Slipping into a new week with some more reading…

HKFP looks at ways of measuring the exodus from Hong Kong – it is impossible to gauge how many are local middle class or overseas ‘expat’ business types, or whether they are leaving because of Beijing’s political clampdown or the government’s onerous Covid restrictions. One telling statistic is departures of students from schools. (Another is perhaps the cost of sending pets overseas.) The number of Mainland immigrants on One-Way Permits has fallen because of Covid. But however you break it down, the stats are a major vote of no-confidence.

More number-crunching from David Webb: the number of people in prison has declined by over a third in the last 20 years, but those on remand have jumped from around 10% to 30% of the total. Samuel Bickett comments that…

In systems that value civil rights and due process, courts deny bail only for, say, alleged murderers and serial rapists.

…while in Hong Kong remand is used to keep political opponents in jail without trial.

The HK Police take delivery of the first of 50 experimental anti-riot buses with opaque windows and tear-gas guns attached to the roof. Is their budget ridiculously bloated, or are they expecting large-scale street protests sometime?

A (paywalled) column in the Economist describes the supposedly democratic process whereby the CCP chooses and promotes members of (mainly rubber-stamp) lower- and national-level Party congresses…

The lists are passed back and forth, up and down the ranks, for further refinement until every province, the armed forces and a handful of other “electoral units” each has its own list of delegates that satisfies the Organisation Department. Despite the party’s role in producing these lists, chosen delegates are still subjected to extensive vetting. This has involved interviews with colleagues, police checks and examination of records relating to everything from tax payments to compliance with family-planning rules. As officials put it, no one is to be selected “carrying sickness”, ie, with a blotted copybook.

If it sounds familiar, it’s the template for the multi-step screening for all-patriot ‘improved’ Hong Kong Legislative Council candidates, with nomination by a group of specially picked insiders, plus a secondary vetting mechanism – and the possibility of being kicked out on an oath-taking technicality.

A UK Daily Mail op-ed on Chinese agent Christine Lee, notably the role played by past British leaders in kowtowing to Beijing and opening the door to United Front influence operations. And an interesting thread with more analysis (fuller version here).

While it is easy for Brits to blame specific former Prime Ministers, universities or business interests, the fact is that up until around 10 years ago nearly everyone from Barack Obama to the Pope agreed sagely that closer relations with Beijing were possible and desirable – and indulged CCP attempts to infiltrate institutions and capture elites. Xi Jinping has done a great job of proving otherwise, even if the Vatican, the WHO, investment banks and some idiot politicians still cling to the ‘partnership and cooperation’ fantasy.

HKFP’s anti-Sedition law shield…

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Simon Cheng on YouTube

Our (not Better) HK Foundation backs away from suggestions it is backing Margaret Chan as next CE. In today’s climate, overtly supporting a possible future CE before Beijing gives the nod could be not just presumptuous but borderline disloyal. Also, Beijing will have to give that nod not only to its pre-selected choice as CE quasi-election winner in late March, but to any designated loser that participates in the farce to create a supposed appearance of competition.

Owen Chow – one of the pan-democrats jailed for 2020 primary election/’subversion’ to be bailed – gets un-bailed, apparently for making comments on social media. 

As well as those pan-dems, many other protesters and activists are being detained for long periods without trial. Samuel Bickett says it’s not a bug but a feature, and introduces us to some of them. 

More recommended viewing and reading for the weekend…

Simon Cheng was the British consulate trade official detained by Mainland security at West Kowloon high-speed rail station in August 2019 and sent back to Shenzhen. YouTube channel LADbible has just interviewed him about his interrogation and torture. (Also worth seeing in this series: a North Korean escapee and an Al-Qaeda infiltrator.)

From Philip Cowley, the Covid hypocrisy of Hong Kong.

China Media Project looks at Chinese state media ‘journalists’ who disguise their roles on social media in order to pass themselves off as genuine independent reporters.

