Can disclaimer serve as Magic Shield of Confidence?

Lawmaker Paul Tse adds a disclaimer to his Facebook page, saying criticism of the government is intended to be constructive, not to ‘incite hatred’ or anything. He is presumably pre-empting the new breed of all-patriot types out there who will denounce anyone and everyone to prove their loyalty. Will it convince those zealots? More to the point, would it persuade NatSec police dedicated to exposing new threats? 

Should we all do this now? Maybe get it printed on T-shirts. (Not sure I like the new look up there. Should get around to doing a new one.)

A Japanese academic in the Diplomat asks what comes next after the Article 23 law…

Viewed objectively, one struggles to discern any national security loopholes in Hong Kong that needed to be closed with quite that degree of urgency. After all, in 2020, the Chinese government had enacted powerful legislation called the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (National Security Law), after which it began to round up anti-government activists. The pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was shut down. The electoral system was altered, and pro-democracy parties were all but expelled from Hong Kong politics. Anti-government political activities, social movements, and even public discourse have already been extinguished. Indeed, some observers argue that this latest law was not required at all, given the existence of the National Security Law.

…Under British rule, Hong Kong experienced six months of violent riots in 1967, which led to the arrest of many young people. However, the government subsequently regretted for the lack of governance that sparked the anti-government movement, granted amnesty to those arrested, and established a golden age during which it earned the support of the people by eradicating corruption and expanding welfare in 1970s.

In contrast, the Safeguarding National Security Bill was applied for the first time on March 25, 2024, just two days after it became law, stipulating that a national security prisoner may not be granted early release, effectively extending the sentences of young people already in prison for such crimes.

For Hong Kong to be able to focus fully on economic development, it will need to improve its relations with the West and restore local trust in government. This latest law looks to be a move in the opposite direction.

Saudis are visiting Hong Kong to raise interest in a planned city that would stretch 105 miles across the desert, ultimately having a population of nine million. It would be that long because it’s only a few hundred yards wide. (Amazed Donald Tsang or Carrie Lam didn’t think of a reclamation this size and shape.) Basically, a narrow strip of skyscrapers running like a wall through wilderness, rejecting the obvious advantages of cities built in two horizontal dimensions, like convenient connections between different clusters of economic and cultural activities.

So idiotic, it obviously won’t happen. (Clue: a US$1.5 trillion price tag.)  This is to urban planning what blockchain is to bank transfers. Maybe they heard about the welcome extended to Dubai princes talking of family offices and decided it’s worth a try.

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The hunt for negative energy in movies

A pro-Beijing lawmaker (guess that’s a tautology) asks a question in the Legislative Council…

”There are views suggesting that the projects funded by the Film Development Fund (FDF) are suspected of containing ‘soft resistance’ and negative energy, and lacking elements of ‘telling the good stories of Hong Kong’ and “telling the good stories of China,“ [Joephy] Chan said. The FDF provides funding for small-to-medium budget film productions.

The lawmaker asked how authorities were vetting funding applications and what proportion of films supported over the past five years carried “positive thinking.” She also asked if the authorities would consider “telling good Hong Kong stories” and “telling good China stories” when vetting funding applications to “promote the best side of Hong Kong.”

She is especially worried about a film in which the police wrongly accuse someone.

In the manner of civil service replies to members’ questions since time immemorial, the Leisure, Culture, Etc Bureau’s reply studiously avoids either accepting or rejecting – let alone answering – the substance of her question. This might not continue for much longer, if bureaucrats feel a need to prove their loyalty in the battle against ‘soft resistance’, etc.

Interestingly, legislators’ questions criticizing government expenditure do not seem to count as ‘soft resistance’. Among recent examples: the T4 highway in Shatin, the cost of ‘light public housing’, and even ‘mega-events’. Perhaps someone at a senior level sees this as a useful way to give the all-patriots LegCo some credibility – and pressure the administration to balance the budget.

Some weekend reading and viewing…

An exhibition on ‘Hong Kong freedom fighters’ at the Leeds, England City Museum…

Located in the Community Corridor on the second floor of the museum, the exhibition presents a compelling collection of narratives, artifacts, and multimedia displays. Through these mediums, visitors are transported into the heart of Hong Kong’s struggle for freedom and the courageous individuals who have dared to fight for their rights.

