The weekend’s NatSec

Embarrassingly over-eager law-enforcement NatSec idiocy so far… Marking the 1911 Revolution is banned as an expression of Taiwan separatism. Prisons ban hairpins and M&M chocolate for potentially fomenting subversion among inmates. The Customs chief is after lobsters, provocatively waving their nasty anti-China claws round and round.

And now, the police bar runners in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon having shorts (or tattoos) bearing the words ‘Hong Kong Add Oil’ – a slogan used by everyone to encourage local athletes in the Olympics. Indeed, it suggests here that police were stopping anyone displaying just the words ‘Hong Kong’, despite the event’s official title.

Even minor day-to-day activities must be intensely politicized in the name of eradicating an open-ish political system.

A barrister on the government’s move to deny defendants in criminal cases using legal aid the right to choose their own lawyers – thus ‘state-appointed’ defence lawyers. Put this into the context of vaguely drafted NatSec laws, politicized prosecutions, NatSec judges and plans for mega-courts, and you have a 99% conviction rate for people accused of thought crimes. 

A not-creepy-at-all extract from a Hong Kong primary school textbook encouraging ethnic consciousness in Mandarin.

And the relentless positive energy continues with an FT (paywall) report suggesting that Hong Kong could continue its extreme quarantine regime for another 13 months…

A significant outbreak in China or Hong Kong would also be politically sensitive, as Beijing prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February and President Xi Jinping seeks to secure a third term in power later next year. Hong Kong will also hold a leadership election in March and mark 25 years since the handover from British to Chinese rule of the city in July. 

“We’re effectively deciding Hong Kong will become a Chinese city,” said the Asia-Pacific chief executive of a $60bn asset manager.

Posted in Blog | 12 Comments

Customs shows claws in crustacean crackdown

Fearsome new Customs Commissioner Louise Ho (seems Hermes has gone) is on a mission to protect the glorious motherland from subversive lobsters. She explains…

“On the face of it, it’s just a normal smuggling case, smuggling lobsters. But actually these smuggling activities would undermine the country’s trade restrictions on Australia. Therefore, tackling lobster smuggling activities is an important task in safeguarding national security.”

This is like Security Secretary PK Tang’s confusion of 1911 Revolution commemorations with Taiwan independence. It seems disciplined services chiefs are so robotic and/or uninformed in enforcing the NatSec Law that they attack irrelevant targets. Beijing has put up barriers against Australian goods like lobsters – against WTO rules – to express frustration and rage at not being obeyed by a smaller regional state, not as a measure to protect the nation from harm.

More evidence that Commissioner Louise is taking things way too seriously… 

…officers will be on the alert for people resorting to ‘soft resistance’ to spread messages endangering national security, through books, magazines or everyday items.

Can she give examples of books that threaten the PRC’s national security? Is Hong Kong going to join Saudi Arabia and a few other select places where men in uniforms flick through arriving passengers’ copies of, say, The Economist in search of offending articles to cut out? Excuse me sir – do you have any ‘soft resistance’ in your luggage?

Elsewhere in NatSec regime… How the CCP deals with free elections: overturn the result. The pan-dems won over 380 of 450 elected seats in the last district council polls; after various measures to disqualify or otherwise get rid of them, there are now just 60 left. Some of the councils themselves now have so few members that they are defunct. 

The only candidates you may now vote for are people who support rigged elections in which you have no choice.

More disqualifications, because a Leninist system can never have too much control: Beijing is also tightening its grip on already-subservient Macau.

Some weekend reading…

George Magnus on China’s property-market woes.

The BBC on ‘Ziganwu’ – China’s young xenophobic patriots…

More recently, top medical expert Zhang Wenhong became a target… A suggestion that children should drink milk for breakfast was taken as a sign that he was rejecting traditional Chinese breakfast – and values. “Isn’t this too much worship of the West and fawning over foreigners?” wrote Pingminwangxiaoshi.

