Another week, another government ad campaign

The original bland, all-purpose, bureaucrat-produced ads pushing the Hong Kong government’s proposed political non-reforms for 2012 were, if noticed at all, greeted with shrugs and yawns. They then gave way to something visibly more professional – the exciting ‘complete the word’ concept and the TV commercials with the dancers and dresses. Now, just a few weeks later, a third campaign hits the Big Lychee’s TV screens and billboards. Weigh Anchor! Let’s Act! (Is the maritime nature of the Chinese slogan designed to be an allusion to the harbour for which the city is named? Everyone I ask says it was the last thing that would have occurred to them.)

To launch this sudden re-branding exercise, top officials sporting unbecoming T-shirts made an unannounced, hence protestor-free, open-topped bus tour, waving to nonplussed onlookers. Press and other people who didn’t make it will be delighted to learn that they can collect and keep a set of 17 commemorative photographs, showing just about every minister in Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s cabinet handing out leaflets to housewives, children and playful puppy dogs.

The new TV commercial features non-executive cabinet members jollying us along to support the reform-lite package. Maybe the sight of former Equal Opportunities Commissioner Anna Wu sitting rather forlornly on her sturdy sofa will provoke a pang of sympathy within the more soft-hearted among us, but an appeal from Ronald Arculli – the administration’s ultimate parrot-poodle-puppet – is hardly likely to sway the masses.

This new push reverts a bit in tone to the first round of the campaign: the traditional, formulaic and condescending publicity crafted by civil servants. This suggests that it was ordered at short notice by an increasingly desperate Sir Bow-Tie petrified that his package will fail to get through the Legislative Council next month.

This communication style has its roots in government propaganda back in the 1950s, when newly arrived, illiterate refugees fresh out of the paddy fields had to be instructed on the extreme basics of hygiene, road safety and the rest of city life. Today’s bureaucrats seem to cling to it because the colonial/Confucian tone of official pronouncements confirms, in their own minds, their rank and role over the populace. And perhaps there is a medium-is-the-message aspect to it: you can’t tell people they’re too infantile to vote if you’re addressing them as adults.

Still, Donald’s growing despair can be detected in occasional flashes of straight talk in the Letter to Hong Kong he delivered on RTHK Radio 3 yesterday. Although he insists that the package has public support, he admits that it is “a far cry from full democracy.” It comprises “interim arrangements” (a new phrase for it) and “effectively prevents any future increase in the number of conventional FC seats representing specific sectors or interest groups” (which I don’t recall being explicitly stated before).

There is a sense of frustration here in the form of a veiled accusation: someone else screwed up in proposing the first package devoid of reform in 2005 for 2008 and in resurrecting it this time around. As he puts it: “This is the most democratic form of indirect election we can design within the confines of the 2007 decision of the Central Government.” (Technically it was the decision of the rubber-stamp Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, though Donald is correct in saying who was really responsible.)

Essentially, what seems to have happened is this. After the popular uprising in 2003 and the eventual, consequent removal of Tung Chee-hwa in 2005, Beijing decided to teach Hong Kong a lesson by tightly re-defining the limits of forthcoming political reform. The rejection of the 2008 package in 2005 strengthened the resolve of hardliners to discipline the wayward city. But now, after warnings from Donald and others about declining governability, the Chinese leaders are having second thoughts. To save face, they need to get this minimalist package through, because they can’t admit they were wrong. Then next time we can have, as Donald would say, “a more democratic form of indirect election.”

The pro-democrats, meanwhile, are on a different planet, seeking full, genuine suffrage and thus the right to elect a potential challenger to Communist Party power. And the civil servants at the Information Services Department, presumably working on a fourth new-look, new-theme, new-slogan ad campaign to be squeezed into the second week of June, are off in another universe.

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17 Responses to Another week, another government ad campaign

  1. MarcFaber says:

    Have to be boring and point out that your British friends had no such initiative to roll forward democracy – ever. The nearest they came to it was sending wine and pate lover Patten to scupper the Handover. A bit late, we would say. But then, in the Hemlock world, the British and Americans can do no wrong and are never to blame although they never lived up or live up to their proclaimed love of democracy ,especially where non-Whites are concerned.

  2. Revolution says:

    What exactly were the Government exhorting people to do during these walkabouts last weekend? If people could actually, you know, vote for or against the political reform package by way of a (dreaded) referendum, I could see some point in going out to get your message across. But of course, that’s not the case: the man or woman in the street has more or less zero influence over the result of the Legco vote.

    So, you have the Government seeking the people’s support for a package which:

    (a) the people cannot vote for; and

    (b) will not actually benefit the people.

    I can only assume that no advance warning of this charm offensive was provided in order to prevent people pointing this out.