From personal accounts of hardship to historical artifacts symbolizing resilience, the exhibition provides a comprehensive look at the challenges faced by Hong Kongers seeking refuge in the United Kingdom. Each display serves as a poignant reminder of the unwavering spirit and determination of those who have embarked on this remarkable journey.

Will this warrant an angry response from the relevant organs?

China Media Project looks at the pitfalls awaiting unwary ‘influencers’ (online video bores) who try to win clicks/ad revenues/freebies by ‘telling the China story well’…

To be the focus of accusations of negative foreign influence in China is a strange turn of fortune for Heyden, who since at least 2021 has frequently expressed opinions that align with the messaging of the Chinese Communist Party — for example, denying Taiwan’s right to self-determination and defending human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

…Attacks on Heyden are not what Beijing would like to see. They’ve taken great care to nurture foreign personalities willing to promote official viewpoints abroad. Former Global Times editor Hu Xijin argued when he weighed in on Weibo that Heyden’s stellar record of “defending China in the field of international public opinion” should earn her more tolerance, and that having her attacked from both sides would only make “Western public opinion applaud gleefully.”

From the Jamestown Foundation – How China manages public memories in order to push its own narrative by co-opting elites in Kyrgyzstan. 

Totally off-topic – The Grateful Dead Movie (1985, roughly) is now on the band’s YouTube channel. Guaranteed free of ‘soft resistance’.

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What are they doing all day?

Your tax dollars at work…

Carrie Lam’s private concierge/secretariat expenditure last year came to…

…HK$5.67 million on “rent and related expenses” … while remuneration for staff cost HK$2.86 million and daily operations cost HK$640,000.

Lawmaker Michael Tien suggests buying her a whole floor at the Great Eagle Centre, pointing out that the view is nice.

The government is spending HK$3.75 million a month on maintaining empty pandemic isolation facilities. Officials are apparently preparing the sites for alternative uses, though they clearly have a phobia about using them for housing.

And it spent HK$1.2 billion on last year’s District Council elections, which saw a turnout of just 28% (with only 88 of 470 seats returned by popular vote – and only ‘patriots’ could run.)…

The sum was 91.8 per cent more than the HK$635 million spent on the 2019 election. The government told lawmakers back in March 2019 that only HK$7.5 million had been set aside for a three-stage promotion campaign for that year’s election.

…HK$122 million was attributed to publicity.

The bureau told lawmakers in January that for the publicity drive more than 1.5 million posters and leaflets were printed, about 4,000 adverts were placed on public transport, nearly 99,000 bunting rows were hung up and 359 large billboards were set up.

…In the 2019 poll, 95 per cent of the seats were returned by popular vote. The pro-democracy bloc won 392 out of 452 seats amid the height of the social unrest. The election also saw a record turnout of 71.23 per cent.

No opposition candidate was able to obtain sufficient nominations to run in the 2023 poll.

Nearly 99,000 bunting rows.

The electronic poll registration system, which crashed, cost HK$45 million. The government is budgeting HK$380 million for next year’s Legislative Council elections…

…the Registration and Electoral Office plans to increase their manpower by 16 despite having no election this year.

“The REO plans to create 22 additional civil service posts. With six posts to be abolished this year, the net increase of posts is 16,” Wang said. “These posts are mainly used for carrying out relevant preparatory work for the Election Committee Subsector By-elections and Legco election next year.”

Probably a more interesting workplace than the REO, the Response and Rebuttal Team – which counters ‘misinformation and slanders’ about the NatSec laws – is to become permanent, though the budget is secret. NatSec expenditure is…

…not disclosed to prevent people “guessing” what the government’s national security work entails.

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Anyone got a spare mindset?

Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Xia Baolong’s comments on Monday included this on Hong Kong’s economic future…

“We cannot use the old perspective from yesterday to look at today’s new situation. We cannot use the old mindset from yesterday to solve today’s new problems,” he said.

“We need to unite and look ahead, use new mindsets, new solutions and new paths to tackle problems. We must dare to say words that have not been said by our predecessors, and do things that have not been done by our predecessors.”

