus dormant during office hours

The Hong Kong government’s latest round of anti-virus measures have closed swimming pools, gyms and cinemas entirely. Seating in restaurants and coffee shops has been reduced by at least 50% to give patrons (rather pleasant) space. Officials have also seen fit to take public barbecue pits and kids’ playing-ground equipment out of service. Thus we are encouraged to do social-distancing, not mingle and preferably stay home. During leisure time.

But then the morning comes around, and half the Hong Kong population board buses and MTR trains and walk along narrow, crowded sidewalks and squeeze into cramped elevators. The ‘no groups of more than four’ and ‘keep 1.5m apart’ rules suddenly don’t apply. It’s commute-to-the-office time, so such precautions are somehow unnecessary. (Except for civil servants who are ‘working from home’ ha ha.)

What is the official logic for this inconsistency? ‘We must strike a balance’? ‘We are monitoring the situation and may consider additional precautions in due course and are hoping to achieve consensus with various sectors’? ‘The Li Ka-shing effect that keeps typhoons at bay during daytime Mon-Fri works on viruses too’? ‘Well [shrug] it’s better than nothing’? (This last one is actually honest and makes some sense.)

Just as you thought you can’t stomach another article/post on face masks – here’s an interesting one about the legal and other pitfalls of sourcing the things…

China would prefer to see its good quality PPE go to countries it likes and not  to countries it doesn’t like. 

And, because we can’t resist, some more details on how the WHO snubs Taiwan, even when the country offers to share important info.

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Epidemiologists make lousy spin-doctors

First, a clarification from the Hong Kong Police: they have not, as previously announced, uncovered terrorists building a hydrogen bomb. It was a ‘chlorine bomb’. This is the same police force that is now presuming the right to take down and arrest admins of websites for carrying ‘seditious’ material. (Do they mean ‘bottle of bleach’, perhaps?)

While the HKPF are fighting imaginary terror plots, two real global wars are taking place: one is between humanity and the Wuhan virus pandemic; the other pits truth against lies.

The World Health Organization is a major participant in both conflicts. And the UN body magnificently wins Cringe-Inducing Video Clip of the Week Award as one of its top Beijing-coddling officials pretends not to hear an RTHK journalist’s question about the Country that Must Not Be Mentioned. The doctor then cuts the Skype connection in a valiant attempt to feign invisibility. Inspired by this approach, the WHO promptly erases the guy from its website.

Oddly, a dash of public-relations sanity suddenly appears. Out with the silence and even with the mumbled ‘China’s Taipei and environs Province of China’ references. In what could almost be ‘a move certain to anger China’, a WHO press release gingerly acknowledges that Taiwan exists and has a (rather enviable) record of its own so far in handling the virus. But not before millions of people have watched the video and relished with glee the horrifyingly embarrassing performance. They don’t often come this juicy.

Although the WHO can’t openly address its quandary, the justification for flattering the Chinese leadership and promoting its fictions is presumably that it’s the lesser of two evils. The alternative is that China refuses to cooperate at all, and the world is even less equipped to fight the disease. But the planet’s taxpayers can be forgiven for wondering how the CCP managed to convince Mr Tedros and colleagues to submit to the CCP’s exceptionalism so enthusiastically – and how/why the bureaucrats imagined the rest of us wouldn’t notice/mind.

And people are noticing. Mild-mannered Scandinavian dignitary Carl Bildt blasts the CCP/WHO for the cover-up. Italians are seriously pissed with Beijing. And (even if it is the Daily Mail) – could the UK government be waking up to the true nature of the CCP?

Meanwhile, the ‘soft power’ goes on giving. Beijing encourages racism to facilitate its instant rewriting of history to portray the pandemic as a foreign imported threat. And don’t forget that you can drive the virus out of the body by rubbing your belly button (in the right direction).

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Carrie’s booze-ban backtrack

Not for the first time, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam abandons a dumb idea after everyone points out it’s stupid. But instead of waiting months while everything blows out of control, she has made her U-turn within days.

The ‘rethink’ is over the matter of whether banning bars and restaurants from selling alcohol would help counter the spread of the Wuhan Virus.

To Carrie and her advisors, there was some sort of compelling and intuitive logic to the idea – but it was hard for them to spell it out as it concerned icky people doing the sort of icky things that they apparently do. Skeptics doubted that preventing the icky things was practicable or very effective, or if there was even any connection. It could have been very confusing, but fortunately vested interests who would have lost money waded into the argument, and an instant climbdown ensues.