  3. longtimenosee says:

    MarcFaber, the difference was that people were coming to HK in their droves to escape political persecution at worst, and at best they were economic migrants.

    They came to a place with rule of law, and basic freedoms, and while the History books record that HK was indeed stolen, it really does not impact on the democracy argument here.
    One example of freedoms could be the right to celebrate chinese tradtions and holidays that had been banned during the Cultural Revolution in China.

    Since the handover Hemlock would point to the decline in governance, and I would have to agree.
    What is being fought for is the right to get hands on with a faulty system here in HK.

    It is no secret that China was strongly opposed to the brits rolling out democracy in HK, and there was an element of knowing which battles to pick when it came to HK.
    It was hard enough trying to get HK the right to keep its system in place, nevermind pushing it on to democracy.

  4. Maugrim says:

    Ugh. Seeing those grinning mountebanks waving their arms from the deck of that travelling sideshow like some sort of animatronic exhibit from a cheap Mainland theme park, made me wish a few well timed eggs had made an appearance.

    Donald picked Pacific Place as the venue for his bus-less meet and greet, which was pretty brave of him /sarc. Perhaps Times Square might have been a little more interesting. At least he could have used his Putonghua.

  5. Historian says:

    Longtimenosee is quite correct. Very few people wanted democracy in HK prior to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. Local people, in their millions, were too busy making the most of the opportunities in the freest and most culturally intact Chinese society of any size in the world.

  6. MarcFaber says:

    Historian> Hahahahahahahaha. People tend not to be interested in what they will never get.

    longtimenosee> Of course it impacts on the debate. This Hemlock blog is a propagand/disinformation piece by a British Foreign Office stooge. Wake up guys!

  7. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    We’ve got the point. Can we go back to reading our favourite propaganda and disinformation in peace?

  8. MarcFaber says:

    Sure. Maybe you can get in on the same pension plan and benefits as Hemlock. Call FCO, Whitehall, UK. Email: [email protected].

  9. Stephen says:

    Marc Faber,

    Whatever the Hemlock blog is or isn’t it’s you who often posts the first response. Why is that?
    You mention Patten – my guess is the long delayed “universal suffrage” for the Legislature in 2020 is going to look alot like the proposals Patten put forward in the mid 90’s.
    Probably as good as its going to get as the survival of the CCP, as always, is paramount.

  10. Xiaoyao says:

    You think we’d be jaded by now, but after all these years, the cluelessness of the HK administration and civil service bureaucrats still amazes. The photo collection is priceless.

    “Weigh/raise anchor”?! The metaphor makes no sense, in either language. And a campaign for a proposal we can’t vote for, which corrects none of HK’s systemic problems, and which doesn’t really offer even cosmetic progress?

  11. Herr Torquewrench says:

    It was truly laughable last Saturday afternoon here in Kowloon. The double decker bus drove by and would not have even been noticed had it not been for the police outriders.

    People stopped to look but,because it had been raining, all the politicos were in the darkness of the inside deck and all anyone could make out was an arm waving rather forlornly a la Queen Mother….

    Pity there weren’t some rotten tomatoes to hand.

  12. Historian says:

    It’s perhaps worth noting that ‘wine and pate lover’ Chris Patten was mobbed by appreciative crowds whenever he did the rounds, which was a lot more often, and far more openly, than Tsang. Perhaps that’s why he left Hong Kong with a 79% approval rating, the sort of figure that Tsang can only dream of.

  13. Davy Jones says:

    HEMLOCK

    Seems that you’ve been sussed by MARCFABER.

    Contact the FCO and change your name. Suggestion from an old Hong Kong Special Branch Employee CONIUM MACULATUM.

    Of course, we can always keep it a secret!

  14. Q says:

    Hemlock, we have received compromising pictures of you and a ‘Stanley from the mailroom’.

    Pack your bags and get your sick ass over here a.s.a.p.

    There is intel that the North Koreans are on your tail.

    009 will take over as soon as the election results in the Peens have been ‘taken care of’.

    And bring some of that Oolong tea, will ya ?

  15. The Meister says:

    If you can read Chinese, a local blogger has a collection of parodies of the Act Now banner:

    http://martinoei.wordpress.com/2010/05/29/%e6%b8%af%e5%ba%9c%e6%8b%8b%e9%8c%a8%e8%90%ac%e8%83%bdkey/

    The one with the KMT flag against the upside down Commie flag cracked me up.

  16. Plod says:

    The level of security accorded the bus was several times what the encumbent British PM had during his recent election campaign. Sir BT is hardly Mr Popular but he’s not exactly a terrorist target is he?

  17. Mdvn says:

    The Meister: Some quality laughing materials indeed, haha. Though as for the drama magnet blogger himself and his buddy Lam, I would prefer staying back. *roll eyes*

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