The SCMP finds various commentators, few of whom agree on what Xia means. Here are five…

“The central government is indeed worried about Hong Kong’s economic situation,” Lau said. “So, it must encourage and supervise the government and all walks of life in Hong Kong. This is also to spur the government.”

…“At this moment, the Hong Kong government is lacking new thinking because our officials were trained to work in an industrialised society and financial society. But now we need new talent to work in a digital society with new industries.”

…“Xia’s remarks are the clearest indication that Beijing will have a more hands-on approach to Hong Kong affairs and will give the Hong Kong government orders directly and straightforwardly on what it should do…

…“In the new era, most companies with high market value are focused on innovation,” Lee said. “But we are still talking about property prices and the housing market.”

…“It is unfair to say the Hong Kong government relies too much on traditional advantages as many are the economic cornerstones nurturing different sectors, such as finance and logistics,” [a fifth] said.

Hong Kong should make more effort to “regain its charm in connecting China with the world beyond the inward integration push with the Greater Bay Area”, he argued.

How about ‘we’ll make it up as we go along’?

One specific economic policy is on the way: tax concessions for family offices setting up in Hong Kong. Subsidies from (mostly) poorer local residents to multi-multi-millionaire non-Hongkongers.

A couple of mid-week links…

Think the hippy trail ended half a century ago? The Guardian on Mainlanders seeking an alternative life in Chiang Mai.

A Twitter thread on the idea that in ‘collectivist’ (typically Asian) cultures, people work together rather than compete like ‘individualist’ Westerners…

…collectivists are MORE competitive than individualists. They just compete more covertly than up front. 

…collectivists (Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Thai, Ghanians) are more likely to withhold information during negotiations, have frenemies than real friends, hold zero-sum beliefs, compare themselves to others, feel bad about themselves when their friends succeed.

Sounds like our old friend kiasu.

In one study, @shlulu asked Americans and Chinese to imagine themselves competing for an acting role, and anticipate what other actors would do. 38% of Chinese responses fell in unethical/gray areas (“poison other actresses’ food”, “sleep with the director”) vs.16% Americans.

…In cultures that demand social harmony, people use tacit strategies to compete against others. This social vigilance is a consequence of collectivism, rather than the exception.

Includes a link to the author’s academic study.

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Invasion of the consistent and unpredictable mantises and flies

Yesterday was National Security Education Day. Among the lessons

“For an extremely small number of people who endanger national security, this law is an overhanging sharp sword,” said Xia Baolong, Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office chief.

“Hong Kong’s development would not be stopped by a few mantises and flies,” he added in a speech from Beijing.

Speaking at the ceremony in Hong Kong, Zheng Yanxiong, Beijing’s liaison chief in the city, declared “tit-for-tat cognitive warfare” against critics of the law.

“Some ill-intentioned foreign forces have been bad-mouthing China and Hong Kong… and even some renowned Western media has joined the wagon of slandering and smearing,” Zheng said, adding “our only way to survive is to unite and fight”.

Mantises are cute. Did he mean manatees? Didn’t Deng Xiaoping say ‘when you open the window, you will let in some mantises’? 

Also from Xia…

“Hong Kong is the sun in the universe, no clouds can ever stop it from shining. Hong Kong’s prosperity cannot be slandered by a few passages and few criticisms,” he added.

“It is time to whine for those who do not want Hong Kong to thrive. Hong Kong’s future is destined to be glorious.”

Xia also said Beijing will not change its stance in implementing the one country, two systems principle in Hong Kong.

“It has not been changed, is not being changed, and it will not be necessary to change it,” he said.

The hostile forces are breeding like flies. Or mantises. Or something…

Chief Executive John Lee said the threats to national security were “unpredictable,” “consistent,” and “discreet.”

“Foreign intelligence officers and their proxies would use different industries as disguise,” Lee said, also speaking in Mandarin. “Spies may marry and raise a family just like an ordinary citizen, and only commit acts of terrorism or theft of state secrets after years [of hiding].”

Lee called Article 23 an “effective vaccine” for Hong Kong, but added that “threats to national security are like viruses that continue to attack [the city].”

