Time to drop your pants

The United Front tacticians must be delighted: Hong Kong, China’s expulsion of the Financial Times’ Victor Mallet is forcing bystanders to pull their pants down and reveal their true ideological positions. Fence-sitters reluctantly and tortuously take a public stand for rule of law and freedom of speech, while the self-styled principled lose their spines and declare themselves loyal shoe-shiners.

An example of the former is the American Chamber of Commerce. In its initial response, its head (a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club) gave the impression that bullying the press was no big deal so long as overseas companies in Hong Kong had a level playing field. (The local-establishment General Chamber’s guy opined that businesses don’t care about visas, yawn shrug sniff.)

After (we presume) some conscience-struggling, AmCham produced a statement criticizing Mallet’s ejection, while emphasizing its own non-political nature.

When the ‘One Country Two Systems’ deal meant what everyone thought it meant, there was no contradiction: an organization like AmCham fitted into Hong Kong’s ruling establishment naturally. Its businessmen-members could curry official favour by, say, joining in government Belt-and-Road blather, while local bureaucrats had no problem openly promoting Western values. Now that’s over, and you have to make a choice.

And this bring us to the other side – people who take pride in exhibiting some sort of independence and objectivity who are now awkwardly shuffling closer to Beijing’s new no-nonsense line.

Lawmaker Regina Ip has long managed to be pro-government while occasionally outspoken or critical, and apparently patriotic without being obnoxiously Red. It is calculated and cynical (which is why many right-thinking people can’t stand her), but it’s quite clever. Until it isn’t. She is now endorsing the Mallet visa decision as ‘reasonable’ because, put simply, she is screwed if she doesn’t. An even-handed I’m-above-this act is not an option.

She is hardly alone – the whole moderate establishment face this. Today’s South China Morning Post has an op-ed by a contributor who for whatever reason feels a need to be seen to back this latest step towards Mainlandization when he would plainly rather not. (Essentially, it’s miserable hand-wringing: ‘The FCC brought this on itself, Beijing has slapped its wrist, now can we all move on and be nice again?’) Not a comfortable read.

This phenomenon goes back decades. But as Hong Kong becomes more authoritarian, people will come under far more pressure to identify themselves as either cooperative or antagonistic towards Beijing. It will be interesting to watch public figures who hope they can carry on sitting quietly on the fence, and probably depressing to see how much the divide is along national or ethnic lines.

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14 Responses to Time to drop your pants

  1. “Countries should perceive media’s role in promoting international exchange and cooperation in an open and inclusive spirit,” said the dictatorship’s ‘Foreign Ministry spokesman’ Geng Shuang. “They need to facilitate, rather than obstruct, media’s normal work, still less politicalizing the relevant issue.” (from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/08/world/asia/victor-mallet-hong-kong-financial-times.html )

    hmmm…sounds as if they’re giving us the old Geng Shuang.

  2. Hong Kong Hibernian says:

    oh yes, forgot to post: local Government Primary Schools have this week, during ‘Moral and Civic Education’ classes, been instructing students on what Free Speech means.

    Geng Shuang!

  3. old git says:

    30 years ago in Hong Kong, the ruling white man class of Jockey Club Stewards, Hong Kong Bank International Officers and Hong Kong Club Committee members were condescending tyrants who ordered the rest around and had no hesitation in use of persona non grata directives from the Director of Immigration

  4. Stanley Lieber says:

    In the SCMP yesterday:

    “Two major business chambers on Sunday played down concerns over the Hong Kong government’s decision not to renew a working visa for veteran journalist Victor Mallet.

    “Tara Joseph of the American Chamber of Commerce said businesses were more concerned with ensuring a level playing field for firms in the city.”

    For the AmCham president to say such a thing is shocking and disgraceful.

  5. Herr Torquewrench says:

    Regrettably what Old Git says is true. We can remember a youngish American(?) woman being expelled from HK sometime in the early 80’s – no reason given, even to her, by the Colonial Government.

  6. HillnotPeak says:

    Hopefully when the time come, western countries will deny retirement visa to all those burocrats. Let them stay in the beloved motherland and waiting for the knock on the door. Also, student visa for their offspring should be denied. Let us start with the family Lam and Leung.

