Snoozing with Carrie

In theory, it could have been an opportunity to dangle a shred of hope that Hong Kong might yet offer its people a home with a future. Instead, to no great surprise, yesterday’s policy address focused on Mainland, Greater Bay Area, NatSec Law and Mainland, in that order. ‘Striving Ahead With Renewed Perseverance’ confirms that the city’s fate is to be the designated suburb-without-capital-controls. 

Its wealth will be diverted to: Chinese construction SOEs dumping sand off Lantau; HK$20 billion worth of ‘land flattening’ at Lok Ma Chau Loop Mountainous Tech Zone; the third airport runway; the adoption of the deserted Zhuhai Airport – and we’ll let you know the rest later. 

Rather than representative government, you will get New Improved One Country Two Systems, oath-taking laws and endless multi-pronged support from the Central Government.

The most desperate-sounding policy proposal is subsidies to employers who hire Hong Kong graduates to work over the border. The idea assumes that salaries in the Mainland are too low and/or life in the land of forced confessions too unattractive to appeal to young Hongkongers – and/or that employers would prefer Mainland staff. Most of all, it is perverse: in a world where most cities want young professionals to move in, Hong Kong spends money on shoving them away. 

Apparently, the government has so far received an enthusiastic response from mainland companies. I guess with HK$18,000 a month to play with, there’s an opportunity to make a profit here.

I thought the whole policy address was going to be rewritten by Beijing, but it seems not. The plan to nationalize the ailing Jumbo Floating Restaurant as part of a Southern District Vibrant Tourism Hub Zone, complete with ‘water taxi’ to link Aberdeen with neighbouring coastline spots, could have been thought up only by Hong Kong bureaucrats. Apart from obvious loyalty-oaths-and-patriotism measures, most of the ‘policies’ are parochial, and too insipid to have come from target-driven Mainland officials (they would consider this stuff ‘formalism’). Beijing’s input was the overall ambience of inevitable, relentless submission and merging. You are being tied to this giant carcass, and it will absorb you as it rots.

Lasting seven hours (though it felt longer), Carrie Lam’s speech nearly broke Fidel Castro’s record. Pro-Beijing figures forced to listen in LegCo had a hard time paying attention, with one government minister, Erick Tsang, passing out from the tedium. I hear he was resuscitated afterwards and has come bouncing into work today feeling great. RTHK makes the most of the story while – amazingly – it still can.

Government departments duly register their unswerving support. (Normal among Xi Jinping’s underlings, but also oddly reminiscent of Donald Trump’s photo-op cabinet meetings, in which everyone took turns to express their loyalty to the Great Leader. Another parallel: Trump’s insistence that he won the 2020 election and Beijing’s bizarre attempts to convince itself that Covid came from Italy. Biden will at least spare us this eerie mirroring.)

We will need that ‘perseverance’.  

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HK enters the ‘jail-for-shouting-slogans’ phase

Hong Kong’s new regime gets that little bit more creepy as a man appears in court charged with shouting slogans – aka inciting secession – and is denied bail. The NatSec Law makes bail very difficult, and the police need more time to rummage through his phones to find more evidence of evil deeds, or at least thoughts. How long before it’s someone wearing a T-shirt?

Rather than going to absurd lengths to silence words and eradicate ideas, would it not make more sense to create a Hong Kong where people don’t find independence an attractive proposition? Today’s policy address will indicate whether the CCP can think this deeply. A leak suggests the best they can think up is the Integrate You Little Bastards Scheme: a weird subsidy for young people ‘seizing Greater Bay Area opportunities’ – strange opportunities if you have to bribe people to take them. An SCMP op-ed nails the real problem: Xi Jinping’s obsessive need for control via ‘bluntly assimilationist rhetoric and policy’.

Meanwhile, a reminder that Covid knows no class boundaries as the virus hits ballrooms full of aging tai-tais and their lithesome gigolo-esque dance instructors…

…a number of cases from the Starlight Dance Club cluster have played mahjong with other people … News of the dance cluster has reportedly been worrying residents of high-income districts…

Independence supporters calling for freedom, tycoons’ wives doing the tango – no-one is safe.

Speaking of which…

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese megacity of Chongqing have jailed a prominent philanthropist for 20 years on charges of “incitement to subvert state power.”

