Holiday time

Away til next week, probably. Packing my bags for another staycation in sunny Mongkok – the best we can do while Taiwan is off-limits.

With two public holidays coming, please do not take part in unauthorized assemblies or burn wax, or all you illegal crowds of melting, dripping secessionists will incur the wrath of the valiant 6,000-strong HK Police Seditious Wax-Burning Unapproved Gathering Rapid Reaction Task Force Squad (otherwise known as the Flying Candle Snuffers), righteously rampaging after kids with lanterns at inordinate expense to the Hong Kong taxpayer.

The Guardian is running a series on Hong Kong. Revenge of the knuckle-draggers – the paper looks at the city’s new shadow and parallel government. People used to swim to Hong Kong to find freedom – now their grand-kids are fleeing. And a quiz to find out how much you know about the NatSec Law.

And the horror continues – Xi Jinping as you’ve never seen her before (not suitable for people of a nervous disposition, or indeed people generally).

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Recovering after meeting people

After a couple of days of immensely hectic social activity (ie, I went somewhere), what have I missed?

Obviously under pressure from the government, RTHK is publicly intimidating one of its reporters for asking officials difficult questions. It’s amazing that the broadcaster has survived this far with editorial independence still semi-intact. Are Beijing’s enforcers or their local minions nervous about tangling with staff who are on civil-service contracts? I get the feeling that when it eventually comes, RTHK’s full rectification will be fairly sudden.

Veteran pro-dem lawmaker Claudia Mo makes a case for her camp staying on in (and arguably helping to legitimize) an unconstitutionally extended Legislative Council. A ‘not abandoning any battle line’ sort of thing. I’m sure she’s sincere – and she certainly exploits the platform for all it’s worth – but this is naive. If the CCP’s local puppets want you to stay in the Council, it should be obvious what to do. The older generation of pan-dems are so wedded to the rituals, structures and symbolism of their representative dream that they can’t let go even after the institution has been turned into an instrument for countering democracy.

Mainland authorities release some details about the 12 Hong Kong activists arrested trying to flee to Taiwan. Beijing’s instinct will be to set a harsh example with them by treating this as a national-security case. Very unfortunate for them – but good news for anyone who wants to see the CCP publicize its thuggishness to the rest of the world.

In Apple Daily – Hong Kong’s top Catholic overextends his powers by ordering his flock to obey orders and shut up about the Vatican’s kowtowing to the CCP. Also, Kevin Carrico uses my kind of international-relations-speak to explain why we should prepare for the worst over Taiwan: ‘China’s already creepy actions have escalated to truly psychotic stalker levels’.

One of the various blessings of Covid-19 has been the near-obliteration of conferences. All those drone-fests about sustainable challenges and opportunities have vanished, and of course no-one noticed. But these things are hard to kill off, and I detect a worrying sign that – like rats evolving to enjoy poison – they are adapting to what threatens them. Here is one of a series of ‘webinar’ mini-conferences (about the pandemic itself) which promise to condense all the boredom of one day into 60-minute segments that follow you around wherever you are on Zoom and YouTube… 

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Another farcical step to a police state

It is illegal not to wear a face mask. Then one day, some men come and take you away for wearing a face mask. The Plight of Joshua Wong by Franz Kafka. 

OK, so he was arrested at the police station and the main suspected offense seems to be ‘unauthorized assembly’ (same for veteran protester Koo Sze-yiu). But the mask absurdity is an angle in reports in NYT, Washington Post, FT and other international press.

If I were Joshua’s lawyer guerilla theatre coordinator, I’d get him to refuse to wear a mask when he next visits the police station, court, etc. He could end up facing charges of both wearing and not wearing a mask. Let’s make the Hong Kong government’s new PR agency sweat for their money.

Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters have probably been convicted on trumped-up charges. But it will be a big step for the authorities to put internationally recognized faces like Joshua Wong, Jimmy Lai or Martin Lee behind bars. Asia’s World City cannot transform into a proper police state without having some serious political prisoners.

Some more links to round off the week…

Index on Censorship on the gloomy outlook for academic freedom in Hong Kong.

From Global Times, a tear-jerking plea for sympathy from persecution-victim Junius Ho – who could lose his right to practice law in the UK. 

Finews Asia asks whether the HKD-USD peg might break the NatSec Law on collusion with evil foreign powers. (Article glosses over the fact that if the peg has Beijing’s blessing, it doesn’t matter.)

