Consuming, rather than producing, end-of-week stuff

HKFP op-ed asks why (or how) we are supposed to maintain that press freedom is intact in Hong Kong…

When the News of the World was caught in criminal mischief its owner, Rupert Murdoch, was summoned to a hearing in the House of Commons. He was not paraded through his newsroom in chains.

…there is a clear consensus in the profession that times have changed. Indeed, a common topic of conversation at journalists’ gatherings these days is who will be next for closure, jail or exile.

Transit Jam post on a small private gathering of Hong Kong cyclists for a ‘ride of silence’ to remember bicycle-users who died on the road. The police seem to have treated the event as a major threat to public order, with a dash of ‘evil foreign forces’ thrown in. The government, he says…

…tries desperately to hide any tragedy or unwanted behaviour from view.

But, while cyclists keep getting killed, a small memorial is the least we can do for the victims. So we will continue, every year, as part of that global day of respect.

Shame on the Hong Kong government and @hkpoliceforce for repressing even this tiny apolitical civil voice.

(Previous live Tweets with pix here.)

In another sign of general intolerance and nanny-state authoritarianism, the Security Bureau-heavy administration wants to fine and/or imprison people who go hiking or ‘chasing the wind’ during extreme weather…

For citizens who refuse to listen to warnings, [Chief Secretary for Administration and ex-Immigration Dept head Eric] Chan said the government will take strict enforcement actions and charge them to reach a deterrent effect.

…He added that the government would shut down beaches and the country parks during extreme weather, and those breaking the ban will be fined HK$2,000 and jailed for 14 days.

You could make a case for sending people who recklessly endanger themselves a bill after being rescued by emergency services (an opportunity for the insurance industry?). But jailing folk for strolling on a beach during a typhoon is hyper-Singaporean.

Standard editorial bemoans the fact that banks don’t want to offer hefty mortgages to people buying overpriced apartments. Uses the word ‘undervaluation’.

From Artnet – a review of the Leeds City Museum exhibition of Hong Kong diaspora artwork and other material (see the painting Moon We Share)…

…the exhibition also drew criticism from pro-China students studying in Leeds, noted Cheung. Some left derogatory remarks, ranging from anti-democracy comments such as “Hong Kong should not be free,” to others claiming that Hong Kongers were “kneeling to their U.K. colonial masters.” The comments were written in simplified Chinese on Post-It notes and put on the exhibition’s version of Lennon Wall, which echoes one of the key elements of the 2019 protests that allowed people to leave their remarks and wishes on sticky-notes.

From Atlantic – an surprisingly decent analysis of the trade war that China’s unsustainable mercantilist policies have made inevitable…

China’s leaders have no one to blame but themselves. They joined a global trading system and then gamed that system. 

…“It’s the whole financial system, the whole economic system that is leveraged for industrial policy, which is very different than what’s been happening in market economies,” Camille Boullenois, an analyst of Chinese industry at the research firm Rhodium Group, told me. Where electric vehicles are concerned, “it’s very hard to imagine the industry growing as fast without government support.”

…Rather than encouraging spending on goods, all of the economic incentives are to make capital investment in manufacturing. China’s economic model favors producers over consumers, which holds down household incomes and limits their spending. Lacking customers at home, Chinese industry is forced to seek them abroad.

…Xi Jinping seems set on making matters worse. His principal economic goal of achieving “self-sufficiency” aims to reduce what China purchases from other countries and substitute goods made by foreign companies with Chinese alternatives—especially in industries, such as green energy, that other governments find strategic. In doing so, Xi is practically inviting more intense trade disputes.

China’s government tolerates free enterprise and free markets only up to the point that they serve the ruling party’s political interests. The logic in Beijing (and Germany, Japan, etc) is that people exist to produce, rather than enjoy, things – and workers in other countries lose jobs as a result. At some point, trade-deficit countries are going to lose patience with a country that accounts for 30% of global manufacturing but only 13% of consumption. That moment has been a long time coming.

From 9 Dash Line – China is losing its grip on the South China Sea…

China continues to expand its claims with the recently released 10-dash line “standard map” that it wrongly believes would tighten its claims. However, the tide is turning. The neighbouring nations are growing weary of Beijing’s coercive tactics, drawing their lines against the revisionist power, demanding respect for national sovereignty, and uniting around a Free and Open Indo-Pacific

Really? The Philippines is clearly hitting back. Malaysia, on the other hand, seems spineless, while Vietnam’s communist rulers can’t bring themselves to square the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ equation.

