HK’s tackiest retailer decides it likes the place

Just a handful of links after a wearying week in Mainlandization. William Pesek puzzles over the Hong Kong government’s efforts to maximize inequality as the city struggles with pandemic and underlying political divisions. Everyone Thinks Budget Was Garbage Shock Horror. And some thoughts from hotel quarantine, including comparison of Hong Kong and Australia.

Also, amid all the pessimism, Don Don Donki announces its faith in Hong Kong’s future

If you’ve yet to discover these magnificently garish emporia of J-crap, they are going to fix that. There will be no escape. A brief idea of what to expect… 

Imagine what Yata or Aeon would be like if they were crammed into a third of their usual space, redesigned by the people who do the CCTV’s Spring Gala sets, and you were visiting while on psychedelic drugs. A labyrinthine floorplan that sucks you in, deeper and deeper, through narrow canyons of instant noodles, 1.5-litre boxes of cheap sake, refrigerator deodorizers, more instant noodles, pervy kids’ costumes, five hundred varieties of trashy matcha-flavoured snacks, ladies’ elbow-lotion, socks, plastic things that stick (allegedly) to bathroom walls, 10-packs of frozen udon. A malevolent non-stop jingle that makes Wellcome’s ‘Yuu’ song sound like Mozart. Staff on quaaludes (surely). Denser crowding than Admiralty MTR at rush hour – because obviously Hongkongers just can’t resist the place. 

The only two merciful things about it: 1) at least you’re not being eaten alive by rats; and 2) there’s a hot food counter (teriyaki, oden, etc) near the exit.The company is planning to quadruple its Hong Kong stores, adding 18 to the current six. (That could be a typo – maybe it’ll be 180.) As it is, several branches are open 24 hours (should you want to enjoy the song at 4am). Donki fans at Invest HK must be on their knees in gratitude for this expression of confidence in the city. The loudness, brashness, claustrophobia, and general hellishness of the outlets is compelling, and I wonder if the expansion is a last-ditch attempt to keep the younger generation from emigrating – you won’t get this in Manchester.

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Dismal Budget reminds of happier times

The Hong Kong government complains bitterly that the pandemic is forcing it to run a deficit, and this is unsustainable, and maybe taxes will have to go up – otherwise how can we afford civil servants’ mega-pensions and the Lantau Vision Giant Sandpit Tomorrow Scheme Plan? And yet, come Budget time, it does what any administration must do if it has zero legitimacy but bulging fiscal reserves: it flings money around like dung flying off a high-speed fan.

Highlights here (and here if you want the whole thing).

The headline-grabbing conscience-salver is a HK$5,000 handout to every resident. They could just send us all the cash, or at least supermarket coupons. But oh no – that would be too easy. The payments will come in monthly HK$1,000 chunks, because why spoil the peasants with a whole five grand in one go? And it will have to be spent via a special but unnanounced space-age e-payment system requiring recipients to provide their own blockchain, download the Leave Home Safe app, and pass Beijing’s NatSec anal swab loyalty test. It’ll probably take until summer to organize. Way to piss off the old grannies, guys.

From there on it all goes downhill.

The answer is ‘HK$500 million’. The questions are ‘how much to chuck at cronies to vandalize country parks in the name of tourism?’ and ‘how much to earmark (it’ll never be used) to attract tech talent to replace everyone fleeing NatSec horrors?’ (Is ‘glamping’ the new ‘food trucks’? Yes. Thank you.)

In addition to the ‘glamping’ stuff (it apparently means panty-wetting inadequates spending a night in a tent), there’s another HK$765 million plus plus plus to ‘revive’ tourism. (By ‘tourism’, we mean retail property landlords’ rental incomes.)

Barely heard of a couple of years ago, National Security now features everywhere, and that includes the Budget. The HK$8 billion non-recurrent appropriation isn’t enough for an aircraft carrier. Maybe it’s going on special How to Spot Subversives fun activity packs for primary schools, or simply funding Beijing’s local NatSec Lubianka Office. And then there’s the rest of it.

