Invasion of the Rent-a-Quotes

Readers of the South China Morning Post online are greeted with a big top story today: an Exclusive interview with Alibaba boss Jack Ma. Presumably they tried to get a one-on-one with a major tycoon who did not own the paper, but had to make do with their friendly proprietor this time. (Well, and next – it’s a two-part series.)


The Mainland’s leading and well-connected Amazon/PayPal/eBay emulator believes China has another 15-20 years of serious growth ahead once the current ‘difficult three to five years’ are over. He might be right. Maybe the Communist Party can and will enable a more innovative economy by sharing power over allocation of capital, over markets, over regulatory enforcement, over the judicial system, over information, etc. Being so confident, Ma is no doubt willing to buck the Chinese elite’s current financial behaviour patterns, and sell his alpine kingdom in upstate New York to invest back home in all these lovely opportunities. Wait for Part 2 to find out…

Ma is at least prepared to state a position on the record. Flicking through the rest of the paper, we are reminded of the challenges Hong Kong reporters seem to face when seeking quotes for their stories. The MTR has just raised its fares, leading to the inevitable outrage and wailing from commuters now facing starvation. The SCMP asks Lingnan University president Leonard Cheng what he thinks. We are not told why Cheng’s views might be especially relevant, though he does indulge in some fancy micro-economics jargon. But he starts off by declaring that the fare mechanism should ‘strike a balance’ and ‘not pit the interests of the public against the investors’…


This is the sort of Hong Kong establishment waffle that gets you appointed to boards, awarded Bauhinia Medals – and quoted in media keen to encourage ‘positive energy’.

The simple fact is that any ‘balance’ will by definition pit the interests of the public against the investors. A better quote would be: ‘This is what you get when you try to semi-privatize a publicly subsidized utility.” The commentator could follow through by stating what an idiot former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa was for bringing this about, and perhaps suggesting splitting the property developer from the railway and accepting the subsidized (and actually cheap) transport system as the social good it is. But such forthrightness might alarm the frail and the thin-skinned, and disrupt harmony.

Following yesterday’s HK Free Press hilarity on government-funded ‘Belt and Road’ youth exchange trips to Syria, the SCMP reports that the Home Affairs Bureau is really into kids’ safety.

The experts quoted in the piece are all very reasonable about the (admittedly notional) possibility of sending Hong Kong children to a humanitarian disaster zone in which Salafi, Assad/Alawite and a dozen other psychotic and desperate camps are slaughtering one another over blood-drenched uninhabitable rubble. Perhaps the sacred status of the ‘Belt and Road’ concept requires such sensitivity and understatement. Lawmaker and pro-Beijing businessman Lam Tai-fai thinks such tours ‘should not be encouraged’ and boldly suggests that if any group is planning a fun trip down Damascus way, ‘the government should advise it to adjust its itinerary’…


You would have thought the paper might have found someone honest (or rash) enough to deliver an expletive-filled rant about the idiocy, absurdity or sheer insanity of a government that unthinkingly produces such a policy – but apparently they did not respond to our requests for comment.



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7 Responses to Invasion of the Rent-a-Quotes

  1. Cassowary says:

    The most likely explanation for this inane school trip policy is that the civil servants who dreamed it up literally do not know where Syria is. I have personally witnessed university professors telling lecture halls full of undergraduates that Yemen is in Africa and that Muslims don’t eat pork because of their great respect for pigs. I would find if entirely unsurprising if some junior civil servant copied a list of country names out of a Belt and Road briefing paper, did not bother to do the most perfunctory Google search, and passed them up the chain to the boss, who after determining that it contained no typos, approved the document.

  2. SCMP interviewing Jack Ma. Goebbels interviewing Hitler? Ray Cordiero interviewing Tom Jones?

    Onlty problem arises when the tongue inserted up Jack’s backside has to be removed to ask a question. No doubt it was all done by email. When you think how many edits it went through, it must have taken a month to get it finally cleared by all, the Liaison Office included.

    That’s why the SCMP and similar newspapers are always behind with the news. Too many senior editors, all I see now with Mainland names. My round robin insults to the SCMP staff all come back now with European names marked unreachable.

  3. LRE says:

    Just think — if someone were to start up a non-profit called International Student Interchange Society or some such, then organise tours to Syria or Iraq and apply for and get the grant … that might make the government look bad.

  4. gweiloeye says:

    Jack’s interview done in Hangzhou probably in putonghua, about SCMP an English language paper based in Hong Kong. Yeah right. When is he moving it to Guangzhou because it would still be South China.

    At least if he says anything stupid he can always blame the translation into English.

  5. JD says:

    “…Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma told the South China Morning Post in an interview just before the e-commerce giant’s takeover of the 113-year-old newspaper.”

    So this interview took place prior to December 11, 2015? Wow. Looks like it took a long time to get those quotes just right…

    …or they’re trying to bury Panama Papers coverage yet again with some stuff in the vault.

  6. Tous le Monde says:

    Do you think Christine Loh is a CCP whore ?

  7. Headache says:

    @JD, the formal takeover happened only a week or two ago, although there was of course plenty of transitional manouvring in the lead up.

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