Today’s government setbacks…

The international experts appointed to give Hong Kong’s Independent Police Complaints Council some sort of legitimacy have all quit. Unlike Justice Secretary Theresa Cheng, they will not – it seems – be bundled onto a plane to Beijing for reprogramming.

They wanted (it says here) to ‘start the process of getting the IPCC to “begin to meet the standards” that Hong Kong citizens would need of a police watchdog that met their rights and freedoms’. IPCC boss Anthony Neoh told a Shenzhen TV outlet that the experts were actually dumbasses who ‘did not understand the situation in Hong Kong’.

This isn’t the Hong Kong government’s only headache.

The Court of Appeal has (in a roundabout way, and not-very-enthusiastically) ruled that the mask-ban is unconstitutional for now.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam finds herself having to give sympathy and consolation prizes to the pro-Beijing candidates clearly rejected by voters in the District Council elections. The zombies lost because, out of blind obedience, they didn’t question her staggering ineptness. Most will probably get silly non-remunerated posts on sham advisory boards – but what better way for the administration to remind us of its contempt for public opinion?

On the subject of which, Carrie’s own PR people issue a statement that leads with her insistence that ‘the government will not deviate from the law to meet people’s expectations’. The people’s expectations are illegal?

And, presumably under pressure from Beijing, the authorities are acting tough on pro-democracy teachers, which is probably to say a significant majority of teachers.

The mid-week read is this on the apparent shift in the climate since the district elections, like the semi-de-escalation by the police. Includes Metaphor du Jour ‘Carrie Lam as radioactive bag of dog shit’. A nicer way of putting it would be that, as the government’s many problems suggest, Beijing is not doing well in this asymmetric struggle.

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Police raid nuclear missile factory at Poly U

The problem with being a police force that says officers don’t display ID because the uniforms have insufficient space is that people don’t believe anything else you say. So excuse the public if they don’t take the Glock find and the nail-bomb find all that seriously.

Presumably, we are supposed to think elements in the protest movement hope to further their cause through mass-murder. Even if such a deranged fringe existed, could it acquire such apparently high-grade and illegal materials? (Hint: you are invited to suspect evil AmCham/CIA foreign forces of supplying them.)

Another possibility is that pro-Beijing extremists were plotting to use the weaponry – say, against marchers. That would be so counterproductive that only lone nuts – again, probably without access to sophisticated munitions – would consider it.

At the other end of the scale, we might wonder if cops acting under authority planted the stuff in order to smear the opposition. (Note ‘under authority’.) At the risk of sounding naïve, let’s be charitable and doubt they’re that dumb. (In a nice mood today.)

Assuming the seized items are real (and not like the ‘Molotov cocktails’ that turn out to be unopened beers or plastic bottles of cooking oil), who would benefit from these finds? That would obviously be the government and Beijing, in terms of PR. This points to some of the real nasties out there (‘patriotic’ Triads, possibly rogue cops, maybe Mainland spooks) who could get their hands on a classy handgun, ammo and high-explosives. One anonymous tip-off later – and the police are gleefully parading evidence and showing off their intrepid sleuthing.

This could be uber-patriots acting alone, or someone in the Liaison Office getting desperate – assuming there’s a clear distinction. It seems the likeliest explanation, anyway. (Or second likeliest if you think cops are that dumb.)

Unlike the SCMP, the government hasn’t gone into an outraged panty-wetting mega-frenzy over this – which it would (rightly) do if it genuinely believed someone was planning a terrorism campaign.

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Protest movement still here

To celebrate six months of the anti-government uprising, Hong Kong people miss yet another opportunity to stay at home, let the protests fizzle out and accept the CCP into their hearts (pics here).

It’s hard to tell what’s weird and what’s normal where the Hong Kong ‘government’ is concerned these days, but the highly sensitive among us might have detected a shift since the pro-dem landslide in the District Council elections two weeks ago. The tone has perhaps, if barely, moved slightly away from contemptuousness and towards self-pity.