(This just in: Commissioner Louise orders Customs officers to intercept all boxes of cornflakes entering Hong Kong.)

How Taiwan is making itself more popular around the world, partly with China’s help.

From Taiwan Insight – the politics of Hong Kong immigration in the UK and Taiwan. Interesting comparisons.

Posted in Blog | 8 Comments

External forces get beastly about NatSec Law

Carrie Lam is shocked to find that the NatSec Law has harmed Hong Kong’s image. External forces and media, she says, refuse to believe our version of the story and insist that the Law reduces human rights and freedoms. The government must explain its work better.

Meanwhile, almost as if he is taking instructions from someone other than the official head of the executive branch, the Security Secretary is threatening to arrest and prosecute disciplined services officers who allegedly mocked the death of a police officer in the line of duty. There is plainly no law against bad taste, but PK Tang says: ‘…there are other laws in place that can deal with “inappropriate information” and sedition’.

Small wonder that ‘external forces’ are watching and commenting. The latest example is Georgetown Law’s comparative analysis of the Tong Ying-kit NatSec flag-waving/’terrorism’ trial. Go to page 28 for the relatively pithy conclusion.

The NatSec regime invites ridicule. Look at the expert testimony given by a pro-Beijing professor at the trial of ‘Fast Beat’ Tam Tak-chi for allegedly uttering seditious words (reports here and here)… 

Lingnan University Professor Lau Chi-pang on Monday told the District Court that “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times” or “Hongkongers, add oil” were capable of inciting others to break the law depending on the circumstances of their use. The latter phrase is a Cantonese expression of encouragement.

…The professor maintained that expressions such as “Hongkongers, add oil” and “no rioters but tyranny” – a reference to the government’s classification of certain 2019 protests as riots – could have breached the law if they were used during the chaos outside the liaison office.

The NatSec Law does not apply to everyone. Huang Xiang-mo colluded with Australian politicians, and now turns up on Hong Kong’s ‘Election Committee’ as a representative of ‘grassroots’ – which is quite an achievement for a billionaire property developer. As it says here

Jeremy Tam was denied bail because the US consulate in Hong Kong emailed him about a coffee. He didn’t respond. Claudia Mo was denied bail because she texted reporters. Huang delivered bags of cash to foreign politicians but is a good patriot.

From the same author, Atlantic on the hypocrisy of Hong Kong’s shoe-shiner/quisling milieu… 

These officials, politicians, and commentators employ a combination of historical revisionism, double standards, gaslighting, and whataboutisms … The messages they push, delivered straight-faced, beggar belief: A less representative election is actually more democratic; Hong Kong has never been as safe and stable, but the threat of terrorism has never been more dire; even as organization after organization is forced to close, civil society is as vibrant as ever.

There are the cheerleaders for patriotic state education who send their own children to international private schools and sit on the boards of universities overseas, and the elites whose family members reside in the same countries that they allege meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs. And there are the law-enforcement leaders who claim that the U.S. is trying to destroy Hong Kong but know the enemy well, many having studied there or even trained with the FBI.

My one quibble would be describing these shoe-shiners as a ‘ruling class’. Most have no more political power than the rest of the population, though they often hold symbolic titles and positions.

The article touches on the reasons why formerly decent liberal-minded people have become apologists for an authoritarian regime. As it says, for many (including businessmen, obviously), becoming an instant-noodle patriot loyalist is the only choice if you want your company or job to be safe. It’s also the default option for bores who simply crave the social status of ceremonial positions like Executive Council (‘government advisor’ to the gullible). But there must also be some who are essentially being blackmailed.

Speaking of the NatSec regime being easy to ridicule – and for fans of goose-step marching – HKFP’s op-ed on the Prussian-Nazi-Soviet-PLA foot drill (from 2018, when the idea of Mainland officials telling the Hong Kong police how to march seemed disturbingly intrusive).