On YouTube, US Naval War College professor Sarah Paine on the prospect of a Chinese attack on Taiwan…

‘I can’t imagine the Chinese being less brutal (than Russia in Ukraine)’

And Chinafile looks at how Beijing is trying to make Uighurs eat congee and cut out the lamb and carrots…

The CCP views many facets of Uyghur life as “backward,” so it seeks to refashion Uyghur cultural expression in a way it finds both intelligible and non-threatening, promoting a set of officially sanctioned “Han” tastes and habits as the standard for hygiene, modernity, and normalcy. In the case of food, Beijing often works to impose this standard through direct interventions with local women. Even when authorities extol the virtues of the cuisine of the region, they often speak not specifically of “Uyghur food” but of “Xinjiang food,” as though the dishes so many Han tourists enjoy have their origins in geography rather than the practices and culture of the Uyghur people. At the same time, officials consider ethno-cultural diets of Uyghurs—especially if they are shaped by Islamic law—as obstacles to ethnic unity at best and a gateway to extremism at worst.

…the introduction of “Chinese cuisine” into Uyghur communities is a key part of the Party-state’s comprehensive “stability work.”

…For some work, changes in diet must start with breakfast. Villages in Yeken (Ch. Shache) and Khotan hosted household school trainings that provided instruction on preparing morning meals. Dishes included scallion pancakes, fried dough sticks, cold cucumber, fried eggs, congee, porridge, and milk tea. The goal: transform the monotonous “traditional” (i.e., Uyghur) breakfast of nan and tea.

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‘Glory to Hong Kong’ slightly harder to find online

Google is blocking 32 Glory to Hong Kong YouTube vids listed in the recent injunction, in Hong Kong only…

Speaking on Commercial Radio on Sunday, justice chief [Paul] Lam said that even though the court had issued a ban on certain acts linked to the song, it should not be regarded as a “forbidden song.”

“We should not use the term ‘forbidden song.’ The ban targets acts which utilise the song to fight for Hong Kong independence… as a weapon praise of violence and the pursual of Hong Kong independence,” Lam claimed.

He added that the media can still report news of the song and scholars can research it, “such as how it promoted Hong Kong independence.”

Whilst pro-independence protesters were spotted during the 2019 demonstrations, neither the song’s lyrics – nor the movement’s official demands – mention independence for the city.

The Standard adds

Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat Pei-fan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong urged authorities to ask all online platforms to remove the song globally in accordance with the court’s injunction, as it “advocates Hong Kong independence and violent protests.”

The company is considering an appeal of the injunction. The authorities could welcome this as a victory and move on. Alternatively, it will express dissatisfaction because the song is still available in the rest of the world (or in Hong Kong with a VPN). Meanwhile, there are loads of other copies, probably on YouTube and certainly on other platforms, and no doubt more people around the world checking them to see what the fuss is about.

Other sites blocked locally (by ISPs) include Hong Kong Watch, HKChronicles, Taiwan’s Transitional Justice Commission, and HK Charter 2021.

The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong calls on overseas judges to resign, saying they ‘lend prestige to persecution’…

The report describes how the Court of Final Appeal (“CFA”) has supported the regime’s crackdown on dissent and endorsed moves to strip away defendants’ rights. In several cases highlighted in the report, the foreign judges have even voted directly to imprison political dissidents.

…In addition, with respect to the British judges who are members of the House of Lords, the report highlights how their dual allegiances to the Crown and the Hong Kong government have created irreconcilable conflicts. This has become an increasingly problematic issue as political tension between the two countries have grown, with the House of Lords now regularly called on to consider bills at odds with the interests of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments. Moreover, these British judges have managed to avoid disclosing their compensation from the Hong Kong government, either by taking leaves of absences from the Lords or simply failing to declare their financial renumeration as required by the House of Lords Code of Conduct.

Angry press release coming up?

Samuel Bickett comment

Some foreign judges have actually voted to imprison dissidents. Australia’s Judge Gleeson upheld sentence of Nobel Peace Prize nominee [Hang Tung Chow] for her role in Tiananmen Square vigils. UK’s Lord Hoffmann voted to imprison a man for merely filming police during a protest.

And the government will tighten control over who sits on social workers’ licensing body…

The proposed amendment would retain the eight seats of social workers who are elected into the board by their peers. The number of government-appointed seats will increase from six to 17, and similar to the current rules, those appointed by the government do not have to be registered social workers themselves.