Consistently unpredictable? Is everyone married with kids under suspicion? Metaphorical viruses?  None of this sounds like ‘back to normal’/‘focus on the economy’. Indeed

[Head of Beijing’s Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong] Dong Jingwei told an opening ceremony for National Security Education Day that Hong Kong is highly open and susceptible to external threats, and its destiny is closely tied to that of the country.

“During critical times of reform, it’s more important than ever to unite. During key phases of development, our national security becomes even more important. Maintaining social stability and national security in Hong Kong isn’t a one and done process,” he said.

And

Addressing [a panel discussion], Secretary for Justice Paul Lam said the city’s national security laws and its development go hand in hand.

“Before the legislation was enacted, Hong Kong was like a vehicle with one of its tyres not fully inflated or a bird with one of its wings not fully developed. It is inevitable that the car won’t go smoothly, and the bird will not be able to fly high and far,” Lam said.

A reminder of the welcome awaiting visitors to Hong Kong.

In other news, former CE Carrie Lam’s office is costing over HK$9 million a year…

“This includes personnel such as a senior personal assistant, an assistant clerical officer, a chauffeur and a staff member responsible for daily reception duties,” the office said.

She has a separate office in Pacific Place as there’s no space left in the original building housing support for the previous three CEs. Why can’t all four share a pool of drivers and secretaries? 

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Shortage of civil servants, not departments

A new online magazine – the Hongkonger. Proclaims itself ‘inspired by the New Yorker’. A couple of items by a former local film studies academic (and occasional hiking companion of mine) looks at how older movies are affected by the NatSec laws – here and here. There’s a review of Michael Davis’s Freedom Undone. And more.

The Hongkonger is aimed at the diaspora, which perhaps brings us to the SCMP’s story on vacancy rates in the public sector…

Hong Kong’s public service departments have almost 20,000 vacancies, with some having up to 20 per cent or more of posts unfilled as the number of retirees continues to rise.

The Civil Service Bureau revealed on Friday that RTHK, the city’s public broadcaster, had the highest vacancy rate, with 175 posts unfilled- 23.8 per cent – and the police force had the highest number of jobs available, 6,837, 17.9 per cent of its total establishment.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department registered a 20 per cent staff shortfall with 460 vacancies.

The Education Bureau recorded a 15.6 per cent vacancy rate with 983 posts unfilled.

…Almost 4,000 civil servants from more than 200 departments quit over the 2022-23 and 2021-22 financial years.

They have more than 200 departments???

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Nation secure for another week

Transit Jam investigates the Nathan Road fire, which left five dead…

Buildings Department (BD) says it issued a Fire Safety Direction to the New Lucky House Owners Committee (OC) in 2008, “requiring the upgrading of certain fire safety provisions of the building to a level in line with the current fire safety standards, including the replacement of fire doors, provision of fire resisting enclosures to non-emergency services and provision of fixed lights meeting the required fire resistance and the like.”

The OC appointed a consultant to follow-up the Fire Safety Direction seven years later, in 2015 and then replaced the consultant in 2020, with the work still not even started.

And so on, up to the last order that was issued – and apparently ignored – three weeks ago.

From building safety to national security…

The trial begins of the first person to be charged with disrespecting the national anthem…

…a video … showed Chan sitting down while the anthem was played and covering his ears. He also sang Do You Hear the People Sing, a song from musical Les Miserables that was popular during the pro-democracy protests in 2014 and 2019.

…[An] officer who testified for the prosecution … observed Chan, noting that when the China team scored, he made a thumbs down sign.

…said Chan told him under police caution that he sang the English song because he “does not like the China team and the Chinese anthem.”

At the start of the trial, barrister Steven Kwan said Chan has autism and ADHD.

A 41-year-old man is sentenced to five years in prison for conspiring to incite others to commit secession online…

…the prosecution said leniency would be at odds with an earlier national security case in which Hong Kong’s top court ruled that guilty pleas, which typically carry a one-third jail term discount, could not reduce sentences below the five-year minimum for “serious” security law offences.