Posted in Blog | 15 Comments

And the Whistle of Honour goes to…

It’s barely Wednesday, but it looks like we already have a winner for this week’s Pass The Sick Bag Prize: Hong Kong Customs Commissioner Hermes Tang, who declares… 

It is an honour and yet a grave responsibility to be a member of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR. I have a particular deep feeling in holding the capacity and must express my sincerest gratitude to the Central Government.

(I have a particular deep feeling that the ‘and yet’ in the first sentence is a bit odd.)

Of course, there’s more (the Pass The Sick Bag isn’t that easy to win). Commissioner Hermes goes on at far greater length – more than the most verbose or literary of us could manage even if we were paid – on the adoption of that oh-so elegant Mainland-style goose-step marching for his staff’s parades…

The Chinese-style foot drill has long been a shining icon of our country in the international community. It is also a spiritual outlook that our 1.4 billion compatriots are proud of. Good practice of the Chinese-style foot drill helps in better integrating ourselves into the country’s governance system and enriching the exercise of ‘one country, two systems’. Apart from spreading a positive message to members of the public, it also adds a vibrant colour of patriotism to the city.

Now read each sentence again carefully, and each time ask yourself whether it is true, or even logical. Really Hermes?

That’s just a small portion of a lavish bout of patriotic NatSec-era shoe-shining – though this is not so unusual among the disciplined services, who take orders, and everything else, literally.

Hermes is shown on the right presenting the Whistle of Honour (I wish I’d made that up, but no) to the best recruit. “Don’t blow it all at once,” he said. Maybe.

At the other end of the rhetorical scale… Several CUKH students have been sentenced for rioting in 2019. One, nursing student Foo Hoi-ching, wrote a defiant letter to the judge – a translation here.

From rhetoric to semantics… another Hong Kong court hears an expert’s view on how, based on 1,900-year-old Eastern Han Dynasty texts, ‘Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times’ might be a seditious slogan.

Tam Tak-chi, nicknamed “Fast Beat,” appeared in the District Court before Judge Stanley Chan on Monday … People in the public gallery made heart hand gestures and … shouted “You’re so handsome” to Tam, who at one point waved, pulled down his mask and smiled back.

Posted in Blog | 17 Comments

Will she pull through? City waits with bated breath

Too sick with worry to do anything today. Just sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the latest news from Queen Mary’s. She should have asked someone to help her pull those suitcases full of cash up the stairs to the store room after every payday – but too stubborn, of course.

Posted in Blog | 22 Comments

What the shoe-shiners did this weekend

Tam Yiu-chung, a ‘delegate’ due to attend a meeting of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, is told to stay at home. The reason is Beijing’s fear of (or need to appear hyper-alarmed about) a single untraceable Covid case in Hong Kong. As his peremptory treatment shows, the NPCSC simply serves as a rubber stamp, and Tam’s role is purely ceremonial.

Another victim of Mainland cancellations is Carrie Lam, who has been asked not to bother attending a meeting between Shenzhen officials and, er, Carrie Lam. The cadres are too busy for her. It was supposed to be about the Northern Metropolis Technopole Hub-Zone.

Which brings us rather neatly to Regina Ip, who echoes my thoughts on the ideological incorrectness of the Lantau Tomorrow Mega-Reclamation Project as a Hong Kong-centric plan at odds with the New Territories-cum-Shenzhen Cross-Border Merged Technopole Integration Vision. Reg also takes the opportunity to casually mention the possibility that Carrie will not serve a second term.

(Do I feel an ‘I told you so’ moment coming? In 2018 I called the Lantau thing ’too preposterous to be real’, said that ‘If the Lantau reclamation boondoggle had Beijing’s blessing at this stage, it would just happen – no debate or lobbying necessary’, and droned on about my ‘nagging feeling that this absurd idea isn’t going to happen and isn’t really intended to happen’. If I was right, all the lovely Peng Chau residents foreseeing the death of their island can relax and drink a toast to the Greater Bay Area.)

