Hemlock's Diary
11-17 December, 2009
Mon, 12 Jan
A quick search of the
South China Morning Post on-line database reveals no trace of Joseph Yeung or the Hong Kong Industry Commerce and Professional Association.  Google the pair, on the other hand, and you get a grand total of two results – both of them articles that have appeared in… the SCMP

In all fairness to the charismatic, resourceful little mammals whose tragic fate it is to run the
SCMP’s website, both articles date from the last four days.  Obviously, on-line editions of cheap, gibberish-filled rags like the Standard recklessly chuck their past content on the Web instantly and even let the world browse through months’ worth of the paper for free.  But a classy act like the Post, which charges for on-line access, does the job properly, carefully wrapping its pieces of journalistic excellence in tissue paper and stout cardboard boxes before gently transferring them to its hallowed digital archives a few weeks after they appear.  That’s how you handle content of high quality.

Which brings us to Joseph Yeung Che-keung and the mysterious, comma-free Hong Kong Industry Commerce and Professional Association of which he is President.  His first foray into
SCMP column-writing last Thursday suggested that places in Northeastern China like Jilin Province might like to pay Hong Kong-owned manufacturers in the Pearl River Delta to relocate to the distant but dirt-cheap region.  Today, he addresses the subject of functional constituencies – the small, mainly commercial and pro-Beijing electorates that are allowed to fill half the seats in the Big Lychee’s legislature with their own representatives.
Functional constituencies … need to enhance public recognition by understanding public opinion and making appropriate adjustments.  For example, they might consider adding representatives from new industries, as well as newly established commercial associations (such as the cultural sector) or even non-professional communities, to reflect the philosophy of “balanced participation” more fully.

In this way, such “charmed circles” may become a mouthpiece for the people and meet the demands for innovation in the political system.  Functional constituencies and their contribution to the political history of Hong Kong may, then, finally be commemorated.
This is a new approach to keeping FCs – rearranging them a bit via a conjuring trick so they miraculously appear to be putting the public interest first. 

The traditional argument in favour of FCs is that people who own leading corporations should be able to veto popularly elected legislators’ decisions because they are richer, and therefore smarter and more capable than the masses of understanding Hong Kong’s true interests.  More modest members of these limited franchises like to claim that the Legislative Council benefits enormously from the presence of members with in-depth knowledge of complicated and technical aspects of commerce.

Opponents of the system simply decry on principle its undemocratic nature, in which a small and select group of what Christine Loh terms ‘non-humans’ – some controlled in batches by individual tycoons – get the vote.  The pro-democrats tend to be too preoccupied or diplomatic to stress bluntly that the system is essentially institutionalized corruption.  Where the vested interests of these narrow business groups coincide with those of the bureaucracy, Government policymaking ignores the public interest, which is why we spend billions on unnecessary infrastructure projects while public hospital waiting lists grow ever longer.

The truth, known only to a small handful of us illuminati south of the Mainland border, is that the FCs today have just one function – and that is to give the Central People’s Government in Beijing a guaranteed, dependable voting bloc in the Big Lychee’s mini-parliament that can be called into action if counter-revolutionary and/or foreign forces attempt to use legislative means in Hong Kong to undermine the Motherland.

This bloc will not be replaced by democratically elected representatives that Beijing cannot control or trust.  But nor does it absolutely
have to comprise nominees of entitlement-hungry, rent-seeking cartels.  From a United Front point of view, it doesn’t hurt to keep tycoons in line by letting them plunder.  But if the semi-feudal privilege and collusion became more trouble than they are worth – if the pro-democrats got off their backsides and roused public opinion – Beijing would probably be happy to fill the seats with less personally avaricious guardians of the national interest.  For example, Legco could instead have ranks of Mainland-based, moon-faced cadres in green uniforms, dozing through all the parochial stuff and only voting when evil, unpatriotic enemies of the Chinese people try to push through some sneaky motion that contradicts the one-party dictatorship of the proletariat in some way or other.  It would be a big improvement.

In the absence of a pro-democracy camp that comes down from the moral high ground and starts skewering our local ‘elites’ where it hurts, FCs will receive only a light makeover.  The ‘small circles’ will become Yeung’s ‘charmed circles’ whose contribution to our political history we will all jump up and down with glee to commemorate.  I will start practicing.
Tue, 13 Jan
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is one of intense, joyous relief as word spreads that Shanghai will definitely be acquiring a Disneyland, raising the prospect that Hong Kong’s own state-owned, taxpayer-funded Mouse Theme Park will be shut down.  “It must be true,” my neighbour Mrs Chan tells me, “
Xinhua says so.”  It is a delightful idea – fewer tour buses clogging up the roads and polluting the air, fewer Mainland tourists letting their kids pee-pee all over the place, and of course one less transfer of public billions into the pockets of favoured corporations.  The Revenge of Tung nears its end.  And with its road and rail link, the freed-up space on Lantau could be used for, say, tens of thousands of affordable, decent-sized apartments for middle-class families.
In the dusty, Formica-clad confines of a booth at Yuet Yuen Restaurant, purveyors of fine congee to the gentry since 1958, I find shapely Administrative Officer Winky Ip almost paralyzed with fear.