…“Registered social workers (RSW) shoulder great responsibilities and have far-reaching impacts. As social workers have the trust of their clients and exert on them significant influence, they are more obliged to honour the rule of law, and consciously safeguard national security, social order and public interest, while performing their duties in a fair and impartial manner,” a spokesperson for the Labour and Welfare Bureau said in a statement on Tuesday.

More comment on Twitter…

Basically, GovHK considers some social workers to be national security threats because they either supported the 2019 protests (now retroactively relabeled by the govt as a terrorist insurrection) or offered services to protesters who were stressed and in some cases suicidal. 

Also, the one appointed social worker that [Labour and Welfare Secretary] Chris Sun claims is a criminal was acquitted of rioting. The govt is appealing, but the fact is she hasn’t yet been convicted of anything. That normally matters when you have rule of law that applies to everyone, not just “patriots”.

Who would want to be a social worker?

Must see video of the day: Tsai Ing Wen spends her last day as Taiwan’s president hosting a performance by award-winning drag queens, with Sun Yat-sen looking on fondly.

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More NatSec arrests – this time in the UK

An Amnesty International report accuses Beijing of intimidating Chinese citizens, such as students and activists – overseas.

And police in the UK arrest three people suspected of working for ‘Hong Kong intelligence’. Two are ex-military security consultants, while the third is a manager at the HK Economic and Trade Office in London – who is an ex-cop and college classmate of CE John Lee. They are on bail.

Prosecutors allege that the two security guys engaged in ‘hostile surveillance and forcible entry of a residential address’, targeting members of the ‘Hong Kong diaspora’ (including Nathan Law and Christopher Mung), and were paid by the London HKETO.  (More further down thread, eg here.)

The PRC embassy in London issues a statement of righteous indignation…

A spokesman said Beijing “firmly opposes and strongly condemns” the fabrication of the so-called espionage case and its “unjustified accusation” against the Hong Kong government.

“Britain has also arbitrarily harassed, arrested and detained Chinese nationals under the disguise of justice and national security, which is a serious provocation to the Chinese side and a serious violation of the basic norms of international relations,” he said.”We urge the UK to immediately rectify its mistakes, as any political maneuvers to slander China are doomed to failure. We advise Britain to stop going further down the wrong road to undermine Sino-British relations.”

The HK government offers a milder press release.

Comment from Michael Mo…

People at HKETO might feel embarrassed by the event. It’s like having an own goal while they were trying to “normalise” relations with Westminster Village. Hence, the HK authorities did not respond to the prosecution in a warrior-wolf tone. In contrast, the usual aggressive response by the PRC Embassy shows that they didn’t even read the prosecution bundle before responding.

This will be interesting. It will be an example of a Western democracy’s NatSec laws in action (eg, you can get bail). It concerns dissidents in exile with widely publicized bounties on their heads. The prosecution’s initial evidence looks like the result of a thorough investigation. And it allegedly has the HKETO’s fingerprints all over it (activists overseas have demanded that host nations shut the offices.)

Transit Jam visits the ‘Old Unlucky Building’ – site of a fire that claimed five lives a month ago – and finds conditions are the same as ever…

Aside from fire damage and problems of dirt, garbage and rodents, a tour of the building today revealed hundreds of unaddressed fire safety and fire escape issues.

More than half of the building’s fire doors were propped open or broken beyond function. Corridors and staircases still smell strongly of soot, with significant fire damage and soot on the lower six floors, where fire hoses are burned and melted. Emergency lights do not work, electrical cabling hangs down over fire escapes, a scenario one expert called the “widow maker” for its danger to fire crews. Garbage and construction waste block the fire escape stairwells.

Tourists seemed unconcerned for now. One Russian family of four ending their stay at Hang Fung Hostel told Transit Jam they did not know there had been a fire in the building and said the guest house was “fine”.

Some viewing for Buddha’s birthday – a good little video on the history of Macau’s gambling business.

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Will no-one think of the cartel?

Walmart subsidiary Sam’s Club will expand its Mainland business into Hong Kong, with free delivery for orders above 599 yuan. Leaving aside the possibility of more delivery trucks on the streets, most people will surely welcome the prospect of more competition, wider choices and lower prices. But the SCMP manages to find an economist who foresees doom…

…Simon Lee Siu-po, an honorary fellow at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Asia-Pacific Institute of Business, said the US retailer’s plans would deal a severe blow to Hong Kong’s supermarket chains and online shopping platform HKTVmall.

