Old whine

The latest opinion poll shows Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s confidence rating has fallen to an unprecedentedly dismal 9%. If you’re wondering how she manages even that – who are these 9%? – bear in mind that this is approaching what statisticians call ‘the Lizard-man constant’.

The annual Budget ritual takes place today. With the plague-ridden city in flames around him, Financial Secretary Paul Chan will insist that the HK$1 trillion-plus fiscal reserves must be conserved for a rainy day. And we can predict that he either will or won’t give everyone a few thousand bucks as a special treat, and be despised mightily for it either way. Then there will be the usual one-off handouts for the usual ‘sectors’, including subsidies for tourism and retail operators – cash that, in practice, will end up ensuring that landlords’ sky-high rents get paid for another month or two.

Bloomberg notes that the Hong Kong stock market is at its lowest compared with global counterparts, especially the Mainland market, since 2004. As the reports says, the Mainland market is more retail- than institution-driven. We could add that it is also artificially propped up by official edict. In addition, other markets round the world (like the US) are probably relatively more over-valued. Most of all, the Hang Seng Index no longer reflects Hong Kong’s domestic economy: most of its components are Mainland giants or other companies with most of their operations outside this one city. Gone are the days when it was full of quaint local companies like Lane Crawford and Wharf.

Still, even if it has little direct relation to stock-market valuations…

“Hong Kong has a rather unbalanced economy, which relies heavily on sectors like retail and tourism that will be hit hard by the virus due to less mainland visitors,” said Ronald Wan … of Partners Capital International Ltd.

If I could destroy one branch of Louis Vuitton or Burberry for every time I read that…

No – the Hong Kong economy does not ‘rely’ on retail and tourism. It would be more accurate to say it ‘depends’ on them, in the sense that an addict cannot handle life without easy relief from a daily fix. It would be even more accurate to reverse it and say ‘retail and tourism rely on Hong Kong’. Now replace ‘retail and tourism’ with ‘high rents and landlords’, and the picture becomes totally clear. These are parasites.

Paul Chan will now roll up your sleeve and let them start sucking away.

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More on the new old guys

With the WHO’s blessing, China’s leadership magics the coronavirus away and – while we’re distracted – puts Gui Minhai in prison for 10 years. This is the same leadership that has placed new (as in plucked-from-pre-retirement) bosses into its more-streamlined Hong Kong Affairs bureaucracy. Of which some more analysis…

Suzanne Pepper at HK Free Press says the appointment of obedient loyalists with zero clue about Hong Kong doesn’t look good. But she sees a slight (theoretical) glimmer of hope:

Director Luo is said to be a soft-spoken man with a knack for solving difficult problems. If he can use the new streamlined channels of communication to correct the official narrative on Hong Kong resistance and foreign force infiltration, he would at least be taking a step in the right direction.

I can picture it now… “Hey guys! Guys! You’d never guess, but it’s nothing to do with hostile foreign forces – it’s all our fault for not letting them have more representative government or respecting their identity and freedoms.”

Philip Bowring at Asia Sentinel doubts the two new bosses know what they’re in for:

Hong Kong is an entirely alien environment for Luo. He might as well be walking on Mars. He will be bewildered by its freewheeling press, pesky reporters, rude politicians and impolite students…

Xia Baolong will have no qualms stomping on his liaison office teams, or threatening civil servants who question his bombast. Winning hearts and minds was never his concern. He may hector the protesting youth, academics, civic activists and pro-democracy politicians … He will have to stomach the lampooning, cartooning, and graffiti that Hong Kong typically showers on pompous bureaucrats.

There is that. Watching these two grapple with the sheer strangeness of a free pluralistic society might be entertaining. Speaking of which, on the apparently mystifying continued presence of Carrie Lam as Chief Executive and nominated scapegoat, Bowring intones:

The party will not concede to protest calls for her removal. That would be showing softness to dissidents, which is never an option for the party. Besides, Lam has always been the loyal marionette, who never let judgment or dignity get in the way of her obedience.


