Campaigning journalism has never been the Hong Kong media’s strong point, so it might be churlish to mock the South China Morning Post’s declaration of war on… dripping air-conditioners. Still, as social evils go, this looks like a suspiciously ‘safe’ target. Do leaky air-cons spread Maoist Mainlandization nuisance and elderly-oriented (eewww…) semi-vice, like the patriotic da ma singing in parks? No. Do they implicate Chinese state companies in potential brain damage among Hong Kong kiddies as with the issue of lead in water? No. Do they involve rich selfish jerks causing air pollution, congestion and danger to pedestrians, like illegal parking? Nope. In the unlikely event that any culprits face penalties as a result of this public-interest crusade, would they probably be poor, powerless and inconsequential? Yup. Perfect. Rest assured no advertisers’ or one-party regime’s interests were harmed in the production of this campaign.
Meanwhile, the latest opinion poll shows that Hong Kong people perceive that their freedom, rule of law and prosperity are in decline. Signs that they are right are too numerous to list or even summarize. Beijing officials’ intervention in Hong Kong can be ‘perceived’ in media bias, the politicization of the police, contrived ‘struggle’ sessions against pro-democracy individuals or movements, and much else. One small example is the attempt to prevent academic Johannes Chan’s appointment to a senior position at the University of Hong Kong as a punishment/warning because of his support for Occupy Central.
Students protested against this. A United Front-style signature drive is now calling for action against them, with one Maureen Chung saying their direct action is symptomatic of a ‘destructive’ ideology that goes back to the Occupy Movement. These detractors also accuse the protesters of ‘political interference’. This is quite a clever and audacious distortion, portraying the Occupy/HKU protests as cause rather than effect. (The Occupy/Umbrella protests were a pretty much visceral reaction to last year’s White Paper (June) and Standing Committee decision (August) edicts in which Beijing unilaterally redefined Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic rights. The HKU protests were a similarly spontaneous response to Beijing proxies’ intrusion into the university appointments process.)
The pro-democrats are generally too splintered and disorganized to take the initiative in this way. Their various members and sub-groups like to focus on their own favourite small details – hence their view of the HKU issue as primarily about academic autonomy rather than as part of a much broader Beijing project to subdue Hong Kong.
They could do worse than read (HKU) Professor Michael C Davis’ analysis, which puts these events in the context of the Chinese Communist Party’s current nationwide paranoiac freakout. He sees an open struggle for core values between Hong Kong’s people and the sovereign power, with the local administration abdicating any separate role. With so much at stake, he proposes that the pro-democrats “do a better job of communicating … with Beijing supporters, especially the business elite.”
There are two implications here. First, that the Xi Jinping regime is out of its depth as well as gripped by fear and could do serious unintended damage to Hong Kong as a centre of unique economic value to China. Which sounds all-too believable. Second, that the shoe-shiners and kowtowers in our business community might have the nerve to approach Beijing themselves and/or that the Chinese Communist Party would give a damn what they think. Which sounds a bit more of a long shot. But arguably worth a try.
Meanwhile, the air-conditioners drip away.