The week starts shuddering to a chaotic halt with everything happening at once.
All those rich, lengthy obituaries for Thailand’s King Bhumipol – they have a slight remoteness about them, as if he is already a distant memory. That’s partly because they were written so long, long ago, and have been dusted off in a hurry. The South China Morning Post gives its a black border, presumably in recognition of Beijing’s appreciation of the friendless junta’s constructive approach to panda-hugging.
So now… The likely heir is by many accounts a detested philandering thug who gave his poodle Fufu a senior rank in the Air Force. The country’s government is an incapable and absurdly intolerant military regime. The underlying social/political/economic divisions are scary – the elite’s automatic contempt for the poor masses makes Hong Kong’s leaders look like extreme egalitarians. Or, as the SCMP puts it, ‘the start of a new era’.
Thailand could end up challenging the Philippines for the hotly contested Worst Governance in Southeast Asia Award. But does Bob Dylan deserve a Nobel Prize for Literature? Do these verses (try and ignore the melody, if you know the song) count as poetry? My interpretation of this is that the Nobel Globally Important Institution Inc are feeling the heat from emerging-market competition – Hong Kong tycoons alone, shamelessly seeking to emulate Alfred’s immortality and reflected glory, have in recent years founded the Shaw and Lui Che-woo Awards for Amazingly Brilliant Genius.
After upsetting China by giving Liu Xiaobo the Peace Prize, the Nobel people tried to kiss and make up to the panda-with-hurt-feelings by giving the Literature award to the semi-obscure Mo Yan. This tarnished the brand among its traditional Western audience, so they are now trying to restore their reputation by honouring the hip and trendy American bard – perhaps over-compensating in the process, but in a well-meaning Scandinavian way.
On the subject of the panda and its easily offended sensitivity – Hong Kong’s government finally lapses into the cliché.
Newly elected young radical lawmakers used the swearing-in ceremony to scurrilously promote localist views on Wednesday. While entertaining, and indeed highlighting the principles their voters supported, the new legislators will need to be careful in the long run. Officials will do all they can to portray them as vandals, money-wasters and troublemakers who make life worse for the public. As filibusterers have found, some of this mud can stick.
Still, it is early days, and for now the government comes across as defensive. The official press release goes into righteous-huff mode and whines that the new legislators ‘harmed the feelings of our compatriots’ (Chinese version here).
Although the wording does not specify location, it arguably implies or subliminally suggests that the countrymen whose sensibilities have been injured are Mainlanders. With 1.3 billion over there and only 7 million in Hong Kong, certainly most of them are. The point is that the press release does not claim that the young radicals’ theatrics have upset Hongkongers as such. I declare the weekend open with the thought that there is something (if unwittingly) profound and telling in this omission, no?