A recent HK Police press conference actually acknowledged the force’s disastrous public image, bitterly complaining about smears. In the days leading up to the big march there were several passive-aggressive police statements along the lines of ‘please don’t make us use tear gas’, including a vow of flexibility from the new Commissioner. You could (sort of, in theory) interpret these as a face-saving attempt to wind down the aggressive tactics. (As it was, the cops – after producing a mystery Glock allegedly intended for use against themselves – were fairly restrained yesterday.)

The government itself late on Friday issued a tantrum-packed statement – unmistakably using Beijing-style terminology – blasting local elements supporting US ‘interference’ in Hong Kong and pleading with Hong Kong people to ‘voice their discontent against violence and to take photos of rioters’ destructive acts’. The next morning (with the Liaison Office minders presumably elsewhere), it sent out a far whinier press release blathering about calm and promising to ‘humbly listen and accept criticism’.

There are other signs that, behind the scenes, things are not going well.

Independent Police Complaints Council boss Anthony Neo has apparently told Mainland media that the independent overseas experts brought in to advise his fake-watchdog don’t understand the situation in Hong Kong. Leaving aside the question of why he was talking to Shenzhen TV, this looks messy. The experts are/were the IPCC’s one hope of legitimacy, and the government’s main excuse to reject a serious independent inquiry.

And then there is the glorious Theresa Cheng escapade. The FT reports (link here):

A company linked to Hong Kong’s controversial justice secretary, Teresa Cheng, an architect of the now withdrawn extradition bill that has sparked anti-government protests, is being investigated by the city’s antitrust watchdog.

The announcement came just days after Ms Cheng returned to Hong Kong from London, where she had wanted to remain and resign from her government post until she was ordered home by Beijing, according to three people familiar with the situation.

The FT adds that the company, Analogue, worked on the HK-Zhuhai Bridge – but (thank heavens), the report does not mention ‘Beijing leverage over Cheng’, ‘corruption’, ‘sub-standard work’ or anything icky like that. But suspicions that Hong Kong officials are essentially being held captive are not going away.

One explanation after yesterday’s turnout  for Hong Kong protesters’ resilience and determination is that they have come this far; as Ben said, we must hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately. Another is that they smell blood.

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And who would take her?

Did Theresa Cheng try to defect in London? Sounds unlikely, doesn’t it? Even assuming Hong Kong’s Beijing-friendly Justice Secretary felt a need to flee, why would she ‘defect’ like some Soviet chess player in the 1970s, when – so far as we can tell – there’s nothing stopping her from just walking?

Then again, Chief Executive Carrie Lam is by many accounts kept in office against her will. Indeed, all her fellow top officials look near-suicidal on their rare public appearances, yet mysteriously never resign. And we all know the CCP uses the most devious and callous means (blackmail, threats against family) to keep people in line.

On the face of it, the fuss over Cheng’s wrist looks like a lame stunt to elicit sympathy and demonize nasty protesters. But there’s a conspiracy theorist’s delight there: the long absence after her ‘fall’ in London, trouble at her husband’s company, then she turns up, having been in Beijing for two weeks – and looks absolutely, utterly frightful.

You be the judge.

The fact that we are even talking about this is a mark of how far we have come from normality.

I declare the chilly weekend open with a rich array of diversions to stimulate the mind…

Further to some subjects mentioned earlier this week: Why HK won’t be like Macau, and some more on the claims of self-censorship in Hong Kong’s financial sector.

Remember how Theresa Cheng was in London to promote Hong Kong as an arbitration hub? Reuters looks at how such work is moving to Singapore. One reason is that the lawyers have been reading things like this Time feature on Hong Kong as a tear gas hub.

China Daily produces a timeline on evil foreign interference in Hong Kong. Prepare to be disappointed: Canada issues statement, Belgian official meets Joshua Wong, etc.

On the culture side of things, a fetching protest-themed music video of a song by Charmaine Fong. And the pro-Beijing side finally does something creative that’s interesting: a grotesque series of caricatures of opposition figures, presumably by a Mainlander who knows Hong Kong. Artistically quite eye-catching, except (as the link points out) for the racism, sexism, other bad taste and unclassiness, and the fact that it copies a Japanese artist. Eddie Chu Hoi-dick should get the original of his and frame it.

On Mainland affairs, all you want to know about Aunty Xianglin – to whom a Chinese spokeswoman likened US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. As puzzled netizens point out, the fictional character who constantly prattles on about things is a victim of an oppressive feudal system.