Back with the shoe-shiners’ weekend – former CE CY Leung leaps on the Mayer Brown HKU bandwagon…

“I call on Chinese state-owned institutions in Hong Kong, all universities funded by the Hong Kong government, and Chinese clients with dignity to boycott Mayer Brown. I invite law firms who are not under the influence of foreign powers in Hong Kong to actively represent this client [HKU],” Leung said.

Far away from all this grovelling, some very forthright extracts from American lawyer Samuel Bickett’s interview with Citizen News

Since the 2019 demonstrations, no police have been prosecuted. Whether it’s my case or the case of a cop driving a motorcycle through a crowd, or attacking a pregnant woman, or pepper spraying someone for no reason, the DOJ should have easily been able to prosecute the officers.

On the intimidation and closure of prisoners charity Wall-fare…

What the hell are the police and the security bureau thinking? I just don’t understand, did [Security Secretary] Chris Tang’s mother not love him enough as a child? What happened to him?

Posted in Blog | 8 Comments

HK’s Covid bind

Epidemiologist Ben Cowling is undergoing quarantine in Hong Kong and commenting on the procedures – here, then here.

An interesting and worrying summary (not sure if it’s by Prof Cowling – link here) of the bind Hong Kong is in

By the end of October, nearly 500000 people in Hong Kong will have been fully vaccinated for 6 months or more …  This translates to a possible decrease in immunity for this population. The HKSARG needs to use the time it has now … by making boosters available (to everyone who wants them, not just lawmakers)… Otherwise when the next wave comes (and it is more likely ‘when’ than ‘if’), it will be a disaster of epic proportions.

More on the timing side of things here. Main problem is the low vaccination rate among the elderly, about which we hear plenty of explanations but no solutions. (How about this? Send every one of them a letter stating ‘Dear valued elderly, You have three months to get vaccinated. Then the city opens up. If you are not vaccinated, you will possibly die – but that will be your choice. Thank you for your attention. PS, there’s a HK$100 Park N Shop coupon in it for you.’) 

Also…

Draconian quarantine measures in Hong Kong have exposed risks of awful and unhygienic hotel accommodation, getting food poisoning and getting infected while in quarantine (at least 2 documented in Hong Kong).

Some weekend reading…

A legal academic asks how Hong Kong courts should treat the NatSec Law with regard to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

HKFP op-ed on the ‘normal’ to which Hong Kong has returned.

Atlantic on that increasingly popular subject – why the US shouldn’t exaggerate China’s might.

If China’s policy makers can successfully pivot their economy to be a more productive and dynamic one, the risk to Washington is real. If, however, it turns out that China is more like Evergrande—a glossy growth story with a rotten core—then Beijing’s ambitions will unravel, much like the property company’s.

Great profile from Palladium on Xi Jinping’s chief engineer of human souls, low-profile Politburo member and ideologist Wang Huning, who is responsible for today’s anti-decadence anti-individualism drive – fighting video games, gay rights activism, celebrity-worship and so on. I didn’t realize he was also behind Jiang Zemin’s ‘Three Represents’ and Hu Jintao’s ‘Harmonious Society’ slogan-initiatives.

[Wang’s] worst fear has become reality: the “unstoppable undercurrent of crisis” he identified in America seems to have successfully jumped the Pacific. Despite all his and Xi’s success in draconian suppression of political liberalism, many of the same problems Wang observed in America have nonetheless emerged to ravage China over the last decade as the country progressively embraced a more neoliberal capitalist economic model.

Also related to social engineering: is it necessary to bring warmth to rural single men’s beds? By forcing rural single women into them, obviously. At the same time, nearly half of urban young women plan on not getting married. As if China doesn’t have enough demographic problems. 

And Andrew Batson on how the Leninist system balances – or tries to balance – reform and change with its need to retain control through continuous campaigns and struggles.

