And the good news keeps coming

For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention, Atlantic spells out what Hong Kong’s incoming Chief Executive means…

Lee’s elevation is reflective of the distrust and paranoia that has flourished in Beijing and among Hong Kong’s political elites since the 2019 prodemocracy protests, which he helped both trigger and eventually put down.

…Beijing clearly “wants to keep the current level of control,” [City U academic Liu Dongshu says]. This goes far beyond just stopping protests and ridding the legislature of opposition, and extends to dismantling the bonds and shared identity forged among Hong Kongers during the 2019 protests. This week, for example, state media warned that taxi drivers and shops displaying any prodemocracy symbols could be violating the national-security law.

Did anyone entertain any hopes that this ‘struggle’ would settle down, if not pass? But forget it. The paranoia over ‘foreign challenges’ and plots against the PRC government is on display in today’s headlines: a call for the Hong Kong government to use Mainland tech in case of sanctions, a looming clampdown on online crowdfunding, and police deployment of ’saber-tooth tigers’.

As China’s economic and international-relations problems build up, and its post-Covid society is left more isolated from the outside world, Beijing will see more enemies everywhere. Hong Kong’s remaining freedoms and identity are threats to be eliminated – and that job has only just started.

For some light relief: this guy again in China Daily. I’m seriously fascinated by this. What’s the motive? What compensates for the humiliation of having your byline here?

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A dismal Tuesday

The ‘citizen journalists’ hunt is underway: CPI on Eric Wu Ka-fai, sentenced to one month in prison…

…the judge said Wu’s recounting of alleged police misconduct in a public place constituted a disorderly conduct offense because it could have incited collective hatred toward police at the scene resulting in violence. 

Government prosecutors dredge up ‘17 witnesses, 10 box files of documents and around eight hours of videotape containing footage of street booths erected during demonstrations’ as evidence against Cardinal Zen, Margaret Ng, Denise Ho and other trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund. They are charged with failing to apply for registration of the group. It is an archaic requirement: many/most organizations never apply and don’t get charged, and the penalty for not doing so is a grand HK$10,000. The trustees believe the fund did not count as a ‘society’.

Benny Tai is sentenced to 10 months for an even more absurd offense – ‘illegal election spending’ when all he did was pay for ads to publicize a plan to coordinate pan-democracy citizens’ votes in the 2016 legislative elections. As with the 612 Fund, no-one in law enforcement saw a problem at the time in the pre NatSec era, it was all above board.

HKDC update on political prisoners in Hong Kong…

Among the 1,014 political prisoners are leaders of non-governmental organizations and trade unions, journalists, activists, teachers, professors, students, opposition politicians, protest leaders and lawyers—a virtual cross-section of Hong Kong civil society. While many of the political prisoners are well-known, most are ordinary Hong Kong citizens who had no public profile prior to their arrests. 

As a batch of leaked documents shows, Xinjiang has it worse. BBC report.

June 4 and July 1 (and a possible visit by Xi Jinping) are coming. The Catholic church cancels Tiananmen prayer services because they might breach the NatSec Law. And the cops start finding more terror plots. Word is that anyone slated to meet Xi if/when he’s here will have to undergo a week’s quarantine beforehand. Carrie says

“The 25th anniversary is an important day and we are very eager for the leader to visit Hong Kong and deliver important speeches.”

Meanwhile, the all-patriots Legislative Council members get into some heavy-duty policy proposals.

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In rehab today…

…to cure addiction to online Scrabble. A couple of quick links for the exceptionally bored…

CMP on the return of Mao-era propaganda-blaring village loudspeakers. One project…

…involves three daily broadcasts morning, noon and night [and] employs “internet + loudspeaker” cloud broadcasting technology.

And for those with an interest in tech cults – a critique in of the world’s richest/most tedious man, Elon Musk, in this thread (complete with lively comments).