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Carrie’s long wait for the chop

Offending the absolute ruler can lead to a grisly fate. And for months, it has looked as if Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is being set up for the same treatment – when the CCP eventually works out what it wants to do here.

Now someone has leaked a confidential memo from the CE to Beijing, in which – in a tone perhaps reminiscent of the class snitch – she (allegedly, etc) blames pro-government forces, unionized health-care workers and an 80% chunk of the population for her administration’s mishandling of the coronavirus scare. She also proposes to leverage the WuFlu outbreak as a political weapon against the city’s opposition movement. (Discussion here, Apple Daily report here, more here.)

(For some context: it seems pretty certain that the Hong Kong authorities delayed action to close the border – among other virus screw-ups – at the behest of Beijing; and new Liaison Office boss Luo Huining has warned that a pro-dem victory in September’s Legislative Council elections could undermine the Chinese state’s right to govern.)

Some suspect that Beijing officials themselves arranged the leak to further discredit Carrie ahead of her forthcoming defenestration and to help the pro-Beijing camp to distance itself from her. That said, Beijing, while purging and streamlining its Hong Kong Affairs bureaucracy, is still publicly backing her strongly (which of course is not the same as convincingly). To the extent Beijing sees the LegCo elections as a big deal, they will need to pull out Carrie’s last entrails in the next few months.

The chattering classes speculate on who will replace her and assume that it is difficult to find anyone who would want the job. In reality, Beijing will not choose anyone who says ‘no’, and the lucky appointee will largely be a figurehead anyway. It doesn’t really matter, but people who enjoy a gamble might put some money on Security Secretary John Lee or even Police Commissioner Chris PK Tang.

For more background, in this week’s episode of Know Your Knuckle-Draggers: Willy Lo Lop-lam on Luo and the new HKMAO boss Xia Baolong…

Since Xia reports directly to Xi, the means and mechanisms that Beijing will adopt to materialize “comprehensive rule” in the Hong Kong SAR could become swifter and more efficacious than before. It is conceivable that in the long run, at least a modicum of the mentality behind Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs and Tibetans might be applied to the citizens of Hong Kong.

…and Mark O’Neill

Xia and Luo have a similar profile. They have no knowledge or experience of Hong Kong or south China; they do not speak Cantonese. They had little opportunity to know Hong Kong people, other than business people who invested in the provinces where they worked.

To an outsider, it seems incredible that, at this most critical moment in Hong Kong’s life since 1997, Beijing has chosen to appoint as overseers two people with no knowledge of the complex and divided territory which operates in a completely different way to mainland cities.

One of the weirder but more intriguing charts I’ve seen lately: looks like a seismometer readout, but in fact the gap between release dates of Hong Kong’s monthly stats. Pre-1997 it was one calendar month (28, 30 or 31 days); since the handover, it has vacillated increasingly wildly, ranging in recent years from 24 to 38 days…

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Comrade Charisma addresses the natives

Typical, isn’t it? Someone who is literally an iconoclast gets put in charge, and they turn out to be humungously clunky and uncool. Luo Huining, Beijing’s church-dismantling new Liaison Office plenipotentiary in Hong Kong, tries to Reach Out to the locals. The health-care workers’ strike, he says (in a letter to pro-Beijing figures), was akin to a ‘political coronavirus’.

I guess to an apparatchik speech-writer in Sai Ying Pun, this is quite a sophisticated, pointed and witty turn of phrase. At least, such rhetoric might have dazzled yak-herders when the ‘political veteran with no relevant experience’ was running Qinghai. Not going to cut it here. How’s this for persuasiveness…

“As long as the ports of entry are open, various goods will continue to be transported to Hong Kong, including rice, oil, flour, fresh meat, fruits, vegetables, disinfectant and tissue,” Luo said.

I declare the weekend open with a modest selection of on-line diversions…

Easy to forget amid the scramble for toilet paper that there’s an independent inquiry into the HK Police still due sometime. Amnesty International explains how it probably won’t could happen.

