An update on the Hong Kong government’s extreme attempts to imprison pro-democracy activists, notably by ‘aggressively appealing non-custodial sentences’. With China now following a ‘Stalin-model centralization of power and suppression of dissent’, the city will be seeing more repression. Disrespecting the national anthem will soon be a crime, while collective veneration of the tune in schools will be compulsory (it will be interesting to see whether/how this will be enforced in the private and international schools top officials’ kids attend).
Mainlandization need not stop at silencing dissent and brainwashing kiddies. It could, in theory, go beyond civil liberties and human rights, and infringe the most precious of Hong Kong’s core values – property developers’ margins.
Hong Kong’s post-1997 governments have passively and actively pushed up housing prices and subsequently lamented that there is no short-term remedy. Officials have contemptuously dismissed suggestions of a vacancy tax or serious bars to overseas buyers as absurd and impossible. But while Xi Jinping was consolidating his emperor-for-life power up in Beijing in the last couple of weeks, something slightly weird happened: Financial Secretary Paul Chan criticized developers’ hoarding and drip-feeding of new apartments, and floated the idea of a tax on vacant properties.
The instant, universal reaction was that this will never happen, because anyone who knows anything about Hong Kong knows it can’t happen. But then, why did Chan even mention it – a policy option that was hitherto unutterable?
Meanwhile, a couple of tycoons call for action on housing. Charles Ho (whose media relentlessly talk up property prices) proposes tough measures against overseas buyers and moving prisons to the Mainland to free up land (why not some luxury malls, government offices or bank support functions too?) And developer Cecil ‘Playboy’ Chao blames the housing crisis for local discontent.
It could just be that Chan has been drinking, and the two second-tier plutocrats are trying to burnish their reputations for humanitarianism. Another explanation is that the government and tycoons are trying to shift blame onto each other following signs of impatience from Beijing. In other words, the Mainland officials who have ordered the jailing-at-all-costs of young protestors have also ordered serious action on housing. ‘Tough on HK protestors, tough on the causes of HK protestors’.
If hoarding apartments is wrong, what about the hoarding of land? It sounds hard – OK, impossible – to believe. But then, the government prosecutors’ obsessive pursuit of activists would have been unthinkable a few years ago. In Xi’s New Era, is anything sacred?