In Japan for the coming week…

Will probably Tweet a few things. Some reading from the last few days…

One month after the Article 23 NatSec Law came into effect, there have been no arrests. The SCMP gets an explanation…

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a top government adviser, said: “No matter how hard you explain, critics from the West always accuse Hong Kong of lacking a democratic system and of using the law to suppress dissent.”

…he said the government knew the law could not be used frequently or it would just “fulfil Western prophecies”.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The only thing the government can do is to be judicious in handling relevant cases. Prosecute only if absolutely necessary,” he said.

“The next one to two years are key. If the government needs to use this law, it means unstable elements still persist in society.”

…the Hong Kong government has shifted its strategy towards a “softer, reactive” approach, according to a senior official who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity.

“The goal is to redirect the narrative to focus more on the economy, instead of issuing further warnings [related to the law],” he said.

It sort of sounds like someone is listening to complaints from some pro-government circles about non-stop paranoid ranting (‘you might be arrested for having an old newspaper!’). This is about the narrative, at least. As the story points out, the Article 23 Law will impact existing/future NatSec prisoners, by reducing their chances of early release for good conduct.

Would redirecting the narrative mean fewer/milder angry press releases? A selection of letters from the Hong Kong government to the WSJ. (A framed copy to hang in the Singapore office might be a suitable farewell gift.) 

Cartoonist Zunzi wins the Kofi Annan Courage in Cartooning Award…

Zunzi was dismissed by his newspaper in 2023, three years after China adopted national security laws that have reshaped Hong Kong’s arts, culture and media. Officials complained his images were “distorting and unethical”.

Zunzi, born in Hong Kong in 1955, began his career as a political caricaturist with Ming Pao in 1983.

The paper sacked him last year after months of criticism from officials and attacks on freedom of expression, the [Freedom Cartoonists Foundation] said.

The authorities complained his drawings displayed “sanctimonious humour that damages Hong Kong’s image”.

His books and albums are banned from public libraries.

(Fantasizing about being arrested for ‘sanctimonious humour’. I would die happy.)

In the Hongkonger – Steve Vines’ thoughts on the slapping-down of Paul Tse as the inevitable fate of a disposable loyalist, including comments on Carrie Lam …

This explains why … Beijing … unceremoniously dumped Carrie Lam as Hong Kong chief executive after her usefulness had expired. Lam was installed in office because she was malleable and seemed able to do the job. But she presided over the biggest street protests in Chinese history and allowed an unforgivable act of civil resistance to linger for months.

The fact that she was only carrying out orders made things worse, because if the Communist Party were to have admitted there was something wrong with the orders, it would have undermined the credibility of the regime.

An important point. Many people seem convinced that Lam decided to introduce the extradition bill that led to the 2019 protests, so it was all her fault. As a measure concerning Mainland and Taiwan relations, it was purely under Beijing’s authority.

The SCMP looks at China’s ability to escape the ‘middle-income trap’, and (sort of answering the question) whether it matters… 

China’s GDP was about 65 per cent of the US last year, but per-capita GDP in the latter country was still 6.48 times higher.

Rural residents – who account for a third of the Chinese population – had a disposable income of over 21,000 yuan (US$2,897) in 2023, around 42 per cent of what their urban counterparts enjoyed.

In the longer term, China faces an even greater challenge to achieving its goal of becoming a “moderately developed country” by 2035, said Xia Chun, chief economist at Forthright Holdings Co. In terms of per-capita GDP, it is currently ranked 71st in the world, immediately following Costa Rica.

…If China uses the current per-capita GDP of Spain and Saudi Arabia as the standard for being “moderately developed” – US$30,000 in 2022 – it will need a compound annual growth rate of 6.8 per cent in the years leading up to 2035 to hit the mark, a milestone Xia said would be “very difficult” to reach.

Definitions of ‘middle-income’ vary. But the reality is that very few countries ever make the transition to the Spain-plus wealthy tier. Apart from oil sheikdoms and city-states, the only countries to manage it since World War II include Portugal, Spain, Greece, South Korea, Taiwan and – barely – Chile. Some Eastern European countries like Estonia and Slovenia are getting there. 

The determinant is productivity, which in turn means a high level of education among most of the population. Then institutions and governance. So ‘very difficult’ sounds about right.

The FT asks why Xi Jinping is ‘afraid to unleash China’s consumers’. Mainly because yet more supply-side measures guarantee higher short-term GDP growth. But…

Ideology and geopolitics also play roles. For Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, the greater the control his country exerts over global supply chains, the more secure he feels, particularly as tensions rise with the US, analysts argue. This leads to an emphasis on investment, particularly in technology, rather than consumption.

…“China is responsible for one-third of global production but one-tenth of global demand, so there’s a clear mismatch,” US secretary of state Antony Blinken said in Beijing last week.