Bloomberg reports that Hong Kong’s population fell in 2H 2019 – the first time in two decades. (It was by 7,900, or 0.1% of the population. Presumably net of Mainland immigration, which could have been 20,000? Watch the numbers for 1H and 2H 2020.)

The Catholic Daily Compass on how the Vatican is handing Hong Kong to the CCP.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom on Hong Kong/Bay Area) as a latter-day Berlin, and on the global impact of Hong Kong’s protests. Already mentioned his new book on the subject; now Antony Dapiran has published one – City on Fire: the Fight for Hong Kong. Also just out: The Myth of Chinese Capitalism by Dexter Roberts.

My Little Airport are still around – enjoy a whole concert (and click on the pics for ‘Donald Tsang, Please Die’ as a bonus).

Radii on why epidemics and disease are such touchy subjects in China’s history; the Globe and Mail on outbreak orientalism; and the BBC on virus-and-Sinophobia.

A nice rant on how the CCP will spin the outbreak it caused to its advantage.

CNBC on why the White House (let alone most right-thinking people) doesn’t trust Beijing’s disease statistics.

CNN on how the virus has infected the WHO.

A great short documentary on a single woman in China under pressure to get married (she has since, wisely, emigrated).

Reuters reports China’s threat to throw a tantrum if a Czech politician visited Taiwan.

And for fashion fans: 19th century Japanese firemen’s coats (more interesting than you might expect).

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Affairs of state beckon…

Just time to announce that Perfectly Crafted and Nuanced Rant of the Week Award goes to Ray Kwong giving the Hong Kong government the benefit of his opinion in the Legislative Council yesterday. (Tragically, masks prevent us from seeing looks on officials’ faces.)

I dug up my copy of ‘Living With It’ by Canadian photographer Marcus Oleniuk – portraits of passers-by during SARS in 2003.
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Hero unmasked

Just as FedEx are delivering precious expats’ US$200 shipments of toilet paper, more and more Hongkongers are finding the stuff in their local supermarkets, while those who have hoarded six months’ worth of it in their tiny apartments are offering to offload some onto friends. 

But lining up for scarce masks is still a thing. This is inevitable: if everyone in Hong Kong used these items correctly – disposing of them after eating, etc – we would easily go through 10 million a day, and the global supplies simply aren’t there. As it is, many people must be re-using them, which is icky and surely creates more hygiene risks than it reduces.

The WHO and other authorities say that wearing basic surgical masks is pretty pointless in such circumstances as walking on the street or sitting in an average workplace. Our local health experts advise wearing them, apparently out of caution. Some avid mask-wearers get quite irate about passers-by with naked faces. (People with kids seem to be more frantic about the things, which is perhaps understandable.)

Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Welfare Secretary CK Law incur public wrath for not wearing them all the time, even though this is one of the rare occasions they are being logical. Like them, I carry one in case I find myself in a serious crowd – which is virtually never. (Luckily, I can walk to work. I might be drawing on my little stockpile if I had to take a cramped bus.)

The reality is that masks primarily make people feel safe and so serve as a talisman. We are also told that wearing them is a sign of ‘social solidarity’ or a courtesy.

Handing out masks has become akin to the most noble alms-giving, especially if the donors are not pro-democrats. Criminals are making money out of mask scams.

Thus it is that the Company Gwailo yesterday became the hero of the office after he turned down his weekly ration of masks (sourced through Overseas Chinese tycoon-family networks, but will last only until early March). I said I have enough (a couple of dozen) in case of real need, and we should save them – and wash our hands a lot. The admin flunky looked at me in wonderment, as if I was telling him he and the secretaries could have my year-end bonus. Receptionists and junior accountants are now gazing adoringly at me in awe of my spirit of self-sacrifice. 

