National security now threatened by documentary films

Some new interpretations of the ‘Last G7’ art are in yesterday’s comments. In particular, ‘the wolf seems to represent Italy, while the eagle on the left represents Germany.’ That makes sense: Italy (she-wolf of Romulus and Remus fame) tempted by the EU-Beijing FTA, and Germany despairing at the demise of the US/West while anticipating more car exports to China. (Germany as Judas Iscariot? Discuss.) Also, I see a rotting piece of fruit on the table – presumably representing democracy.

Or maybe the local film industry. Taking effect on the day they are announced, the Hong Kong government issues new orders for the city’s film classification authorities to consider ‘national security’ in their work. Variety carries a full explanation of the changes (the same writer discusses Hong Kong film censorship in the last year or so here).

The wording of the amended guidelines directs the censors to consider the need to safeguard China’s ‘sovereignty, unification and territorial integrity’, so any hint that Taiwan is a country or Tibet used to be could be grounds for a ban.

It also makes clear that recent film journalism about the protest movement has seriously pissed off Beijing officials, stating that censors should pay special attention to documentaries (or ‘purported’ documentaries). This suggests that the CCP wants to ban not just overtly critical works but any content that does not follow the official line. So, if a director includes comments from Regina Ip, that would be fine – but if he also includes some from Joshua Wong, that would bar the movie from screening. This is essentially where RTHK current affairs is heading. Indeed, the film guidelines probably reflect Beijing officials’ demands for restraints on Hong Kong’s overall media/speech freedoms. Perhaps they saw movies as a loophole.

To give an idea of how far-reaching the thought-police are: the government has reportedly warned district councillors that they might have threatened national security by uploading pictures of candles on June 4.

Reuters quotes the US consul-general in Hong Kong trying to get his head around the NatSec Regime…

“You can’t have it both ways,” he added. “You can’t purport to be this global hub and at the same time invoke this kind of propaganda language criticising foreigners.”

…Private investigators say demand is surging among law firms, hedge funds and other businesses for security sweeps of offices and communications for surveillance tools, while diplomats describe discreet meetings with opposition figures, academics and clergy.

A little reminder: the CCP sees no value in an ‘international hub’ in Hong Kong. It’s the local officials, out of habit and/or wishful thinking, who insist the city still is one.

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Cheery start to week guaranteed not to last

Artwork of the Week is – for a change – some pro-China propaganda from Weibo (see large version). The G7 meeting (with Australia and India as special guests) rendered as the Last Supper, attendees being animals representing nations. Rather than eternal life, the theme of the party is eternal global hegemony. 

The details are fascinating: oxygen tanks in background; a yet-to-be-carved cake with a map of Greater China on it; Japan (the fox) serving radioactive drinks; Germany (wolf) wisely preferring a free-trade agreement; toilet paper being turned into dollars; a frog climbing a turtle onto the table, clutching Yuan (representing superior Chinese long-term economic prowess?); and an oh-so subtle begging bowl for India (the elephant). Shades of Hieronymous Bosch. The hard work of an ultra-nationalist, not your average Global Times cartoon.

Update: more symbolism I missed: 

India on IV drip with cow poo and Ganges water (seriously offensive), and Australia on IV drip with China money and reaching for US dollar – trying to have both worlds.

Not subtle, but quite impressive in its own way.

More levity, from the Queen’s Birthday Honours. We in Hong Kong haven’t heard much about them since 1997, but apparently it’s still a thing here. Seems there were three local recipients of the Grand Order of the Imperial Bathtub this year: HKU epidemiologist and voice of Covid-19 sanity Ben Cowling; a Cathay Pacific staffer who helped repatriate Brits; and a consular official. Also, Clifford Stott (policing expert whose advice was not welcome here). And – quite right too – Lulu.

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A selection of weekend reading…

The Diplomat on Beijing’s ‘improvement’ of Hong Kong’s election system. It’s not a reform or even regression – it’s an old CCP practice of… 

…sociopolitical surgeries, which swap out the essence of established concepts or institutions but keep their names…

Louisa Lim, author of People’s Republic of Amnesia (and not happy after learning of this), about Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong and the attempt to make 6-4 disappear from the city’s consciousness.