Another example of Mainland public opinion not following the script: once-popular national treasure Huawei’s backlash from the Chinese public.

An interview with Jude Blanchette on Xi Jinping, with implications for Hong Kong and the whole planet…

…it is not surprising that Xi believes he has the power to control China’s destiny. But the limitations of this worldview are increasingly on display, and the question then becomes, how much longer and at what costs will Xi be able to push the country in the direction of his vision before he relents.

Carl Minzner goes into detail on Xi’s ideological rectification campaign in China’s academia and research fields. This trend potentially undermines innovation and productivity growth. Which brings us to…

How economic and technical challenges are limiting China’s aircraft carrier expansion plans. Which brings us in a roundabout way to…

Ancient 70s-throwback leftist John Pilger’s documentary on the Coming War with China, otherwise known as ‘Any regime that opposes the US is harmless and wonderful’. (Must confess I couldn’t handle the leaden, life-sucking narration and the self-parodying joylessness for more than five minutes. If Michael Moore had done it, maybe… If anyone manages, let me know if he mentions Hong Kong.)

For fans of ‘Belt and Road’ win-win positive energy: a video on rural Chinese men being ripped off trying to get mail-order brides in Pakistan.

Frank Dikotter does a hatchet review job on a book about the Opium War. His (not new) revisionist angle will go down like a cup of cold sick in Beijing (let alone with the volume’s author). Basically, the ‘drug trafficking’ side of it was less tawdry than we might think. Dikotter only briefly mentions the Qing regime’s mercantilism, but quotes John Quincy Adams as saying opium was “no more the cause of the war than the throwing overboard of the tea in Boston harbour was the cause of the North American revolution.”

And three cheers to plucky little Prague!

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Police special

Just some quick links… My basic traffic analysis of the stories, columns and reports rushing by suggests that the Hong Kong Police are not doing well in the struggle for hearts and minds.

Cops themselves despair at the dismal performance of the force’s spokesmen at press-conference time. Among the latest cringe-making claims: a police motorcyclist’s attempt to run over protesters is classified as a traffic accident, and a woman shoved to the floor was ‘unintended contact’. How difficult is it to do at least a half-baked spin job on these things? And they spokescops say kids and old folks who get tear-gassed shouldn’t be out in the first place. A rights expert offers some interesting thoughts.

The police are not just losing the PR specialists and the wimps who think kids should be allowed out. Doctors and environmentalists are starting to worry about chemical weapons as a public-health issue. And then there are the art fans: did you know tear gas is bad for paintings? The stuff might even resonate with the blue-ribbons.

Hong Kong’s mainstream media – mostly owned by pro-establishment tycoons – try hard to maintain breezy support for the boys in blue. But Now TV does a piece on lawyers battling with police to see arrestees.

For a mega-read on the whole mess: the Neutral Legal Observers Group’s First Periodic Report (on police and non-police issues). It’s depressing that feel a need to call it the ‘first’.

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History repeats, maybe

Chinese officials and experts celebrate the anniversary of one Special Administrative Region’s handover by having a few digs at the other. Hong Kong should emulate Macau by having patriots in charge and passing national security laws. And it should accept that Beijing has ultimate jurisdiction over everything, so there.

One big difference between Macau and Hong Kong (along with size and economy) is what happened in the mid-late 1960s upheavals in the two cities arising from social discontent and aggravated by the Cultural Revolution over the border. In Macau, the colonial authorities permanently lost much of their control and influence to pro-Beijing labour and business forces. There has since been large-scale immigration of Fujianese Mainlanders. When Leftists tried something similar in Hong Kong, the population largely resisted them and the colonial power kept control. This contributed to the development of a stronger and distinct Hong Kong identity. (Yes, this is all over-simplified.)

Macau has been docile for half a century. Only now is Beijing starting to think how to tame Hong Kong.

One of the many ways Beijing will try is through pressure on companies to punish employees for their dissenting views. Cathay Pacific have fired staff for participating in the protest movement, and there’s a report (somewhere) that the Jockey Club has just sacked someone for pro-movement comments on social media. Mainland financial institutions are reportedly steering clear of Hong Kong staff. Other banks will no doubt feel a need to discipline staff for ideological incorrectness (several big ones already Panda-grovel by maintaining ‘Belt and Road’ departments and publishing economic analysis taking China’s official data literally).