Delivering John’s sentence on Thursday, [Judge Ernest] Lin handed down an initial 78 months. Although John pleaded guilty, his sentence could not be set below the minimum five years.

Lin said John had “distorted history, demonised the Chinese government, and appealed to foreign countries to destroy Hong Kong and China.”

And a representative of Reporters Without Borders is questioned and searched for six hours before being denied entry at Hong Kong airport. She had flown from Taipei to ‘meet journalists and monitor a hearing of the national security trial involving media tycoon Jimmy Lai’.

The problem with treating members of the media like this is that they write stories about you. Predictably, this has been picked up by WaPo, Al Jazeera, ABC, UPI, etc. 

The Lai trial continues, with activist Andy Li testifying that he never met or had contact with the Apple Daily owner.

Hong Kong forecasts a huge drop in the number of primary school students…

Hong Kong schools operating Primary One classes should brace for a 36 per cent drop in the number of enrolled students over six years, according to the latest prediction by education authorities that are even gloomier than the one made in 2023.

…According to the latest projections released by the Education Bureau on Thursday, the number of six-year-olds expected to start Primary One will drop from 49,600 this year to 31,500 in 2029, a 36 per cent decline.

The bureau last year expected 50,000 six-year-old children to enrol in Primary One in 2029.

This calls for lateral thinking…

So Ping-fai, chairman of the Subsidised Primary Schools Council … called on authorities to count every child with special needs as 1.5 or two pupils when counting student enrolment.

Some weekend reading and viewing…

More on birth rates and emigration. The Diplomat looks at the impact of a cross-Straits war on Chinese and Taiwan demographics. Makes reference to Russia-Ukraine experience, and…

The Chinese authorities may be proud of thwarting the anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong in 2019 and successfully implementing the national security law in 2020. However, they ignore the huge cost: weakening Hong Kong’s status as a financial center, destroying the bridge between China and the West, and not least the massive loss of population. In mid-2022, there were 180,000 fewer people aged 20-39 in Hong Kong than two years earlier. Political high-handedness and the zero-COVID policy jointly led to an economic recession, with births plummeting from 53,000 in 2019 to 33,000 in 2022, and the fertility rate dropping from 1.06 to 0.70.

Lingua Sinica catches up with Hong Kong authors and publishers at a Taipei book fair…

Another Bbluesky publication [editor Leslie Ng] brought to Taipei, a reprint of Allen Au’s 2012 travelogue Tide Pools: Wanderings in 20 Countries (潮池:浪遊二十國度的故事) had been pulled from the shelves at the Hong Kong Book Fair two years earlier. The reason, Leslie says, was not sensitivities around the book’s subject matter but simply the author’s identity. Au, who previously worked as a radio host for public broadcaster RTHK and a senior producer at pro-government station TVB News, was arrested by national security police in 2022 for allegedly conspiring to publish seditious materials. While the presumption of innocence still exists on paper in Hong Kong, the tightly controlled nature of national security cases means that an arrest alone is enough to pin a scarlet letter on one’s name.

That even books about travel cannot escape political sensitivities, Ng says, shows that, in the current environment, Hong Kong writers will not even touch controversial topics, much less cross red lines. “Things won’t be written directly,” he observes. “If it’s clear, it will be clear.”

Antony Dapiran reviews Vaudine England’s Fortune’s Bazaar

Rather than binary and tendentious grand narratives, England gives us a Hong Kong of many cultures, hues and stories. She embraces early colonial Hong Kong’s “fascinating mix of Indians, Parsis, Goans, Macanese, Malays, Filipinos, Japanese, and West Indians, and Lascars,” its Jewish families (including the renowned Kadoories and Sassoons), its “Portuguese” (a term which covered various people of mixed-race background originating in Macau) and its Eurasians.

…To give one example: the businessman Sir Catchick Paul Chater, born of Armenian parents in British Calcutta, literally changed the face of Hong Kong through his coordination of the Praya Reclamation Scheme, with the support of Jewish and Parsi business associates. Hong Kong’s central business district, which today ranks among the world’s most expensive real estate (including the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and the Hong Kong Club) all sit on land that Chater imagined out of the sea in the late 1880s, with a road bisecting it that still bears his name.