The author repairing colleagues’ masks yesterday

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SRTIACR Award winner announced

For many years, I was proud to be one of the judges of the Worst Restaurant in Soho Award. The annual event was cancelled a few years ago when the organizers felt that it had drifted from its original aim of recognizing the most cynical and shallow of the over-moneyed shysters who invest in dire over-priced Korean tapas lounges, themed ‘concepts’ and ‘exciting dining experiences’. Instead, the sponsors felt, it was becoming an exercise in cruelty, tormenting naïve idiots stupid enough to sign extortionate leases with the local landlords (something to do with the spate of suicides every year after the awards announcements).

So the competition was relaunched as the Soho Restaurant That Isn’t A Crap Rip-off Award. There were no winners for a while – one or two sort of came close, but were too pretentiousness or otherwise annoying to make the grade. Anyway, we actually have a winner this year: take a bow, LoveEat. Their motto: ‘screw thinking up a zappy name or flashy website, just make authentic Persian fare’. Don’t miss the mirza ghasemi.

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RTHK one step closer to rectification

The Hong Kong Police don’t react well to allegations that they are hoarding protective clothing. An Apple Daily report hit a raw nerve, and a pointed satirical sketch on RTHK’s Headliner rubbed salt in. (It has had 560,000 viewings on YouTube so far, English synopsis here).

Four weeks ago, you wouldn’t have thought that the Hong Kong authorities could make themselves any more unpopular. But thanks to WuFlu, they’ve managed to do it.

The number of health workers unionizing and striking for tighter border controls, or of previously uninvolved residents protesting quarantine facilities in their neighbourhoods, is not huge. But the fact they are there at all reflects a further hardening of anti-government public sentiment.

Meanwhile, the cops – apparently hogging equipment the hospitals need, and pepper-spraying folks who fear infectious patients swamping their local clinics – seem to be entrenching themselves in their unfortunate role as a failed government’s bully boys. This is presumably deliberate, as demanded by the Beijing officials pulling the strings somewhere up there. After all, how hard would it be for the cops to make a big PR show of donating a load of their masks and white suits to the medics? Instead, they must rant at RTHK. CCP-worshiping former Chief Executive CY Leung demands the station’s boss be publicly whipped .

RTHK is Hong Kong’s version of Xu Zhangrun, author of the famous diatribe against the CCP’s cover-up of the virus. He has now, predictably, been disappeared. It is only a matter of time before the public-service broadcaster is tamed. They are making the most of it.

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Hong Kong gets another knuckle-dragger

Xia Baolong. Sounds like some sort of dumpling. Looks a bit like one. But will be decidedly less pleasant. The media (eg, here, here) quote endless experts sharing profound insights into how the Liaison Office/HK and Macau Affairs Office reshuffle will create a more ‘coordinated’ (top-down) chain of command from Emperor-for-Life Xi over Hong Kong, and be more hardline – without explaining what this will mean in practice.

Why won’t people spell this out? To repeat: a more politicized legal system and courts to repress civil society and rights; censorship of the Internet; criminalization of opinions; ideological pressure on civil servants and educators; propaganda in schools; and other measures in the name of ‘national security’ – gradually, over several years. Probably some superficial attempts at improving livelihood policies, but otherwise the exact opposite of the more representative government Hong Kong must have to retain its freedoms and identity. Removing crosses from churches will be near the bottom of Xia’s list.

I feel fairly confident in predicting that the Hong Kong ‘independence movement’ – originally a scare-mongering fabrication, and subsequently a provocative slogan used by naughty teenagers – is going to become something real.

On a lighter note, Hong Kong Land are taking WuFlu very seriously. I tried to enter Exchange Square 3 at 7.45 this morning to grab tons of free tissues a coffee from the Starbucks. A security guard said the door was for ‘exit only’. The next door I found was blocked off. The next one had another security guard saying ‘exit only’. So I gave up.

I declare the weekend temporarily closed as per the Preparedness and Response Plan for Novel Infectious Disease of Public Health Significance with a varied selection of links…

Hours of fun for all paranoids: frequent Hong Kong epidemic updates.

A (lengthy) video interview with Jeff Wasserstrom, author of Hong Kong on the Brink (a review here).