Also from CMP, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s central agency for internet control and regulation, announces its top ten keywords for 2021…

For starters, here are the top three:

1. “Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the CCP” (庆祝中国共产党成立100周年)

2. “Party history study and education” (党史学习教育)

3. “6th Plenum of the 19th CCP Central Committee” (党的十九届六中全会)

The South China Morning Onion recently carried a hopelessly bad op-ed maintaining that Beijing and Taipei share maritime claims. No need to read it (though link provided), but a great thread in response is here. (The US has just commented on the issue.)

A second installment of the Forbes story about Beijing’s under-reporting of Covid numbers.

The UK security service warns against a Hong Kong-born lawyer allegedly working for Beijing in influencing politicians. More on her United Front and other ties here.

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Margaret Chan, Article 23 in resurrection attempts

Former Health Secretary Margaret Chan supposedly wants to be CE, with backing from the Better Hong Kong Foundation. Looks like a desperate attempt by the tycoons to get a buddy into the job to help deflect or dilute Beijing-ordered measures to tackle the housing issue. Obviously the shoe-shiners didn’t get the memo saying that decades of having the middle class’s wealth handed to them on a plate are over. And if the CCP wants a new figurehead to replace Carrie Lam, it won’t go for a genteel 74-year-old ex-WHO matron – the Leninist project needs cold-blooded hatchet-wielders.

On cue, Chief Secretary John Lee issues yet another whiny response to an international publication – this time the Economist for an editorial bad-mouthing the new ‘improved’ election system. The really hip and cool way to handle such criticism would be to ignore it rather than publicize it, but with Beijing’s officials mouth-frothing down your neck, subtlety is not an option. 

Chief Executive Carrie Lam addresses the new all-patriots-some-in-quarantine Legislative Council. She indulges in one of the few things that really get her hot and sticky – a restructuring of government bureaucracies. (But will the rearranged departments still be headed by the same old incompetents? We wait with bated breath.) 

She also announces more NatSec crimes, courtesy of a somewhat overdue ‘Article 23’ law.

No details, obviously, but if we recall the first attempt at Article 23 nearly 20 years ago, replacing colonial-era sedition laws was a key feature. At the time, it was because the offenses were archaic and had fallen into disuse. Now, it will be because they have sprung back to life but carry woefully insufficient British-style namby-pamby sentences of two years. (Will we be revisiting ‘misprision of treason’ too?)

More coverage on the enjoy-it-while-it-lasts resurrected sedition law from Reuters and The Conversation.

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More success in fight against face masks

Only in Hong Kong: people are found guilty and imprisoned for wearing face masks. And the PLA garrison’s new commanding officer is being transferred from anti-terrorism duties in Xinjiang. Despite his likely experience in dealing with facial coverings, this probably won’t mean much in practice, but you are welcome to dwell on the symbolism.

The NatSec regime is coming for another union. The Registry of Trade Unions is casting doubt on the HKWCCU’s legitimacy, as the group has manned street stalls and commented on government policies – the implication being that such activities are nowadays out of bounds for an employees’ rights organization. The pro-Beijing FTU, meanwhile, is free to operate as a political party that runs candidates and issues platforms on policy issues.

Several FTU members will be among the lawmakers assembling for today’s big excitement – the official opening of a new Legislative Council session. The occasion, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam taking questions, should be a triumphal one celebrating the new era of an all-patriots LegCo with no nasty evil elected pro-democrats to be seen. Sadly, around 20 or so incoming legislators are in the dog-house for attending Professor Witman Hung’s birthday bash and likely to be self-quarantining at home. But expect some glowing reports in the government-friendly press tomorrow.

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‘Did I miss anything while I was away?’

Edward Leung will soon get out of prison. Having been inside for the best part of six years, he’s one of the few prominent activists the authorities can’t (in theory) prosecute for activities in 2019-20. The article says he will keep a low profile (sensible) and that he is a ‘reformed’ character (hmm). 

