The international media’s sudden interest in discontent brewing in the Big Lychee continues, with Bloomberg Business Week introducing poverty-stricken family du jour, Liu Yefen and kids, who live in a tiny and squalid apartment two miles north of the Kowloon Shangri-La – in other words, Sham Shui Po. It is broadly the same story as in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal and BBC reports, mentioning rising inflation and falling incomes, and concluding with a one-sentence summary that ends with the three ominous words “potential political crisis.”
Outbreaks of international media attention on specific Hong Kong issues used to be common in the days leading up to the 1997 handover. Organizations like the Government Information Service and the tycoon-funded Better HK Foundation would arrange for packs of journalists to interview business and other figures, who would recite the same upbeat message about the city’s stability and prosperity. A few days later, the big media outlets would all carry surprisingly similar reports quoting similar people saying similar things.
Of course, the news gatherers’ current interest in Sham Shui Po is damaging rather than boosting Asia’s World City’s public image. If it is the result of anyone’s PR plan it would be a group like Oxfam HK, who are pretty switched on when it comes to this sort of thing. Or maybe the reporters were all swopping ideas at the Foreign Correspondents Club and agreed to go off and do the story together. Or perhaps it’s just coincidence.
Over in the Fiddling-while-Rome-burns department, the government continues its tortuous attempt to ban by-elections for democratically elected Legislative Council seats. First, our visionary leaders tried to summarily impose the clunky, unprincipled, illogical and thus rather obviously ordered-by-Beijing measure without debate. Most administrations with a legislature rigged in such a way as to guarantee it a majority would get it through – but no, even many of the toadies and shoe-shiners in the assembly couldn’t bring themselves to vote for such a dumb idea so badly presented. So now we will have a full-blown public consultation, and in a new twist, the status quo will be included as one of the options.
It is the predictably dismal way officials handled the issue that the pro-government lawmakers found most objectionable. So the government will succeed in banning by-elections in such a way as to eliminate the dread possibility that it or, horror of horrors, Beijing could be held to account via a citywide poll, labeled a ‘referendum’, triggered by a legislator who resigns over a specific issue. Among the slightly less dumb possibilities are banning by-elections only when a lawmaker ‘abuses’ the system, not if one dies or is imprisoned; another is barring legislators who resign from running again during that term, though this would still leave the referendum ‘loophole’ open if a resigning legislator named an ally to run in his place.
Chief Secretary Henry Tang, or at least a scribe, has written an op-ed piece on this subject for the newspapers today. It seems that neither the South China Morning Post nor the Standard could bring themselves to print it, which suggests it must be really bad. And, over at China Daily, we find that indeed it is: a string of misleading, mendacious, oxymoronic falsehoods, lies and what linguists and rhetoricians term ‘bullshit’. The fundamental problem is that, far from being a loophole, an abuse or a waste of public funds, a deliberately triggered by-election is a legitimate democratic device. If the public feels it is unjustified, the guy loses his seat. But if he has a point, and the people agree with him that – for example – a particular government policy is wrong, they re-elect him, and those he opposes are dealt a nasty moral defeat. And that is unacceptable to the powers that be.
Meanwhile, the buses taking the world’s press on their familiarization tour of Sham Shui Po trundle back to Central. And what do we see on the side of one of them but an advertisement for i.uniQ Grand. Bill Gates’ Microsoft Word program puts a red zigzag under it, but it’s correct: i.uniQ Grand.
It is, of course, a property development, courtesy of Sun Hung Kai, for anyone who wants to spend (at the very lower end of the project’s range) HK$5.8 million for 326 (or ‘420’) square feet of livable space in luxurious and glamorous Shau Kei Wan. The Standard dutifully re-hashes what is simply a SHKP press release suggesting that demand and prices for the place will be firm, and we should all hurry, hurry, hurry to put down our HK$17,800 (minimum) per square foot. As we all know, when a developer claims that the market price for its latest product is high, it does not necessarily follow that it is strictly speaking the case.
To push the overpriced pile of tacky concrete and glass, Sun Hung Kai are producing a glossy i.uniQ Grand magazine. The appearance of the second edition warranted a press release in its own right (“entrance lobby with exceptional 11-metre ceiling, crystal chandeliers and golden dragon in cubes”). If you liked Henry’s piece in China Daily, you’ll love it.