HK’s bad-PR week

Hong Kong’s reputation as a free and open society took a knocking over the last week or so, thanks to three widely reported events: the postponement of artist Badiucao’s exhibition; the barring from entry of previously-ejected Financial Times correspondent Victor Mallet; and the cancellation and subsequent un-cancellation of author Ma Jian’s appearance at a literary festival at Tai Kwun arts complex.

This succession of repressive actions within a few days compounded the bad publicity, as news reports started to lump them together. They also coincided with UN human rights hearings featuring criticism of Hong Kong.

The unofficial-official view is that this is all a matter of bad luck and misunderstandings (and perhaps mishandled PR). As a Standard editorial says: ‘Sadly, all these incidents were avoidable’. The skeptical view is that this is all a clear pattern of Mainlandization, and therefore happened by design.

Badiucao’s exhibition was abandoned because of ‘threats by Chinese authorities’ leading to ‘safety concerns’. Such a vague explanation lets Beijing hacks cast doubt on the story – hey, Pussy Riot turned up.

It would help to know whether the warning was anonymous, in which case it might have been an ultra-nationalist nut, or from a proxy (say, businessman or political figure) with plausible CCP connections, or from the Liaison Office itself. But after the abductions and silencing and forced confessions of the book publishers (whose work, like Badiucao’s, involved lèsemajesté against Xi Jinping) and the CCP’s tactic of threatening dissidents’ families, why wouldn’t you take it seriously?

The Victor Mallet case is straightforward. The government refused him entry as a visitor after rejecting his work visa renewal a month earlier. Officials refuse to say why, but everyone knows it is because, as a Foreign Correspondents Club office-holder, he hosted a (perfectly legal) talk by pro-independence figure Andy Chan – against the express wishes of Chinese officials. The decision not to let him back in to sort out personal things is classic CCP petty vindictiveness, intended to remind others to kowtow to the emperor in future.

The Ma Jian Tai Kwun fiasco is perhaps relatively amusing. The de-facto publicly-funded arts centre’s explanation for cancelling the author’s appearance was dim-witted – implying that the writer would ‘promote his own political interests’. (It’s meaningless, but anyway other guests at the event were discussing ‘political’ issues.) An alternative venue owned by a local developer predictably turned him away in a panic. After much hoo-hah, including a hasty-sounding Hong Kong government denial of any involvement, the hapless Tai Kwun boss reversed the decision, rather pathetically trying to shift blame on the victim by suggesting that Ma had now ‘clarified that he would not promote political’ blah blah.

It looks as if the directive came from Jockey Club grandee-elders who oversee Tai Kwun from on high and are presumably both clueless and spineless when it comes to anything to do with art, Beijing or ‘politics’, let alone PR. A classic Hong Kong establishment pre-emptive shoe-shine gone wrong. By hoping to appease the CCP, they try too hard and screw it up.

It may well be that someone in the Hong Kong administration despaired at yet more bad publicity, checked/pleaded with Beijing’s officials, and gave the Jockey Club bosses a kick up the rear for as-yet-unnecessary self-censorship. By then, the damage was done. The New York Times, BBC and so on do not give ‘bad stupid thing reversed’ follow-up stories the same profile. If this is what happened, it would be the one occasion in this list of unfolding Mainlandizing calamities in which the Hong Kong government actually had a decision-making role.

There is a pattern, of course. The common theme is pressure – real, direct, indirect or implied – from the CCP.

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11 Responses to HK’s bad-PR week

  1. Jennifer Eagleton says:

    Ma Jian had permanent HKID they had to let him in Hong Kong. He would have spoken on a street corner anyway.

  2. Da Da Dissident says:

    All these dissidents. It’s harder to become one than joining the freemasons. Blackballing bastards!

    Jian Ma turned up wearing an Hawaiian shirt under his jacket. No doubt he is off to Florida or Australia on another freebie jaunt after doing Honkers. Lucky bastard.

    You don’t even have to be an artist to be a dissident. Wu Er Kaixi, after doubling his weight in the US and A, then going to Anita Mui’s funeral and meeting all the triads, decided to go to Taiwan where everyone is a kind of dissident. He has quickly descended into obscurity, stood twice for elections and got nowhere.

    Dissidents are only as good as their last freebie. Taiwan isn’t interested in them. Bet you won’t see wily old wizened Jian Ma there.

    And why does he have a British passport when he can’t speak English? Oh yes..he’s a…… DISSIDENT!


  3. Cassowary says:

    Having dealt with the Jockey Club’s charity arm in other contexts, I have found out that they are comically allergic to anything that could be remotely construed as controversial, no matter how mundane the subject. If they were to donate to a veterinary hospital, some middle-manager would get their underpants in a twist if the publicity materials mentioned sick animals.

  4. Cassowary says:

    @ Jennifer Eagleton
    If he’d spoken on a street corner and more than 50 people had turned up, I wouldn’t put it past the Police to arrest him for illegal assembly.

  5. odaiwai says:

    @Jennifer Eagleton: “Ma Jian had permanent HKID”

    I thought he came in on his UK passport?

  6. Diogenes says:

    Not only a dissident, Ma Jian is an acclaimed writer who has spoken at Oxford and many other places of academic repute. And no, he didn’t fly off to a holiday destination, he is returning to his family in London today, no doubt to work on his next book. His wife is British and he has lived in UK for the past 20 years, so he is perfectly eligible for British citizenship. BTW Ma said he wouldn’t return to HK, which doesn’t surprise me in the least.

  7. HillnotPeak says:

    Any chance of a field trip next weekend to the peaceful community of Tung Chung? And don’t forget to take the scenic route with bus B6.

  8. Adams getting jealous of those who get more publicity than he does?

  9. det1mark says:

    @Diogenes: “His wife is British and he has lived in UK for the past 20 years, so he is perfectly eligible for British citizenship.”
    I don’t think you’ll find something as straightforward as a British spouse or living in the UK for any length of time makes a foreigner “perfectly eligible for British citizenship.” Tens of thousands of British citizens are separated from their foreign spouses/partners and in many cases, children, as a result of Theresa May’s hostile environment immigration policies.

  10. Headache says:

    Remember when you used to blog about the Big Boss, Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary, wild American friend Odell and shapely Administrative Officer Winky Ip?

    Simpler, more innocent times.

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