Unprecedented constitutional setting gets grouchy in unexpected ways (Part 4,203)

Hong Kong’s rarely seen Justice Secretary praises the city’s Court of Final Appeal for “…faithfully apply[ing] the common law in an unprecedented constitutional setting.”  By which he means swallowing the repellent truth that we are part of a Communist one-party state whose leadership can alter the meaning of a law, regardless of its wording, on a whim out of political expediency. The euphemism is ‘interpretation’.

Weird juxtapositions and connections are an inevitable part of such an environment, and today’s come courtesy of the wide overseas reporting of the protest against the Dolce & Gabanna photo-racism outrage, and the arrival of colonial-era officials like former Health Secretary Libby Wong to help the lobby fighting plans to demolish the old Central Government Offices in Central…

The Save Government Hill movement has even, the South China Morning Post reports, unearthed the architect: one Michael Wright, aged 99, of London. Former Chief Secretary Sir David Akers-Jones chimes in, saying: “People are regretting they cared about [conservation] too late. We have given Central away. The time has come to stop.”

The weird juxtaposition manifests itself physically through the appearance of a flag bearing the British Hong Kong arms among the witty props protestors brought to oppose ‘luxury hegemony’ outside Dolce & Gabanna on Sunday. Whoever carried the pre-1997 banner – not unprecedented at anti-establishment gatherings – is probably too young to recall Libby and her penchant for the occasional menthol cigarette, or the all-purpose colonial-era patrician manner of Akers-Jones.

The anti-D&G demo has jarred the overseas press, who perhaps can’t make sense of rich, status-symbol Hong Kong chanting “Death to the designer label!” and claiming to be racial victims of their peasant-compatriots across the border. Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times writers are bemused, but suspect that the up-market mega-stores serving Mainlanders are part of the problem. These are the same stores, of course, that Hong Kong planners wish to accommodate in the proposed Government Hill redevelopment’s shopping mall.

The deluge of Mainland tourists and money, and higher rents, and the subsequent crushing of independent retailers serving local inhabitants has been going on for a good 10 years, and it is if anything getting worse. Mainland mothers giving birth here and stripping supermarket shelves of non-adulterated baby formula add to the alienation. And then all these Mainland investors buy up local apartments to leave empty, while Hongkongers can’t afford to live or start a business in their own city. The property interests evict, knock-down and rebuild to rake in yet more money, while the rest of the Big Lychee gets swept aside as an irrelevance. It’s enough to make young people resort to waving colonial symbols – a largely misplaced piece of imagery, though also possibly more vivid than they realize, being an expression of anti-Chinese sedition. And it’s enough to get these old fogeys who ran the place in the 70s and 80s out of their retirement homes to do something equally unthinkable: oppose the bureaucracy they bequeathed us.

Back in the SCMP, we have a column by Peter Kammerer, who suspects the bags Mainland tourists lug around Hong Kong are stuffed with dirty money, which cannot possibly have crossed the border in accordance with Mainland law…

To get a better idea of what is going on, take a visit to Macau. Its casinos’ revenues have boomed almost exponentially, just like Hong Kong’s tacky designer-label palaces and empty real estate. Peter Kammerer laments that no-one is asking how much of this cash is illicit. They just assume it. Of course this is money-laundering (D&G’s objection to photographs supposedly sprang from a guilty Mainlander not wanted to be spotted in the store). It is not new; Hong Kong’s zillions of little banks and Macau’s former gold bullion market were doing it decades back. Nor is it unique to the Pearl River Delta. North Korea has a casino or two. And the guy who wrote that “Singapore’s success came mainly from being the money laundering center for corrupt Indonesian businessmen and government officials” didn’t get fired for writing fiction.

The key thing is that Macau’s casino expansion, and the liberalization of outbound travel by individual Mainlanders to the two Special Administrative Regions, result from policy set in Beijing. If the two ex-colonies are being transformed into money-laundering centres it doesn’t have to be by accident. Indeed, the Chinese government must know what is happening (it has in the past reduced the number of trips people can make to Macau). Maybe the national leadership sees the outflow of corrupt money as a pressure valve, preferable to trying to keep the ill-gotten gains within China. Seen that way, what is going on around us in casinos and luxury goods and property markets is our contribution to the motherland’s harmonious socialist development.

Portugal lost control of Macau decades ago, but Britain kept Hong Kong relatively insulated from Beijing right to the end. Hence the irritating opinion polls on citizens’ identity, and hence the growing refusal to accept D&G-Mainlander imperialism and the developer-Tsang regime conspiracy to smother the city in Mandarin-speaking, simplified character-using shopping malls.

In an unprecedented constitutional setting, it all makes sense.

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14 Responses to Unprecedented constitutional setting gets grouchy in unexpected ways (Part 4,203)

  1. PropertyDeveloper says:

    It’s all political, especially when the powers-that-be insist it isn’t. This storm in a teacup about an opinion poll is obviously engineered, since Michael DeGolyer and the Transition Project have been asking similar questions for yonks. In the past one of his options was, as has been recently suggested, being a British Hongkonger, but they’re now a highly endangered species, so I wonder if that continues.