This provides us with another echo from the 1967 riots. Many Leftists in Hong Kong were arrested and jailed. They and known supporters were also blacklisted, so the only employers that would hire them for decades after were ‘patriotic’ pro-Beijing companies and schools. Who will there be to hire all the blacklisted pan-dems in the future?

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It won’t all be over by Christmas

Growing signs of impatience… Chief Executive manqué-to-be Christine Loh warns that following the district elections the ball is in the administration’s court. It must seize this opportunity (the one that disappeared behind clouds of tear gas on Sunday) to take action to solve the city’s political crisis. Even the SCMP, in yet another whiny editorial bemoaning oh-so awful radical vandalism and arson, manages to squeeze in some criticism of Carrie Lam’s inaction.

It is undeniably true that the Hong Kong government has, for the last six months, been as lifeless as the stuffed waxwork taxidermy thing in the glass case at the Mao Mausoleum. It is also true that, left to her own devices, Carrie would be responding to the ongoing calamity with a sort of barely noticeable dithering.

But, as the lady has managed to indicate discreetly, her hands are tied. She would love to get up and do something utterly useless and indecisive – but she’s not allowed to. Beijing insists that the problem be solved through force alone. After 11,000 rounds of tear-gas, 5,000 arrests, a constitution-warping and counterproductive face-mask ban, the probably-irreversible dissolution of a service-oriented police force, a collapse in tourism, partial shutdowns of the transit system, and the total alienation of most of the public (plus Taiwan’s), Beijing remains adamant that crushing and suppressing is the only way.

Last week, the screw tightened with possible civil-service loyalty tests. This week, it’s purging the private sector.

And so we approach Month Seven, wringing our hands and lamely reciting the eternal delusion that only after the violence stops can ‘dialogue’ (whatever it might mean, between whomever) begin…

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The DAB has deep pockets

Following the election massacre, the pro-Beijing DAB will reportedly keep its ejected District Council members on their previous (taxpayer-funded) stipends. The money is no problem – the party gets big contributions from pro-Beijing businesses, if not the Liaison Office directly.

This looks like the United Front is going to set up parallel District Council-type operations to continue serving their neighbourhood constituents (such as helping senior citizens and new Mainland immigrants with officialdom).

The aim may be to ‘maintain the grassroots support base’, but it would also be to marginalize the pro-democrats who will now occupy most DC seats. If they are serious about it, the Liaison Office would pressure government departments to prioritize contacts with the unofficial DAB community workers and neglect approaches from the newly elected opposition representatives. Childish – but classic United Front. And it would not be unprecedented: pan-dem Legislative Council members have complained for years about unequal treatment from bureaucrats.

Might Beijing officials even order senior government figures to ‘boycott’ pan-dem DC members and simply refuse to have contact with them? It would be perfectly in character, and they must be tempted. It would of course send a clear message to Hong Kong’s silent or non-silent pro-dem majority that no, peaceful means don’t work.

As an indication: although the District Council elections presented the government with (another) perfect opportunity to de-escalate, the tear-gassing resumed this weekend. Among the menaces to society being punished, an elderly ice-cream vendor.

For an insight into the inexplicable police tactics, an ex-cop says it’s because their procedures manuals give them no choice. The manuals say (roughly): if tear-gas and beatings don’t work, try them again (and again, repeatedly, for ever and ever). Only the senior management can change the manuals, and for some reason (stupidity? pressure from Beijing?) they don’t/haven’t/won’t. So, you see, counterproductive measures must continue because they have to.

At the very least, this raises the question of why, if they just implement set procedures without question, the police are paid at levels appropriate for employees who use discretion and brains. (This goes for most of the civil service.)

The highlight of my weekend: Hong Kong people’s revolutionary hero doing the dishes at my birthday party…

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Mainlandization of the Day

At the behest of Beijing (we can be sure), Hong Kong’s Justice Dept is inviting the courts to concede that the ‘executive-led’ system overrides separation of powers. This would probably mean the government can use emergency laws to ban the wearing of masks (or curb the people’s rights in any way it wants) without oversight from the legislative or judicial branches.