On economics – a translation of a speech by Xu Gao, Chief Economist of Bank of China International, at Peking U. Noteworthy in that he identifies the astounding shortfall in domestic consumption in China’s economy (below 40% of GDP when it should be more like 55% – hence the US trade deficit). And for the disconnect between corporate profits and household incomes, owing to state ownership of so many large enterprises. With some good charts! What he’s saying is semi-subversive, in that it is counter to the mercantilist assumption that people are there to serve the economy, not vice-versa. Note also that Chief Economist of a bank is quite a lowly position.

On YouTube – What are China’s ambitions for the world order? Talk and Q&A with the Economist’s David Rennie.

On unrelated matters – I’ve had a slight discomfort with the idea of maiden voyages ever since, oh, 1912, and I definitely don’t get cruises. Atlantic writer Gary Shteyngart goes for it

The ship makes no sense, vertically or horizontally. It makes no sense on sea, or on land, or in outer space. It looks like a hodgepodge of domes and minarets, tubes and canopies, like Istanbul had it been designed by idiots. Vibrant, oversignifying colors are stacked upon other such colors, decks perched over still more decks; the only comfort is a row of lifeboats ringing its perimeter. There is no imposed order, no cogent thought, and, for those who do not harbor a totalitarian sense of gigantomania, no visual mercy. This is the biggest cruise ship ever built, and I have been tasked with witnessing its inaugural voyage.

…My new friend, whom I will refer to as Ayn, called out to a buddy of his across the bar, and suddenly a young couple, both covered in tattoos, appeared next to us … In the ’90s, I drank with Russian soldiers fresh from Chechnya and wandered the streets of wartime Zagreb, but I have never seen such undisguised hostility toward both me and perhaps the universe at large. I was briefly introduced to this psychopathic pair, but neither of them wanted to have anything to do with me, and the tattooed woman would not even reveal her Christian name to me (she pretended to have the same first name as Mrs. Rand). To impress his tattooed friends, Ayn made fun of the fact that as a television writer, I’d worked on the series Succession (which, it would turn out, practically nobody on the ship had watched), instead of the far more palatable, in his eyes, zombie drama of last year. And then my new friends drifted away from me into an angry private conversation—“He punked me!”—as I ordered another drink for myself, scared of the dead-eyed arrivals whose gaze never registered in the dim wattage of the Schooner Bar, whose terrifying voices and hollow laughs grated like unoiled gears against the crooning of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

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Trash – patriotic and otherwise

In trials, fewer than half of households are using the paid-for designated green waste bags that will (perhaps) become compulsory in future. (As the old lady in Harry’s SCMP cartoon pointed out, ‘they cost money’. The government gives you free ones for the soft launch? Hoard them for later.)

A pro-Beijing ‘heavyweight’ enters the picture. (By ‘heavy’ we mean ‘person we have never heard of’, and by ‘weight’, we mean ‘boss of an organization that basically doesn’t exist’.)  He says the waste charging scheme – years in the making – is more trouble than it’s worth, and it would be better for Hong Kong to develop recycling. With the plans so far looking like a bureaucratic implementation and enforcement nightmare, this sounds suspiciously like common sense. However, rather than implicitly accusing the government of lacking any brain cells, he declares the initiative to be the work of pro-democracy evil forces ..

“The controversial waste charging scheme was proposed by radical opposition factions (some of whom are even in jail), and it was a policy implemented by the government during the last term facing pressure in the highly politicalised environment. It was a mission impossible from the very beginning,” Lo [Man Tuen, vice-chairman of the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese] wrote…

Thus government supporters can dismiss any idea associated with non-‘patriots’ as evil – as MAGA conservatives in the US accuse anything they don’t like of ‘woke-ism’. As a commenter says

The most reactionary and self-serving elements of the pro-Beijing camp are going to wield the cudgel of national security against any government policy that goes against their interests. 

In fact, the waste-charging idea dates back to an earlier cohort of government environment officials – back in the pre-‘all patriots’ days, when civil society activists and NGOs (‘some of whom are even in jail’) were at least allowed a hearing in policymaking circles. The old ‘administrative absorption of politics’ also enabled bureaucrats to share the blame if an initiative was unpopular. Under the new order, such independent stakeholders are denied participation, and ‘opposition’ critics run the risk of being accused of ‘soft resistance’. So the ‘all patriots’ system has to take full ownership, including when things go wrong.