From ASPI Strategist – why Beijing thinks it can get away with being heavy-handed on the world stage…

The answer seems to be Beijing’s ‘Tiananmen calculation’—a brutally cynical assessment that the Chinese Communist Party can use its growing military, technological and economic power as it wishes because the consequences are low and the benefits high.

On the other hand, Bloomberg argues that the wolf-warrior diplomacy thing is backfiring

…they have picked fights everywhere from Brazil to Papua New Guinea. In March of last year, Zhao Lijian, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, prompted outrage in the U.S. when he repeatedly promoted an unsubstantiated—and absurd— theory about the origin of Covid-19, claiming it had been brought to Wuhan by visiting American athletes.

Before Xi Jinping took power, China had a lot of friends in foreign think-tanks, universities, governments and other quarters where being well-disposed towards China was considered modern/sophisticated/enlightened. Now, the ‘Panda-hugger’ mindset is in retreat (except, as the ASPI story says, among Western businesses besotted with ‘opportunities’). It doesn’t help that Xi-style rule discourages moderation in the hierarchy. In a top-down dictatorial environment, a policy advisor or administrator who urges or exercises caution is liable to be criticized by rivals (‘being soft on hostile foreign/splittist forces’) and penalized. No Beijing official ever got denounced for being too obnoxious to foreigners or (say) too psychopathic towards Hong Kong.

For armchair generals, National Interest discusses possible responses to Chinese plans (if any) to invade Taiwan.

Forbes on Beijing’s ‘rectification’ of Jack Ma, including the transfer of business to Huarong…

It’s as though the U.S. government had said to Facebook, “Mr. Zuckerberg, say Hello to your new partner, Bernie Madoff.”

Quartz mentions another example of a tech company blotting its copybook – a shopping app innocently wishing everyone a nice Friday, June 4.

If you’re trying to get My Little Airport tickets – they sold out almost instantly. Of course, you can still get them.

Alternatively, you can watch a documentary about peroxide-blond David Bowie’s tour of Asia in 1984, including a junk trip next to the Jumbo floating restaurant (12 mins 30) where he shares his thoughts on Hong Kong’s fate in 1997 – ‘the media say it’s going to be a catastrophe’. (Sound quality not great, but the Spanish subtitles might help.)

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A quick tour of the pro-Beijing camp today

The Hong Kong government is perplexed about whether and how to support the 2022 Gay Games. Some pro-Beijing lawmakers, including the rabid Junius Ho and the embarrassingly dim Holden Chow, are against the whole thing on some sort of Neanderthal or Victorian principles (Carrie Lam referred to it as the ‘same-sex games’ because she couldn’t handle the ‘g’ word). Regina Ip, on the other hand, displays her worldly sophisticated savoir-faire by supporting the event. 

On top of that, of course you have Covid. If the games go ahead, what’s the betting they take place in Taiwan?

On the subject of Reg – if you’d like a Rolex 1991 Cellini ladies’ gold watch encrusted with solid genuine diamonds, she’s your gal. Just get vaccinated and join her political party! But wait! There’s more! The lucky winner gets free, no extra charge, bonus fresh juicy tourmalines! Who can resist? (She’s also offering a metric ton of tea or something as a consolation prize. You still have to join her party, though.)

Elsewhere on the pro-Beijing front, we have some tycoon news…

Ronnie Chan, who inherited one of Hong Kong’s biggest property developers and turned it into one of the city’s medium-size ones – and who is American by citizenship, hangs out with Asia Society/Ivy League/retired-diplomat types, and whose kids are US-educated – tells Hong Kong people to educate their kids in Mandarin

And ‘Dr’ Philip ‘finger’ Wong dies of cancer in a US hospital – because who would trust a Mainland one? (OK, the finger incident: he was pretty drunk, having been barricaded in the Legislative Council bar for ages while protesters surrounded the building. Don’t ask how I know.) 

