Reaching out from a speeding bus

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Exactly on-time, the open-topped bus careened onto Smithfield and sped 50 yards up to the MTR station, as advertised. At the corner where the protesters were gathered, it turned a sharp right and accelerated away towards the steamy sub-tropical greenery of the far western tip of Hong Kong Island where Kennedy Town ends. The vehicle was in view for 10 seconds at most. Some nonplussed bystanders subsequently claimed to have seen people waving from the top deck, but others weren’t sure.

The pro-democracy demonstrators had surged forward with their yellow umbrellas as the bus approached, and ranks of valiant police struggled to hold them back. But when the double-decker sped instantly away in a cloud of dust, the shoving died down briefly – as if everyone was surprised and uncertain what to do. Then the pushing and shouting resumed.

The plan was for Chief Secretary Carrie Lam and her colleagues to promote the Chinese government’s model of quasi-democracy in Hong Kong by engaging with the community. While I waited for the bus to return, I dropped into the local branch of quirky food store 759. To my delight, I found they once again had the mega-giant chocolate marzipan bars (virtually free at HK$10.80, or something), and I bought a moderately ample quantity. I also noticed a range of cookies under the label ‘Euro Cake’, which struck me as a distinctly unlovely and unappealing brand name…

KT2

‘Taste the Difference’, ‘Fresh & Moist’. If this seemed like a failure of marketing and KT3communication, worse was to come. Outside, an elderly lady in a free T-shirt from what seemed to be a neighbourhood Chiuchow group presented me with government leaflets and a free pen. ‘Pocket it first’ it said on the leaflet, while the pen urges us to ‘talk and achieve universal suffrage’. Even Euro Cake’s ad agency could do a better job of selling this political reform package.

Carrie’s bus had not come back. The cops were arresting a couple of protestors – a young woman, who apparently needed some restraining, and a guy who seemed more laid back.

To pass the time, I dropped into a poky little Buddhist snack place. Among the fare on offer was vegetarian pig-intestine spring rolls. What a product concept! In theory, serious carnivores will object to it because the supposed meat content is just tofu, while squeamish namby-pamby types will recoil in horror at the very idea of hog offal. But after the first bite, and you find it’s pretty good, it should be more than acceptable to anyone and everyone. The parallels between these items and the government’s political reform proposals are obviously not exact, but it does remind us that you can put a positive spin on a lot of things, and how badly officials have failed to come up with even a vaguely convincing message to sell the proposed reforms.

Back on the street, and still no sign of the Carrie Bus. Opposite the pro-dem crowd, a small group of pro-Beijing loyalists shouted ‘one person, one vote’ repeatedly through a megaphone. Is there anything more off-putting than these grim, cantankerous and, frankly, uneducated losers? If they were offering chocolate marzipan bars, you’d still run away.

It is not impossible that Xi Jinping’s purging, controlling, quasi-neo-Maoist regime would prefer to see the Hong Kong political reform package fail. They could cast the pro-democracy lawmakers as the bad guys. And the one-party system could carry on just deciding the ‘winner’ of the Chief Executive ‘election’ in advance rather than go through the messy business of rigging a ballot, and the psychologically harrowing process of letting the people – even symbolically – make the final decision. If Beijing wants the package to fail, the farcical open-top bus parade was a good way to make it happen. But farcical open-top bus parades are a time-honoured way for the Hong Kong establishment to try to reach out to the community, as we have seen with past campaigns (Henry Tang for CE, among others); our bureaucrats think it works, though Beijing’s officials pulling the strings are probably smarter.

But it could be that Xi Jinping’s people recognize that Hong Kong will be more trouble in its own little way without some sort of change to the political process, and so really want the reforms to go through. If so, rather than wave from a bus as it zips through minor districts, Carrie or someone could make a show of coming clean and leveling with us. She could indicate that even this degree of loosening – letting the electorate choose from three hand-picked stooges – makes the Communist Party nervous. She could point out that the national leadership is worried about what residents of Mainland cities will think about the precedent set by Hong Kong. She could predict that even a restricted race would create enough competitive pressures to reduce the tycoons’ influence over government, which would surely clinch it for a decisive chunk of ‘pragmatic’ public opinion.

