Two things come to mind the second you mention Home Affairs Secretary Lau Kong-wah. First, the classic shot of the hapless buffoon/mediocrity peering out from a garbage bin. Second, the sight of him dumbly sitting out a debate between officials and students. And now there’s a third – in which he shoots himself in the foot and then promptly rams the injured appendage into his own mouth, on live TV for your viewing pleasure.
The scenario: a visiting troupe of Taiwanese performers accused Lau’s Leisure and Cultural Services underlings of petty and inept censorship; when questioned by the media, Lau humiliated himself by reading a vacuous statement that made everything worse. If the censorship had been serious and meaningful – silencing the Dalai Lama or banning mention of Mao’s famine – Lau’s embarrassing performance would have been semi-understandable. But to half-die on camera over such a lame excision (the word ‘national’ from a Taiwan university’s name) is unforgivable. You wouldn’t have thought anyone could further tarnish this government’s reputation so easily, but Lau has pulled it off.
Beijing’s hyper-sensitivity over things Taiwanese, combined with Hong Kong officials’ pre-emptive northward kowtowing, makes this sort of mess inevitable. We are supposed to see Taiwan as a province (as we would Guangdong or Fujian), yet its representative offices and sports teams have to use the title ‘Taipei’, highlighting the fact that it is not a plain everyday province. A Taiwanese academic was recently censored on the Mainland for referring to the island’s president as ‘the president’ rather than ‘leader’. Anyone who has visited Taiwan knows that the place has (without spelling it out) been independent for decades. Beijing insists on an elaborate linguistic charade to conform to its fantasy that this is not the case.
Any Hong Kong bureaucrat will be hopelessly out of his depth here. How does the word ‘National’ in ‘Taipei National University of Arts’ conflict with Beijing’s ‘One China’ official truth? Does it imply a Taiwan nation (forbidden) or a One China nation (surely acceptable)? Does Hong Kong, supposedly excused from the Mainland’s censorship and other Leninist constraints, even have to bother worrying about it? Or must we adopt clear guidelines on how to re-name Taiwanese educational institutions (which, as the Standard editorial points out, have many Hong Kong alumni)? If so, how to we explain that to the rest of the world? “Ah, well, in Hong Kong now we have to call it Taipei University of Arts because, you know, hah hah.”
On the bright side, the performers, inevitably called the Nonsensemakers, at least get some publicity out of this. Our friends in Taiwan get another reminder to steer well clear of Communist tyrants bearing offers of ‘two systems’. And we get another Lau Kong-wah farce. Otherwise, this is another small, depressing step in China’s perverse project, Operation Let’s Take Asia’s Greatest City and Screw it Up. With (among much else, like press freedom plunging) the Post Office covering colonial British insignia on old mailboxes, the police trying to make 1960s Communist terrorism disappear from its website story, and this sort of idiocy – just how stupid are these people trying to make themselves and Hong Kong look?