The earlier cohort strikes back. Officials don’t exactly rule out postponing the planned August 1 launch date.

The Sheik Ali Al Maktoum saga takes another twist, as the Dubai royal/pop singer/family office guru’s website disappears

Last December, Sheikh Ali visited the Hang Seng University of Hong Kong and met with president Simon Ho Shun-man and other members of the university’s senior management. And during his second visit on March 26, Sheikh Ali signed a memorandum of understanding and was appointed an honorary professor. 

Yet, it was recently revealed that HSUHK has amended the press release that day and deleted all references related to Sheikh Ali. 

…The opening of the family office was scheduled on March 28 but was pulled at the eleventh hour.

On April 2, Sheikh Ali’s singer identity was exposed and it was found out that his portrait in the Sheung Wan office had been removed.

A valuable lesson on the dangers of collusion with foreign forces.

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Some mid-week reading…

China Media Project on Hong Kong’s new NatSec language

Local officials now decry “soft resistance” against the state and exclusively refer to the pro-democracy protests that drew millions of mostly peaceful marchers to the streets as the “black riots” (黑爆) and an attempted “color revolution” (顏色革命) orchestrated by foreign “black hands” (黑手).

Perhaps the most curious new addition to this dialect of officialese, however, has been “going into battle lightly equipped” (輕裝上陣). The four-character set phrase has been a favorite of Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu (李家超) when delivering promises about how the law will revitalize Hong Kong’s economy, which has been in the doldrums since the first national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.

As far as metaphors go, it’s not the most intuitive. But the logic is something like this: Hong Kong has, hitherto, been weighed down by threats to its national security. This need to constantly be on guard against hostile foreign forces has distracted authorities from developing the economy and solving long-festering livelihood issues like unaffordable housing and an overtaxed healthcare system.

But…

…Didn’t Hong Kong’s economy thrive for generations while it was supposedly beset by insidious foreign threats, and didn’t it begin its present freefall precisely when the national security crackdown began? How is digging further supposed to get them out of this hole?

“Going into battle lightly equipped” is that rare breed of political slogan that not only defies reality but flips it entirely on its head. As “Asia’s World City” decides to go to war against the outside world by making cooperation with “international organizations” a possible security infraction, it is doing so more tightly encumbered and heavily weighed down than ever before.

An SCMP op-ed by Mike Rowse calls for the government to ease off on the inflammatory press releasees and high-profile pursuit of ‘absconders’…

Perhaps Hong Kong should start by ceasing to add fuel to the fire. Whenever government officials attack named individuals in a high-profile way using strong language, the outcome will only add lustre to their standing.

I was disappointed to hear the Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung and other government figures say that going after fugitives is likely to be the top priority following the enactment of the Article 23 legislation. Is this the best course of action? After all, the people involved will never come back and their host governments are highly unlikely to extradite them.

Surely the city government’s first priority should be to rule wisely and ensure social stability is maintained….

(His recommendation: get some old gwailos to talk the city up.)

Stephen Roach, of Morgan Stanley/upsets-Reg fame, asks why bother with the China Development Forum? (He sounds disillusioned but still eager to be a fan. Presumably he is using the gathering, at which he was sort of sidelined, as a metaphor for China as an investment location?) 

More on the 3 Body Problem problem… Background from AP/HKFP

An examination of Chinese sensitivities by the NYT

Instead of pride and celebration, the Netflix series has been met with anger, sneer and suspicion in China. The reactions show how years of censorship and indoctrination have shaped the public perspectives of China’s relations with the outside world. They don’t take pride where it’s due and take offense too easily. They also take entertainment too seriously and history and politics too lightly. The years of Chinese censorship have also muted the people’s grasp of what happened in the Cultural Revolution.