Meanwhile, the bus was (or represents) either a smart approach to getting the reform package to fail, or a really dumb attempt to get it passed. And we can’t be sure which.

KT4

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19 Responses to Reaching out from a speeding bus

  1. Joe Blow says:

    Apparently, the rabble on top of the bus (Hong Kong’s Government) decided against getting off and shaking hands, or whatever, because they were afraid of harassment by their own people.

    Whatever loser thought of this awkward and embarrassing bus campaign deserves at least a Bronze Bauhinia. (as awkwardness goes, it reminds of the time Donald Tsang decided to record a rap song)

  2. Stephen says:

    We can take it as a given that Comrade CY believes. But do Carrie etc actually believe this proposal is a fair and equitable way of electing a new CE or, as I do, see it as a pathetic charade ? Yes they are Civil Servants but they also intelligent people and if they said publically what you have said, in your penultimate paragraph, I think the proposals will pass, with a shrug, and we go on with life. But if they continue to grin like Cheshire Cats, lie and insult peoples intelligence then they may need a roof on their bus – as I foresee eggs on the next district engagement session.

  3. Boris Badanov says:

    Any government that is this afraid of a sizeable amount of its own people is not long for the world or strife is sure to come sooner or later. Take your pick. The interesting question is whether the govt paralysis that results has actually held back HK at all. On quality of life and livability issues like parallel traders, ensuring enough public housing, addressing pollution and a growing wealth gap, quite a lot probably. But HK still functions as a trade entrepot/financial centre and that’s all that matters to most tycoons and short stay foreigners (whatever they say about pollution and little Hamish or Jemima’s lungs, they still come to work or exploit here and they probably don’t care about public housing or the rising wealth gap as it doesn’t affect the view from Repulse Bay or upper Middle Levels).

  4. Cassowary says:

    I spent an hour and a half stuck in traffic on Saturday because CY and Friends (Allies? Convenient Stooges? Interchangeable Prop People?) had gone down to Shamshuipo to do a meet-and-greet which apparently necessitated closing off so many roads that the traffic backed all the way up to the Eastern Tunnel. The taxi driver said he hadn’t seen traffic this bad since the Umbrella Movement.

    Thanks, Obama.

  5. Scotty Dotty says:

    Really dumb attempt to get it passed.

    Weird to think it in this information age, but there are many shoeshiners who believe that if you repeat the lie a thousand times enough will believe it.

  6. LRE says:

    There’s really only one difference between the current system and the fake democracy on offer and that is that Beijing’s chosen person will have a fake popular mandate with the fake democracy as opposed to no mandate at all in the current system. It’s that thin veneer of legitimacy from the ersatz-democracy that Beijing is after, but they figure they probably can do without it for the remaining 30 years…

    What amazes me is the opposition hasn’t pounced on the wonderful pre-made anti-campaign: Remember the “No fakes” campaign that the government has been running for years, to encourage mainlanders and other tourists to part with their coin? Custom-designed for the “just say no to ersatz-democracy” camp’s needs.

  7. Gooddog says:

    I just feel so sorry for Carrie Lam – a reasonably efficient public servant rolled out again and again to do Beijing’s dirty work. She must be counting the days down until she can get her beloved pension and disappear.

    Her job is not to sell a shit sandwich but to implement passed and agreed government policy. Her hard won reputation is being ruined by this charade.

    Of course if she had any guts or courage at all, she would say publically, either the policy changes or I resign. But after a lifetime of shoe-shining, it must be hard to kick the habit.

    She will go down in history as a loser, a shoe-licker and a toady for Beijing, selling out her own Hong Kongers for a bag of silver, but at least she will have a lot of company.

