An apology on behalf of the SCMP

South China Morning Post readers may have gained the impression in recent days that the ‘through train’ link between the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchanges is an earth-shattering step forward in opening up China’s capital markets, a humungous ‘Win-Win’, and a sure-fire guarantee that the US Dollar will be wiped out by the mighty Yuan any day now…

It has now come to the editors’ attention that the arrangement is in fact so absurdly small in scope as to be basically irrelevant and just plain stupid

…and the previous few days’ frenzied excitement was misplaced and indeed misleading; they are pleased to clarify this and apologize for any confusion.

Seriously: what were they thinking? Back on Friday when the news came out, anyone with half a brain could see that this was yet another non-story about a non-liberalization of an economy that has to be tightly rigged so the Chinese Communist Party elders can maintain their paranoiac grip while the kleptomaniac kids carry on pillaging. The country’s leaders probably have little or no clue about which bits of the economy could possibly be opened up without the whole thing collapsing; they’re certainly not about to find out the hard way. Yet our media join in with the stock exchange officials and politicians raving about the emperor’s latest dazzling costume.

The stock exchange and government people have their own needs and agendas. They are mostly bureaucrats, mostly appointed for their political reliability, and they run organizations insulated in their respective ways from competition; shoe-shining and not questioning things are key parts of the skill-set. The net result, as we are all so frequently and vividly reminded, is that they live in a different world with its own reality. In a parallel universe where 100 million Mainland shoppers coming to Hong Kong seems do-able, cool and no big deal, the idea that Beijing would give its common people meaningful access to offshore investment markets might not raise eyebrows.

The media should, in theory, be apart. And as today’s deluge of skepticism shows, most of the journalists are indeed capable of cutting through the BS and getting down to truth and facts. (And at length. For the lazy or just jaded, the Standard offers an incomplete but brief debunking of the ‘through-train’ phooey.) So what was going on from Friday to Monday with all the cheerleading about capital controls disappearing, the Yuan trade mega-hub blooming, tons of commissions rolling in and all the rest?

Presumably, we are talking about proprietors’ pre-emptive cringes, again. However sympathetic or restrained, an objective analysis of the ‘through-train’ announcement would obviously be at variance with the official ecstatic excitement. To be at variance is to ‘not support’ the Beijing-appointed government. The tycoon newspaper owners acquired their local news empires in order to be able to show support. The secret police are probably not monitoring every column inch of the local press’s output, but you can never be sure. So weird garbage has to appear, just in case the proprietor needs to pull a sheaf of stories out to prove his loyalty to the Vice-Premier or someone and thus, hopefully, ensure that his Mainland real estate or retail investments do not suffer any mishaps.

The problem with this is clear. Let’s say a Basic Law expert we’ve never heard of, Professor Zhang from the Liaoning Academy of Advanced Hong Kong and Macau Studies, mumbles something about how the world is flat. Our own Chief Executive CY Leung jumps up to express his gratitude to the Professor for guiding us on the correct path on this important subject. So far, so good – nothing untoward. But then what happens at, for example, the SCMP? Columnist George Chen writes about how his old friends in Shanghai always used to say the world was flat, and Enoch Yiu interviews Ronald Arculli in-depth about the complete non-curvature of our planet, and so on. The interests of readers do not come into this equation.

A rather elegant solution, perhaps, would be to have some special secret sign next to fantasy-ravings masquerading as serious news and analysis, so readers can just flick past them. A little star in the top left corner above the headline, for example. It would spare everyone time and embarrassment.

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