When yesterday’s South China Morning Post put a puff-piece for its owner’s company on the front page of the Business section, I thought it vaguely amusing to Tweet it. The paper carried another such advertorial today…
It seemed worthy of another Tweet, but then I turned to the main section, and things started to get less funny. Page 3 has all the real newsworthy excitement like Tai Tam Tunnel crashes, Mainland cops beating up lawyers and how Brexit will affect Hong Kong. And a long report on His Wondrousness Jack Ma’s comments to Hong Kong youth…
…complete with condescending quotes on how young Hong Kong people should ‘think clearly’ and how it would be So Meaningful for them to visit the Mainland so they could ‘understand the real situation’. In other words, the standard intelligence-insulting platitudes pro-Beijing propagandists recite to local dissatisfied youth: your anger at bad governance and the threat of totalitarianism is a sign of your dim-wittedness. Interestingly, Ma did not mention ‘Belt and Road’, and the astounding opportunities that await our young people in Azerbaijan or wherever. I guess he is a little bit hip and groovy.
(Presumably, the SCMP will be boosting Alibaba regularly for the foreseeable future. Temasek Holdings has just bought a billion bucks of the company’s shares. When Singapore’s sovereign wealth funds buy, it is a sure sign that a stock is an appalling investment and about to plummet.)
The juxtaposition on page 3 of warnings about radical Localist splittists and Financial Secretary John Tsang’s snore-inducing musings on Brexit begs for a comparison.
Similarities between the PRC and the EU abound…
Both are artificial, centralizing polities designed to embrace and subsume disparate peoples who don’t much like each other. Post-war foundation on high-minded ideals but subsequently ruled by a corrupt unaccountable elite. Pseudo flags – essentially logos rather than symbols of nationhood and history. A make-believe assembly pretending to be a legislature like real democratic nation-states have. A stubborn inability to accept obvious truths (‘the South China Sea is ocean, you can’t own it’, ‘forcing such different economies to have one currency is stupid’). A fondness for mystical gibberish-slogans (‘If the bicycle stops moving it will fall over’, ‘One Belt, One Road’).
If we want to look on the bright side, we could identify some benefits they have in common. Both the PRC and EU allow for free flows of trade, investment and labour within one economic zone. Both arguably help modernize benighted regions of their empires: Tibet and Xinjiang are at least no longer medieval and feudal, and decrees from Brussels have forced dumps like Rumania to drag themselves into a state of semi-civilization. And let’s not forget such contributions to human culture as the New Year Gala and the Eurovision Song Contest.
Hong Kong independence and British exit from Europe also have some similarities. The warnings against are often ludicrous scare-mongering. We are told that without the motherland Hong Kong would have no trade, no opportunities and no future; Brits are warned that outside the EU they would be forbidden from exporting any goods and services to the Continent and would need visas to cross the Channel. The warnings have menacing overtones. Hong Kong is told that China would cut off its water supply, and the UK is told jealous French and Germans would kill off London’s financial centre. Apparently, such threats of spiteful malice are supposed to increase warm feelings of belonging.
Lastly, both situations have ‘Not going to happen’ written all over them. Hong Kong is constitutionally part of the PRC and can do nothing about it. The UK is independent and can do what it wants, but Brexit offers more emotional satisfaction than guaranteed, significant, clear and measurable practical advantages. For both, the most persuasive argument is a bored and unenthusiastic one in favour of a lackluster status quo: “It’s crap, but at least we’re insulated from the really nasty/stupid bits, and departure is probably more hassle than it’s worth, if not unrealistic – at least until the whole mess implodes.”