“How can we tell the public this?” she pleads.  “There will be despair.  We’re right in the middle of the worst economic disaster-crisis-tsunami since SARS six years ago, and then this!  You can see the headlines.  ‘Hong Kong Doomed’, ‘Shanghai Takes Over’, ‘City Abandoned Without a Role’.  This is the moment we’ve been dreading for years.  We’ve always known, if Disney opened another park in China, that’s it – unemployment, suicides, famine, you name it.”  All as the evil Shanghainese officials expected when they sat down all those years ago and started to plan Operation Screw the Foreigner-Loving Southern Barbarian Scum.

My suggestion that the departure of Snow White and the Magic Castle and all the rest of the vapidity might benefit the Big Lychee brings an angry response.  “They’re not leaving, you idiot!  There’s room for two Disneylands in China!  We’ve got to get that across.  This is going to be a win-win situation, involving strategic pan-Pearl River Delta cooperation and integration with the Guangdong-Yangtze Basin Innovation Circle under the auspices of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement and, um…”

“Partnership and synergy?” I suggest.

“Yes, exactly.”

Wed, 14 Jan
Playing its part, as ever, in the motherland’s 39,000 years of continuous civilization, Hong Kong yet again wins the Freest Economy in the Solar System Award, as it has every year since the dawn of the Bronze Age.  Few sights can warm the heart like that of our Chief Executive and little bundle of energy Donald Tsang beaming with joy as the boss of the sinister Heritage Foundation hovers over him with an evil grin. 

Every year around this time I reach for the phone and start to dial 2878 3300 and then think better of it and put the receiver down.  I can’t bring myself to do it, but someone needs to tell Sir Bow-Tie that the Heritage Foundation is a core part of the foreign conspiracy to keep the Sons of the Dragon down.  It is an organization of splittists dedicated to interfering in the nation’s internal affairs and hurting the feelings of all the Chinese people –
scathing about the role of the Communist Party, spiteful about the sacred Olympic ceremonies and provocative about the Big Lychee’s very own, dazzlingly successful political structure.  What if Beijing finds out that he’s ‘palling around’, as they say, with such figures?

It may seem odd that a city-state run by an oligarchy of bureaucrats and tycoons who confiscate the wealth created by the people through cartels and rigged markets, enslave the middle class through crushing mortgages and chain the serfs with public housing should be the freest economy around.  Also strange is the fact that second place goes to Singapore, where citizens are forced to hand over much of their savings to the wife of the ruling family’s number-one son, who invests it in companies whose share prices collapse.  But in a world where Anglo-Saxon capitalism has come to mean nationalized banking and auto industries, what isn’t weird?

For example, yesterday’s
South China Morning Post featured a bold plan to boost the Hong Kong economy.  Under this proposal, if I understand it correctly, Government officials with electric cattle prods will swoop on Statue Square and similar places on Sundays and round up the people sitting there – a particular group of legal, ID card-holding residents who happen to have arrived before anyone else is up – and force them into restaurants, cinemas and malls with the rest of the population.  The gentleman behind the scheme offers to test his theory by sitting in underpasses with his friends mid-week having a picnic, while a team of highly qualified economists stand by and see what effect, if any, this has on GDP. 

So intrigued am I by this idea, that I can’t resist showing it to the Filipino elves this morning as I leave Perpetual Opulence Mansions for work.  They also find it interesting, and apparently hope to spread word of it among their hundreds of thousands of compatriots here.  One of them even copies down a few details.  “Not many people called Prakash Mahbubani around,” she says, adding that his location of North Point is where she goes to kick-boxing classes.
Thurs, 15 Jan
To the dismay of millions, the South China Morning Post fails to carry an article by Joseph Yeung, head of the hitherto unheard-of Hong Kong Industry Commerce and Professional Association.  After enjoying one last Thursday and another on Monday, and assuming it was going to be a twice-weekly deal, English-reading Hong Kong was eagerly anticipating today’s. 

Instead, a brief glance suggests that the op-ed page this morning is full of the usual, predictable or plain repetitive verbiage.  Typically, an activist on some valium-like environmental issue, a former top civil servant on why he was better than his successors, a political commentator with no obvious point to make, an intelligence-abusing puff piece from a top official, and some columns from US newspapers that we’ve already read on-line.  Yeung, with his cheeky request for aid to relocate industry to China’s sub-arctic and his hallucinogenic functional constituency reforms, promises a badly needed laugh. 