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The pre-Cost Overrun Cost Overrun

HKFP on the rising cost estimate for the expansion of the Legislative Council’s facilities – from HK$1.17 billion to HK$1.56 billion. Under the ‘improved’ patriots-only election system, the body has expanded from 70 to 90 seats, and the project involves adding floors to an existing building, as with Shamshuipo illegal structures, except with a bigger budget.

The weirdest part is that the legislature is now devoid of any genuinely representative members – popular candidates being barred if not jailed. It serves a purely rubber-stamp function, so could easily be reduced in size. Just half a dozen people gathering for an hour a week in a rooftop hut could do the job.

And here we go…

“I wouldn’t say it’s a cost overrun as construction hasn’t even started.”

Quite right: the actual, genuine cost overruns will come once the contractors start work.

Over at China Daily, a ‘veteran journalist’ (says the bio) claims young Hong Kong ‘citizen journalists’ are working for a CIA front by ‘propagating anti-government information’ as part of a plan for ‘world domination’. The evidence is a US$75,000 NED budget item. You might think this is an almost insultingly small amount for an ‘infiltration and subversion’ operation – but the NED delivers amazing bang for the buck, having ‘supported, financed or instigated’…

…the Velvet Revolution in Serbia in 2000, the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, and, of course, the Arab Spring involving Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Syria, Libya, etc, in 2011 [which] toppled governments and caused civil unrest in the countries they targeted.

Nothing to do with millions of people in those countries making their own minds up about their corrupt and oppressive governments, obviously. The CIA also organized the French Revolution in 1789, don’t you know? (Does this guy actually believe what he is writing?)

Expect to hear more about ‘citizen journalists’ and ‘false news’ before long as the NatSec system grows into its mission. Also keep an eye out for the Hong Kong Federation of Journalists. Founded in 1996, it claims to safeguard press freedom, but is rather obviously a United Front creation. As well as organizing Belt and Road study tours and issuing statements supporting the NatSec Law, the group seems likely to play a bigger Ta Kung Pao-type role in cheerleading persecution of independent media like Stand News.

In case you blinked and missed it – regional head of major global law firm agrees to appear at a NatSec Law conference, then extricates himself when the backlash comes. Another little lesson in the dilemma of shoeshining Beijing to guarantee corporate profits while trying to maintain your international integrity. 

HK Post releases stamps to mark the 25th anniversary of the handover. The drab designs reflect, at best, a determined effort to play safe; at worst, an extreme absence of enthusiasm – except for patriotic Photoshop work.

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Some weekend reading…

David Webb on the futility of Hong Kong’s Covid strategy…

If HK lacks the “high degree of autonomy” to do the right thing for its residents and businesses on this occasion, then we must assume that HK will follow mainland strategy in future pandemics … and isolate the city again.

From Kong Tsun-gan – thoughts on the arrest of Cardinal Zen.

Samuel Bickett asks what’s going on with the HK Bar Association

…all might have been forgiven if Dawes stuck to his word and avoided politics in order to steer the Bar Association through choppy waters. But instead, he is increasingly using the Bar Association as a tool to promote Beijing and Hong Kong Government positions, while ignoring matters like unjustified arrests and judicial misconduct that should be of concern to the city’s barristers.

(If you want arrest-and-judicial overload, HKFP’s output in the last 24 hours covers: Margaret Ng’s seized documents, the Passion Times national flag competition, 6.5 years in prison for Telegram admin, a denial of bail on NatSec grounds in a non-NatSec Law case, and another ‘sedition’ case.)

It’s all the fault of British colonialism. Tankie Martin Jacques tells Hongkongers they must stop being so un-Chinese, complete with blather about the Greater Bay Area and Northern Metropolis…

After 156 years of British colonialism, Hongkongers habitually looked West, not north. Many liked the idea of being Western at a time when the West still enjoyed considerable status and prestige. Hongkongers had a split identity, part Chinese, part Western. That is why many had somewhat mixed feelings about the handover.

(Nothing to do with not wanting to live under a Communist dictatorship. Does Jacques (a Brit) ‘like the idea of being Western’ himself? In fairness, it’s quite possible Global Times embellished his copy to suit the party narrative.)