After the ‘learned judges’ overruled the emergency-laws mask ban as unconstitutional, the government appealed, and they suspended the ruling for a week. They have now extended that for another week via an ‘interim interim temporary suspension order’. Beijing’s officials behind the scenes must smell spinelessness.

I declare the weekend open with the usual exciting links…

More on the District Council elections. A spirited account from Vivienne Chow, who wonders whether history will remember Carrie Lam for achieving the impossible: uniting Hongkongers. Atlantic buries the ‘silent majority’. SCMP does an in-depth look into why people voted against the government (hint: they hate it). For cartography freaks, a map of Hong Kong showing only the areas that voted pro-government – the rest under a rising sea of resistance. And some protest-art at the far heart-breaking end of the scale.

Alvin Cheung has a go at oh-so sophisticated US commentators who (pretty much) side with Beijing against the Hong Kong people.

Peter Humphrey, who knows what is talking about, discusses the televised forced confession of Simon Cheng.

Although the CCP seems to be successfully luring the Pope into kowtowing, Benedict Rogers is made of sterner stuff and explains Beijing’s threat to Hong Kong and the church, in particular.

The Diplomat on why Beijing’s approach to Hong Kong is so messed up (in case you didn’t know).

The CCP is censoring Chinese Americans on social media, surprise.

For history fans, a comparison of Elizabeth I and the Ming empress Xiaozhuang (their reigns were 10 years apart). Lizzie had much flashier clothes, for a start.

And Taiwan as a beacon for the Hong Kong protest movement

Pro-democracy supporters see in Taiwan a fully developed Asian democracy that practices the democratic ideals and values for which they are fighting: freedom of speech, a free press, a vibrant civil society, and universal suffrage.

(Looking forward to a visit to Taichung in a few weeks.)

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‘In a move sure to anger China…’

Donald Trump signs the HK Human Rights and Democracy Act. As well as annoying all the right people (‘a slander of China to a level close to madness’), it could in theory lead to sanctions against officials involved in rights abuses here. Probably won’t. But penalties potentially include freezing of assets in the US. Mmmmmm! These people are drawing up a list of names. Suggestions welcome (provide serious evidence).

Meanwhile, leftists are struggling to get their heads round US support for the Hong Kong protest movement. (It’s all so icky bourgeois-liberal. Also, they can’t bear to be on the same side as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, et al. This is a milder and localized version of the tankies who venerate the Chinese, Cuban, Venezuelan regimes out of blind hatred for the evil West.)

Predicted but perhaps arriving sooner than we thought: the Hong Kong government is pondering loyalty tests for civil servants. Teachers should expect similar treatment some time. A politically impartial civil service is of course incompatible with Beijing’s Leninist principles. One result will be to stir up resentment among the bureaucrats.

The CCP is also coming for the Hong Kong business community. The tycoons felt sure they had shoe-shined enough. They were wrong. After making billions from local and Mainland opportunities, number-one plutocrat Li Ka-shing has for years been adroitly ‘reweighting’ his family’s extensive assets away from this part of the world (to Western democracies). He has also failed to sufficiently demonize the protest movement/praise the administration – thus incurring the Wrath of the Panda. Reuters has managed to squeeze a few quotes out of him. The comments are on the enigmatic side, but the guy so rarely does any sort of interview that it counts as an exciting exclusive scoop. (Some interesting reminiscing about the time a young regional official called Xi Jinping groveled to Li for investment.)

A couple of worthwhile topical links…

A Hong Kong Free Press explainer on what the new-look District Councils can do with their pan-dem majorities. (No, I shouldn’t have called the newcomers ‘inexperienced’. As well as experience and skills, they will bring the creativity and idealism of the last six months with them – the contrast with their DAB predecessors could be vivid.)

And a Comparativist article on Hong Kong’s recent paranoia-driven conspiracy theories and the in-depth video and other analysis volunteers perform to get to the truth. (As Superman tells Reuters: “In the world of social media, some people are hard at work in sowing toxic doubts and disinformation to undermine trust.”)

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