While undeniably assholes, both these shoe-shiners – if you met them – are/were quite amusing company. In contrast, I suspect, with the knuckle-dragging opportunist Junius/Holden brigade, or the humorless self-important Carrie/Reg-type bureaucrats.

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Rolling up the ‘International Hub’ mat

More stories in the FT and Wall Street Journal about international businesses and expatriates moving away from Hong Kong because of the National Security Law.

The NatSec ‘Law’ is in practice a new regime: the imposition of direct rule by Beijing. The new bosses in the HK & Macau Affairs/Liaison Office and National Security Office do not know or understand Hong Kong – and they don’t wish to. All they see is institutions, people and ideas that are out of CCP control and are therefore threats. 

They aim to turn Hong Kong into something they do recognize – something ‘normal’ that the CCP can feel comfortable with, absorbed into a Greater Bay Area, etc. The possibility that they might damage Hong Kong as an ‘international hub’ doesn’t register. Indeed, the features that make an international hub are the very things that make the CCP insecure. To them, dismantling rule of law and freedom of expression is vital repair work, to rid the territory of dangerous alien forces that obstruct the Party’s rule. We already see the signs in politicized or compliant police, public prosecutions and judicial functions, in the new patriots-only election system, patriotic lessons for school kids and elsewhere. 

One soft target is universities, which depend on the government for funds and fat staff salaries. Atlantic reports on the clampdown on dissent as it spreads across campuses…

The marching orders to suppress freedoms are being dutifully carried out not by police or the authorities, but by fellow colleagues, and even students. One postgraduate student at HKU has reported at least two faculty members to the tip line…

And Chief Executive Carrie Lam warns that the city’s universities have been infiltrated by ‘external forces’ aiming to undermine the nation and brainwash students – and university administrators must be on the lookout for them. (As the HKFP report explains, pro-Beijing media have pounced on a research study on protest crowd sizes. Students were ‘paid’ to participate, and the work involved overseas-based academics, and thus an evil foreign plot is unveiled.)

Foreign students and academics can only feel nervous about this. For decades, local officials have celebrated Hong Kong’s cosmopolitan character, but now they spout lines that might give outsiders the impression they are not particularly welcome. In time, especially as China’s relations with the West deteriorate, foreigners in the private sector will start to get the same feeling that they are seen as part of a hostile presence.

The rectification of Hong Kong to suit the CCP’s Leninist/paranoid outlook must, by definition, involve removing things that are ‘foreign’. Beijing demands a CCP-run city, not an international ‘hub’, or international anything. If it’s any help, it’s nothing personal.

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A smattering of good news

Just heard that a new season of Kodoku no Gurume/the Solitary Gourmet – classic Japanese food porn featuring unlikely hero Goro – is on the way. And the long-awaited, desperately overdue second series of Kobayashi-san’s Maid Dragon is apparently in the works. (I’m not some pitiful, depraved manga freak. These are serious works of contemporary culture.)

Also, My Little Airport are, it says here, planning concerts in August, at KITEC in Kowloon Bay. (Are concerts allowed now? Are songs like this allowed now? Vid of last show here.) 

And the good news keeps coming. An Air Force C17 carrying three US senators touches down at Songshan Airport in Taipei, and needless to say it’s a move – or landing – ‘likely to anger China’. So far, it seems Beijing is biting its tongue while nationalists do the ranting, as the three meet President Tsai and bring promises of vaccines. (Vid here. Go to the right part of Zhongshan district in Taiwan’s capital, and little boys and other plane-spotters get a great view of incoming aircraft, even if most are smaller domestic flights.)

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Beijing officials order big 6-4 commemoration for HK

Friday’s massive June 4 performance showed all the signs of petrified Security Bureau bosses scrambling to be seen to comply with a table-thumping command from the CCP/NatSec HQ: make sure there are zero visible vigil-type activities. 