Most moronic thing I found after flicking through the Budget stuff for three minutes: subsidies to attract real estate investment trusts to list in Hong Kong. Because they sounded cool a decade ago, I guess. Oh, and the inevitable ‘green bonds’.

Main reaction to the Budget is a sort of nostalgia for the good old days when officials would regurgitate this repetitive tripe year after year, and we all took it semi-seriously because it seemed Hong Kong had a future.

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Pre-purge purge for DC members

This is all getting confusing. And I don’t just mean Carrie’s genius lateral-thinking breakthrough that Beijing must end ‘One Country, Two Systems’ in order to save it. 

One day Beijing announces the banishment of non-patriots (ie pan-democrats and critics) from Hong Kong elections and public bodies. The next day, the local administration sends the legislature a bill to expand and tighten oath-taking requirements for District Council members (ie to disqualify pan-dems). The former measures would surely cover the latter anyway. It’s hard to tell whether the two moves are badly coordinated or this is some Leninist psycho’s idea of exquisite timing. Perhaps, just as capitalists believe you can never have too much money, Communists believe you can never have too much purging.

Things that will get your District Council member disqualified are listed here. Some are obvious general no-nos under the NatSec regime. Others are very specific, like ‘indiscriminately objecting to the government’s motion’ or ‘making use of an election to organize a “de-facto referendum” to oppose the government’. Both these reflect the CCP’s paranoia about the pan-dems’ primary elections – and planned subsequent drive to dominate LegCo – last year. 

Also, Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Secretary Erick Tsang says you can be disqualified for failing to (eeeww) love the leadership of the Communist Party. Truly, madly, deeply. It’s got to be ‘holistic’, OK? Not sure how the enforcers will check this. Maybe Mainland scientists have devised some sort of medical test (I’m betting an anal swab) that detects hatred of the Politburo.

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Beijing vows to scrap democracy that doesn’t even exist

The CCP wishes to remind us that it is really serious about cleansing Hong Kong’s public space of critics, opponents and people who think for themselves. Even all those District Council members you elected will be methodically ostracized by the administration – excluded from the many consultative and other bodies they have sat on for decades, as well as the rubber-stamp CE Election Committee. (More on Beijing’s planned ‘improvements’ to elections to ensure ‘rule by patriots’ here.)

To repeat from yesterday, Hong Kong has never had a system in which anyone you vote for will have any power if they win an election. All political power lies with officials picked by Beijing – or (nowadays) by those seconded from the central and other Mainland authorities. Fixing alleged loopholes in the largely Potemkin electoral system is about banishing non-kowtowers from even symbolic contact with government or access to official platforms. It will also provide another pretext, as if the NatSec law isn’t enough, to purge undesirables from public positions. 

Note that Xia Baolong includes the judiciary among those who run Hong Kong – which is not new, but you wish they’d stop saying it. Bottom line: if judges wish to keep their ‘independence’, they’d better start doing what they’re told. He also states that anyone who does not accept the CCP cannot qualify as a patriot. What this guarantees – if it’s any consolation – is that those still sitting on councils and committees will be entertainingly stupid.

As if to prove it, the pro-Beijing rump Legislative Council members dutifully welcome not just the plan, but the fact that they will have no say on it. LegCo president Andrew Leung puts on a brave face over his chamber’s irrelevance by declaring that ‘as long as you are patriotic, you can have any views’

But wait! It gets stupider! Never one to miss an opportunity to blurt out something both perplexing and dimwitted, Chief Executive Carrie Lam adds that those who ‘forget they are Chinese’ are also excluded. So no race-traitors, please. It would be naive to wonder whether or how the city’s barbarian ethnicities fit in.

Pan-dems who once spent their days sitting on futile committees, running ward offices and campaigning should consider themselves liberated from a charade that has zero remaining legitimacy. Abandoning once feisty forums like LegCo – and the associated ‘elections’ – to Beijing’s embarrassing mediocre sycophants will be a political win.