A BBC video on Sophia Huang Xueqin, journalist behind China’s #MeToo movement who ‘vanished’ in 2021. She and fellow activist Wang Jianbing are expected to face trial for ‘inciting subversion of state power’. (Cue Martin Jacques telling her to stop trying to be so Western.)

Brian Hioe on the ‘Taiwanese’/’Chinese’ confusion following the church shooting in Irvine – basically, what is Waishengren?

CMP reading the tea leaves on Xi Jinping’s absence from page 1 of People’s Daily, and on ‘runology’ – the pondering of emigration.

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The message is the medium

Whiny statement from HK Trade Office in London in response to a Times editorial.

Regina Ip reminds us (in case we’d forgotten) that the Hong Kong government’s PR and messaging is crap. She dwells mainly on the fact that the civil servants put in charge of the Information Services Dept lack the skills for a serious communication job. And her examples support this: dismal over-detailed/-technical press releases on Covid, and the hilariously clunky ‘rejoinders’ top officials issue every time foreign politicians or press have the audacity to comment negatively on Hong Kong affairs. 

But even a talented PR guru would find it impossible to craft publicity, speeches and press releases that convince audiences that Hong Kong’s government is doing a good job and the community is in excellent shape. 

If you round up dozens of democratically elected politicians and jail them for over a year with no bail and no trial, all because they held a primary election, your reputation will be damaged – however you frame it. If you use the word ‘improved’ to describe a supposed election with only one candidate and just a handful of selected voters, people will mock you. These things sap your credibility and image of integrity. You can’t reverse that by ‘explaining’ better. You can’t sell shit by calling it sugar.

It was Beijing that imposed the policies that have ruined Hong Kong’s global image. But it seems that the communication itself is also being influenced by Mainland officials. Anyone reading Hong Kong government press statements in the last few years will have noticed the rapid Mainlandization of the language – those rejoinders shrieking about overseas commenters ‘interfering in Hong Kong affairs’ and the insistence that barring popular candidates equals an ‘improved’ election system are in CCP house style. So warm-and-fuzzy wording of press releases isn’t an option anyway. (Today’s guest BS at the top.)

Hong Kong officials worried about the city’s PR might be wondering how Taiwan or Ukraine do it so well, for example on social media. Put simply, they are on the right side of history and have good stories to tell.

Covid – and related quarantine and social distancing rules – has left hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong working people on reduced incomes. Yet the ‘pay trend survey’ gives civil servants pay rises of up to 7.26%. The Standard’s editorial delivers a suitable rant.

But in fact it’s much worse than it seems. By focussing on (selectively measured) private-sector annual salary hikes, the government diverts attention from the longstanding massive gap between the private and public sectors’ base pay levels. The last survey on this – by PWC back in the 2000s if memory serves – found that civil service salary levels were over double those in Hong Kong companies. That survey was swiftly buried and forgotten. The percentage increase is a sideshow.

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Exciting government revamp

China Daily reports a Bauhinia Institute (who?) survey showing that 80% of Hong Kong people find the CE ‘election’ satisfactory, 69.4% think the housing shortage will be relieved in five years, and 73.9% believe John Lee ‘can help the city begin a new chapter, from chaos to order and prosperity’. (Story by one Shadow Li.)

Back in the real world, the week’s NatSec horrors start to stack up. Jimmy Lai and six others are committed to trial for conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign forces (maximum penalty: life) and conspiracy to print seditious publications. Ta Kung Pao picks its next target: taxi drivers displaying ‘yellow’ symbols in their cabs. The ‘Privacy’ (anti-political doxxing) Commissioner might ban the Telegram app. And a Hong Kong court has ruled that…

…prosecutors could label organisers of the city’s annual Tiananmen vigil “foreign agents” without having to reveal who the group is accused of working for.

Good luck defending yourselves.