The CCP will keep its eyes on him. It’s even keeping its eyes on Ming Pao – the latest media outlet to incur the wrath of Ta Kung Pao. If a mainstream pro-establishment paper like that is getting a warning shot for not adhering strictly to the official line, you can be sure other Beijing-friendly media will also have to watch their step more carefully. The South China Morning Onion offers a suitably harmonious piece on Witman Hung, the ‘flamboyant’ wine and karaoke fan.

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An ‘improved governance’ weekend

Many of the attendees at Witman Hung’s birthday party – including 30 or so government officials and lawmakers – do only a few hours at Penny’s Bay before being let out to finish quarantine at home. Even this slight brush with real life proves too much for some, with Junius Ho doing his online meltdown (now set to music, given new wording, and otherwise parodied and mocked).

There is some excited speculation that the Witman-gate scandal will crush Carrie Lam’s supposed dreams of ‘re-election’ to Chief Executive. This is fanciful: Beijing will appoint whoever it wants to the post, and it makes little difference who it is when Mainland officials are making the decisions behind the scenes. The CCP might stick with the dutiful and obedient masochist, or it might go for the full anti-charisma option of John Lee. Who cares?

On the other hand, Beijing must surely be concerned that the new ‘improved’ election and governance system is highlighting the respective arrogance and dimwittedness of the ‘elite’ bureaucrats and DAB lawmakers who now monopolize what passes for the political stage.

In the lead-up to 1997, we had top officials like (to pluck some from hazy memory) Anson Chan, Piers Jacobs, Libby Wong, Haider Barma, etc. They weren’t perfect, but at least they took pride in their work and – perhaps more important – in Hong Kong. Today’s ministers are clearly less competent, but also more contemptuous of public opinion (which is itself now more informed and demanding than 30 years ago).

Hong Kong’s most popular elected representatives – ranging from Eddie Chu Hoi-dick to Claudia Mo to Long Hair – are in prison, essentially for having brains, principles and ideas. The new Legislative Council now comprises nothing but ‘patriotic’ shoe-shiners with fake degrees, thuggish manners, and an embarrassing lack of smarts.

Beijing must realize this adds up to a highly visible legitimacy problem. For example

What do mainland state-controlled media really think of HK’s new political class? Qin Feng, broadcaster once praised by Wen Jiabao: “How did idiot Witman Hung get here? I first met him 6 years ago and I hated him, slimy tongue and face of an opportunist” 

(While we’re at it, try hilarious details from the personal life of Witman Hung – ‘owns three taxi licences and lots of Sunlight REIT’. Finding it rather easy to add to this establishment social-climber stereotype… Is considering Dubai and the Maldives for future classy vacations. Hired a Stanford PhD to tutor his three-year-old in algebra. Owns a Tibetan Mastiff called Bo Bo. Tried to sell his grandmother as part of an elaborate scheme to be awarded a Silver Bauhinia Medal. Asked his family’s Filipino domestic helper to come to Penny’s Bay to wash his socks.)

One solution is to just clamp down on criticism in the media (see the timid coverage of Witless-gate in the establishment press).

On which, CNN on the dismantling of Hong Kong’s press freedom. And Hong Kong appears in the latest Private Eye.

Thomas Kellogg on why the Hong Kong government is using ‘sedition’ charges rather than the NatSec Law. Possible reasons include…

The government may have wanted to save the courts from the embarrassment of having to endorse the notion that journalists reporting on political events in Hong Kong are in fact engaged in an effort to “overthrow or undermine” the government. The sedition provision obviates the need for such a showing…

[Judges’] consciences may be lighter in cases where journalists are quote-unquote only sentenced to months rather than years.

Meanwhile, the ‘new improved effective’ governance is failing in its most immediate challenge: to find a way out of zero-Covid. Bloomberg points out that the administration has wasted the best part of a year in getting the city fully vaccinated…

Companies from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to JPMorgan Chase & Co. are allowing employees to work from home and splitting up teams coming into the office. While avoiding Covid is a key goal, they also want to reduce the risk that workers – perhaps entire teams or floors – could be sent to the government’s dour Penny’s Bay quarantine facility.

Desire to avoid the camp … has many in the city debating how forthcoming they would be should they develop symptoms or know of an exposure.

