Signs of a shift

This half-sentence about China jumped out at me yesterday:

“…economic crisis will spawn a crisis of legitimacy for the deeply corrupt communist party.”

It was part of a heavily apocalyptic Guardian article, but on its own seemed a neat and plausible statement. And then today, I read a Standard column about Stan-BeijingNeedsChina’s stock-market circuit-breaker capital-flight screw-ups…:

“In a positive light, at least [the reversal on circuit-breakers] shows Beijing has the courage to make things right. However, it also implies Beijing has no large-scale vision, judging by the repeated volatility.”

Maybe it’s my Twittering echo-chamber, but I am getting this whiff of a revelation and a turning point dozens of times a day right now. Finally, it seems the mask is slipping from the China Economic Miracle that enabled authoritarian technocrats to outsmart decadent old capitalist democracy. The text-book recovery from Mao’s economic disasters has run its course, and the real test of competence and institutional capability starts now. Even starry-eyed observers are sensing that China’s leaders have no secret formula or magical vision – Xi (as Hu and Jiang) and company are simply making it up as they go along.

Beijing’s response when it finds its Midas Touch has suddenly stopped working is extreme frustration. Amid the anti-corruption/rectification purging, fund managers, CEOs and regulators are being detained/defenestrated as scapegoats for mismanagement (or leaders’ incomprehension) of China’s quasi-markets. Tolerance of overseas critics is wearing ever-thinner; along with French journalist Ursula Gauthier’s expulsion we now have Communist academics claiming Chinese jurisdiction over on-line blasphemers of Mao world-wide. And of course there’s the abductions of five Hong Kong publishers, subject of yesterday’s march.

Stan-Marchers

Further 99% proof that Beijing kidnapped and is holding the five comes in the form of reports of supposed messages from missing publisher Lee Bo asking for the public to cease taking an interest in his disappearance – or perhaps even be conscious that it ever happened. Perhaps we are seeing the Chinese Communist Party’s limitations in microcosm here: most five-year-olds caught with hands in cookie jar come up with something more convincing than these abductors’ spin-doctors.

In Hong Kong, we can see some specific signs of a shift in the landscape – or at least signs that opponents of Beijing-appointed Chief Executive CY Leung think a shift is coming.

The abductions can only bolster the credibility of the pro-dem camp. All your favourite demonized pan-dem personalities appear in one professionally – and promptly – produced video here (this one here is also attracting international attention).

HKFP-NoProblem

More to the point, elements of the pro-establishment camp are getting visibly fractious. Tsang Yok-sing, elder statesman of the Communist Party’s local front, joins calls for the Hong Kong authorities to badger Mainland counterparts about the five missing publishers and tentatively backs colonial-era civil servant and current uninspiring Financial Secretary John Tsang as CY’s deposer/replacement. The New Territories’ Heung Yee Kuk mafia threatens to end cooperation with other pro-Beijing groups in elections. And the tycoon’s kid running the government’s Youth Commission loses his ‘Belt and Road Opportunities’ script and suggests unaffordable homes and an undemocratic system really are making kids pissed off.

None of these people (or their string-pullers) have noble intentions. But they are supposed to be united and disciplined by Beijing’s Liaison Office, and that clearly isn’t happening.

Maybe the Mandate of Heaven is every bit as secure as at any time since, say, 1989. But if you are looking for signs that it’s not, there are a few at the moment.

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14 Responses to Signs of a shift

  1. Chris Maden says:

    For anyone concerned about the disappearance, there is a petition at https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/controversial-hong-kong-bookseller-becomes-fifth-man-go-missing-mysterious-circumstances to push the US government to raise this issue.

  2. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    The emperor wears no clothes.

    That’s been pretty clear from around Dec 2010, no?

  3. reductio says:

    Interesting with the HYK. My guess is the government will have to do something about the small house policy, but throw the Kuk some bones, like the development (read destruction) of Lantau as outlined in today’s SCMP. What do people here think? I see the Kuk holding very few cards.