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CCP determined as ever to make people hate them

Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam are in custody pending sentencing next week after pleading guilty – on their lawyers’ advice – to lame incitement and illegal-assembly charges. Presumably, this could attract a lighter sentence from the judge. But, if they get anything more than a token spell in prison, it also maximizes the bad publicity here and abroad for the CCP and its puppets. No-one incites like the CCP: what it most wants will also further alienate the population and create heroes.

Thoughts from Jeffrey Ngo in exile on the likely fate of the three.

Like so many people, I leap out of bed every morning itching to read the SCMP’s editorial. Today’s prays that Chief Executive Carrie Lam will deliver ‘hope’ in tomorrow’s postponed policy address. Having no doubt been redrafted by Beijing officials, the speech is likely to be short on inspiration, though it will be interesting (itself a first for a policy address) to see whether the knuckle-draggers pay any attention to obvious livelihood issues, or if their obsession with crushing dissent gets the better of them. Will they make Carrie spout stuff about Xi Jinping Thought?

The sentencing of Joshua et al puts the judiciary on the spot. The UK’s latest six-monthly report on Hong Kong covers up to June 30, so it misses a lot. But it does raise the possibility of pulling British judges off the Court of Final Appeal panel.

And yes – here it comes: the panty-wetting strong refutation of irresponsible remarks.

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The day Jan Morris came to Quarry Bay

Some of the weekend horrors were on the banal side – but I guess we’re supposed to become numbed to these things over time. Others were worrying. One tweet on Saturday covered four: a pensioner arrested; reporters with balloons harassed by police; an office lady with a clothes line arrested; and a radio host arrested.

The senior citizen is aunty Alexandra Wong – waver of giant union flag at protests and recent detainee in Shenzhen. Would the CCP really feel a need to arrest a grandma to scare the rest of us? But of course. Some UK lawmakers nominate her for a Nobel Prize (in a move sure to anger China, etc).

The balloon-carrying reporters had been at a rally in support of the HK12. Relatives are receiving obviously pre-written/coerced letters from the 12.  

The clerk was jailed for five months for possession of offensive weapons after using a clothes hanger to craft a device to hurl tear-gas canisters back at the police – who it seems can dish it out, but can’t take it.

The radio host and his wife has been picked up and put in chains on yet another lame-sounding money-laundering thing after helping raise funds for Hong Kong kids who have left for Taiwan – oh, and for ‘aiding secession’. 

What all four of these have in common is the clear aim to deter and intimidate. The other weekend NatSec horrors were all about vindictiveness: pan-dem district council members are banned from displaying banners mentioning the HK12, and others are denied standard government funds for printing New Year scrolls displaying the slogan ‘Life of Peace’ (because officials couldn’t find any mentioning the HK12). On a less petty note, two district council members were arrested for something to do with election expenses (for elections that were cancelled). 

Pan-dems slaughtered the pro-Beijing parties in last year’s district elections amid a high voter turnout. The CCP has not forgotten, and will not get over it until it has squeezed, ground and arrested the winning council members out of existence.

For better-known dissidents, the CCP’s obsessive vengeance will create something more like martyrdom – Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow appear in court this morning, expecting prison sentences. This will be big news overseas.

One person will be spared the sight of any more of these incessant totalitarian absurdities: travel writer Jan Morris, who has died, aged 94. 

I was allowed a brief ‘hello’ with her when I was a junior flunky at a publisher (not hers) in Quarry Bay. (Not often a VIP came to the grimy district of printing companies, textbook producers, the SCMP and similar riff-raff. My desk had a view of a sprawling shanty town, now Kornhill.) Her visit caused a stir in the office mainly because she was famous, but also because she was a former male army officer and now a late-middle-aged lady in a tweed jacket and skirt – which was more of a novelty then than it might be now. 

She had come to rummage through our archives while doing research for Hong Kong: Epilogue to an Empire. A not-too nostalgic colonial-themed book with, among other things, a very clever structure – alternate chapters of chronological history and related contemporary insight. Perhaps average by her standards, but streets ahead of most writing on Hong Kong.

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Hey – maybe next week won’t be quite so bad

Beijing’s officials have made it clear that, after a few months of NatSec Law, they are still not happy with Hong Kong’s legal system and must ‘reform’ the courts. On cue, a judge rules that the HK Police complaints system is not independent enough to be in accord with the Bill of Rights Ordinance. Also on cue, an expert who quit the system for pretty much that reason (he says he felt manipulated) earlier this year has just issued a report on the role of the HK Police in radicalizing protestors, escalating the 2019 unrest and damaging the cops’ own legitimacy.