When repression was first stepped up a few years ago, people said Xinjiang was being turned into another Tibet. Now it’s the other way round. Reuters on mobilization of Tibetans as a labour force mass-labour. More from the Jamestown Foundation on the military-style training involved.

Where political forecasting meets Tom Clancy – US Naval Institute Proceedings envisages war over Taiwan, complete with Xi Jinping pushing around the (female) US President.

Some more – a bit tongue-in-cheek – on the CCP’s plans to increase influence over private-sector companies.

A thread on a WSJ story on Beijing’s apparent involvement in ‘helping Malaysia pay off 1MDB debt by inflating the costs of infrastructure projects’ (with help from McKinsey) and obstructing overseas investigations into the scandal.

Finally, Wuhan’s second most important contribution to the world in 2020 – a new album by punk band SMZB (sheng mìng zhi bing, 生命之饼). This video is treading dangerously close to committing historical nihilism…

Here’s another one, about the Cultural Revolution. This one (from a few years ago) impressively breaks the National Anthem (Compulsory Adoration) Ordinance while exhibiting strong Pogues influences. They wouldn’t get away with this in Hong Kong.

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FCC gets a slapping from Beijing

As Beijing’s authorized barbarian-handlers in Hong Kong, the Foreign Ministry’s local office has the task of slapping the Foreign Correspondents Club on the wrist if necessary. They have just done so in response to the FCC’s protests about the new HK Police We-pick-our-own-journalists policy. Using a distinctly ‘wolf-warrior’ tone, the office accuses the press club of endorsing rioters and ‘provoking trouble’ and demands it stop ‘meddling in Hong Kong affairs’. 

A reminder that Beijing’s officials not only see restricting reporters as a key measure, but openly regard the HK Police as part of their jurisdiction and entitled to their protection. The Foreign Ministry wouldn’t take much interest if the FCC criticized, say, the health authorities’ social-distancing measures.

The FCC’s role in lobbying for press freedom locally puts it very much on Beijing’s list of evil foreign forces. At the very least, it will need to look for a new club house next time its lease on the government-owned Ice House comes up (and good luck finding a landlord willing to rent to a group considered hostile to the glorious motherland).

On a brighter note, a solicitors’ disciplinary body in London is going to give Junius Ho a good seeing-to

A few interesting links you might have missed…

By Timothy Mclaughlin in Wired, an in-depth look at Beijing’s mission to eradicate any representative politics from Hong Kong and the subsequent ‘democratic stagnation’. Special focus on the younger generation of would-be candidates, the pan-dems’ primary election in July and Martin Lee. 

An LA cable channel interviews Samuel Chu. (Did the Beijing officials who ordered Hong Kong to put him on the NatSec Law wanted list realise he is a US citizen? If so, why not seek Nancy Pelosi, Ted Cruz and others he colluded with? Of course, they’re not ethnic Chinese – so not the Emperor’s property.)  

There is zero hope for democracy in Hong Kong so long as the CCP is in power. Some desperate/gullible/naive moderates pushing a third/middle way like to think otherwise, but they come back to swallowing Beijing’s rigged ‘universal suffrage’ – a pointless exercise. HKFP generously devotes a whole article to them. (‘Third-way’ is basically ‘pro-Beijing-lite’ in that its proponents have financial, social-standing or other personal interests at stake that prevent them from overtly conflicting with the regime.) Also, a piece in response to Henry Litton’s historically illiterate SCMP piece advising Hong Kong judges to serve the CCP.

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HK Police respond resolutely to outrage over brutality

Public reaction was so bad after rampaging cops knocked over a pregnant woman and piled onto a 12-year-old schoolgirl a few weeks ago that the Hong Kong Police are going to take firm, tough, no-nonsense action. They will be tightening discipline – not over their traumatized/drug-crazed/maladjusted men, but over the media who report the unpleasantness.

The broadcasting regulator is reprimanding radio shows that air negative comments about the police. It seems the cops or their friends are tuning in to phone-in shows waiting for citizens to express less than total admiration for Asia’s once-finest, so they can make solitary formal complaints.

And the police are expanding their control over the press by assuming the right to ‘recognize’ only reporters from bigger established news organizations. That means that at protests reporters from the small independent outlets, student media and freelancers – who make public much of the cops’ brutality – will be liable for arrest for illegal assembly. That will obviously bar them from observing other police actions, which you could argue is tantamount to police tampering with evidence.