    BTW – What do you think people like Carrie Lam think when they watch or read movies about Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther King? Do they shake their heads and tsk tsk, thinking they would have been better off doing the government’s bidding and picking up a pension while society around them begs for justice? Do they look on these persons as aliens from another planet? Who do they cheer for when they watch these films?

  8. Gooddog says:

    I just read this startling piece from Singapore’s Straits Times: – http://www.straitstimes.com/news/asia/east-asia/story/8-things-you-might-not-know-about-carrie-lam-hong-kongs-chief-secretary-20

    Highlights:
    1. She was head prefect (of course). Always the shoe-shiner. Think Tracy Flick of “Pick Flick” fame – one of the best movies evah. Even then, as a student, her instincts were authoritarian.
    2. Her hubby has retired to the countryside in the UK and left her in the lurch during last year’s crisis – thanks Honey! (but who can love a control freak head prefect type)
    3. She cried when she did not come first in a test at school. Jeez – its these mini-psychopaths that end up running the world, isn’t it. Sigh.

  9. Red Dragon says:

    Well if ever there were a bus that I’d like to see go over a cliff, this is it.

    Oh and by the way, chaps, it’s “publicly”, not “publically”.

    Pip pip!

  10. NIMBY says:

    Obstructionist to the T, our mandarins.

    Rather than do nothing, they must do something to add to our pain.

    In Nepal there is now a shortage of water, food, shelter; what does Hong Kong do to help? We send nearly useless pencil pushers to duplicate what the Chinese Embassy already does, so that they can add more pressure to already stretched resources.

    Per RTHK un-News (lifted no doubt word for word from a government press release)
    Three immigration officers will fly to Nepal on Monday afternoon to assist in finding five Hong Kong people who have been out of contact from their families since Saturday’s earthquake in the country. They will approach the the Chinese embassy there to seek help in locating the group. Two other Hong Kong residents who were missing have made contact…. The department said 19 other Hong Kong residents have already been located. They are safe and are receiving assistance.

    RTHK’s Mission Statement: Keep the masses occupied with meaningless information that they can’t use to make any useful decision.

  11. Cassowary says:

    Well, what’s worse? 30 more years of policy gridlock and terrible decisions on quality of life, or some pumped up sock puppet taking his faux legitimacy and trying to pull a Lee Kuan Yew on us?

  12. @Cassowary – er, both…

  13. PD says:

    Gooddog, A good section of the local population wouldn’t see such people as human beings at all, simply make a mental note to themselves not to sit next to them on the bus. About 80% of the male population in certain areas would shout racist insults at them.

    LRE, Thanks for putting it so elegantly. Not to be taken for a fool is on its own sufficient reason to reject the “reform”. The eyes of the world are upon us — or if they’re not, they should be because they’re next in line to face the Chinese juggernaut.

  14. Monkey Reborn says:

    My feelings is that BJ actually wants the political reform package to pass (too much noise from the mouthpieces and “mass mobilisation forces” lol). This is very interesting because: (a) the status quo is authoritarian (in that political institutions in HKG are basically controlled by the CCP); (b) maintaining an authoritarian status quo is the name of the game for the CCP.

    So what gives? Why not just let the package fail, use the episode to further de-legitimise the pan-dems in the eyes of the “masses”, and continue with tycoons+CCP+bureaucrats+thugs vs. educated middle class HKG youth?

    I think there are a couple of hypotheses worth exploring:

    1) Beijing recognises that the status quo is unsustainable, and that HKG is a major political risk vis-a-vis their “global soft power aspirations”, as well as vis-a-vis political stability in China. The political reform proposal is intended to result in a very centralised, authoritarian, and no doubt highly politically repressive system, with the slimy sheen of some quasi-democratic institutions a la Singapore.

    If this hypothesis is true, we can expect immediate discussion and rushed implementation of Article 23, and bringing HKG much closer into line with the mainland political system, after the political reform package is passed. No black jails or such like, but you can expect the courts in HKG to start charging and sentencing people for subversion or such like for organising protests or anti-CCP interest groups. Also expect to see open usage of intercepted internet communications used as evidence in court cases, as well as more or less open monitoring of internet usage and also central gov profiling of “dissidents” or “undesirables” (to a much greater degree than now).