“Sam’s Club’s offering is bulk purchase with cheap deals. With online shopping and delivery for Hongkongers, they no longer need to stock up food or necessities in local stores,” he said.

“Supermarkets and online platform HKTVmall will be hard hit. Coupled with internal troubles, this will be an aggression from abroad. I am afraid this will cause a retail crisis in Hong Kong.”

It gets weirder. He has a surprising proposal…

Wong said the only way to safeguard the retail industry was to introduce sales tax.

“With the sales tax, the government can increase its revenue and protect the local industry,” he said.

Obviously, this guy is a member of Hong Kong’s treasure-cartels-screw-consumers school of economics. But I still don’t see how a sales tax can help even the all-important supermarket duopoly. The SCMP reporter naturally questioned him on this but ha ha, only kidding, of course she didn’t.

Also in the SCMP – Justice Secretary calls on Google to declare whether it will now help ban Glory to Hong Kong…

Secretary for Justice Paul Lam Ting-kwok on Sunday called on Google to “keep its word” from past discussions with authorities and remove links to “Glory to Hong Kong” – considered the unofficial anthem of the 2019 anti-government protests – from search results.

Authorities last year said Google had declined to take down the links unless it saw a court order that deemed the song’s distribution breached the city’s laws.

“All business corporations have to walk the talk. We are eagerly expecting their response,” Lam said on a radio show.

“I believe all of us are quite impatient and hope to see it take action as quickly as possible.”

He added the company was required to ensure content on its platform aligned with the city’s laws.

More in the Standard (along with apologies from the weighlifting association boss for calling Hong Kong and Taiwan countries).

The Jamestown Foundation on how Article 23

…violates the laws of other sovereign jurisdictions by claiming global jurisdiction. This is something the HKSAR has used increasingly for its transnational repression…

….it exceeds previous legislation in terms of extraterritorial impact. Extraterritoriality is baked into the SNSO’s legal framework. Sections of the law pertaining to Treason (Section 14), Insurrection (Section 16), Incitement, Sedition (Section 28), Offenses in connection with State Secrets (Section 40), Espionage (Section 48), Sabotage (Section 51), and External Interference (Section 57) all make clear that offenses committed by HKSAR citizens or bodies outside of the HKSAR violate the SNSO.

The vague and ambiguous application of the SNSO, alongside the deteriorating rule of law, can increase risks for foreign businesses in the HKSAR. Many businesses are still debating how to interpret the SNSO. Anticipated additional costs for liability and compliance evaluation are resulting in consultancies avoiding HKSAR government projects altogether due to the legislation’s vague definition of “state secrets”…

HKFP takes a trip to Sha Tau Kok.

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In Japan for the coming week…

Will probably Tweet a few things. Some reading from the last few days…

One month after the Article 23 NatSec Law came into effect, there have been no arrests. The SCMP gets an explanation…

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a top government adviser, said: “No matter how hard you explain, critics from the West always accuse Hong Kong of lacking a democratic system and of using the law to suppress dissent.”

…he said the government knew the law could not be used frequently or it would just “fulfil Western prophecies”.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The only thing the government can do is to be judicious in handling relevant cases. Prosecute only if absolutely necessary,” he said.

“The next one to two years are key. If the government needs to use this law, it means unstable elements still persist in society.”

…the Hong Kong government has shifted its strategy towards a “softer, reactive” approach, according to a senior official who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity.

“The goal is to redirect the narrative to focus more on the economy, instead of issuing further warnings [related to the law],” he said.

It sort of sounds like someone is listening to complaints from some pro-government circles about non-stop paranoid ranting (‘you might be arrested for having an old newspaper!’). This is about the narrative, at least. As the story points out, the Article 23 Law will impact existing/future NatSec prisoners, by reducing their chances of early release for good conduct.

Would redirecting the narrative mean fewer/milder angry press releases? A selection of letters from the Hong Kong government to the WSJ. (A framed copy to hang in the Singapore office might be a suitable farewell gift.) 

Cartoonist Zunzi wins the Kofi Annan Courage in Cartooning Award…

Zunzi was dismissed by his newspaper in 2023, three years after China adopted national security laws that have reshaped Hong Kong’s arts, culture and media. Officials complained his images were “distorting and unethical”.

Zunzi, born in Hong Kong in 1955, began his career as a political caricaturist with Ming Pao in 1983.

The paper sacked him last year after months of criticism from officials and attacks on freedom of expression, the [Freedom Cartoonists Foundation] said.

The authorities complained his drawings displayed “sanctimonious humour that damages Hong Kong’s image”.