I declare the weekend open with some virus-laden links to browse through over a pint at your local pub…

Human Rights Watch blasts Cheng Lai-king’s arrest for ‘seditious intent’: “Arresting a pro-democracy politician for seeking police accountability is political persecution, not legitimate policing,” The Atlantic sees a gloomy future for rule of law and independent courts in Hong Kong.

On the other hand, the US magazine is wowed by Hong Kong’s response to the Xi virus. Singapore’s education minister explains why there’s no need to shut schools.

Reuters describes the virus’s impact on China’s economy as ‘eye-popping’. And Foreign Policy explains why Xi Jinping is desperate to get the economy back on its feet.

A quick article from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs on how the CCP’s insecurity is feeding into China’s foreign and domestic policy.

Many calm and thoughtful people tell us that, with a deadly pandemic sweeping the world, this is not the time for finger-pointing. But common sense surely says it’s never too early to lay blame where it’s due and makes the bastards responsible squirm. The Hill gives both Beijing and the WHO a swift but well-aimed kicking. And War on the Rocks ponders how we could sue China for trillions for unleashing the virus on the world.  

China Media Project delves into officials’ warnings to Wuhan hospital staff to ‘speak politics’ as a way of silencing them in the early days of the outbreak. In HKFP, Reporters Without Borders look at how China’s censorship contributed to the pandemic. ProPublica on how China uses Twitter to push propaganda on Hong Kong and the coronavirus. Republican senators are calling for a US counter-offensive against Chinese disinformation.

And there’s more! National Review wags (rather than points) its finger at China’s mask-hoarding habits. And here’s an interesting thread on how a United Front creepo in the Czech Republic seems to have been profiteering from face masks and other medical equipment, and diverting supplies intended to be humanitarian aid and other classic murky sordid patriotic businessman overseas stuff.

On a lighter note – from HKFP, play a game of ‘Spot the Illegal Structures’ with some soothing aerial views of Hong Kong.

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Knock at the door

The dead-of–night arrest of pro-dem District Councillor Cheng Lai-king for resending a Facebook post looks like vindictiveness on the part of Asia’s Bitterest. But the possibility that the cops will try to charge her with ‘seditious intent’ suggests a more sinister and calculated step in the long march to Mainlandization. Good commentary on this here and here.

As you might gather from the wording…

…the ‘seditious intent’ law is a tad out of date. It is one of the old and (we were told in 2003) no longer usable offences that would have been modernized and absorbed into the National Security Law required under Article 23.

Some of the more odious among the pro-Beijing crowd have of course been calling for work on an Article 23 law to be speeded up. However, the Article 23 brand is toxic, and after the Extradition Bill fiasco and the 2019 uprising the government would have to be insane to exhume the thing. Then again, to Hong Kong’s new knuckle-draggers in the HK and Macau Affairs/Liaison Office, it might be insane not to.

Alternatively, Beijing could issue imperial edicts – Basic Law ‘interpretations’ – to conjure into being whatever new meanings to existing laws it wishes. The next Chief Justice is reputedly laid back (or maybe just fatalistic) about this rule-by-law device.

Not the first late-night knock on an opposition politician’s door, of course. Certainly not the last.

(More here on the cops’ duplicitous communications on this case, which even by current standards seems to stink.)

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Taxpayers’ money joins HK’s reputation down drain

Most Pitiful-but-Funny Event of the Month for last September, we will recall, was the leaking of the Hong Kong government’s failure to convince any public relations agency to help try to reverse the drastic decline in the city’s international reputation. (Flashbacks here, here and of course here.)

HK Free Press reports that the Carrie Lam administration is not be deterred, and will do the job itself via a 50% boost in spending on the Information Services Dept for overseas promotional work.

As is readily apparent to anyone who looks at ISD communications material, the department comprises civil servants whose main target audience is the boss. Hence such sophisticated and persuasive messaging as Don’t Do Drugs Because They’re Not Nice – Let’s All Not Do Drugs! Sure enough, HKFP digs around the small print of the 2020-21 Budget and finds the ISD mission focusing on buzzwords our superiors will approve, like ‘Belt and Road’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘quality living’.

As the PR agencies no doubt explained to Carrie last year: this is not an image problem – it’s a substance problem.

Hong Kong is suffering a serious lack of government legitimacy. Rather than fix that (which the CCP refuses to allow), the authorities are trying to eliminate the main symptom, namely the protest movement, by bludgeoning it out of existence. The wider world sees this on its TV screens – and Hong Kong’s reputation as a stable, free city collapses.

