Have the Hong Kong Police taken to pepper-spraying and arresting schoolkids in order to appear in step with their Mainland counterparts’ pathological reaction to barely existent ‘jasmine strolls’ during the annual NPC/CPPCC snooze-in? Or were they goaded into being rougher than usual by the demonstrators’ more aggressive and obstructive tactics, like blocking a main road in Central? Or a bit of both?
This is a good time for fans of what Beijing calls ‘contradictions’. Amid the flowers and snores of the Great Hall of the People, deputies learn that China is preparing to end its GDP obsession, ‘basically’ end poverty in 10 years, and spread harmony, prosperity and righteousness the length and breadth of the Middle Kingdom. Elsewhere in the same city, paramilitary police are mobilized to counter the rumoured appearance of protestors attempting to overthrow the government by ‘pretending to take a stroll’, or ordering set meal number three at McDonalds. The leadership is strong and confident, but simultaneously wetting itself at the possible but unconfirmed sight of a mouse.
Meanwhile, here in the Big Lychee, the administration is trying to come to terms with the enormity of what it has accomplished. People said it could not be done. But after Financial Secretary John Tsang’s Great Budget U-Turn Fiasco Massacre of 2011 it is finally beyond all doubt: this government really is an even bigger failure than Tung Chee-hwa’s. How ever did they manage it?
The budget mess and demonstration have distracted attention from this week’s official spin. According to the script, we are currently supposed to be celebrating the fact that Hong Kong (along with trusty sidekick Macau) gets a whole chapter all to itself in China’s 12th Five Year Plan. The purportedly Stalinist-style document decrees the country’s specific economic growth rate for the next 60 months and stipulates that Hong Kong will be the nation’s offshore financial centre. Shanghai will be the onshore one, you see – so the two are not in competition.
This whole subject is getting tired. Ever since the handover in 1997, Beijing and its apologists have used the implicit threat that Shanghai could ‘take over from Hong Kong’ as a warning to the people of the former British colony to shut up and behave. At the same time, top Chinese officials have been humouring the eastern municipality’s claims that it could really happen because they needed its tax revenues and political support. The reality is that all the Marxist central planners on Earth could not create an international financial centre that does not have a freely convertible currency, an independent judiciary, a free press and all the other things a paranoid Chinese Communist Party must abhor. This is a post jasmine-revolution, post-John Tsang Budget world, and the Shanghai-as-New York scare story is passé. A business journal in plucky little Macau spells it out delightfully: the Five Year Plan is a meaningless pile of waffle so far as we are concerned.
Indeed, the good news is, yes, you can pepper-spray eight-year-olds and still be an international financial centre. New York or London do it, too, surely, or at least equally beastly things. They probably come up with better excuses, though. Quoted in the Standard article, bible-bashing Security Secretary Ambrose Lee blames the parents. “No children should be brought to clash areas as they are not psychologically mature yet. Violent scenes could set a bad example for them.” I would like to think psychologically mature officials gave Lee those words to read out as part of a cunning strategy to take the heat off John Tsang by saying something stunningly stupid. Too much to hope for. Maybe they will have a better Wednesday.