If you worry that this sort of thing might harm the reputation of Hong Kong’s legal system – relax. Incoming Chief Executive John Lee will create a new Deputy Secretary for Justice post, saying

“I want the secretary for justice and the deputy to go out to explain in full the legal system in Hong Kong, and the rule of law, and the independent judiciary in Hong Kong, so as to let people know the true picture of Hong Kong, particularly when we have been badmouthed by some politicians for political reasons, criticising unfairly the system that is being practised in Hong Kong.”

(Standard story here.)

The reshuffling of the bureaucracy (set in train by Carrie Lam) will involve the creation of 13 additional political appointees and 57 more civil service posts – costing a mere HK$95 million in salary per year. The deputy bureau chiefs will get HK$360,000 a month.

The bloat extends to bureaus’ titles. Home Affairs (where we put the token DAB dimwit) becomes Home and Youth Affairs, Environment becomes Environment and Ecology, and Innovation and Technology becomes Innovation, Technology and Industry (raising the possibility that the bureau might actually now have something to do).

In fairness – if someone can convince the world that Hong Kong rule of law is in perfect shape, HK$360,000 a month sounds like a bargain.

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A message from CY

Let’s start the day with a dose of vindictiveness and spite, laced with generous helpings of ethno-nationalism! CY Leung’s open (not to say unsolicited) response to remarks made by Jimmy Lai’s son Sebastian when receiving his father’s honorary doctorate from Catholic U in Washington DC. Meanwhile, the persecution of Lai senior continues with one of his former colleagues turning queen’s or state’s or whoever’s evidence.

(I thought the deal was that even if you take foreign citizenship, you’re still a Son of the Yellow Emperor. To see how xenophobic mouth-frothing is done properly, try the wit and wisdom of Prof Chen Xianyi – scourge of foreigner-worshiping, self-hating, race traitors. Amateur psychologists will have fun guessing what’s going on here.)

What do Han supremacists think of Hong Kong’s slavish devotion to the peg, and thus to evil foreign US monetary policy? Perhaps they accept – as most serious economists do – that the arrangement will continue if only for lack of any practical alternative. 

Thus, AFP reports, the city faces rising interest rates. While it is fine to overturn freedom of speech and rule of law, one core value remains sacrosanct: keeping property prices as high as possible. We can expect tighter land supply, relaxed mortgage restrictions and similar measures if the housing market falls more than, say, 10-15%. Some things cannot change.

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I sat on Imelda’s bed!

The weekend links, better late than never…

The prolific Benedict Rogers in the Catholic Herald and The Tablet

It seems rather odd to call yourself a Catholic and then arrest your Cardinal. 

And Catholic Culture on the Vatican’s lame response to the arrest of Cardinal Zen. (Would anyone expect otherwise? Like Western big banks, luxury brands and universities, the Catholic church has invested too much in the Chinese dream to admit they’ve been co-opted and are being used.)

A HKFP guide to Hong Kong’s micro-media – small-scale Chinese-language journalistic outlets. 

An example for the Vatican? WHO boss Tedros upsets his old buddies in Beijing after criticizing their zero-Covid policy (CNN story), highlighting China’s love-hate relationship with foreigners’ opinions. China Media Project says

On the one hand, the foreign voice is the truly authoritative voice, giving credibility to the claims of those in power … Behind this odd complex is the unfortunate fact that China has few truly credible voices – for the simple reason that its journalists and intellectuals cannot speak their minds. Propaganda reports brim with cherry-picked quotes from opposition politicians in Europe, “foreign scholars” and self-proclaimed experts of such dubious origin that their ideas can only be found in China Daily or on CGTN … whose odd remark can be plucked out of context like a bright piece of pro-China confetti.

Also from CMP, all you ever wanted to know about the vintage CCP phrase ‘persistence is victory’.

The Chinese embassy in Prague tries to get the Czechs to cancel an exhibition by dissident artist Badiucao.

Today’s video of weird disinfectant spraying. AFP on politically-driven sanitization of surfaces and objects. And testing a cabbage. (Kohlrabi?)

Bullet-point summary of a lecture by Michael Pettis on the ‘only five paths’ China’s economy can take. (Based on this paper.)