The ISD’s strategy will be to transpose the government’s same inappropriate, counterproductive and heavy-handed response onto the field of communications. Rather than concede there is a problem, the PR campaign will insist that everything is fine, blaring out the same old slogans about rule of law and hubs. We can bludgeon the audience into believing!

McLuhan’s ‘medium is the message’ happening before our eyes.

A little morale-boost for the ISD spin-doctors as they start their work: the cruelest part of the September leak was that PR agencies refused to pitch for the Hong Kong account because it would harm their reputations. Ouch.

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The answer to yesterday’s quiz was…

some outfit at the Science Park

Today’s question is: can Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam find a way to use the Wuhan Virus to make herself look more ridiculous? And the answer is that she certainly can, proposing a ban on the sale of alcohol at bars and restaurants.

This was no doubt prompted by sensational tabloid exposes of a virus-carrying Westerner frequenting Lan Kwai Fong and having multiple/frequent/frenzied one-night stands. To add to the tabloids’ prurient freaking-out, it was a female. For extra added frisson, she was of an advanced age (well, 50) when she should have been knitting socks for cats or running Taiwan or something.

Critics accuse our cloistered bureaucrats of being puritanical or at least pandering to some ‘boozy rutting aging gwaipo’ stereotype. But in fact something else is going on.

What we are seeing here is the Hong Kong civil service’s obsessive-compulsive hyper-specificity – zeroing in on a high-profile but minuscule and barely relevant aspect of a problem, while of course missing the bigger picture.

Recent examples would include the (pre-pestilence) attempt to ban face masks on the assumption that these caused anti-government protests, and the subsequent bizarre (COVID-19-era) ban on charities buying yellow or black masks (on similar grounds).

This is a long tradition. Years ago, after a spate of trees falling and killing people, officials decided to attach a unique personal identity tag to every large-ish plant in Hong Kong. Another example was the shotcreting of every slope after one fatal landslide.

Perhaps the finest example came after a distraught man went nuts with flammable liquid at an Immigration Department office and burnt a staff member to death. Presumably, officials reviewed security in general, but their Big Idea was to issue personnel special vests with built-in fire extinguishers – as if this freakish and tragic scenario would become a regular event.

To the extent that ‘Westerners drinking and becoming intimate’ pose a public health risk, the government should consider blanket shut-downs of all restaurants and bars plus other non-essential gatherings like weddings for a few weeks. But it’s perhaps more palatable/cheaper to focus on specific, easily identifiable sub-groups and activities. The administration is (I hear) currently pondering how to stop domestic helpers from congregating on Sundays.

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Working today!

Which is more than we can say about Hong Kong’s whizz-bang space-age high-tech quarantine wristband app thing. Did this system come from:

1) A local university-Cyberport joint research project led by a pro-government professor using a grant from the Innovation and Technology Bureau’s Super Smart City Info-Hub Venture Fund Scheme

2) An obscure Shenzhen company with links to Huawei that also makes facial-recognition surveillance drones in a huge high-security compound in Xinjiang

3) The same civil servants who designed the Inland Revenue Department’s interactive website

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Your 14-day self-isolation links…

Not fair! How come lots of people I know get to be forced to stay indoors for two weeks, and I don’t? Sounds like my idea of paradise.

I declare the weekend (or, if applicable, quarantine) open with some absorbing reading matter…

An SCMP review of City on Fire, Antony Dapiran’s new book on the Hong Kong uprising.

The ultimate in timelines: the Hong Kong protests and the Wuhan Virus outbreak and cover-up.

Atlantic is impressed with Hong Kong’s pluck and resourcefulness in the face of the Xi Virus.

Ma Jian in the Guardian on the CCP/Xi’s own less-than-stunning performance. In HK Free Press, a proposal to call it the CCP virus.

In the interests of rubbing it in, more on how Xi’s China brought COVID-19 to the world, from The Hill.

Someone’s going to sue. Good luck!

SupChina on China’s crummy urban planning, sprawl and a raw deal for the folk from the countryside. (Reminds me of a pro-establishment guy at a social gathering several years ago. When some overseas visitors announced that they were heading on to Beijing, he looked at them in solemn wonder and said ‘It’s a beautiful city’.)

Bloomberg tries to unravel the mysteries of China’s budget.

