New police chief, old opinion polls

Hong Kong’s unlovable police chief Andy Tsang gives way to successor Stephen Lo. Tsang is inevitably associated with the decline in the last couple of years of the force’s reputation for calm professionalism and political neutrality. Before the Occupy/Umbrella movement, the Hong Kong Police generally did not: use tear gas; beat up pro-democrats in dark corners; look the other way when pro-Beijing thugs assaulted reporters; let identity parade participants wear shower caps and masks; arrest kids as a form of intimidation; or freak out like schizoid bed-wetters when groups of people stood outside Mongkok shops. Now they do.

People hoping that things will improve under Commissioner Lo assume that this fall from grace was Tsang’s personal choice. But if we put the new-look, tough-on-dems-and-students HKP in context, it doesn’t look that way. The context is: official scaremongering about ‘foreign interference’ in Hong Kong; pro-Beijing media demonization of academics; the use of hired pro-Beijing counter-protesters and bullies; press-ganging of business groups into signing alarmist anti-Occupy public statements; and, recently, a United Front Stan-NewCopcampaign of criticism of judges for not joining in the purge. Seen this way, the cops have simply been brought under the same Beijing-led guidance as so much of the bureaucracy and establishment.

Lo says he will ‘enhance communication’, which is the default promise of any official who for whatever reason can’t or won’t change from a doomed course.

Another departure is that of Lu Ping. It is a reminder of how times have changed that even pro-dems recall old ‘Lu Lu’ with some affection. China was perhaps stronger on principles back then and therefore more quietly sure of itself, compared with today’s leadership, gripped alternately by paranoia and hubris.

For a bit of light relief, along comes pro-tycoon Liberal Party lawmaker James Tien. It’s not often you see his name in the same headline as the word ‘deep’, so make the most of the Standard’s piece. It is, of course, inappropriate; the newspaper suggests that James is making a sacrifice by stumping up HK$250,000 to pay for an opinion poll on the political reform package, when such a sum is small change to the textiles scion.

He is hiring Robert Chung’s HK University POP polling group – whose unflattering findings have long irritated government officials and the pro-Beijing community (to the extent that United Front yappers have called for an alternative organization to do opinion polling right). By using the detested HKU group, Tien embellishes his reputation as a ‘maverick’ of the pro-establishment camp. His logic is that HKU POP is trusted by pro-democrats, who will therefore be persuaded if and when they learn that the public strongly supports the proposed political reform package.

(The last I heard, the POP pollsters rely on surveying only that part of the population with a landline phone, which some statistics experts consider an imperfect sample, if better than other local surveys. Would it be horribly cynical to wonder whether both pro-dem and pro-Beijing camps perhaps prefer not having too accurate a reading of what the public think?)

Yet it is hard to see public opinion shifting decisively in favour of the package. Beijing official Zhang Xiaoming asks government supporters to do more to support it. He insists the reforms are democratic and constitutional and all the rest. The pro-dems of course denounce the package as the opposite. The battle is over symbolism and structure and theory, and either you find it interesting and have made up your mind, or it bores you numb. No-one mentions what either accepting or rejecting the reform package might mean in practice for quality of governance in Hong Kong – the one thing that could shift perceptions.

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16 Responses to New police chief, old opinion polls

  1. PCC says:

    It bores me numb.

  2. Qian Jin says:

    Very lop-sided, portraying your own political bias. You could just have easily written :
    “Before the Occupy/Umbrella movement, the Hong Kong Police seldom used tear smoke because we did not have hordes of unruly law breakers blocking major roads in the central business district, a phenomenon not tolerated by authorities in any democratised Western city; did not have “kids” sticking umbrella shafts and i-phone flash lights into the faces of uniformed policemen; did not have politically-contaminated magistrates and judges allowing thugs, arrested for assaulting police officers lawfully exercising their duty, to walk free from courts with only a bind-over or slap on the wrist; not have hordes of twenty-year old or more “kids” insulting and spitting on visitors to Hong Kong’s shopping areas while kicking their wheelie suitcases. Now they do.”

  3. Cassowary says:

    For what it’s worth, DeGolyer @ HK Transition Project only polls landlines too. Most market research firms also only do landlines. Apparently, mobile phones still present too many technical challenges (read: are a pain in the arse) for pollsters to bother with.

    HKU POP’s sampling falls down a bit because a) they only interview Cantonese speakers, and b) they’re too cheap to properly randomize which household member gets interviewed, so people pass the phone off to their wife/mum/grandma because they’ve got better things to do, like watching television.