His books and albums are banned from public libraries.

(Fantasizing about being arrested for ‘sanctimonious humour’. I would die happy.)

In the Hongkonger – Steve Vines’ thoughts on the slapping-down of Paul Tse as the inevitable fate of a disposable loyalist, including comments on Carrie Lam …

This explains why … Beijing … unceremoniously dumped Carrie Lam as Hong Kong chief executive after her usefulness had expired. Lam was installed in office because she was malleable and seemed able to do the job. But she presided over the biggest street protests in Chinese history and allowed an unforgivable act of civil resistance to linger for months.

The fact that she was only carrying out orders made things worse, because if the Communist Party were to have admitted there was something wrong with the orders, it would have undermined the credibility of the regime.

An important point. Many people seem convinced that Lam decided to introduce the extradition bill that led to the 2019 protests, so it was all her fault. As a measure concerning Mainland and Taiwan relations, it was purely under Beijing’s authority.

The SCMP looks at China’s ability to escape the ‘middle-income trap’, and (sort of answering the question) whether it matters… 

China’s GDP was about 65 per cent of the US last year, but per-capita GDP in the latter country was still 6.48 times higher.

Rural residents – who account for a third of the Chinese population – had a disposable income of over 21,000 yuan (US$2,897) in 2023, around 42 per cent of what their urban counterparts enjoyed.

In the longer term, China faces an even greater challenge to achieving its goal of becoming a “moderately developed country” by 2035, said Xia Chun, chief economist at Forthright Holdings Co. In terms of per-capita GDP, it is currently ranked 71st in the world, immediately following Costa Rica.

…If China uses the current per-capita GDP of Spain and Saudi Arabia as the standard for being “moderately developed” – US$30,000 in 2022 – it will need a compound annual growth rate of 6.8 per cent in the years leading up to 2035 to hit the mark, a milestone Xia said would be “very difficult” to reach.

Definitions of ‘middle-income’ vary. But the reality is that very few countries ever make the transition to the Spain-plus wealthy tier. Apart from oil sheikdoms and city-states, the only countries to manage it since World War II include Portugal, Spain, Greece, South Korea, Taiwan and – barely – Chile. Some Eastern European countries like Estonia and Slovenia are getting there. 

The determinant is productivity, which in turn means a high level of education among most of the population. Then institutions and governance. So ‘very difficult’ sounds about right.

The FT asks why Xi Jinping is ‘afraid to unleash China’s consumers’. Mainly because yet more supply-side measures guarantee higher short-term GDP growth. But…

Ideology and geopolitics also play roles. For Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, the greater the control his country exerts over global supply chains, the more secure he feels, particularly as tensions rise with the US, analysts argue. This leads to an emphasis on investment, particularly in technology, rather than consumption.

…“China is responsible for one-third of global production but one-tenth of global demand, so there’s a clear mismatch,” US secretary of state Antony Blinken said in Beijing last week.

Michael Pettis (quoted in the article) adds

The Chinese economy has locked itself into a system in which every economic problem is met by supply-side policies that expand investment or, more precisely, that force households to increase their indirect transfers to investment and manufacturing.

…the article cites Renda’s Liu Zhiqin as saying: “The conflicts in Europe and currently in the Middle East have repeatedly proven the importance of maintaining a robust manufacturing capacity and ample inventory.”

He may be right, but Beijing seems surprised that the US, the EU, India, Japan and the rest of the world might think the same way, and so refuse to lose manufacturing capacity to satisfy China’s need to resolve its weak domestic demand by further expanding manufacturing.

That’s the problem facing China: everyone can’t expand or maintain its share of global manufacturing at the same time, but expanding its share of global manufacturing is the least bad investment option for China if it wants to maintain high GDP growth rates.

Not helping – Chinese housewives are forming clubs to encourage saving…

In February this year, Ms Zhuo joined several online saving groups, with most members being women aged between 20 and 40. Every day, they log their budget and expenses. They also help to stop each other from making impulse purchases.

Ms Zhuo says that one member was tempted to buy a luxury bag that cost 5,000 yuan ($690; £560) but after talking to other women in the group settled for a much cheaper, second-hand bag.

She is surprised so many others are doing the same, and says she feels a sense of camaraderie with her saving partners. Just a month after teaming up with a partner, she says her spending was down by 40%. She now aims to save 100,000 yuan this year.