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CCP killed the radio star

This has been a long time coming… The Hong Kong government announces plans to transform RTHK from a public service to a state mouthpiece (story here). It begins by identifying ‘problems’ (not listening to complaints, management being ‘weak’) and outlining measures to fix them. The broadcaster’s boss has been replaced by a civil servant with no background in media.

We will now wait and see how quickly, and how much, RTHK’s reports become rehashed government press releases, quoting pro-Beijing views only – as happened with commercial media years ago.

In other news, the only quotable people will soon be patriots.

The CCP is also preparing to reform (the SCMP says ‘ramp up’) Hong Kong’s political system to ensure that ‘only patriots run the city’. But Beijing already has a monopoly of political power here, with the Liaison and NatSec Offices now directly overseeing its appointed local officials (Carrie Lam and her hapless ministers). Partially or wholly elected bodies (the CE Election Committee and Legislative/District Councils) are essentially powerless, mostly gerrymandered and increasingly barred to pro-democrats through loyalty tests. What is the point of rigging elections even more to further reduce pan-dems’ chances of winning seats in impotent organs?

One idea being floated is to split up the current Legislative Council’s multi-member constituencies. (Classic changing the rules: single-member constituencies were merged after 1997 in order to boost pro-Beijing parties’ success rate.) Another may be to narrow functional constituencies’ already-limited electorates. One aim would be to reduce pan-dems’ possible participation in the fake, rubber-stamp ‘elections’ of the Chief Executive. Some pro-Beijing figures are even calling for the quasi-election to be replaced by ‘consultations’.

Since the CE ‘election’ and other representative processes are simply ceremonial, it seems that what Beijing wants to do here is mainly about appearances. But appearances can reflect reality. The most visible problem for Beijing with elections in Hong Kong is that the bulk of the population vote for pan-dems, and this undermines the regime’s claims to legitimacy. It is the perennial problem for communists: they can’t allow pluralism because they will lose any free contest of ideas.

The remedy will be to portray critics as threats to the nation and eliminate them from any part in the make-believe representative system (perhaps a few stooge ‘independent’ figures will be allowed to join in). The CCP assumes that once the pro-democrats disappear from view (from RTHK as well as from ballots), public political discourse will range only from the sloganizing of avid shoe-shiners to the rants of mouth-frothing patriot freaks. We will come to forget that alternative views ever existed, and will cherish our right to vote in charade-elections for the anti-democracy candidate of our choice.

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The right jabs are now available

As if by a miracle, after weeks and weeks of apparent dithering, Hong Kong’s long-awaited roll-out of Covid-19 vaccinations suddenly falls into place: the experts give Sinovac their (kind of fudged, under no pressure) approval, and the government promptly announces that a million doses are on the way, and jabs start any day. Starting with vulnerable groups.

The trick now will be to convince the public that the Mainland vaccine is OK. (Top officials are receiving Sinovac to prove that the stuff doesn’t have nasty side-effects such as cognitive impairment – like we’ll be able to tell the difference.) 

It’s important! It’s not just about keeping the rabble from falling sick and dying – it’s about giving face to the almighty Party-State in Beijing. 

How different things might be if people had some faith in the government. Instead, most of us feel that the best way to ‘leave home safe’ is not to download the official tracking app of that name. There was a time when most non-paranoids would feel fine about the system. Now, even the most forgiving and guileless of us assume the CCP will harvest everyone’s personal data if it gets the chance.

Which brings us rather neatly to today’s round-up (not to be confused with yesterday’s) of reasons not to trust this regime…

Of course the High Court falls into line with the Court of Final Appeal and denies Jimmy Lai bail. Beijing has hinted via its state media that the case could be transferred to the Mainland if our judges play their old presumption-of-innocence tricks. Even extreme bail conditions are not vindictive enough for his National Security crimes of – essentially – meeting foreigners and Tweeting.

DW notes the barely perceptible slice-by-slice advance of Internet censorship in Hong Kong. So far, it’s just a few sites. Then another. At some point, it will be Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, NYT, BBC, etc. At what point will each of us first find a site we want is blocked?

And a prosecutor joins the Liaison Office – presumably to help ‘liaise’ the Department of Justice in the right direction. 