    As for the cops, is it too much to hope that Lo (and his handlers up north) will understand that failing to press charges against the 7 who beat up Ken Tsang on live television will add to social instability? It’s probable that they’re being paid not to understand it; they can’t afford to deviate from the Spreadsheet of Loyalty and the playbook of Charlie Sheen Winning.

  4. Incredulous says:

    What on earth were they thinking when they held an identity parade and allowed the participants to wear disguise? What does the Director of Public Prosecutions think of this? This should be challenged in court. Utter complete nonsense!

  5. Most discussion of polling on the political reform package tends to assume that one is simply for or against it. In fact the picture is rather more complicated. There are of course those who reject it outright for the sham it is, while on the other hand there are the fanatical Beijing loyalists who would murder their own grandmothers if ordered to do so by the CCP. However, there are also such other groups as those who don’t like it but can’t afford to risk their job or business by saying so publicly, and possibly the largest group of all, those who know it’s crap but think it’s the best deal we’re likely to get and therefore marginally less bad than nothing at all. To get an accurate picture of public feeling, the pollsters need to be able to distinguish between these shades of opinion.

  6. Stephen says:

    Not long ago three quarters of a million people voted in an ‘opinion poll’ despite dire warnings not to do so from the establishment and cyber blocking by China. Now they are all the rage in the hope that 60% of respondents shrug their shoulders and say “yes” with the likely proviso that “it’s probably the best we can get and ensures we don’t get CY again”. Of course you will get a Chief Executive all to ready to accept “Beijing-led guidance”, bragging about a mandate and not improving governance one jot. From memory 57% of the popular geographical vote in the last Legislative Council elections went to Pro-Dem candidates. There is your poll – veto it.

  7. Chinese Netizen says:

    And what would Jiang Qing above (err…did I spell that right?) say about HKP harassing and menacingly threatening mere teenage girls for using chalk…CHALK…to write on walls? Judicious use of resources? Politically motivated intimidation? Mainlandization?

    “…gripped alternately by paranoia and hubris.” Probably one of the best summations of the CCP I’ve read in months. It’s really too bad the rest of the world really doesn’t give a rat’s arse about HK’s demise and soon-to-be loss of most freedoms as she spins into Cultural Revolution-like campaigns of denouncements, public shamings and so forth.

    Asia’s “World City”, indeed.

  8. Knownot says:

    I showed Satire an article about a system of universal suffrage in which there was full freedom to vote, but no freedom to be a candidate.

    I showed her an article about a place with a constitution which could not be changed by a legislature, but could be reinterpreted by a committee.

    I showed her a report of an identity parade in which the suspects wore shower-caps and masks.

    I said, “These things are absurd. Help me write something funny.”
    “Is there really such a place?” she said.
    “Yes.” I had a lump in my throat.
    “Then,” she said, looking up, her eyes glistening with tears, “my life is over. I cannot compete.”

    We tried to comfort each other.

  9. NIMBY says:

    Qian Jin Well, in the old days to they didn’t make it necessary to commit a crime for an old man to try to feed himself. We can lay that one on laws promulgated and enacted the day before the turn over on 30/06/1997. Perhaps grandpas in Uniforms had to be gotten out of the way before the PLA felt safe to move in to HK.

    Interesting pinyin, does it mean: money in (nothing out)? lead (for) gold? dive(ingfor) muff? apologist (wet) rag?.

  10. LRE says:

    No-one mentions what either accepting or rejecting the reform package might mean in practice for quality of governance in Hong Kong – the one thing that could shift perceptions.
    Quite so. It is unfathomable to me why those useless ditherers the pan dems don’t point out the blindingly obvious points:

    1. It’s not one man one vote when 1,200 loyal CCP stooges get more than one vote. Neither is it universal suffrage: it’s the universal suffrage of Animal Farm, where everyone’s vote is equal, but some people’s votes are more equal than others.

    2. Should Hong Kongers be dumb enough to accept the badly polished turd that is 2017 ersatz-democracy, the CCP will push through whatever it deems necessary for Hong Kong — more mainland tourists/compulsory national reeducation/end of the free press/politicisation of the judiciary/the arrest of dissidents/student-crushing tanks for the police etc. and say to those in uproar: “But you voted for Tweedledum, instead of Tweedledee, so clearly he/she/it has a mandate to do this.”