The SCMP’s history and heritage column gets massively bitchy about the interior décor/socialite daahlings… 

A general lack of taste and genuine discrimination among a critical mass of people with large sums of money helps get people into the interior design trade. 

From Asia Times, a not-too-cliched analysis of why Hong Kong is screwed as an economy…

After the handover, Hong Kong had some 20 years to reinvent itself. Not only did it fail to do so but the powers concerned even failed to recognize that such a need existed…

…barring the unexpected, it is clear that the central government has no interest in consolidating the autonomy of an appendage that, if anything, is proving troublesome.

The Smithsonian peels back Hong Kong’s Lennon Walls.

On national affairs, the Guardian looks at how the CCP puts control of information before human lives.

A scathing essay on the subject by academic/dissident Xu Zhangrun, translated by Geremie R. Barmé: Viral Alarm: When Fury Overcomes Fear

A political culture has thereby been nurtured that, in terms of the real public good, is ethically bankrupt, for it is one that strains to vouchsafe its privatized Party-State, or what they call their “Mountains and Rivers” while abandoning the people over which it holds sway to suffer the vicissitudes of a cruel fate. It is a system that turns every natural disaster into an even greater man-made catastrophe. The coronavirus epidemic has revealed the rotten core of Chinese governance; the fragile and vacuous heart of the jittering edifice of state has thereby shown up as never before.”

Guardian synopsis of the essay here.

Less literary but just as brutal: Apple Daily’s Mark Simon

The Chinese Communist Party is the greatest evil that currently exists in our world. It is a stone cold killer. No remorse over its actions, no regrets, just the desire to survive at the cost, if it has to be, of all others.

There is no compromise, no truce the Chinese Communists will abide that will protect the freedom of those who come into contact with the CCP. The academic, artistic, and business elites who seek to profit off trade with China are useful idiots who serve our freedoms up in exchange for profit. We cannot let these immoral elites be our front line in dealing with the Chinese Communist Party.

From China Change, a timeline of how China missed the chance to tackle WuFlu promptly.

From China Fileviews on the film One Child Nation.

HK Free Press – Denmark manages to ‘hurt the feelings’ again.

You say ‘cooptation’, I say ‘cooption’. SupChina looks at how big foreign companies in China like Apple have to serve the CCP.

The LA Times on why Macau’s casinos are OK with being closed for weeks (hint: licence-renewal coming up).

An entertaining account of how the ICAO’s CCP-grovelling, Taiwan-negating Twitter debacle unfolded.

The Taipei Times on Taiwan/Republic of China nomenclature.

And for music and tech-retro fans, the national anthem as early Carrie Lam ‘Virus Invaders’ computer game.

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Unspoken threat from the north

Everyone in Hong Kong can see that our valiant and visionary local leaders are floundering and dithering. But what are they floundering and dithering about exactly? A chance encounter with one of our city’s Great and Good reveals that officials do have a major concern on their minds: Shenzhen.

It seems that migrants from Hubei form a large proportion of the Pearl River Bay-Area-Opportunities Delta workforce. Guangdong has reported quite a few WuFlu cases and cities up there are worried. Specifically, Shenzhen is home to several hundred thousand (yup) young tech grads from Wuhan who do code-writing, computer-engineering and so on. I gather that these are spotty hoi-polloi from riffraff colleges in China’s heartland, not the classy cosmopolitan Beijing or Shanghai gentry we get in our financial-services sector. (I hate to say it, but I think we are supposed to infer hygiene issues.) Words like ‘reservoir’, ‘virus’ and ‘possible explosion’ are muttered.

So next time you see Carrie and her hapless colleagues babbling, flapping their arms and wetting themselves – that’s why. Maybe it’s even a legitimate worry. I’ve no idea why they can’t just tell us. (Well, apart from fear of presenting the Mainland as a danger, portraying Mainland people negatively, tarnishing the glamorous Bay Area branding, raising more questions about the Great Border-Closure Prevarication, further distressing Hong Kong’s child-like populace, or upsetting our precious expat community. Anything I’ve missed?)

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