(What next? Obviously, insulating the now-political police from public accountability is an important element in creating the climate of fear and uncertainty the CCP wants in Hong Kong.)

Not surprisingly, journalistic genre of the month in Hong Kong is the ‘should we stay or go agonizing’ column (an example in the FT – might be paywalled – and one from SCMP). It is still early days – we are nowhere near the herd-like scramble for passports in the late 80s/early 90s. But it’s coming. A piece in World Politics Review captures the semi-panicky mood.

Some links for those with nothing better to do…

More from David Webb on the inadequacies of the Hong Kong government’s Covid response – this time the contact-tracing app.

You’ve heard that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is amazing, or at least expected to eliminate a range of tariffs on imports within, um, 20 years. Michael Pettis puts you straight.

There is almost as much excited the-world-is-changing nonsense generated by the signing of the RCEP as there was by the creation in 2016 of the AIIB, and because of many of the same confusions over the sources and consequences of global imbalances.

In Atlantic, Daniel Blumenthal on the grand ambitions of a decaying state – the threat posed by China as it stagnates under demographics, environmental problems and dictatorship. An ‘infirm colossus that will be frustrated by unmet ambitions’. 

A British diplomat in China leapt into a river and rescued a drowning student, in a video clip that went viral – and we all saw it. You won’t believe what happened next. Or maybe you will.

I can’t stand podcasts. I can read 1,000 words in a few minutes, but don’t have the patience to sit and listen to talk. But this one on the influence of Xi Jinping’s father is worth a go. (Maybe I should exercise or do the washing-up while listening.)

The Diplomat looks at the causes of Beijing’s constant tantrums.

And some photos vividly showing the valiant role played by giant rubber ducks in Thailand’s protests.

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More of the same incessant police-state stuff…

Today’s CCP horrors come in no particular order.

Police arrest lawmakers Chu Hoi-dick, Ted Hui and Ray Chan under the LegCo Ordinance for ‘showing contempt and disturbing order’ during the National Anthem (Compulsory Adoration) Bill debate. How many times have these guys been arrested now? What are multiple arrests on increasingly flimsy grounds supposed to achieve? Maybe it’s to remind us that the CCP does not exactly have a sense of proportion.

Ta Kung Po accuses pro-dem mask-maker Yellow Factory of breaking the NatSec Law, so the business closes down. CCP media claim that even slogans that are puns of ‘forbidden’ ones contravene the NatSec Law. At some stage, these rabid propaganda outlets will start attacking businesses not for being actively unpatriotic, but just for failing to spout the correct lines without being prompted.

Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po also have a go at an academic for making supposedly pro-independence remarks during an on-line forum. Rather than tell them to shove it, she respectfully denies the allegation. Like the HK Police these days, both these papers are run by Beijing’s locally based officials – and have presumably been ordered to step up the witch-hunts.

As has Mainland law professor Tian Feilong, who accuses the group that organizes (or at least used to organize) Hong Kong’s annual 6-4 vigil of breaching the NatSec Law. The Hong Kong government promptly tries to stop them from getting a booth at the New Year flower market.

If you ever wondered what it was like to live during the Cultural Revolution’s public denunciations and struggle-sessions, stick around for 2021 in Hong Kong.

From China Digital Times, more on the CCP’s plans for Hong Kong’s judicial system. An SCMP editorial urges the relevant organs to respect Hong Kong’s rule of law when ‘reforming’ the legal process, and even asks that they allow the judiciary to take the lead in proposing changes – for example it could consider introducing TV cameras into courts. Hard to imagine Leninists taking advice from the judges they intend to neuter, but I’m sure the CCP might take the paper up on the televised trials idea.

(On related matters, HKFP on the micro-Mainlandization of the judiciary at the Magistrates Courts level – this is before the ‘reforms’ come.)