The finalists in today’s Soft Power Award: 1) a vid about Taiwan’s first Air Force NCO of African descent; and 2) China’s immensely tasteful Taiwan invasion porn.

After watching Marvel Cinematic Universe movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Korean blockbuster Squid Game (superb set design), my latest modern popular-culture fad indulgence is to take the Devil Noodle challenge – the world’s (allegedly) spiciest instant ramen. Chien-chien in the vid is a wimp, but even lovers of hot food would be wasting their time here. Imagine a junk-food snack with HK Police pepper spray as the main ingredient.

Posted in Blog | 13 Comments

Weather better than Friday’s

Number 8 Signal, which went up over 12 hours before the bad weather hit. It is dangerous to go swimming or sailing off the coast, therefore all offices downtown must close. Can Hong Kong think of a better system than requiring innocent meteorologists to decide, on the basis of atmospheric pressure or precise proximity of a cyclone, whether kids should go to school or not?

Beijing’s Liaison Office conducts a vast opinion-gathering exercise among the Hong Kong community, and gives Carrie Lam a suitably huge list of 500 things to do. Can’t remember them coming to my neighbourhood, but no doubt they canvassed United Front ‘various sectors’. In other words, a facile public performance – the bureaucratic version of PLA soldiers living off snow for a week, or the guy who dangles a block of concrete from his genitals. The Office itself says it aims to give the impression that the central government cares deeply about local people.

The symbolism is also of course designed to humiliate the local administration. Carrie – not fully aware of the scale of the consultation – both welcomes it and implies it’s unnecessary. If Beijing’s officials calculate that they might win a few hearts and minds by slapping the puppets around, they’re probably not wrong.

Some assorted reading for the next few days…

The Hong Kong government takes a break from railing against fake news to spread fake news – on whether disqualified District Council members would be liable to repay past pay and allowances. 

Despite official boasts about attracting overseas companies, a breakdown shows those from the Mainland are rising while the rest are declining.

Neville Sarony dislikes quarantine

So how can 21 days of quarantine be justified for people who have received double vaccination, tested positive for antibodies, undergone PCR tests before being incarcerated and then every three days thereafter?

If the plan is to destroy Hong Kong as an international business centre, it is little less than brilliant. If not, it is dumb.

A Q&A from Owens Trodd medical practice is similarly unimpressed with Hong Kong’s current Covid approach.

To put 21 days in perspective, China kept its two Canadian hostages for nearly three years. For an idea of how inhumanely boring solitary confinement must be, Michael Kovrig is following me on Twitter. (He also follows lots of really interesting people.)

A great interview with Michael Pettis on the future of the Chinese economy if and when it abandons ‘fictitious’ GDP growth…

…it’s very hard to justify an economy that is two thirds the size of the US, with having property that is worth twice as much as US property is worth. It’s not as if US property is cheap. It’s probably too expensive in the US too, which means it’s incredibly expensive in China. 

American Prospect on how Biden can make China trade policy more coherent – opens with a forthright description of Chinese mercantilism.

The undertow against changing course on China remains fierce. Multinationals and big banks profit handsomely from the status quo, and hold enormous influence in domestic politics. Career policymakers are invested in the old model. Most economists and their echo chamber in the media still preach free trade and condemn protectionism and the sin of government “picking winners” when it comes to the U.S., but not on the part of China. The apostles of constructive engagement are loath to admit that they got China wrong. 

Quartz on Beijing’s new regulations banning private capital from news media.

Former Oz PM Tony Abbott ‘dumps on Beijing’ in a speech in Taiwan, saying ‘Australia should not be indifferent to the fate of a fellow democracy of almost 25 million people’. Beijing’s response is that Abbott’s was a ‘despicable and insane performance’.

China Media Project on the Mainland netizens who cheered the news that China has one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world – they thought the gauge of inequality sounded like a matter of national pride.