This will leave only the established local press and international reporters qualifying as media. The former are mostly owned by pro-Beijing tycoons or organizations. The latter are being squeezed out of Hong Kong by Mainland-style visa-restrictions. Police image problem solved.

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What’s 5’s break-up value?

HSBC’s share price drops below HK$30 – its lowest in 25 years. I remember it hitting around HK$130 (roughly) back in the days when China was cool and trendy. It is among a number of international banks named in a recent revelation of (old) cases of handling ‘dirty money’. Perhaps more pressing, Beijing is reportedly going to classify the bank as an ‘unreliable foreign entity’ (a way of lashing out in frustration at the West’s perceived advantage in using extraterritorial/global sanctions against Chinese companies). 

Beijing’s state media recently hinted that companies on this forthcoming list could help themselves by ‘showing sincerity’ – a grim CCP phrase meaning the spouting of blatant untruths and other self-abasing forms of kowtowing-as-contrition. No shortage of ways for HSBC to do that. Mailing a copy of Xi Jinping’s book to every account holder. Requiring staff to line up and sing the national anthem on the sidewalk outside branches every morning. Chief Exec Peter Wong to kneel on broken glass. Freezing pan-dem-related bank accounts (oh, done that already).

Anything more substantial HSBC does to appease the Panda will rub up against the regulatory and political realities of its UK domicile and presence in Western markets. This creates potentially impossible positions – like the ‘compliance mismatch’ where it has to betray Beijing by handing over dirt on Huawei’s Ms Meng to the Feds.

For Hong Kong, the symbolism is acute. The bank is the embodiment of colonial-era institutions that form part of Hong Kong’s identity. And the pain is real to many small investors, including retirees, who hold HSBC stock.

A case study in both the great de-linkage story and in the Sad Decline of Hong Kong Saga. 

Meanwhile, in More Great Moments in China’s Soft Power: an ABC correspondent on how Chinese officials threatened his family – including 14-year-old daughter – back in 2018.

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HK’s foreign judges’ new role: useful idiots

Carrie Lam’s office says Australian James Spigelman’s resignation as a non-permanent Court of Final Appeal judge had nothing to do with the new rule-of-law-wrecking National Security regime. Yet, ABC reports, he said it did

For a hint at who’s telling the truth, we can (courtesy of here) look at a HK Lawyer interview with Spigelman from a few years ago. He was born in Poland in 1946 into a family that had narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Nazis, and his interests include oppressed peoples and the importance of unbiased and open justice.

Around a dozen Brits, Australians and others from overseas common-law jurisdictions are among the non-permanent CFA judges available to supplement the three permanent ones including the Chief Justice. They are mostly retirees, and in practice their services are not often needed – when did you last hear of Baroness Hale of the UK or Canada’s Beverly McLachlin hearing cases here? The overseas judges’ occasional appearances might have helped bolster the CFA, but their role since 1997 has been largely ornamental, lending credibility to official claims of rule of law and judicial independence. 

The Hong Kong government has traditionally valued this mainly passive contribution. Local rule-of-law supporters have taken comfort in the thought that the foreign judges are there waiting in the wings (and implicitly able to quit rather than endorse a Mainland-style justice system). It’s hard to imagine Beijing itself liking the arrangement, though it maintains silence on the subject. Certainly, the symbolism is offensive to patriotic pro-Beijing types who find it humiliating to have non-Chinese faces (including many locally based ones) in the judiciary.

This is one of many areas where our local officials awkwardly try to cling to the city’s old cosmopolitan status and image, while increasingly embracing CCP-style positions on (say) evil foreign influences interfering in Hong Kong. Their reaction to Justice Spigelman’s departure comprises shrill recitals of slogans, suggesting that they are giving up trying to be convincing about this particular issue. 

In effect, the authorities seem to be moving from casting the foreign judges as confidence/credibility-boosters to more bluntly co-opting and presenting them CCP-style as useful idiots – like gullible Western think-tankers, university administrators and provincial politicians. 

Assuming the eminent judges become aware of this (and our Beijing-compliant courts start sentencing more prominent prisoners of conscience), more will no doubt leave, creating another minor flurry of dust in the crumbling remains of One Country Two Systems.

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Don’t mention the foot-licking thing

A late-week flurry of legal news, much of which does not boost confidence in the Hong Kong judiciary or law enforcement.

Tam Tak-chi is denied bail – thus stuck in jail for a couple of months – for allegedly ‘uttering seditious words’. 