A selection of interesting links for the weekend…

Looks like someone at RTHK didn’t get the memo about ‘positive energy’. The little report on the priciest apartment (in price per sq ft terms) to be sold in Hong Kong intriguingly strays toward issues like social inequality and discontent. Or should we say ‘contextualizes’? A para on money-laundering would have made the item complete. The Tatler waxes orgasmic about the HK$459 million property – but maybe we should be skeptical. Who would spend US$59 million on any apartment, anywhere? Why? (‘Three parking spaces and a pool’ doesn’t quite cut it.)

Hong Kong’s stats show a decline in population. Interpret with caution. Quite a few people have decamped to the other side of the border because of the pandemic. The fall in births – to below the number of deaths – is perhaps more a sign of socio-political uncertainty

Foreign Policy looks Chinese taking to the Clubhouse app to make obscenely libellous fun of Global Times editor Hu ‘Frisbee’ Xijin. And Howard French looks back at the few days when Mainlanders shared online space with the rest of the world.

A mag called Protocol explains how, with a relatively unsophisticated traditional retail banking sector, Chinese microlending is getting weird and dangerous

“…now even the photo editing app tells me it can lend me money…”

News.com.au reports that Beijing is making Chinese people freeze in order to send the message that small countries must obey it.

From Fast Company, Chinese conspiracy theories about Covid-19. Sort of like American ones, but the other way round.

Foreign Affairs looks at the colonial origins of China’s Xinjiang policy

In pleading with Beijing to change its policies in the region, outsiders are in effect asking China to be a very different nation-state than the one it has chosen to be.

Trying too hard to be edgy and clever, the Economist recently ran an editorial arguing that what is happening in Xinjiang isn’t genocide. (‘Genocide’ means ‘killing a people’, and there are still lots of Uighurs alive – get it?) The newspaper was inundated with complaints, of which this is one.  

CMP dissects the contradictions in CGTN/CCTV’s whining after the UK regulator withdrew its broadcasting licence – essentially for being under CCP control, as the channel proudly proclaims itself to be domestically. Maybe the UK will now examine how British universities have become hooked on Chinese money.

And lastly, for your musical pleasure, another radio-type website – radioooo.com. This is actually not linking to real stations, but to streams of music that would have been broadcast at a particular time and place. Egypt in the 1950s is rather good. A serious time-waster.

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Idiots plan law against being called idiots

The Hong Kong government is thinking of making it illegal to ‘insult public officials’. This prompts three questions. 1) What will we do all day? 2) If they are this angry at being called stupid, doesn’t it suggest they really are? And 3) Why is such a draconian law necessary?

I’m stumped by the first question, and I’ll leave the second for others to consider. But the third is easy. Read on…

The government is relaxing pandemic regulations to allow people to go to Disneyland, gyms, etc or be seated four to a table in restaurants in the evenings – but public gatherings are still limited to two, and beaches and kids’ playgrounds remain closed. 

Legal assistant Chan Tsz-wah, age 29, is charged with ‘conspiracy to collude with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security’ (it seems he urged US sanctions) and ‘conspiracy to assist an offender’. Jimmy Lai, already in jail, has also been arrested. (Some discussion here.) Hong Kong Watch comments:

It is a damning testament to the deteriorating human rights situation in Hong Kong, that in 2021 Chan Tsz-wah faces ten years to life in prison under the National Security Law…

The trial begins of nine pan-democrats, including inoffensive aging campaigners like Martin Lee (age 82), Margaret Ng, Albert Ho and Cyd Ho, as well as Jimmy Lai (have they got him for jaywalking yet?). They are accused of unauthorized assembly – namely, the August 18, 2019 mega-demonstration that nearly everyone went to.

Meanwhile, back at the pandemic: the government seems to have lumbered us with a sub-par vaccine. For lack of better explanations, people are wondering whether officials chose Chinese-made Sinovac as a show of patriotism, and even delayed vaccination roll-outs to ensure the Glorious Motherland’s product gets the glory of being first. (They’re also talking of compensation for anyone killed by the stuff. Routine diligence, I guess – but it doesn’t exactly strengthen my laid-back it’s-just-a-drop-of-inert-liquid attitude.)