Coda on the CCP’s rewriting of history on Islam and Uighurs.

For people who prefer video to words, Fox News before and after.

And a London 1665-Hong Kong 2020 mashup…

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Yesterday’s excitement…

China’s de-facto expulsion of NYT, WaPo and WSJ correspondents creates a new headache for the Hong Kong government. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs order that the US citizens hand in their press passes also barred them from pursuing their work in Hong Kong and Macau.

Where the affected journalists are not Hong Kong residents, this suggests that Beijing is openly infringing Hong Kong’s supposed autonomy in granting work visas (as opposed to intervening behind the scenes, as – presumably – in the FT’s Victor Mallet case).

Since it’s possible that some of the journos have Hong Kong residency, it also implies that Beijing feels it can forbid someone with the right to live and work here from working in the media (or perhaps any other profession or trade). This is absurd, not to say in contravention of the Basic Law. (More here.)

Of course, the CCP is not accustomed to legal or other curbs on its power in China’s sovereign territory. This puts the Hong Kong government in an impossible position. Its response to questions on the issue is embarrassingly vacuous, reciting stock phrases on local policy and quoting chunks of the MoFA announcement. No mention at all of what Beijing’s announcement means in practice. In this instance, the drafters of the press release had no choice.

Pray that one of the expellees does have a permanent Hong Kong ID and moves back here to carry on working.

Meanwhile, the High Court orders the MTR to release CCTV footage to a student who is suing the police for assault at Prince Edward Station on August 31. The materials can only be used as evidence for his case rather than released to the public, but at least something might now come to light.

Back to the ‘no legal curbs on its power’ CCP. Any Beijing officials watching this will see more reasons why Hong Kong needs to fix this troublesome ‘rule of law’ thing. They will probably be particularly unimpressed by the plaintiff’s use of a weird-sounding and clearly foreign legal device to get the videos – a Norwich Pharmacal Order.

None of that nonsense with the Mainland way of doing things. A Reuters report suggests that People’s Armed Police are observing the protests in Hong Kong. The PAP is the CCP’s version of a gendarmerie – paramilitary police tasked with internal order. Their presence suggests that someone in China’s paranoid hierarchy is absolutely serious about evil foreign forces being poised to use Hong Kong as a way to undermine the Party and topple the regime. The local fuzz, in their usual persuasive manner, ‘regret such an unfounded report’.

For light relief, lawmaker Regina Ip’s New (by which we mean ‘tired and faded’) People’s Party is tearing itself apart. Its other member – one Eunice Yung – is storming out in protest at being (she reckons) replaced as a candidate by a certain ex-Liberal called Dominic Lee, who (in all fairness to Eunice) sounds even more tedious. We eagerly await further developments. Zzzzzzzz….

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HK rejoices loss of silly title

As if Hong Kong’s bureaucrats are not miserable enough, the Heritage Foundation relegates the city from first to second place in its oh-so important list of Freest Economies in the Solar System.

Apart from the bureaucrats and the dogmatic fetishists of the Heritage Foundation itself, few took the ranking seriously. Anyone who understood the benefits of free markets wondered why the top spot kept going to a place where the state owns all the land and official policy distorts the whole domestic economy to benefit four or five families who operate a property development cartel.

Presumably, the logic was that ‘freedom’ = allowing tycoons to force Hong Kong middle-class home-buyers into semi-serfdom. The Heritage Foundation adored Hong Kong’s economy for how it worked in theory, rather than in practice. Perhaps Singapore’s leaders will be less enthralled with the think-tank’s attentions.

While the inevitable sulky HK government statement ensues, the Chinese authorities make clear their opinion of freedom by kicking out all US citizens working for the NY Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

The pretext is retaliation, though there is an obvious underlying desire to silence these outlets’ highly effective and embarrassing reporting on (in particular) Xinjiang concentration camps and the CCP’s disastrous handling of the Wuhan Virus. Most of all, it’s a Panda-tantrum – Beijing throwing all its toys on the floor in frustration at a world that won’t buy the CCP’s perverse fantasy of how and where the disease broke out.

Beijing is also apparently forbidding the expelled journalists from working in Hong Kong (where some might have residency, and would not require PRC Foreign Ministry press passes). As HK Free Press points out, this would seem to run counter to press freedom, and specifically Basic Law Article 33 guaranteeing residents freedom of choice of occupation. At least, when Hong Kong officials try to squirm out of explaining it, they won’t have to worry whether it means losing the precious Freest Economy tag.

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