Michael Pettis (quoted in the article) adds

The Chinese economy has locked itself into a system in which every economic problem is met by supply-side policies that expand investment or, more precisely, that force households to increase their indirect transfers to investment and manufacturing.

…the article cites Renda’s Liu Zhiqin as saying: “The conflicts in Europe and currently in the Middle East have repeatedly proven the importance of maintaining a robust manufacturing capacity and ample inventory.”

He may be right, but Beijing seems surprised that the US, the EU, India, Japan and the rest of the world might think the same way, and so refuse to lose manufacturing capacity to satisfy China’s need to resolve its weak domestic demand by further expanding manufacturing.

That’s the problem facing China: everyone can’t expand or maintain its share of global manufacturing at the same time, but expanding its share of global manufacturing is the least bad investment option for China if it wants to maintain high GDP growth rates.

Not helping – Chinese housewives are forming clubs to encourage saving…

In February this year, Ms Zhuo joined several online saving groups, with most members being women aged between 20 and 40. Every day, they log their budget and expenses. They also help to stop each other from making impulse purchases.

Ms Zhuo says that one member was tempted to buy a luxury bag that cost 5,000 yuan ($690; £560) but after talking to other women in the group settled for a much cheaper, second-hand bag.

She is surprised so many others are doing the same, and says she feels a sense of camaraderie with her saving partners. Just a month after teaming up with a partner, she says her spending was down by 40%. She now aims to save 100,000 yuan this year.

From Safeguard Defenders – China pursues a dissident in exile in Italy…

In March-April of this year, threats against his parents become more prominent again, with one account threatening his parents will be detained if he does not return to China voluntarily and warning of repercussions if he were to share the messages received. Simultaneously, deeply insulting memes and comments about his parents are posted across social media accounts and in response to Li’s posts. 

From Politico – Michael Kovrig on being held hostage in China (scroll down)…

They are obsessed with the United States. They are paranoid about the United States. And if it were possible to have multiple interpretations of why the U.S. did something in particular, you can pretty much assume that they will take the most negative possible interpretation. They view the U.S. government as unrelentingly hostile towards the party state.

The Leninist obsession with control, the need to control everything is hardwired into the system. XI JINPING is very powerful and very important. But we need to think of him as also being strapped into a giant, bureaucratic authoritarian machine. And he’s trying to get that machine to do what he wants. But he himself is a prisoner of that system as well. None of those people can get out of that system. Xi Jinping can’t safely retire. He can’t just go and say, “You know what? I’m done. I’m going to go live in Tahiti.” None of them can get out of that machine. And so they are all just trying to survive inside that machine.

China Law and Policy interview with author Ian Johnson on China’s ‘underground historians – idealistic, charming and courageous characters who are trying to document China’s true history’.

And a preview of the state banquet for the inauguration of Lai Ching-te as Taiwan’s new President on May 20. Sadly, few details of the menu. I can see what looks like braised fish, shrimp and a salad, plus perhaps one mixed seafood, one pork and one beef dish, and a very murky soup, possibly with a mushroom in it. And fruit and an ice pop for dessert. Bubble tea?

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7 Responses to In Japan for the coming week…

  1. Stanley Lieber says:

    Have a nice trip!

  2. Reactor #4 says:

    Where I am from, ‘bag lady’ has a very different meaning.

  3. HKJC Irregular says:

    There seems to be an obsession in the SCMP with bubble team from the Mainland. Surely this is cultural appropriation of a well-loved Taiwanese treat?

  4. Red Dragon says:

    From Mr. Vines:

    “However, this is to miss a bigger point because the sharp slapping down of Tse is designed to signal that dangers lurk even for the most slavish sycophants, who are not only supposed to jump when told to do so but are meant to jump ever higher because there is no limit to the amount of kowtowing expected by the regime.”

    Jumping ever higher while kowtowing, eh? The mind boggles.

  5. Psycho Wong says:

    Hey Hemlock, you are sure you are coming back? You are sure you are not going to wander down yonder that spooky forest near Tokyo from which people don’t return…?

  6. Mary Melville says:

    “Hong Kong authorities urged to focus on quality over quantity of public housing flats”
    So Our HK Foundation is urging HA to build larger and better units. Some in the community would recommend that this thick tank look to its own developer members and urge them to improve the size and quality of their shoe boxes.
    Unfortunately TVB no longer broadcasts in English that entertaining bi-monthly report on an expert poking around new developments and exposing the many faults in construction and issues with fittings. Surely the eyewatering costs of homes here should ensure top quality finishing?
    Time that OHKF checked the motes in its own eyes.

  7. Mark Bradley says:

    I bet Reactor # 4 had a lot of experiences with the ‘bag lady’ after several drinks which is why he knows.

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