Let’s face it – if you were responsible for the above (or similar) idiocies, wouldn’t you want a law banning people from pointing out how incompetent you are? 

(But hey – isn’t calling Carrie Lam a dumbass already illegal under the law against revealing state secrets?)

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HK Covid-19 vaccinations now due to start in August

Do I go to jail for ‘fake news’ now? I read somewhere vaccinations have already started in Lebanon.

By way of restitution – some free PR advice for the Hong Kong government. We’ll be charitable and assume that the administration is constantly postponing the start of vaccinations out of all-purpose incompetence rather than specific malice. 

The aim is to at least make a virtue out of the delay and counter public skepticism, especially about Mainland vaccines. The method: forcefully point out that by the time our citizens get their shots, millions of other people around the world will already have received theirs – serving as guinea pigs – so Hongkongers can be sure they’re safe. That’s it. Basic, no-nonsense spin.

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Of course we’re going to do it – just not yet

The Hong Kong Bar Association has slammed the government for planning changes to the immigration law that would enable it to bar individuals from leaving the city. (Reports here and here.)

The government gets in an almighty righteous huff, claiming with a straight face that it would never infringe the Basic Law or Bill of Rights. (Report here.) But of course we have already been told that the NatSec Law overrides those two documents – so obviously the government is lying again, right?

But here’s another angle, drawing on an earlier government explanation to LegCo, and concluding that if the proposal has any political purpose it would be more to ‘deny entry to HK at the point of departure, instead of when they arrive’. 

Maybe critics have indeed misunderstood the government’s intentions and wrongly assumed the worst – exit bans on dissidents – when the planned amendment is in fact only about inbound refugee-seekers.

But (leaving sloppy official wording aside) why shouldn’t people believe a report about new powers to prevent critics from fleeing?  It sounds exactly like what the CCP’s NatSec Regime would do next, straight after imposing NatSec brainwashing on kids and just before tighter Internet censorship or whatever they have lined up for next week. As the 10% take-up rate of the pandemic contact-tracing app shows, the government has long gone past the stage when the public has any trust in it.

Update: much more on all this from Aaron Mc Nicholas.

In case you missed the HKFP‘s recent run of recommendable features… A 1967-era Leftist protester meets a young 2019 pro-dem one, and, despite many differences, both loath Carrie Lam. An interview with the annoyingly reasonable-sounding guy behind the biggest blue-ribbon Facebook group (a scion of pro-Beijing Macau elites who runs a company investing in Xinjiang). Op-eds on: the proposed fake-news law; the difference the NatSec Law – exemplified by the Jimmy Lai case – has made to the Hong Kong legal system; and fatalism vs change in Hong Kong. Some profiles of Hongkongers moving to the UK. Hotel quarantine artwork. And how people imprisoned after the 2019 uprising are keeping friends on the outside up to date by writing letters that are posted online. Apparently…

Prisoners may write and send as many letters as they wish to any person…

Why do I get the feeling the vindictive NatSec Regime will want to tighten up this relatively liberal rule before long? (You can write to them – be a penpal – too, including via email.) 

A message from Regina Ip.

And a thread on the annual fortune- disaster-stick draw at Che Kung Temple.

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CFA to HK: Don’t come to us with NatSec stuff

The Court of Final Appeal rules that Jimmy Lai cannot get bail while awaiting his NatSec trial (‘collusion with foreign forces’ – also known as meeting Americans and Tweeting). The court basically says its hands are tied by Beijing’s NatSec Law, which inverts the usual presumption in favour of bail, and perhaps makes it virtually impossible. 

The implication is that you are now in the NatSec Parallel Universe, where the protections you thought you had under the Basic Law or ICCPR (or juries) do not exist. This could mean that if you are charged with a NatSec thought-crime like inciting secession, you are wasting your breath claiming ‘freedom of speech/expression/the press’. NatSec overrides all those fancy freedoms and rights. The Court of Final Appeal essentially has no jurisdiction; the CCP is the law. (See comments here and here, and from HK Watch.). You are screwed. 