Posted in Blog | 13 Comments

DP has uncharacteristic fit of sense

The Democratic Party says that none of its members will run in the Legislative Council quasi-elections in December. One or two dinosaurs complain that the party is using its internal nomination process to keep would-be candidates off the ballot – amusing given that Beijing’s NatSec regime has imposed extensive vetting processes to exclude pan-dems from elections. The regime would like one or two ultra-moderate pan-dems to take part for appearances’ sake.

If it had more awareness and substance, the DP would have responded to entreaties to participate in the rigged pseudo-polls by saying it would do so only when and if pan-dem politicians elected in the last polls but now in jail were freed and allowed to run. Instead, the party has focused on its obscure and tiresome internal procedures. 

The fact is that there will be no actual election either to run or vote in. The regime will probably try to pressure a feebler pan-dem or two to run; it might even place a few fake democrats on the ballot. It will also threaten (implausibly) to prosecute anyone urging voters to boycott the elections. I’m sure everyone, when deciding whether to vote, will give due consideration to what the regime wants them to do.

After doing everything possible to push up housing prices since the handover, the Hong Kong government suddenly wants a Singapore-style social-housing system covering 70% of the population. Or, to put it another way, Beijing – after letting Hong Kong governments push up housing prices for 20 years – changes its mind.

The Spectator’s gossip columnist gives Regina Ip a thorough kicking following her recent disparaging of Hongkongers moving to the UK.

Trailer for prize-winning May You Stay Forever Young, by Lam Sum and Rex Ren, set in Hong Kong in 2019. Banned in Hong Kong, of course.

Posted in Blog | 4 Comments

Missing links

An HKFP analysis of what wasn’t in the CE’s Policy Address. Prime example (apart from obvious stuff like representative government) is the barely mentioned Lantau Tomorrow Mega-Vision Reclamation Extravaganza. 

In terms of housing supply, this plan is superfluous if officials decide to utilize border areas more efficiently. A glance at the map also shows why Beijing would be less keen on it: the new urban developments would be adjacent and linked to other, especially core, parts of Hong Kong, far from opportunities for physical or symbolic merger or integration with Mainland districts. From a ‘geo-spacial’ view, filling in the sea between Lantau and Hong Kong Island does the opposite of integration – creating what the geo-politics crowd might call a ‘centripetal force’. Paul Chan suddenly declares a need for a ‘northern growth engine’.

Apart from eight inches of rain on Friday, and five on Saturday – a quick look at the weekend…

Security Secretary PK Tang sends cops out to prevent the celebration of October 10, 1911 on the assumption that the aging KMT loyalists would be expressing support for Taiwan independence. He then rises to the bait and calls for Hongkongers to ‘be prepared’ for the CIA’s healthily publicized new China-focused office. The guy is trying too hard.

John Burns on the fate of the Pillar of Shame and what it means for HKU. Kevin Carrico on the same subject, plus a suggested new slogan to replace Hong Kong’s ‘Asia’s World City’: ‘Pyongyang with better lighting’. He also seems to have identified the Mayer Brown Asia personnel who drafted the anonymous lawyer’s letter to the HK Alliance.

Singapore announces travel-lane arrangements for vaccinated people with the UK, US, France, South Korea and others. A summary of Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong’s speech on moving on from Covid. Can you imagine Carrie Lam being this rational or forthright? Baby God essentially says that, given universal vaccination and booster vaccination shots, the emotional and other strains of Covid restrictions on the whole community outweigh the possible deaths of a small number of elderly.

A brief mention of one reason Taiwan is getting more – and more positive – coverage internationally: more overseas reporters have moved there – because Beijing kicked them out of China. And a good quick thread on how Taiwan became democratized. Note (or consider possible) parallels with Hong Kong’s colonial experience. One interesting angle: the sudden fall of Marcos in the Philippines spurred regimes in Taiwan and South Korea to liberalize their political systems.

Posted in Blog | 6 Comments