…domestic financial conditions are such that China is still unlikely to have a financial crisis or a sharp economic contraction. It is much more likely, in my opinion, that the country will face a very long, Japan-style, period of low growth.

SupChina interview with Anne Stevenson-Yang. A lot of skepticism, but here’s a relatively brighter point for investors…

In the U.S., you can, not to mention any names, but let’s say have a best-selling electric car, and basically be somebody who doesn’t have any idea about how to do business. But in China, you can’t run a cigarette stand without being a genius, because everything is so hard. So the companies that have developed distribution channels and good brand equity, you really have to think those are solid companies that should be invested in and rewarded.

Quartz looks at how expansion of maternity leave in China looks like a way to get women out of the workplace into full-time child-producing.

Manuel L Quezon III in Asia Sentinel on the return of a Marcos to power in the Philippines. 

For a few months around 1985-86, I shared an apartment in Sau Kei Wan with a couple of Filipino activists who had fled the Marcos regime. She was very pregnant and their Hong Kong visas had run out, so they were panicking. Then came the EDSA Revolution. They went to the Immigration Dept and got a week’s grace to go back home. A few weeks later, I went to see them in a cozy little Pasay City slum. A friend of theirs had helped take over Malacanang Palace after the Marcoses fled, and we went for a tour – Imelda’s shoes, horrendous boudoir, water-cooler-style bottle of Chanel perfume, etc.

Of course, Filipinos cheerfully and enthusiastically vote for crooks at most elections – but it’s still absurd that they would pick another Marcos. Quezon mentions…

…the skillful deployment of propaganda geared not at changing the minds of the generations that had ousted [the Marcos clan], but instead, focusing on younger generations.

On to gullible fools in the First World – David Gerard in FP on the latest crypto crash. Monopoly money ‘backed’ by more Monopoly money. It’s fascinating from a sociological/psychological point of view to see so many people suckered into taking this ideological/quack-economics fad seriously. Simple rule: for ‘cryptocurrency’/’bitcoin’/’tether’/etc read ‘dog turds’, and for ‘blockchain’ read ‘almost certainly bullshit’. You won’t go wrong…

…the cryptocurrency bubble has been so full of irrational exuberance that a token created yesterday can claim to be worth something just for existing, and you can pay people in your made-up token.

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Miserable week goes out with a whimper 

Looks like the NatSec Police might also be coming for lawyers who were paid by the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund to help protesters. Will the cops also start hunting down people – of whom there must be thousands – who donated money to the fund?

Samuel Bickett links to the HK Bar’s statement… 

The “new and improved” leadership of the Hong Kong Bar Association had nothing to say today about the political arrest of one of their most esteemed members, Margaret Ng, but they found time to release a statement condemning sanctions that don’t exist.

More on the choreographed mouth-frothing here and here. The authorities have a curiously acute hang-up about the possibility of sanctions on judges and prosecutors.

From Catholic News Agency, a roundup of international reaction to the arrest of Cardinal Zen. (Or as the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong calls it, the Cardinal Zen ‘incident’. And from the Catholic Herald

Arresting a 90 year-old Cardinal marks a new low for a Chinese Communist Party regime that had already sunk to shocking levels of inhumanity, barbarity, cruelty and mendacity. 

Beijing steps up measures to prevent citizens leaving the country. Apparently an anti-Covid measure, or possibly a way to keep the public from learning about the situation overseas – or just a way to shut China off in general. (Or ‘all of the above’.)

In badly needed light-relief consumer news, Wellcome have a ‘buy several get one free’ deal on beer/cider. A quick taste-test on three weirder products, all made in Hong Kong.
L to R…
Jasmine pale ale. Standard hoppy and slightly fruity PA. 
Rose hibiscus mead. As sickly as it sounds, but – let’s say – a brave idea.
Dragon Water’ cucumber watermelon ‘spiked seltzer’ (‘gluten free’). Not too intense, and actually quite distinctive and refreshing.
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