From Safeguard Defenders – China pursues a dissident in exile in Italy…

In March-April of this year, threats against his parents become more prominent again, with one account threatening his parents will be detained if he does not return to China voluntarily and warning of repercussions if he were to share the messages received. Simultaneously, deeply insulting memes and comments about his parents are posted across social media accounts and in response to Li’s posts. 

From Politico – Michael Kovrig on being held hostage in China (scroll down)…

They are obsessed with the United States. They are paranoid about the United States. And if it were possible to have multiple interpretations of why the U.S. did something in particular, you can pretty much assume that they will take the most negative possible interpretation. They view the U.S. government as unrelentingly hostile towards the party state.

The Leninist obsession with control, the need to control everything is hardwired into the system. XI JINPING is very powerful and very important. But we need to think of him as also being strapped into a giant, bureaucratic authoritarian machine. And he’s trying to get that machine to do what he wants. But he himself is a prisoner of that system as well. None of those people can get out of that system. Xi Jinping can’t safely retire. He can’t just go and say, “You know what? I’m done. I’m going to go live in Tahiti.” None of them can get out of that machine. And so they are all just trying to survive inside that machine.

China Law and Policy interview with author Ian Johnson on China’s ‘underground historians – idealistic, charming and courageous characters who are trying to document China’s true history’.

And a preview of the state banquet for the inauguration of Lai Ching-te as Taiwan’s new President on May 20. Sadly, few details of the menu. I can see what looks like braised fish, shrimp and a salad, plus perhaps one mixed seafood, one pork and one beef dish, and a very murky soup, possibly with a mushroom in it. And fruit and an ice pop for dessert. Bubble tea?

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Things to manage expectations about

Hong Kong should manage expectations of sub-par fireworks displays. This follows a ‘scaled down’ damp-squib event amid bad weather on May 1, which disappointed Mainland tourists, who…

…mockingly called the display a “smoke show” after it fogged up the skyline.

It looks likely that the ‘green bag’ waste-charging scheme will be postponed yet again. The logic is that, while postponement will damage the government’s standing, going ahead with the originally April, then August plan would hurt its reputation even more…

…two sources said the government could postpone the plan for months, if not years, in the name of the low participation rate in the trial, more time for preparing for the relevant facilities and public education.

Maybe we could all be cheered up by a Denise Ho concert. But that’s not going to happen either. The star isn’t allowed out of Hong Kong, and local venues won’t accept bookings – though tickets would sell out in minutes – because the janitor’s cat has a dentist’s appointment…

Police are currently in possession of the singer’s passport as she was arrested on charges of sedition in connection with the 2021 Stand News trial. She was also arrested on charges of suspected “collusion with foreign powers” in 2022…

And the Wall Street Journal is moving much of its Hong Kong operations to Singapore. The editor-in-chief wrote to staff…

We are shifting our center of gravity in the region from Hong Kong to Singapore, as many of the companies we cover have done. Consequently, some of our colleagues, mostly in Hong Kong, will be leaving us. It is difficult to say goodbye, and I want to thank them for the contributions they have made to the Journal.

A new book: Pandemic Minds – COVID-19 and Mental Health in Hong Kong by Kate Whitehead…

This eye-opening book tells the stories of ordinary Hongkongers who faced extraordinary challenges during the pandemic. Through a blend of first-person accounts, psychological insights, and hard data, it offers a compelling and accessible exploration of the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on mental health in Hong Kong.

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Mainland tourists boost, er, Shenzhen

Not just Hongkongers, but Mainland tourists coming here are going to Shenzhen for the evening…

…a group of tourists planned to visit Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok to take photos, and then go to Shenzhen to stay overnight as Hong Kong hotels are costly.

“We will go back to Shenzhen at night, but we may come again on Friday,” one of them said. “The price of a hotel room in Shenzhen is just a third of that in Hong Kong. That’s a huge difference.”

Hong Kong Tourism Instructors Association chairman Lam Chi-tin said … “The number of inbound tour groups has dropped from over 300 per day before to about 100 to 200 now,” Lam said, adding the period of stay has also decreased to two nights, from three to four nights in the past.

“More tour groups even choose not to stay overnight, which has affected the income of tour guides, resulting in difficulties in attracting new blood to the industry.”

A Reuters story quotes a number of small business owners lamenting poor business in post-Covid/NatSec Hong Kong…

Businesses describe shopping malls as “dead”, with low foot traffic and shops covered with “for lease” or “coming up soon” signs.

Edmund Wong, an accountancy sector lawmaker, told the city’s legislature last Friday that more than 20,000 companies had deregistered in the first quarter of 2024, up more than 70% from the same period last year.