  4. Enid Buffett says:

    Pardon me for saying so but you don’t seem to be saying anything definite today. Perhaps this is the subtle message. All news sources ultimately cancel each other out. The Shanghai stock market is down 2.4 % this morning. There’s a fact. Otherwise, just listen to John Tsang and do the opposite. One can have too much information at one’s fingertips.

  5. Dan the Man says:

    I don’t think Lee Bo is going to be let out by the CCP and allowed to leave the mainland. If he does leave, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll talk about how he was abducted and this would be a huge embarrassment for both the HK government and the CCP. With his British passport he can go to the UK any time he wants to.

    But if he stayed in HK it would be even worse for both the CCP and the HK government. That’s because if he stayed in HK and talked too much what is the CCP going to do? Kidnap him back to the mainland again? What if Bo asks for police protection from the HK police? What would the HK police do and when it’s pretty clear they want to do absolutely nothing – or maybe they even want to help the CCP? It’s pretty obvious at this point the CCP would’ve been better off just killing him and dumping his body into Victoria Harbour rather than kidnapping him. The knife attack on Kevin Lau was a far smarter tactical move than what happened to Lee Bo.

  6. Secret Squirral says:

    My guess is that all five will be charged with state espionage. Its the only way that the CCP can get out of it and would be an attempt to legitimise their exta-judicial rendition of them. Appeared with heads bowed for a few hours at a one-day show trial on the spurious charge of publishing state secrets, given 20 years apiece and never to be heard of again. This will lead to effectively the end of future free speech in HK.

  7. PD says:

    From where I’m sitting, the kuk holds all the cards. The FEHD, AFCD and even the police have to ask the permission of the locals to take one step out of their vehicles, or of course to park unscathed, as well as kowtow once or twice. And they’re not savvy enough to employ boats, drones or satellites.

    The look-out system, using phones, zoom lenses, mirrors, lights and shouts, works 24/7, even in typhoons.

    As regards global opinion of the Chinese economy and even the polity, we may indeed be sidling — finally — towards some sort of tipping point. The proof may come when more than half the CMP is taken up by suggestions we all sit down/join hands/work together/seek a consensus/sing “Lion Rock”/bend over and grit our teeth.

  8. reductio says:

    @PD

    Yup, see your point. To think that Beijing supports the Kuk which consists of a large number of NT rentiers who would have been “re-educated” (terminally) some decades back. Funny old world.

  9. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    I agree the Kuk hold all the cards. They are well-organised, determined and prepared to push the point against a government that is weak and on the back-foot. Remember all the fanfare from Carrie Lam about dealing with illegal structures in the NT. What happened? Nothing.

  10. gweiloeye says:

    So i went for a walk yesterday. I came from the west….down connaught road. Got to communist party office and asked if I could cut around the protest. The first cop say ‘ahhhh’ then looked at sargeant he say ‘no cannot’ I say ‘I am just going for walk’ to the park. ‘no must go that way’ back west ‘with the protest marchers?’ i enquire. ‘yes you must’.
    so i did waving to all the police and Tv cameras.

  11. Cassowary says:

    Domestic abusers are at their most dangerous when their victims are trying to leave. So it is with authoritarian regimes. A dictatorship doing the muppet flail is not something you want to be standing too close to. We’re living in interesting times.

  12. LRE says:

    I think the Kuk’s power is a rather like a cross between the Jewish lobby in the US — everyone in power perceives them as a powerful united lobby, but actually they’re neither — and the British monarchy’s power — absolute, just so long as they play the game and never try to actually use their power in any way the government really can’t abide. At that point their power will evaporate in short order, and they’ll be treated as the petty crime rural triads they are.

    Besides, if they wielded any actual power the CCP would be busily undermining them or crushing them underfoot right now.

  13. BUSYBODY says:

    “January 11, 2016 China’s Cabinet has created a new department to coordinate financial and economic affairs, according to a person familiar with the matter, as the country’s leaders seek to restore investor confidence in the government’s regulation of markets.”
    (From: Bloomberg)
    Sorry to spoil your gloating party, but just saying…

  14. Joe Blow says:

    @BUSYBODY: Are you saying that so far the world’s second economy has not coordinated financial and economic affairs ?
    I am really scared now……

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