    This is the conventional strategic view of the situation, denied by the HKG press, but openly discussed on here and among HKGers. However, it might be worthwhile to consider an alternative hypothesis, i.e.: 2) Political reform in HKG is strategically important to the CCP because of *mainland* political reform. Daddy Xi and his ilk must, as most China experts do as well, recognise the unsustainability (due to deepening, soon to be intractable social tensions) of current Mainland political institutions and, concomitantly, their own authority in China. Historically “democracy” (民(people)主(king) = democracy) in China has been more about accountability, transparency, and directing the authority of government in a responsible, fair, and impartial manner. Perhaps, the master plan is to trumpet HKG as a model in “Chinese democracy” (i.e. CCP authoritarian/guided/false democracy), because all those peasants in the hinterlands know how sophisticated HKGers are, and if we accept the authority of the CCP in shaping our democratic institutions, so should they.

    Think about it – what a wet dream for the CCP. To the gweilos of the world – we have elections, we are democratic, we now have real democratic legitimacy, just like you. To the mainland polis – you now have a choice, if you dont like your CCP cadre, you can choose another (from a list of candidates we provide of course). You now have a choice, you now have democracy, but we the CCP remain the “only game in town”.

    If this hypothesis is correct, expect to see much fanfare made in the Chinese press about HKG’s political reform (if it passes), and a lot of arm twisting / bribes / threats to pan-dems. And then I would expect – not now, but maybe after Xi completes his tenure, or towards the end – serious intraparty and possibly even public dissemination that a limited form of democratic election is coming, at least for the big metropolises.

    If hypothesis (1) is correct, then basically HKG as we know it is fucked. If hypothesis (2) is correct, then there may be less emphasis on political repression after the reform package passes. Of course, the hypotheses are not exclusive so they could both be true, or the focus on HKG could be a deception to mask the real focus – bringing the idea of political reform, in a process guided, controlled, and managed by the CCP, into mainland political consciousness, in order to address issues that imperil the survival of the CCP’s monopoly on power. If so, it would indeed be a very intelligent strategic play, straight out of Zhuge Liang or Sun Zi’s work. And – if the package passes – I think it would sell to most mainlanders, especially the mainland 1%ers, because they get that it is about consolidating their elite position, as well as the 800 million peasants, because they are sold on it as “modern Chinese democracy a la HKG”.

    If you wish to make any person (especially a Chinese person concerned about face and fairness lol) accept your “gift”, first give it to his friend or brother, and let him grow envious. Then when you return he will most likely ask you why he didnt receive the same, and accept what is given without question.

  15. Monkey Reborn says:

    p.s. just properly looked at the new banner, LOL. Despite his scorn for plebiscite popular pastimes like sport and popcorn cinema, I just realised Hemlock is, even if not a GoT fan, and least knowledgeable enough about series to select the perfect GoT character for the mainland.

    Nice one Hemlock.

  16. Chinese Netizen says:

    @NIMBY(5:59): it’s called desperately trying to justify one’s way-too-much salary. However, they won’t think twice about taking up precious space that could have fit more emergency supplies or a rescue worker.
    I thought the commies were well in charge of all that “national defence” and “foreign affairs” stuff?

  17. NIMBY says:

    So that’s what they call riding around on an open top bus, justifying their salary. Interesting that they used tourist transport to view the people of Hong Kong.

  18. NIMBY says:

    Curse Android (and KMB).

    So that’s what they call riding around on an open top bus, justifying their salary. Interesting that they used tourist transport toobstruct the roads to view the people of Hong Kong.

  19. NIMBY says:

    d*mn, d*mn, d*mn.. Curse again Android (and KMB).

    So that’s what they call riding around on an open top bus, justifying their salary. Interesting that they used tourist transport to obstruct the roads view the people of Hong Kong.

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