Hence roadblocks at cross-harbour tunnels, deployment of a water cannon, the arrest of Chow Hang-tung (since released), thousands of cops standing around Causeway Bay, cops stopping and searching citizens on streets and on mountain-tops, one valiantly blowing out candles, and such sights as six police surrounding a plastic candle left on a pole. 

All so the puppets can demonstrate obedience to their masters, regardless of how comical or desperate it looks to the public, no matter how much a huge crowd of cops in Victoria Park resembles a sort of weird vigil in itself. In the streets, people strolled with their phones lit up (HKFP video). Result: a ‘self-own’ by the paranoid regime that, if anything, unified and boosted the morale of its enemies, and helped boost 6-4 awareness in the NatSec era.

Because the ‘optics’ were aimed at satisfying the CCP guys. “Look sir! Look! Look! We spent millions in overtime to keep six concrete soccer pitches empty! Just like you told us to!” What did the NatSec HQ officials threaten their local underlings with? Being found in an unlicensed massage place, or something more serious? That’s how it works in the top-down punishment-based system on the Mainland.

Ever eager to call more attention to the Tiananmen anniversary, Beijing freaks out over consulates joining in the candle-burning. 

Which brings us rather neatly to an amusing read: Fun Ways to Annoy China and Support Taiwan. Includes Beer! And Pineapples! You can also try this.

Also, Kevin Carrico in Apple Daily on the CCP’s attempted

…reframing of the events of 1989 from the ruthless suppression of a nascent civil society by a corrupt aristocracy willing to do anything to stay in power to an origin myth for China’s reform-era economic miracle…

(Pics plundered from here, here, here and here – where there’s more.)

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June 4 – nothing happened or will happen

It seems the CCP has sent out the word that absolutely no June 4 vigils are to take place in Hong Kong. The event that cannot be named must not happen or even be publicized, as we will remind you at length. The countermeasures (and counter-countermeasures) are drawing so much attention it would have been lower-profile to just let the usual event go ahead. We have even had pre-emptive mini-vigils.

Hence the ever-rising number of cops being mobilized. The Hong Kong Police have let it be known that they will mobilize 1,000 2,000 5,000 7,000 to stand around looking macho in Victoria Park and other places their Facebook-lurking intel suggests there might be gatherings. Never in the field of public health have so many officers been crammed together in such large numbers to enforce social-distancing measures.

Even Home Affairs – the doziest government department out there (which is saying something) – gets in on the act.

Local United Front groupies get classy: churches hosting memorial services have banners hung outside naming them evil cults spreading chaos. 

Elsewhere in law-enforcement overreach: an Israeli hosting company removed Nathan Law’s 2021 HK Charter website upon request by the HK Police claiming extraterritorial jurisdiction in cases of subversion etc. The cops were probably surprised that the company – one Wix – complied, for a few hours until it reinstated the site. Chances are an underling took the high-handed letter from the HKP seriously (copy here). Wix has now apologized.

From the Diplomat, a good intro to a (paywalled) story on the NatSec Law (‘more accurately, a regime security law’)…

If Hong Kongers do not want to be extradited across the border to mainland China, the central government simply brings its secret police and public security agents to openly operate in the city… 

Why did Beijing elevate elections and unionizing to national security threats? As Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam put it, the entire opposition represented the “enemy of the people.” This is the CCP’s code for an all-out struggle.

Some weekend reading…

Elizabeth Economy in Foreign Affairs on the reality behind Xi Jinping’s hubris

…China’s own society is fracturing in complex and challenging ways. Discrimination based on gender and ethnicity is rampant, reinforced by increasingly nationalistic and hate-filled online rhetoric. The creative class is at loggerheads with petty bureaucrats. And severe rural-urban inequality persists. 

He’s not that much into federalism: Xi’s historic mistake – obsessive centralization and control-freakery – by J Bradford DeLong. 

Globular Times quotes a Pakistani think-tankie type as saying that Chinese Covid vaccines are the best as they suit Asian people’s genes. She also raves about Belt and Road.

