Making it up as they go along

Least Shocking News Report of the Week Award surely goes to today’s ‘Hong Kong People Even More Dissatisfied than Last Time’ story. The New York Times gives it plentiful coverage. (The South China Morning Post breaks an exclusive scoop on Monty and Coffee, the poisoned dogs on Lamma – ‘Mystery of Sudden Recent Peace and Quiet on Outlying Island Solved’.)

The Hong Kong Transition Project’s latest poll shows that more than half of respondents are unhappy with Beijing’s management of the city and/or vice-versa. The survey specifically explores people’s views on the prospects of a fair system of universal suffrage. If it had asked more about the Locust pee-pee onslaught, schools, rising rents, MTR screw-ups, housing, air pollution, traffic, government-business collusion, overpaid civil servants, irritating public-service TV ads, noisy children, the weather, the crummy choice of ice cream in 7-Eleven and all the other endless horrors, the outrage and despair would be measured in light-years. As we see, even Financial Secretary John Tsang has joined local teenage rebels and started to wrap himself in the flag of the former colonial ruler.

Not all the potential, imminent and ongoing disasters befalling Hong Kong are as obvious and vivid as the incontinent Mainland toddlers and the blood-sucking landlords. One is the all-pervasive amateurishness among decision-makers and the accompanying conspiracy to act as if it weren’t there. It especially permeates that parallel universe of all-conquering cross-border cooperation and partnership and exciting Mainland economic hub zones.

In his 1841 classic (public domain, all yours for free) Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles Mackay mentions a shyster raising capital for “a company for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is.” That’s every Pan-Pearl River Delta win-win Shanghai Free Trade mutually-beneficial Qianhai financial services blah-blah mega-zone hub, in a nutshell. Conferences and meetings about grandly titled concepts and projects that everyone (surely) knows have no actual substance, yet must nonetheless be admired, excitedly discussed and almost worshiped, like the emperor with no clothes – a fable we sometimes seem to be living in.

And today, we learn that the Hong Kong-Shanghai stock market through-train will not, after all, be subject to a total quota of RMB550 billion in cross-border trades as we thought when it was announced a few weeks back. Instead, the quota will be on a ‘net buy’ basis (says p.14 of the Stock Exchange presentation). This means more money flowing backwards and forwards between the two exchanges (though in fact hermetically sealed off from Planet Mainland proper).

The extent to which we should all jump and down and screech a big ‘Yippee!’ can be gauged by the way the Hang Seng Index has, last I checked, declined by 278 points today. But that’s not really the point. The thing is that a simple and straightforward (but apparently not spelt out, thus assumed) initial formula caused disappointment; come the day when official, actual details are announced, the formula seems to have been contrived into something distinctly inelegant, but less disappointing. What does this suggest? That they’re making it up as they go along.

That’s certainly the case with holidays. I declare the forthcoming, shockingly disorganized six-day weekend-during-which-you-must-work-two-days open.



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