On a brighter note, a New York-based visitor appreciates Hong Kong’s zealousness.

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The great ‘Casper-gate’ scandal of 2022 breaks out

The Hong Kong government’s Covid policy devours its own, with Home Affairs Secretary Caspar Tsui being sent off to the Penny’s Bay Rectification Facility. He was attending the birthday party of one Witman Hung – the Shenzhen Qianhai Hub-Zone promotion guy in Hong Kong, also an NPC delegate – which included a Covid-positive guest. 

Hung’s resume reads like a parody of the Hong Kong establishment type, accumulating ever-more tawdry baubles as the years go by…

…In 2008, Witman was selected as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of Hong Kong. In 2016, he was given the Asia Social Innovation Leadership Award by CMO Asia and in 2017 he was given Light of Civilization 2017 Chinese Cultural Exchange Person of the Year. In 2015 he was appointed as a Justice of the Peace by the Hong Kong SAR Government.

(The CMO Asia thing is possibly the direst of the lot.)

I guess I’m out of touch, but I’m not sure why so many senior government officials and lawmakers turned up at the bash in a Wanchai tapas place. One possible reason is simply that – like the Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Cooperation Zone Authority’s Principal Liaison Officer for Hong Kong – they have humdrum jobs (Home Affairs, Innovation and Technology, Mainland and Constitutional Affairs) and are bored. But there were weightier serving and former functionaries there too, from the Police, Immigration and Customs (the last two represented by Au Ka-wang and Hermes Tang, inveterate social-distancing transgressors.)

It could also be that, as the cream of the NatSec-era heavyweight shoe-shining elite patriots, the 100 or so attendees are shunned by wider society – so any invite to a mutual-toadying fest looks good.

Among the lawmakers present were Junius Ho, Elizabeth Quat, Rock Chen and Benson Luk. We can only imagine how much fun karaoke and tapas with this lot would be. But we do know that all concerned insist that most of the guests had left by the time the infected individual turned up. 

Lots of fuel for mockery, schadenfreude, accusations of hypocrisy and much more. In pictures: a comparison of Carrie Lam’s flexible views of who should be accountable in such cases.

And of course, much groveling – here and here.

We haven’t heard the last of this.

Oh sorry – actually, we have.

Some weekend reading…

In case you missed it, a must-read from Samuel Bickett on the Chow Hang-tung trial – ‘…manipulating evidence to obtain a conviction and hide an unlawful arrest’. 

Allan Zeman’s embarrassing letter of outrage to the Wall Street Journal.

A Mainland official tells Hong Kong lawmakers…

“they should not be rubber stamps or voting machines. They have to criticize the SAR government in a friendly and sincere manner.”

From Transit Jammore on the government silence on ‘walkability’ studies in areas where there have been recent pedestrian fatalities.

An explainer from HKFP recounting the deterioration of press freedoms in Hong Kong under the NatSec Law – it’s a long list.

For some light relief: Hong Kong’s Filipino domestic helpers’ cricket team.

Carnegie on the growing Russian-Chinese entente in Central Asia.

The 20th CCP Congress will be held later this year. A quick intro from CMP now might make it more digestible when the mega-event draws closer.

And Dan Wang of Gavekal Economics puts those of us who write an annual letter to family and friends around the world to shame with the mega-opus 2021 in Review – comparing Chinese cities for (among other things) livability.

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Tricycling ban to defeat fifth wave

The Hong Kong government’s Covid policy so far involves: using the pandemic as an excuse to ban political gatherings; banning outdoor social activities more than indoor ones; neglecting to push the elderly to get vaccinated; happily ignoring damage done to businesses and livelihoods; encouraging reliance on less-effective Mainland vaccines; imposing punitive quarantine requirements that make travel near-impossible, isolation rules that incentivize possible carriers to avoid testing, and fruitless lockdowns; and obsessively focusing on reopening the border with the Mainland as the only possible – if hopelessly distant – priority.