  7. Chinese Netizen says:

    @Stanley Lieber: “For the AmCham president to say such a thing is shocking and disgraceful.”

    A simple case of being in Asia too long and seeing myopically like the natives or simple shoe shining to keep status quo because they (AmCham members) know they have the passports and are just biding time?

    I remember many years ago Jim Thompson (former AmCham honcho) hitched his wagon onto the Bowtie star in every way possible while Tung was in office. I wonder if it paid off for him or whether he’d even buy Bowtie a red wine in a pub should they casually bump into each other today?

  8. Revolution says:

    I find it amusing to see Tara Joseph commenting of this given she was FCC president before joining AmCham.

  9. Stephen says:

    @Chinese Netizen,

    I think James Thompson, who certainly has been in Asia too long, had a fall out with Amcham and is no longer part of the hierarchy. Believe it was over Harbourfest. Like Al Semen he is prone to spout some Pro-Government blather.

  10. What if, says Philip Yeung in his SCMP piece, “an organisation of Britain-based Chinese correspondents had given a public platform to the leader of an illegal separatist party that advocates Northern Ireland’s breakaway from Britain?” If he’s going to use analogies, he should at least get his facts straight. It is not at all illegal to advocate the separation of any part of the United Kingdom, unless one advocates using violent means to do so – indeed, separatist parties hold a number of seats in the British Parliament. Nor was the HKNP illegal at the time of the FCC event, since it was only subsequently that it was refused registration.

    Further bias appears in the weighted descriptions Yeung uses. Can Taiwanese independence advocates really be called separatists, when Taiwan has never been part of the PRC, so can hardly separate from it (divorce without marriage?) And “agitators” seems an inadequate title for those opposing harsh repression in Tibet and Xinjiang. On the South China Sea also, Yeung appears to have swallowed the CCP’s dubious propaganda wholesale and vomited it out again onto the SCMP’s pages.

    Compared with the holding of hundreds of thousands in concentration camps in Xinjiang for the “crime” of having the wrong religion, Mallet’s expulsion is a mild punishment for offending the powers that be – but one that bodes badly for Hong Kong’s future.

  11. Cristal Slagg says:

    Problem is these people have never lived under Communism, I have.

    All the liberals are the same. No need to lower the pants.

    Liberals are just Tories who haven’t inherited Daddy’s money yet. They believe in consumerism, inequality, endless economic growth and strategic bombing.

    Much worse than Communists on the whole. So why be afraid?


  12. Stanley Lieber says:

    Report of the Panel on Financial Affairs to the Legislative Council in July 2004:

    “The Panel questioned the appropriateness of the Government to underwrite the shortfall of the event and to give a complete free hand to the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (AmCham) to organize such a large-scale event through a private company, Red Canvas Limited, owned by the then Chairman of AmCham (Jim Thompson).”

    Chairman Thompson freelanced the entire AmCham end on his own. The AmCham board wasn’t consulted until after the deal was done. They were furious.

    The interposition of the private company owned by Jim Thompson and his wife into the deal added to the stench.

    Henry Tang tried to hang the Government end around Mike Rowse’s neck, but through an appeals process Clever Micky managed to hang on to the month’s pay they proposed to dock him for getting the Government tangled up in the whole mess to begin with.

    Henry Tang skated away without a mark on him, of course, even though he was responsible ultimately for the whole bloody fiasco.

    Most people who went to the concerts said they were terrific.

  13. Joe Blow says:

    Whatever happened to Arculli ?

  14. Mary Melville says:

    I am relieved to note from the side panel that I was not the only person to spot the Arup take on the East Lantau drain the swamp, woops I mean our reserves, tucked away in a corner of Standard.
    No mention that when OHKF held a Summit Panel in Aug on its bigger is better proposal that one of the presenters was the same Wilfred Lau.
    Contrary to dire predictions by eminent scientists, the director of Arup assures us that ‘the height of waves during typhoons is unlikely to exceed two meters’. Of course he would have long retired to a safe retreat inland when the “Enhanced ELM’ is inundated.

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