Do the CCP have something on Grenville Cross? Here’s an Orange News interview in which the former prosecutions boss goes to some lengths to excuse Beijing’s obsession with ejecting pan-dem lawmakers for thought-crimes. Sounds like he was reading from official Beijing talking points…

“There are numerous examples of how these four showed their hostility towards their home city and their home country, all of which are inconsistent with the fundamental loyalties they should, as legislators, have displayed to both places … By working with a foreign power to remove HK’s trade privileges, by supporting moves to impose sanctions on HK and mainland officials, and by trying to weaken the police force, these four legislators may have committed the offence of misconduct in public office (MIPO), and the ICAC will now need to investigate.”

The Independent Commission Against Corruption has so far managed to avoid dirtying its hands through HK Police-style laboriously vindictive persecution of people for their opinions – but obviously it’s just a matter of time. 

If it’s any consolation, Hongkongers are not alone in facing this demented despotic menace. Or as a newspaper down-under could put it in a headline, ‘Petulant Panda Positively Permanently Pissed’. The Sydney Morning Herald reports Beijing’s weird ‘leaked’ document on Why Australia Has Made Us Mightily Miffed. In the minds of the CCP strategists, issuing this ‘list of grievances’ will make Oz mend its ways and start kowtowing like a good tributary state. Makes you wonder what else Beijing’s policymakers think.

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A day of ‘tremble and obey’

It was hard to keep up with yesterday’s series of horrors from creepy CCP provocateurs Zhang Xiaoming, CY Leung, Tian Feilong, Qiao Xiaoyang and Wen Wei Po/Ta Kung Pao. A convenient summary. Another came from the government trying to get Tam Tak-chi’s case transferred to one of the special NatSec-qualified judges, even though the charges against are not under the NatSec Law. 

Zhang said that officials were working on ‘oath optimisation’ and ‘qualification screening’ for civil servants, and reforms to national education and judicial reform. It sounds like serious loyalty tests are on the way for all public servants. His comments on disqualified lawmakers suggest higher barriers for candidates. Chances are, many of us have voted in our last LegCo election. And on the judiciary

“Even in Western countries, judicial systems have to catch up with the times and reform constantly,” Zhang said, adding that any changes would not affect judicial independence.

Since the CCP sees judges as civil servants working for the executive, it follows that ‘disloyal’ members of the judiciary will have to be weeded out in some way. 

Several of these outbursts took place at an on-line forum, so were presumably coordinated to instill shock and awe. It seems Beijing officials, after a few months studying the authorities’ pursuit of dissidents under the NatSec Regime, have concluded that persecuting individual teachers and lawmakers isn’t enough. There must be systematic exclusion of ‘unpatriotic’ elements from public life. As Zhang said, “People who love the country and Hong Kong will govern Hong Kong, and people who are anti-China and cause trouble in Hong Kong are out”. The CCP is not going back: Hong Kong is in for some thorough rectification.

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There’s a lot of ‘normal’ to get back to

SCMP marks the 30th anniversary of the Asia Society Hong Kong, otherwise known as Ronnie Chan’s club house. The piece emphasizes the generosity of plutocrat-socialite backers and the bright side of never hosting anything ‘political’. But it hints at the awkwardness of the arrangement – 1950s-era American elite-philanthropist-globalist NGO-cum-HK tycoon-United Front-shoeshiner-vanity project. So 1990s. 

Not so 1990s: the CCP-run HK Police arrest an (already convicted) activist for money laundering – or at least crowdfunding family and other expenses. They also freeze the account. Not the first time they have used money-laundering laws for political vindictiveness. Meanwhile, a teacher deregistered for conveying ‘baseless ideas’ to students speaks out.

In both cases, the NatSec regime aims to spread fear. The tactic may be effective in the Mainland, with its long history of feudal and Communist despotism. But in Hong Kong, it must be at least as effective in spreading ever-greater contempt and loathing for the CCP among much of the local population, on top of all the other horrors going on (Lowy Interpreter looks at the pan-dem evacuation of LegCo).

As Covid fades in the coming year, things will go back to normal. And ‘normal’ in Hong Kong means protests and an underlying mood of rebellion. Will we see some big 2019-style marches in 2021?

On the subject of Covid, David Webb blasts the government’s high-handed approach in trying to make testing compulsory when a positive result could mean a loss of earnings for many low-paid workers. He proposes a simple way – compensation – to induce people to take the test. It would be interesting to know why bureaucrats haven’t gone for such an approach. Are they so cut off from reality that they think everyone qualifies for sick pay? Or have they adopted a NatSec-era assumption that the population are the emperor’s property and must obey?