Even if you strip Beijing out of the equation, we are still left with a local administration that sticks to its quarter-century long tradition of refusing on principle to back down and change its policies.

Now, as other developed economies start to move on to post-pandemic life, the detection of one local transmission of the omicron variant prompts a new round of pre-vax zero-Covid social distancing and travel restrictions – riddled with incoherence. 

Among the facilities to be closed: children’s playgrounds, but not schools; golf courses, but not packed MTR stations; restaurants at dinner-time, but not during lunch; pebble walking trails, but not non-pebble walking trails. And, to quote HKFP, ‘“Cruises to nowhere” will be cancelled’. Cruises to nowhere are an apt metaphor for Hong Kong: no-one can get on, no-one can get off, and we have no destination. Many flights to nowhere too, with direct air links cut with the UK, US, Canada, Australia and France. 

For someone’s convenience – but not yours – each government department issues a separate statement on which facilities/events it will be suspending. Thus the Ag and Fish Dept tells you to forget visiting geo parks here. The Environmental Protection Dept says abandon hope of going to the Weee Park here. And the Leisure and Cultural Services Dept announces closure of all its pebble walking trails, kids’ tricycling lots, outdoor chess tables and gateball courts here. Travel stuff is here.

It is hard to tell exactly what the government is trying to achieve given that Covid is going to become endemic worldwide. At best, it feels as if bureaucrats and their preferred medical experts are trapped and going round in circles in a room refusing to open doors marked ‘vaccinate the elderly’ and ‘travel bubbles’ and ‘let kids play outdoors’ and ‘use common-sense’. At worst, it feels like a deliberate plan to permanently downgrade the city and leave the population in a state of despair.

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Another day in the criminalizing of speech

Chow Hang-tung – already in prison – gets a 15-month sentence for inciting Tiananmen vigils/illegal assembly. Two threads on the Facebook and Ming Pao writings the magistrate decided were crimes (plus links to decision), and interesting comment on the case and the apparent decline in judicial independence.

Update: comment from Samuel Bickett…

I will focus in this article on one disturbing aspect of Magistrate Chan’s ruling: her blatant misstatements of several exculpatory facts. Magistrate Chan reordered the timeline of events and omitted exculpatory portions of a key document in the case: a social media post by Chow supposedly calling on others to join an unlawful protest.

Online radical outlet Mad Dog Daily shuts down. Carrie Lam stresses that Hong Kong has freedom of the press (provided you don’t mind being arrested for conspiracy to collude with foreign forces, incitement to sedition etc).

From David Webb: Hong Kong’s population has fallen by 2% since mid-2020 – 140,444 net departures, plus 11,500 net deaths. Factor in an estimated 74,000 Mainland immigrants entering on one-way permits (replacing around half the net departures), and you have about 3% of Hongkongers leaving during that 18-month period. (For context, in the previous 10 years annual population growth was in the 0.6-0.9% range, according to this. What this means in practice: fewer than 20 parents turn up at the start of admissions applications at an ‘elite’ high school.)

Elsewhere… A thread on what’s really happening in Xi’an, using Weibo as a source. Forbes on how the stock market could be affected by China (allegedly, ho hum) undercounting its Covid deaths.

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Today’s Headline That Solves All Our Problems…

…comes from the SCMP:

(Based on my cursory reading, the article gently and respectfully suggests that the Hong Kong government might set up a committee to consider the possibility of getting its head out of its ass.)

Your daily mouth-frothing tantrum comes from Global Times, relaying Chinese nationalists’ hurt feelings over TVB’s award to actress Ali Li. (What groveling response can we expect from money-losing-but-patriotic TVB?)

For gentlefolk of a more-delicate disposition, a limper semi-conniption from the Security Secretary about an editorial in the Wall Street Journal (whose filing cabinet of whiny letters from the Hong Kong government must now be bursting at the seams). While relatively mild, whoever wrote it does at least manage to include the Security Bureau’s official angry-official word ‘appalling’.

This week’s Chabuduo Award for cheap hastily-erected crappy-looking flagpoles goes to…HKU!

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