Simon Wong, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, told public broadcaster RTHK that he estimated around 200-300 restaurants had closed over the past month, a trend he expects to continue.

…”…prices in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and even Changsha have hardly changed much  [said Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura]. But in Hong Kong … We have found that the price difference has widened, which has encouraged Hong Kong people to go north for consumption.”

After Hong Kong reopened its border post-pandemic with China last year, the Tourism Board recorded a 38.9% drop in mainland visitors in 2023, compared with 2019 before the pandemic.

Spending by same-day mainland tourists plunged 36.4% in 2023, dropping from an average of HK$2,200 per person in 2019 to HK$1,400 after the border reopened last year.

The government tries hard to keep rents as high as possible, yet also crams the place full of tourists who can’t afford to come here.

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No new mindset, please

More Hong Kong cultural facilities are closing: the President Theatre in Causeway Bay, and concert and other spaces at the KITEC building in Kowloon Bay. And developers might scrap a planned non-profit performing arts space at a new project in Causeway Bay…

…last month, [Hysan and Chinachem] announced that they could be forced to drop the cultural space in favour of a park because the Lands Department will charge a commercial land premium for an arts and cultural venue. 

The cinema will presumably become stores selling luxury garbage no-one wants, while KITEC will be replaced by office blocks, as if we don’t have enough empty office space already. And developers apparently panting with desperation to promote culture should always be treated with suspicion.

But the three stories are a reminder of the never-ending absurdity of making space as expensive as possible. The Caroline Road case specifically reminds us that it is hard to have ‘nice things’ in Hong Kong urban areas because the government requires developers to pay land-development rights – ‘premiums’ – for attractive features or facilities. 

One small but illustrative example is a walkway from a large office block over a multi-lane highway to a shopping mall in Admiralty, which in turn links to more walkways to other parts of the district. Rather than just walking directly into the mall, users must go down outdoor stairs, into the mall’s street-level entrance, then back up an escalator to continue elsewhere. The landlord (I heard) refused to build an entrance off the walkway because the government demanded a premium. 

The premium serves as an up-front, one-off tax on the increased profits the landlord could earn. In the Admiralty case, there are no profits, nor tax revenue – just inconvenience for pedestrians. The obvious answer would be to simply collect recurrent taxes on higher profits as the landlord makes them. But bureaucrats are obsessed with collecting big premiums (which, perversely, are earmarked for infrastructure projects, however unnecessary.)

Because of this, bureaucrats see concessions on premiums as a subsidy, which in effect they are; not surprisingly, developers have a long tradition of abusing such giveaways. For example, the government offers a lower premium, but in return the developer must provide some public space – and then when the new building is opened, that space is mysteriously hard to find and/or leased out to a business. Bureaucrats and developers are trapped in a cycle of urban-planning assholery, and Hongkongers end up with a nasty living environment. (We’ll leave the Transport Bureau to one side here.)

When they’re not issuing blood-curdling warnings about national-security threats in our midst, senior local and Beijing officials insist Hong Kong must ‘focus on the economy’ and embrace a ‘new mindset’. Every time, I wait to hear how they will abandon this stupid land policy. Because if you really want to reinvigorate the economy, you need to break away from the system that lets landlords capture so much of the wealth – and that’s where you’d start. Until then, talk of focus and mindsets is empty.

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Those so-called press releases

HKFP op-ed on the so-called smears wantonly slandering despicable shameless and malicious hypocrisy that’s doomed to fail in government press releases responding to overseas criticism of NatSec laws…

The new language began creeping into Hong Kong official communications in July 2019…

The change in the government’s official language requires an explanation. I speculate that the central authorities now require it of official Hong Kong communication on some topics in some situations.

Either that or Ronald the Deputy Sub-Assistant Government Information Services Officer scratched his head one day and thought ‘hmm – let’s try this’. 

Either way, the startlingly excessive language does not exactly convey cool confidence. The article quotes Regina Ip as having misgivings about the enraged warrior-like wording, which is especially frequent in English-language press statements. (Reg studied Elizabethan literature for her Master’s degree, so is better qualified than most in this field.) She speculates that foreign criticism might die down after the Jimmy Lai trial comes to end. This sounds almost like an implicit admission of unease about that prosecution. In the original Ming Pao interview (here), she also says… 

“…It is important for you [the media] to report whether we (legislative council members) spoke or raised our hands,” stressing that the council should not be lazy because there is no opposition.

Another – explicit – admission of the current state of things.

