A peculiar column in the South China Morning Post’s op-ed page pleads with Google not to ‘give up’ on China. The author relies on Gmail, which Beijing’s Internet watchdogs seem to have been blocking in the Mainland (for reasons that remain unclear – presumably to help protect the motherland from evil Western ideas). The disruption has gone down badly with businesses and students who use the email service to communicate with clients and colleges overseas. Even the Communist Party’s nationalistic Global Times mouthpiece found the blockage hard to explain or justify.
The odd thing about the SCMP column is that the writer essentially blames Google for the fact that its email service and search engine are unavailable behind China’s Great Firewall. He even accuses the company of letting its shareholders down. Yet it is the paranoid Leninist system’s elaborate and growing censorship that bars Google from the Mainland.
The subtext is that China is normal, and those that don’t adapt (or bow) to it are unreasonable or stupid. The scary thing is that people blindly go along with this. If some Taiwanese raise their flag in Washington DC, Beijing will naturally go into Big Bed-Wetting Mouth-Frothing Tantrum mode. To which the correct State Department response should be a disinterested shrug, or a diplomatic reminder that the US, not China, runs the US. But no – the spokeswoman gives the requisite kowtow. Meanwhile, Facebook’s founder-whizzkid thinks he’s clever – maybe even cool – waving the Thoughts of Chairman Xi.
The SCMP op-ed delusions continue in another opinion piece inviting us to believe that Chief Executive CY Leung can and should assume the role of mother in ending the rift between the grumpy father (Beijing) and stroppy teenage son (Hong Kong). Leaving aside the mind-boggling imagery of CY as housewife, the idea is absurd because it completely misunderstands what is going on.
First, CY is not and cannot be a neutral go-between. His job is to be 100% loyal to the Chinese Communist Party, and he makes no secret about being in office to serve Beijing in its struggle against Hong Kong’s people and ethos. More to the point, the Central People’s Government does not do arbitration, reconciliation or similar namby-pamby warm-and-fuzzy stuff. Its mission is to maintain a monopoly of power, and its method is to crush and control anything or anyone that gets in the way. All the SCMP columns in the world – declaring essentially that everything would be nice if everything was nice – won’t change that.
Unlike Google, Hong Kong cannot choose whether to accept totalitarianism as normal. A lot of mutterings doing the rounds at the moment are probably designed to shock or scare, but the overall impression is that things are not going to be pleasant. Beijing looks set to be less, not more, flexible and tolerant. (Political reform looks like a lost cause but is beside the point now anyway.)
Mr Bad Example here is not some CIA-backed pro-democrat devil like publisher Jimmy Lai, but establishment politician James Tien. Last year, the clueless maverick called for CY Leung to stand down, and got a symbolic slapping in the form of expulsion from the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The word now is that this is just the start. Beijing will squeeze out pro-establishment figures – government officials as well as business people – who are not sufficiently (that is, totally) loyal.
This points to a smaller, tighter cabal of trusted and obedient insiders. It suggests greater pressure on the media to toe the party line, and routine direct intervention by Beijing officials in broad economic and social, as well as constitutional and security, policy. And of course it means that more people than ever will be categorized as outsider non-persons or worse. On a positive note, controlling the local elite with the stick rather than the carrot could mean less blatant favouritism towards tycoons. On the negative side, it is hard to see how this tighter grip – treating Hong Kong as a national security problem – will not involve greater intimidation of outright dissenters and critics.
This is all mutterings, of course. Could be wrong. Maybe SCMP columnists are right, and everything can in fact be nice.