And perhaps best of all – Howard French in (possibly paywalled) Foreign Policy on the expanding scope of US soft power: ‘period epics [Netflix’s Shogun and 3 Body Problem] rooted in non-Western cultures for mass audiences that preserve space for non-Western characters and non-Western languages’…

The fiercely hostile online reaction of some people in China toward 3 Body Problem’s opening scenes reminds me of the famous quip by the writer La Rochefoucauld. “Hypocrisy,” he said, “is the homage that vice pays to virtue.” These popular criticisms derive from people who are likely finding alternative ways of streaming 3 Body Problem because for political reasons it has not been, and probably can never be, released in China. That isn’t because the Netflix miniseries gets anything wrong but, rather, because it gets this Chinese scene right. The best response, of course, would be for China to produce its own realistic dramatizations and accurate documentaries about this crucial recent period in history, in which an estimated 2 million people were killed, but of course official censorship could never tolerate this.

…Can Western audiences be carried along by non-Western actors who dominate the leading roles?

If the American entertainment industry can overcome this lingering racial timidity and provincialism, the sky would seem to be the limit. There are new audiences to be won on every continent with authentically told stories about dramatic periods in history that have little or no need for Westerners front and center.

On real-life disasters: how a Greek former scout led a group to safety out of Tarako Gorge after the earthquake. (Interesting if you have been to the Gorge – some photos from my last visit below.)…

Later in the afternoon, with the aftershocks gradually subsiding, Belbas heard a bird sing, interpreting it as a good sign: “If the birds are willing to sing, maybe Mother Nature is slowing down a little bit.”

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Will no-one think of the 500 million families worldwide?

Those who liked the idea of turning part or all of Fanling golf course into affordable housing and/or public park land are now full of remorse, it seems

Public opinion on building housing on Fanling Golf Course has made a U-turn, with many who had supported the plan now regretting it, says Heung Yee Kuk chairman and lawmaker Kenneth Lau Ip-keung.

…”When the housing supply was not sufficient in 2018 and 2019, many friends thought it was not a big deal if the government took back a small part of the land,” said Lau, a member of the Hong Kong Golf Club.

“But now they feel regret after the government actually did so, as the Hong Kong Golf Club had hosted a lot of great competitions on the land over the past two years.”

…”Some people actively pushed the government to take back the land in 2018 and 2019 as they were trying to divide society,” he said.

“But our society is advancing from stability to prosperity now and harmonious development is what we need to achieve prosperity. I believe the government could make a wiser decision.”

Not only that – the HK Golf Club would like taxpayers’ money while we’re at it…

The administration should reconsider whether Fanling Golf Course is the optimal location for constructing a public housing estate, according to captain Andy Kwok Wing-leung.

Speaking to a small group briefing, Kwok, the captain of the Hong Kong Golf Club, emphasized the significant economic benefits brought by the three-day LIV Golf tournament held at the course last month.

“The game was broadcast live to over 500 million families all over the world, with video clips about the tournament on social media hitting 24 million views,” he said.

…However, he noted the financial burden and post-game responsibilities taken on by the club, lamenting the lack of government support despite receiving an “M” mark status and subsidy for the tournament.

…Kwok appealed to the government for financial subsidies to facilitate the sustainable organization of more mega golf events.

He acknowledged the need for improvements to course facilities to meet the LIV Golf requirements but urged the government to retain the course for hosting additional mega events, as they would yield greater financial benefits for Hong Kong compared to constructing public housing estates.

Kwok also called for the return of management rights for a 32-hectare land at the course, which was reclaimed by the government last September for public leisure use, to enable the club to hold more mega golf events.

If the pro-golf folk were smarter, they would more blatantly pander to officials’ obsession with attracting rich white tourists to Hong Kong. They hint at it – ‘mega events’, ‘high-spending visitors’ and those half billion families – but it is obvious they are mainly determined to protect their own privileges and notoriously tedious pastime. (In previous arguments against using a small part of the course for housing, they have shown a curious concern with hydrological impacts and the preservation of swamp cypress trees.)

As it is, the government appears unimpressed, and unwilling to revisit its plans (though the amount of housing the site will yield won’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things). It’s almost as if someone in the post-2020 power structure – perhaps a Mainland advisor, definitely a non-golfer – sees the issue as a symbolic opportunity for the government to serve the masses. 

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