The whole of Shenzhen – population over double Hong Kong’s – locks down in an attempt to eliminate China’s omicron outbreak of over 3,000 cases. This is what the authorities were planning for Hong Kong, with all non-essential workers sent home, public transport shut down, and the whole population subjected to three rounds of testing.
Folks over there take the opportunity to hate Hong Kong, apparently for spreading Covid to them. Does that make sense? It seems to have been Mainlanders in Hong Kong who have been sneaking over the border and bringing the disease back home. Who cares? (A constructive response to them here.)
As an SEZ launched in the late 70s, Shenzhen was the testbed for allowing economic sanity from Hong Kong into China. Maybe the Mainland will learn how to abandon zero-Covid and adopt a more pragmatic approach through the same route. Does omicron give even the proudest all-powerful leaders a choice?
Regina Ip continues her not-very-subtle campaign to be seen as Chief Executive material by helping to deflect responsibility for Hong Kong’s recent Covid mess away from Beijing. The pan-democrats are in jail, and she must officially support Carrie Lam’s hapless administration – so she picks on the civil service.
This is unfair. Without ideological and political interference, the local health and other bureaucracies would almost certainly have pursued a more expert-driven policy on Covid – if only to cover their backsides and reduce their workloads.
Even a quarter of a century after the handover, we still hear some milder apologists for the government claim that Hong Kong suffers from a shortage of home-grown political talent. Yet many countries with even smaller populations – Iceland, New Zealand, the Baltic states, etc – can devise clever policies on Covid and many other issues. The difference is that these places have open political systems where people with the best ideas can participate in decision-making. In Hong Kong, such individuals are systematically excluded, even jailed.
However, former civil servant Reg is on to something when it comes to the enormous gap in pay and accountability between our public and private sectors, such as…
…a penchant for seeking regular salary scale reviews, in addition to the annual pay level adjustment exercise, as a means of enhancing civil service morale. Civil service unions react strongly if awards are made to any “grade” (that is, a specialized cadre of civil servants) that upset perceived relativity and balance.
These considerations continued to play out in the government’s effort to assemble a sizeable force to undertake emergency duties arising from the pandemic. The government felt obliged to pay volunteers, recruited mostly from retired civil servants, on scales benchmarked to civil service pay. That means the payments are substantial and exorbitant compared to the meager pay most Hong Kong people with midlevel management duties in the private sector get.
On related subjects…
HKFP on why so few residents in elderly care homes got vaccinated (essentially: isolation of residents from outside contact; a peculiar anti-vax atmosphere – even among staff – within the facilities; and a lack of incentives to get vaccinated).
A Guardian/HKFP report in which hospital staff explain how Hong Kong ended up with corpses piled up in hospitals.
And a New Yorker interview with Stephen Kotkin on ‘the weakness of the despot’…
And so we think, but we don’t know, that he is not getting the full gamut of information. He’s getting what he wants to hear. In any case, he believes that he’s superior and smarter. This is the problem of despotism. It’s why despotism, or even just authoritarianism, is all-powerful and brittle at the same time. Despotism creates the circumstances of its own undermining. The information gets worse. The sycophants get greater in number. The corrective mechanisms become fewer. And the mistakes become much more consequential.
…The biggest surprise for Putin, of course, was the West. All the nonsense about how the West is decadent, the West is over, the West is in decline, how it’s a multipolar world and the rise of China, et cetera: all of that turned out to be bunk.