    Hemlock’s point about flags is spot on. Flying a Taiwan flag on bridges may simply be a declaration of one’s nationality; but flying a pre-1997 HK emblem lays you open to accusations of unpatriotism, splittism, violator of article 23 or all of them.

  2. Wag says:

    Yes, Hong Kong is getting awash with dirty money. I stood behind a woman at a cash deposit machine yesterday and watched her load it with wads of crisp unused notes. How sad you can only load ten thousand dollars at a time. When it got to be sixty thousand I suggested she use a counter. She had a very big bag with her. She moved on.

    On the subject of Hong Kong property prices, Hong Kong people are in a double bind. They want all the money flowing in as it gives them the impression they are millionaires when they sell their property – until they try to buy a new one that is and discover they are getting less than what they had before for twice the price.

    Hong Kong ought to disappear up its own backside in this way. Don’t you agree? Hordes of compatriots laundering cash, driving up the cost of everything, squatting and spitting and obstructing every thoroughfare. Hurrah! Vive la justice.

  3. Joe Blow says:

    I am all in favor of not building a tower on Government Hill, but the existing structure is too fugly for words. Surely nobody wants to preserve that.

  4. Walter De Havilland says:

    The D&G saga is an interesting phenomena. But what is the exact motivation of the protestors? Is it the right to take photographs, to stop the encroachment of private security firms into policing public space or some kind of deep seated resentment because Hong Kong is now just a shopping mall for rich mainlanders; a shopping mall selling stuff that the vast majority of locals can’t afford. Or maybe it was just something to do on a Sunday.

  5. Old Timer says:

    “but flying a pre-1997 HK emblem lays you open to accusations of unpatriotism, splittism, violator of article 23 or all of them.”

    Not to mention “inciting nostaligia”.

  6. maugrim says:

    There is steam brewing at the moment among the populace, about a city that no longer feels like home. As Bowen Rd is to the toilet habits of dogs, Hk is to hordes of badly behaved mainlanders. The recent story of couples who illegally had a child in the territory demanding why the brat wasn’t able to get free HK provided immunisation, just adds a little more fuel to the fire. The D and G protest is perhaps an indication.

  7. Gerald says:

    I think there’s another racism element in this story – on the Apple videos the black security guard (given a hopeless task by some idiot manager of D&G which could never be justified) not surprisingly loses his cool – which I’m sure attracted the ire of some less intelligent locals who joined in the protest. However Walt and Maugrim are spot on with their observations; there is a great deal of antagonism building up against the Mainlanders – not helped by the fact that, for years, it was locals who felt smugly superior to their peasant counterparts across the border.

  8. Liu Ning Fan says:

    Mr. WDH,

    The foreigners D & G luxury company have hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and we must resolutely oppose until apology and compensation is given.

  9. Stephen says:

    No need to wave the old Hong Kong colonial flag to incite nostaligia, the opening of legal year did that for me yesterday. The wigs, gowns, clipped stiff upper lip English took me back to the days Governor Sir David Wilson – when I first arrived.

    Now Hong Kong is having issues with hordes of badly behaved mainlanders who have pushed up property prices, the retail trade caters soley for and have stretched the maternity wards of hospitals to breaking point.

    Fear not cometh the hour cometh the Horseman – to teach us to fix a inane grin to our faces and keep buggering on …

  10. Groot Oore says:

    @ Stephen. That grin has got to go. He wears it on the MTR, on his bike, while being jostled. No doubt also when mounting Mrs Horseman after a bottle of the finest Chateau Lafite.

  11. Paul says:

    Congratulations summarizing the entire SCMP HK news into one argument. You probably could have tied in Qianhai (HK, I want your money and your business) as well as yet another agreement between HK and GZ beneficial only to mainland shareholders of a JV between their own companies in HK and the Mainland…..

    Oops, rather than fanning the sounds of bigotry and intolerance, politicians should direct the D&G argument back to the real issue: the interference in public rights by private concerns for increasingly willy nilly reasons.. With 9/11 property owners and banks got worried about photography. Now every security guard believes he/she has the right to block photographers, even when they are in public space.

  12. Walter De Havilland says:

    I suppose the big picture is we are gradually seeing the assimilation of Hong Kong into China. The strategy being applied is the same as used in Tibet and elsewhere, a movement of mainlanders that displaces and overpowers the local community. Mainland mothers giving birth here, the buy up of Hong Kong property by mainlanders and our increasing dependence on mainland tourists are all aspects of the process. This is an all encompassing approach with the government even attempting to our air pollution to mainland levels!

  13. Real Tax Payer says:

    Quite apart from Mainland people illegally carrying in suitcase loads of RMB ( which must weigh a ton, because paper is HEAVY) and then exchanging it quite legally at HK money changers ( but anyway I’m sure DG happily accept RMB cash) , there’s another so-simple way which is that Mainlanders who need HK$ just agree a fair exchange rate with HK-er friends and relatives who need RMB in China and so they do a simple swop .

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