    3. Beijing wants this to happen, so it’s obviously good for the CCP, and what’s good for the CCP is inevitably going to be bad for Hong Kong democracy. Far from being the best offer on the table, it’s the worst offer.

    4. If we reject it, the CCP has no mandate to do all the stuff it wants to, and it knows it. So Beijing will have to be sneaky and soft-shoe it’s way to the ultimate goal of absolute political control over Hong Kong. This means it will take much longer for us to lose all those freedoms we currently still mostly enjoy.

    5. Contrary to 689’s scaremongering proclamations, if we “just say no to fakes”, the next CE has to come up with a new proposal or be in violation of the Basic Law. The CCP doesn’t have a mandate or enough control to be that hypocritical just yet, so again it will have to soft-shoe it. Sure they’ll delay it for a few years, but again: they can’t do anything too drastic until they have a semblance of a “mandate”.

    In summary the 2017 CE Election on offer can be summed up thusly.

  11. Monkey Reborn says:

    @ Qian Jin

    “Politically-contaminated judges” …. lol whoa there soldier, methinks perhaps you missed out on your own 20th century history. Political persecution based on arbitrary, constantly evolving “Party lines” is one of the great blights on the CCP’s record and an unhealed wound in the collective Chinese psyche.

    If China had a professionally trained, independent, politically neutral judiciary and police, or even just independent corruption watchdogs, what would happen to the levels of corruption in China? Massively down. Social fairness and equality (including enforcement of labour regulations and policies, as well as environmental policies)? Massive improvements. China’s technical laws and regulations like environmental protection are not bad, but the challenge is enforcing the law when the judiciary and police are directed by representatives of a monolithic party-state.

    Can you imagine a China where peasants can sue a local government for illegal eviction for land development, without fear of bias, fear of intimidation with force or with penalties? Where there was sufficient impartiality throughout the judicial system that even high-ranking party officials could be prosecuted by lay people for breaching the law? As opposed to the free pass officials and their relatives have enjoyed vis-a-vis criminal acts, particularly in the commercial spheres, as well as numerous hit-and-run car accidents.

    Would China be a more stable place with an independent, professional, politically neutral judiciary? A more equitable place, with a higher quality of living for the “masses” the CCP is supposed to, by its own charter, be primarily concerned with?

    Put aside your narrow-minded nationalism for a moment Qian Jin, and open your mind. Every nation is founded on myths, and every nation’s leaders routinely lie to their own people. Yes, the US is the evil empire and is directly responsible for a huge amount of human suffering on this earth. However that does not absolve the Chinese state of its responsibilities to her own people, not only for economic development, but also for basic political rights that you and I deserve, as a matter of fundamental human decency – to freedom of expression, to freedom of assembly, the right to elect and hold accountable public officials, the right to directly influence policy through elected representatives, or referenda.

    And the real truth of the matter is, if you had an open debate with 99.99% of the population in China, about what an independent judiciary and police force is, and how it would operate differently, and the check on the power of the state it would provide, and protections for the rights of individuals vis-a-vis the state and vis-a-vis each other, it would be overwhelmingly popular and considered a vast improvement over the current situation of continual and arbitrary exercises of state power.

  12. Joe Blow says:

    So when can we expect Christine Loh to be out on the stump in, let’s say, Tin Shui Wai and handing out bags of rice to DAB grannies while telling them “to pocket it first !” while the grannies are gumming “Reform, Reform” and asking each other how they can possibly’pocket’ a bag of rice.

  13. NIMBY says:

    Joe Blow Get over being turned down by Christine when you tried to hit her up at some function. Try Mop Top, she’ll do you right, and you can “blow” her hair dry after the shower.

  14. PD says:

    LRE, Good point: in an executive-led government, failing to implement a gradual introduction of democracy is violating the Basic “Law”.

    Chien-tsin, Calling for a balanced view when dealing with thugs is an egregious error.

    All commentators, bar one: thanks for such well-informed and finely expressed contributions.

  15. Cassowary says:

    Qian Jin, you have something in common with the mindless Fox News fanboys in the United States who say that police brutality is the fault of suspects failing to be perfectly docile. So go ahead, blame an unhappy populace for social disharmony, instead of those who made them unhappy. Wouldn’t everything be nice if everyone shut up and did as they were told? Oh, I forgot. The CIA told the people to be unhappy, and they obeyed!

  16. Nigel Farage says:

    What an honour for Hemlock. An actual CCP stooge seeing the necessity to start posting comments here. You know you’ve hit the big time when the CCP takes note.

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