Lowy Institute’s Interpreter on the CCP’s Tibet paranoia. In coming weeks: the Xinjiang paranoia, the Mongol paranoia, the Hong Kong paranoia, the foreign media paranoia, the Christianity paranoia, the June 4 paranoia and so on – an exciting 173-part series.

Vanity Fair’s in-depth – long – contribution to the big Covid lab-leak debate.

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Do we sense more ‘improvements’ coming?

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam raises the possibility of reviewing Legal Aid, following complaints from pro-Beijing shoe-shiners that the system is used by pro-dem defendants, even to hire pro-dem lawyers.

Carrie also sees moving the elderly to the Mainland as a solution to Hong Kong’s (alleged) demographic problem. The young too are, of course, urged to go north to enjoy the many Greater Bay Area, Belt and Road and other wondrous opportunities that await them there. (Brilliant efficiency-enhancing idea from me: the government can load the elderly and young onto the barges going back after dumping all the sand for the Lantau Mega-Reclamation Vision Hub-Zone. Then again – will the reclamation be needed when only the middle aged are left here? And half of them have split for Thamesmead? Need to think this through.)

The RTHK item mentions the importation of young Mainlanders (plentiful supply guaranteed by new three-child policy). And in the next breath, the station reports that the central Ministry of Education suggests that Hong Kong ‘clarify the status’ of Mandarin and simplified characters in law. Current references to an official language skirt around the issue by referring vaguely to ‘Chinese’. I had this down as coming after Internet censorship – to Hong Kong, this is one step from killing all first-borns. But of course, how much of a backlash can it provoke if most of the population have moved/been moved out?

A few interesting reads…

The Guardian recounts the neutering of RTHK over the last year, and what it means for the media and press freedom in Hong Kong. A telling detail: the paper’s correspondent is ‘in Taipei’.

Ex-cop Martin Purbrick in the SCMP condemns (or, officially, draws lessons applicable elsewhere from) his former force’s decline in public esteem… 

The Hong Kong police have stepped beyond the line of authoritarianism and will not regain the support of many people who were involved in the pro-democracy protests in 2019. However, they can regain some confidence from people who were not involved in the protests but were disturbed by the police response and lack of accountability.

Regaining trust will require the police to accept a genuinely independent process for the investigation of complaints of criminality and misconduct by officers… 

The measures taken by the police to regain public confidence – such as childish social media campaigns, open days with children playing with guns at the Police College and statements that are not credible to much of the public – have often done the opposite.

On the subject of improving PR – in a recent, well-publicized Politburo study session, Xi Jinping called for China’s messaging to be ‘more open and confident’ and its image to become ‘more credible and lovable’. China Media Project explains. Slight spoiler: it’s partly the West’s fault for not understanding China properly, as at least three SCMP op-eds per week remind us. (Idea from me for making China more lovable: cushions for the Hong Kong old folks on the barges.)

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Annual amnesia outbreak especially severe this year

A tragic wave of memory loss breaks out among Hong Kong pro-Beijing figures, including CY Leung and three current government ministers, about statements they signed in 1989 denouncing the June 4 massacre in Beijing.

That compulsory SIM card registration system that you and the rest of the public have called for will take effect March next year. (Background here. Obviously a command from the CCP. Can you imagine the Hong Kong government really doing something in response to popular demand?)

Seems you also now need a licence for a museum – at least, if it’s about June 4

The League of Social Democrats announce that they won’t take part in the forthcoming ‘elections’. They couldn’t anyway: most of them are in jail, and the CCP’s candidate-screening mechanisms would almost certainly reject those who remain free. The same goes for any younger-generation/localist groups that have not disbanded or been proscribed. The more mainstream Civic Party, also with leading members in jail, was last heard talking about disbanding. Of the various splinter/fringe pan-dem groups, the ultra-moderate/pragmatic ADPL might be tempted to help the CCP out and play the role of solitary token-opposition useful idiots. Unless, of course, the venerable Democratic Party, in whole or in part, debase themselves by joining in.

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