But what did you expect? If the CFA had come up with a different decision, Beijing would simply sweep the judgement aside in some way. Maybe that was the topic at the mystery meeting between the Chief Executive and the Chief Justice: we are all screwed.

On a relatively light note, the HK Police have gone back to discovering dastardly scary bomb-outrage terrorism plots again. Will anything come of this one? There were several others last year – police making a big show after finding stockpiles of beer bottles, fertilizer, toenail-clippers, etc – and the cases mysteriously vanished without a trace, as if they were fabricated stunts designed to make widely reviled cops feel they were heroes.

In case you are a Hongkonger of Chinese descent and are arrested for such a terrorist plot (say, possession of suspicious quantities of chewing gum) and you’d like your friendly Canadian or whatever Consul to come and see you, bear in mind that the Hong Kong government has suddenly decided to stop recognizing dual nationality. This conforms with international practice, but it raises the obvious question of why it was not observed for 23 years since the handover. Answer: to finesse the contradiction that hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers hold foreign passports while simultaneously living here as Hong Kong PRC citizens – at a time when Beijing was in the mood to be flexible despite its phobia about dual nationality. In short, the CCP has closed a loophole in order to assert full ownership of the emperor’s subjects.

And the government wants to introduce a law against disseminating ‘fake news’, because what self-respecting authoritarian regime doesn’t do that? This is on top of the disinterment of colonial Elizabethan sedition laws. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that, before long, one brief outburst of satire could land you in prison for NatSec, for ‘fake news’ and for incitement-of-disaffection offenses.

We’re not finished. Because brainwashing primary-school students isn’t enough, the government will be educating its own civil servants in the new correct understanding of the NatSec-era order. All that stuff we said in the past about the Basic Law and a high degree of autonomy was wrong. This is the new truth.

If it’s any consolation for the endless horrors, the CCP is increasingly treating the local pro-Beijing loyalists like little kids. And recent reports about companies leaving Hong Kong out of legal contracts has obviously hit a raw nerve among officials (note hasty Chinglish in copy). 

So Happy Cow Year! Some holiday links…

Alvin Cheung in Critical Asian Studies journal has a (concise) go at those China-watchers, ‘experts’, panda-huggers and tankies who still find it hard to admit the CCP is crushing Hong Kong.

Also on an academic note, Kevin Carrico on Hong Kong’s universities under the NatSec Regime.

What is left of Hong Kong’s universities today, then, is thousands of scholars and students who came of age in a free learning environment and are now facing an unfree environment that is only likely to become ever more repressive. 

The HK Monetary Authority’s boss issues a Q&A painting a rosy picture of capital flows and talent retention – following reports by the usual bad elements (FT, Bloomberg, etc) about funds and bankers fleeing to Singapore or elsewhere, out of the reach of the CCP. Influxes of Mainland capital and financial professionals keep the numbers looking good.

A 30-minute ABC Australia video on the ‘crushing of a rebellion’ and what Hong Kong protesters are now doing.

Jerome Cohen on an Irish businessman held hostage in China for two years…

Why any multinational corporation would allow its employees to travel to China to settle a dispute is beyond me. 

That was quick. Human Rights Watch bids farewell to Clubhouse on the Mainland.

PIIE on why Trump’s China trade deal was a flop (more about the US than the Chinese economy, but interesting).

On more worldly matters…

For hardcore market followers only, John Hussman on why this is a bubble

…Fed easing “supports” the stock market only by affecting investor psychology. The Fed buys interest-bearing securities and replaces them with zero-interest base money…

You can try to get “out of” cash by buying stocks, but only by bidding up stock prices enough for a seller to accept the cash in return … the psychological impulse to own something other than cash, regardless of price, has created a situation where stock market valuations have been bid up to levels that imply negative S&P 500 total returns for well over 12 years.

And a really cool time-waster: radio garden – links to zillions of radio stations via Google Earth.

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