Photos of him at his small/medium enterprise’s
website show an unlikely alternative comedian – a standard-issue head of what is presumably the family concern.  To my great disappointment, there are no shots of him being greeted warmly by locally based emissaries from Beijing, Mainland municipalities’ vice-mayors and similar personages who flatter the Big Lychee’s patriotic businessmen by posing with them for the camera. 

But there is still hope.  We can gain an indication of Mr Yeung’s political sensitivities from the
list of links to media organizations, which covers mainstream local newspapers and little-read Communist propaganda sheets, but carefully omits the more critical Apple Daily and Economic Journal.  With an eye for such precautionary minutiae, a handshake for posterity with someone important surely remains well within grasp.  And maybe a Silver Bauhinia Star, to go with his (admittedly Australian) Justice of the Peace tag?  Write the accepted United Front thing enough in the SCMP, and it’ll be in the bag.

The downside is that you have to make a fool of yourself.  An example would be outgoing Bar Association boss Rimsky Yuen, who recently
asked Hong Kong people to take the Mainland’s ‘continental’ legal system more seriously.  His implication was that they have a normal, Roman legal structure up there, and we with our Anglo common law heritage should not sneer, but give it the sort of respect Ottawans have for Quebec’s, Texans for Louisiana’s or Englishmen for Scotland’s or Europe’s.  The absence over the border of an independent judiciary, defendants’ rights, open courts and a government that is equally subject to the law has nothing to do with it.  “I am so loyal to the motherland I will prove it by saying things everyone knows are ridiculous with a straight face.”  It is ritual self-humiliation – the Big Lychee’s 21st Century version of devout Catholics submitting to a voluntary penance like flagellation to score heavenly brownie points.

So we look forward to Mr Yeung’s next column.  Monday?  It is hard to believe that a businessman can spare the time to write.  But then, his company provides metal parts for the Pearl River Delta’s once mighty but now-dwindling toys and household goods manufacturers.  If the export downturn continues, and impoverished provinces in the snowy far north fail to cough up subsidies for these factories as per his suggestion, we will be able to enjoy his thoughts in the
SCMP every day!

Meanwhile, now I know who he is, I can email him a comma for his Association.
Fri, 16 Jan
We must end the old Rat Year the way we want the new Cow Year to begin, which is why citizens of the Big Lychee are busy getting their affairs in order – paying off debts, giving the home a good cleaning and, in my case, mentally preparing for next week’s appointment with Dr Amy KK Au-Yeung BDS DPDS for my annual bout of no-nonsense dental discipline.  Boyish-looking Chief Executive Donald Tsang, meanwhile, chooses this moment to display to the whole world his feeble, limp-wristed, chicken-livered cowardice.

Claiming a tragic inability to multitask, due to a childhood cranial mishap, Sir Bow-Tie is
shelving the public consultation on electoral arrangements for 2012 until later this year so he can ‘focus on the economy’. 

One question this raises is what whiny Evangelist bed-wetter and Constitutional Affairs Secretary Stephen Lam will do for a living for the next nine months?  Another is this – would Donald have postponed the consultation if Beijing had authorized him to deliver a bit of good news and offer some shred of meaningful constitutional reform for 2012? 

The delay is a tacit admission that the political reform package for 2012 will essentially be no different from the one vetoed by pro-democracy legislators in 2005.  It will superficially rearrange the compositions of the Legislative Council and the Election Committee that pretends to choose the Chief Executive, but it will ensure that the underlying process remains as rigged as ever, to produce guaranteed pro-Beijing blocs.  All anyone has to ask, when the proposals are eventually unveiled, is what difference they would make, if implemented, to the way Hong Kong is run.
Meanwhile, up in Zhongnanhai, the black hair-dye brigade are battening down the hatches for a tough 2009.  It’s the 20th anniversary of the Beijing massacre, and the 50th of the Tibetan uprising.  A collapse in world trade threatens to wipe China’s economy.  With coastal factories closing, inland villages are filling up with more mouths to feed.  Unpaid workers are rioting in larger numbers than ever.  Censors try to suppress news of land grabs and poisoned food.  Urban walls feature Banksy-style graffiti in homage to executed cop killer Yang Jia.  What they term ‘contradictions’ are growing sharper, increasingly exposing the Communist Party’s role as protector of corrupt officials and tycoons.  To add to the flavour, it is also the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic – the completion of an entire zodiacal cycle from Year of the Earth Ox through a dozen animals and five elements to this outgoing Earth Rat. 

Meanwhile, for reasons that probably have to do with over-consumption of opium, Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan sees fit to
warn of popular unrest in – of all parts of the Celestial Empire – the sleepy little Big Lychee, where the worst thing that ever happens is we get flooded with fake RMB100 bills.  Small wonder that our local leadership is all too relieved to ‘focus on the economy’.  “They’ve got tanks up there, you know,” Donald is saying, “let’s all just shut up a bit.”
Available from


Dymocks, IFC Mall
& other HK Dymocks
some, probably, maybe)

Hong Kong & worldwide
USA & worldwide