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How to work outside the system

Teaching someone to make kimchi, so just a couple of things to start the week…

Kevin Carrico in Apple Daily: ‘there is no longer any use working inside Hong Kong’s system: people’s energies are best directed outside and indeed against the system’.

HKFP op-ed on how Hong Kong people can still take action against a state that abuses human rights. It links to this (English) and this (Chinese), which in turn link to a booklet in the respective languages in PDF format called Investigating Human Rights Violators: A primer on how to track down information on individuals and entities in China and Hong Kong, written with the help of local corporate due diligence professionals. Also, links to a how-to on getting Magnitsky sanctions on people. Interesting stuff. 

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Pan-dems just can’t please Beijing

Beijing is peeved about pan-dem lawmakers’ mass resignation. The CCP wants to kick them in the teeth repeatedly, but has a panty-wetting tantrum when they move out of teeth-kicking range – a challenge to the Central Government, apparently.

Beijing and the local puppets might actually miss the pan-dems. With no-one delaying business in the legislature through paper-throwing, quorum counts and filibusters, who will be to blame from now on for ‘holding up essential government work’? Unless, of course, the executive branch starts to deliver on housing, health care, schools, etc – in which case everyone will warmly welcome the barring of democratically elected members.

Questions on many minds: What is the purpose now of LegCo? And what is the purpose of the Basic Law? Or of the Hong Kong legal system as a whole? The last question is not overblown – the logic of the NPC disqualification edict is headache-inducing (for example, the government itself kept the four in LegCo by postponing the election, but now even wants to reclaim their salaries). The Bar Association bashes out a quick critique.

Another teacher is de-registered for what RTHK calls ‘dodgy history lessons’. Alleged examples: ancient Chinese invented paper to save tortoises (of oracle bones fame) from extinction, and the Brits launched the Opium Wars to save China from drugs. This would be brilliant stand-up. He or she is utterly wasted teaching kids. What about teaching that no-one died of hunger, disease and cannibalism during Mao’s Great Leap Forward? Would that count as ‘dodgy’? 

It could be that the CCP is now ordering the Education Bureau to find teachers to bar – maybe they have a quota to fill. Schools are resisting, with principals complaining about informers snitching on teachers.

(Speaking of which, fun ideas from the US on how to use a snitch hotline.)

Some links…

HKFP has a lot of explaining to do: how LegCo became a rubber stamp, and how the government is doing the same to RTHK

In a similar spirit, Wired examines Hong Kong as a case study in the death of democracy.

The BBC on Hong Kong news-stands as allegory for declining press freedom. Did you know the SCMP started up Hong Kong’s streetside newspaper stalls as part of its mission to topple the Chinese regime? Does the CCP know?

Slumming it, part 1: The NY Post on the evils of the WHO

It’s been clear from the pandemic’s start that China staged a shameful coverup that cost lives across the world. Now, newly uncovered details show that the World Health Organization didn’t just kowtow to the Communists — the UN agency actively helped Beijing whitewash its deadly deeds.

Slumming it, part 2: Gordon Chang – the pundit who has predicted the coming collapse of the CCP system for close to 20 years – on Beijing’s might-is-right view of the world.

Slumming it, part 3: National Interest enticingly wonders whether Beijing’s man-made islands in the South China Sea are crumbling away like other tofu projects.

From the Interpreter, a review of Thomas Orlik’s book China: The Bubble that Never Pops.

Netizens find ways to overcome the WHO Facebook page’s censorship of references to Taiwan and Winnie the Pooh.

Al Jazeera on the decline of the Kuomintang, which ‘by its own admission has less than 9,000 party members under 40.’ An academic says…

“They’ve been in Taiwan for 70 years. They could rename the party the ‘Taiwanese Nationalist Party’ or do other symbolic things to indicate they are really first and foremost for standing up for the Taiwanese.”

This has been the year of Taiwanese soft power – Ketagalan Media asks how to monetize it, starting with up-market coffee.

And everything you wanted to know about Pocky

The original version of Pocky was totally coated in chocolate, but that caused a problem since the thin chocolate coating melted easily in the hand. The inspiration for the exposed bit of the pretzel stick underneath is said to have come from an Osaka specialty, kushikatsu – breaded deep-fried bite-sized morsels of meat, shrimp and vegetables on skewers.

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