Sean Tierny in the Hongkonger looks back at the 1990 Mainland-cop-in-Hong-Kong comedy film Her Fatal Ways, starring Do Do Cheng. It was a different time…

…members of a Chinese delegation to Hong Kong complained that the film, “a comedy mocking characters of the PRC public security bureau”, was “allowed to be shown”.

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Focusing on the economy

The Audit Commission finds some easy pickings: public bodies failing to include NatSec provisions in their paperwork…

The watchdog said the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education (HKAGE), an NGO fully funded by the government, had not established any measures to safeguard national security.

Such measures were also missing from…

…Hongkong’s Post contracts with stamp designers, the Department of Health’s contracts with an institution to provide dental services for the elderly, and the Transport Department’s contracts for buses for rehabilitation services.

Director of Audit Nelson Lam said in an interview with Ming Pao in February that some government departments and public organisations “completely disregarded” the national security law after it was enacted.

Good to see we are alert to national security threats lurking among providers of dental services to the elderly.

RFA on patriotism in Hong Kong schools…

…Teachers at [a NT] school have been warned “not to directly or indirectly encourage or acquiesce in students’ participation in any off-campus political activities,” according to the report, a copy of which is available on the school’s website.

…The Kowloon Technical College has also been checking its library, and has banned seven books, according to its report for last academic year.

“On March 15-16, 2023, the vice principal, director of reading promotion and the library director inspected the library collection and found a total of seven books containing political propaganda,” the report said.

The Christian Alliance Cheng Wing Gee College requires its teachers to upload any teaching materials to the school’s intranet for approval before using them in class, while teachers are focusing on “boosting national and ethnic pride” as a natural part of the day-to-day curriculum, according to its report.

Meanwhile, students at the Tai Po Baptist Public School have been attending Chinese national flag-raising ceremonies on designated days to establish “correct values ​​and patriotic feelings.”

…Students who are deemed to have violated national security laws, which include clauses forbidding public criticism of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, or any non-critical mention of the pro-democracy movement, will be counseled, punished or have their parents called in, depending on the seriousness of the alleged offense, the reports said.

And the government responds at great length to more foreign criticism of the Article 23 law…

…strongly opposed the so-called resolution adopted by the European Parliament against Hong Kong, and strongly condemned the Parliament for making baseless allegations about Hong Kong and smearing the Hong Kong National Security Law (NSL) and the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance (the Ordinance)…

…”…the Parliament has demonstrated typical political hegemony and hypocrisy with double standards.”

…”Following the successful enactment of the Ordinance, the shortcomings in the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for the HKSAR to safeguard national security are addressed. We must once again emphasise that the Ordinance is a piece of legislation to defend against external forces that endanger our national security, acting like a sturdier door and a more effective door lock to defend our home. The HKSAR Government strongly urges the European Parliament to stop smearing and interfering in Hong Kong affairs which are internal affairs of China and ensure that their remarks concerning the NSL and the Ordinance are fair and just, and stop making scaremongering remarks”… 

Over two years after being arrested, Chow Hang-tung, Albert Ho, and Lee Cheuk-yan hear that their trial for ‘inciting subversion of state power’ (June 4 vigil) will not take place until next year. Chow and Lee have been in jail the whole time.

A little weekend reading…

Asia Review of Books on a new work about the original Chinese TV chef.

And the Diplomat looks at moves to replace Mongolia’s Cyrillic alphabet – introduced by the USSR – with its pre-1940s Bichig, derived from a Uighur alphabet that had common ancestry with Arabic and Hebrew scripts. The writer sees this as strengthening cultural ties with China (though Beijing has been replacing Mongolian and Uighur with Chinese in its own ethnic-minority schools)…

On the whole, the history of Mongolian script reform and official foreign language education is not about a natural process of cultural evolution, but an artificial political project. Political decisions ultimately determine the type of alphabet to be used. In the long run, then, Ulaanbaatar’s efforts to strengthen the restoration of bichig while promoting English education may directly or indirectly affect Moscow’s and Beijing’s policies toward Mongolia.

The first thing I see this morning on Twitter – in other words, the first thing I see this morning – is a newspaper cover. A vivid reminder of the glorious horror that is a free press, and specifically of Apple Daily. The Daily Star (Scotland edition), with the headlines: ‘Greasy fry-ups will turn us into zombies’, ‘Britain’s hardest seagull is a wuss’, and ‘All you’ll ever need to know about marshmallows’ – plus an ad for discount Coca Cola.

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