If you want bail, stab Long Hair. Magistrate Cheang Kei-hong frees a man prior to sentencing for doing just that on the grounds that the guy ‘loves society deeply’ – not because he’s 80, which would be some sort of reason. (Not saying this magistrate is biased against the protest movement, but he sentenced a guy to five months for possessing cable ties and took apparent delight in imprisoning others here and here. He also has a connection to foot-licking it says here, but I guess that’s not relevant. CCP foot-fetishism update here.)

If you’re lucky you might get a magistrate who does not bow to the CCP – like the one who has acquitted a pair of innocent bystanders on the grounds that they were innocent bystanders. Why did the HK Police arrest and charge them (let alone start pushing them around the street in the first place), and why did the public prosecutors waste taxpayers’ money bringing the case to court? People are understandably asking questions about police/prosecution practices. Here’s one: what percentage of the 10,000 protest-related arrests were arbitrary or otherwise unjustified, and will the authorities try to jail all of them?

(Just in – another magistrate hands down a not-guilty verdict [Chinese link] and says cops should show ID. Ramifications?)

But even if the magistrate does find you innocent, that doesn’t mean it’s over. The government is appealing against the not-guilty verdict handed to Jimmy Lai following charges of intimidating an Oriental Daily reporter-stalker. Remember that the magistrate who let Lai go was mysteriously promoted to an admin job within days. It’s almost as if the Secretary for Justice is taking orders from a CCP obsessed with getting Lai in prison whatever it takes.

Some quick reading…

Asia Times puts an eye-catching headline to the story: CCP announces plan to take control of private sector.

Never heard of John Boyega or Jo Malone? Foreign brands’ Mainland marketing practices fix that for you.

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HK govt ‘does something right’ shock

In an uncharacteristic fit of common sense and/or responsiveness to public opinion, our leaders have announced the reopening of kids’ playgrounds in a few weeks. 

But wait!!! There’s more!!! The Hong Kong Heritage Museum is to keep its Bruce Lee exhibit for another six years. That’s ample time for a second visit. Well worth it.

These two decisions are the first – admittedly minuscule – signs of official competence Hong Kong has seen so far in 2020. The amazement inspires me to make a prediction. If they retitle the museum exhibition ‘Be Water’ you’ll know there’s been a major shift in the local power structure and we can expect more. Otherwise, that’s all the excellence in governance you can expect for at least another year or so.

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Clarification: normal stupidity continues

When I said yesterday that the Hong Kong government seems to have momentarily exhausted its stupidity, I meant Mainlandization-type stupidity – not the regular pre-2019 sort. Like cosmic background radiation left over from the big bang, standard traditional old-style Hong Kong government idiocy is all around us.

The latest relaxation of pandemic measures opens up gyms, pools and bars – but beaches and playgrounds are still shut off behind barbed wire and minefields. A widely believed theory is that it’s because the tycoons don’t own beaches. Another explanation is plain nastiness and spite towards the public. Or, maybe it’s just cosmic background stupidity.

The Lantau mega-reclamation is apparently still on. I’ve been skeptical that it’ll ever happen. Not least, it will deplete the reserves, which our bureaucrats have always seen as their personal piggy bank, especially to cover their pensions. But I can see why Beijing might like it as a way to transfer the reserves to state-owned construction companies and create more space for population-diluting Mainland immigration.

The government sticks to its contradictory logic that the massive reclamation can solve housing affordability yet pay for itself through land sales. The idea seems to be to ‘decant’ – yes, that’s the official word – riffraff residents from Kowloon and free up downtown land for the developers. This presumes that Hong Kong real estate will continue to enjoy its magical ultra-high valuations even as the city’s advantages fade into Greater Bay Area grey. (It also goes against the bureaucrats’ instinct to maintain the mythical ‘shortage of land’ that props up land values by not allowing the population or wider economy to use most of it. Could the magic money machine survive a genuine increase in supply?)

In order to minimize any chance that Hong Kong might retain some competitive edge from its quality of life, the Anti-Pedestrian Department goes full-on psychopath with the metal barriers that line sidewalks – to the extent Bloomberg makes a story out of it.

Elsewhere…

Your daily Mulan-butchering: Benedict Rogers focuses on the human rights angle.

Michael Pettis (compulsory reading on these things) explains Beijing’s economic options.

And the CCP scores another dazzling soft-power victory by getting Taiwan’s bird-watchers ejected from the International Federation of Feathered-Friend Fans. (It goes without saying that, as if its food, scenery and lifestyle aren’t enough, Taiwan has amazing avians.)

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