It’s show time!

AFP reports that the first NatSec case before the Hong Kong courts will not have a jury. There are three grounds for dispensing with a jury in NatSec cases (which are heard by special NatSec judges chosen by the Beijing-appointed government). One is that state secrets would be discussed in court; another is that the trial involves foreign forces.

Neither remotely applies in this case: the accused is Tong Ying-kit, who held a ‘Liberate Hong Kong’ flag (‘incitement to secession’) while driving his motorbike through a group of cops (‘terrorist activities’) during the 2019 protests. So that leaves only the third flimsy excuse: the personal safety of jurors and their families. Presumably, this will be the catch-all reason for never having juries – and any risk of their pesky not-guilty verdicts – in NatSec cases (maximum sentences for which are life).

The AFP story ends…

Inside China, criminal courts have no juries, answer to the party and have a near-universal conviction rate.

Also, in political cases on the Mainland, defendants’ lawyers are often barred from representing their client and/or subject to intimidation themselves. Only a matter of time before that happens here.

But did anyone seriously imagine the CCP would tolerate a jury? It can’t even handle its people discussing sensitive subjects. Only a matter of time…

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Why is Education Bureau undermining NatSec propaganda?

Internet radio host Wan Yiu-sing is arrested for ‘seditious intent’ (he’s already on bail for some other trumped-up BS). The law has its roots in late 16th Century England, but has now been scrapped in the UK (except for aliens, it says). 

Sedition is classified as words that incite “hatred or contempt” for the government or cause discontent and dissatisfaction among residents. So either Wan (and Tam Tak-chi) have caused all this – undeniable – ‘discontent and dissatisfaction’, or the government should be arresting itself.

Instead, schools’ NatSec propaganda artwork is taking us into a strange world where the disturbing meets the farcical. Here’s the… OK, I don’t know what it is. (Apparently from a guide to teachers to help them identify patriotic kids’ face decals and bad elements’ hairstyles?) And behold, the immense, tireless effort low-level civil servants put into the Let’s Get Brainwashed on National Security video. 

It looks as if education bureaucrats are deliberately sabotaging Beijing officials’ commands by taking the orders to engineer young people’s souls 100% literally – with a straight face – and producing laughable and obviously counterproductive materials like this. But it could be that the Bureau’s staff are slavishly devoted to the CCP’s mission to reshape Hong Kong kids’ minds, unaware that their output is too grotesque to convince even the most suggestible 10-year-old. Either way, the Mainland overseers presumably lap this stuff up.

Some links from the weekend…

Michelle Kuo and Albert Wu interviewing Sebastian Veg on Hong Kong/Taiwan and Chinese identity, the Umbrella Movement vs the 2019 Uprising, the shift in Beijing since 2012 and more. Part 1 of the conversation, from mid-Jan on the NatSec Law/Regime, is here – perhaps best to read it second. Lots of interesting ideas.

Drawing on Hannah Arendt, Karl Jaspers, Václav Havel and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Quillette piece on personal responsibility under dictatorship in Hong Kong. (A must-read for the education bureaucrats.)

And in Asia Times, Francesco Sisci on China’s view of politics as war by other means

China is facing a challenge unprecedented in its history: to criticize and change the world or to be part of the world. 

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Resolutely strengthen kids’ virtue cultivation with specific measures!

In another boost for the UK’s BNO passports, the Hong Kong government issues measures for schools (‘specific measures’, no less) to make kids obey the NatSec Law and not sing rebellious songs or link arms.

Every school must nominate teachers or committees to ensure that students are taught that the NatSec Law is necessary and wonderful, and they are privileged to be subject to it. If schools find any student mentioning politics, they must call the police under the new Emergency Kids-discussing-politics Crisis Procedures. 

The aim is to…

…strengthen students’ virtue cultivation … and help them understand the constitutional order … and their national identity

There’s also removal of books from libraries, careful examination of notice-boards and similar fun stuff. Biology lessons are going to get weirder.

Kindergartens are included in this creepiness. And international schools will be expected to enter into the spirit of things.

See here also for the propaganda video for primary-level kids. Since most eight-year-olds are probably into (age-appropriate, wholesome) manga and anime, they will note that the vid features the same civil-service-designed cartoon characters you get in all the other infantile, condescending government publicity campaigns – and no doubt draw their own conclusions about cultivating virtue.

Coming soon: Xi Jinping Thought for kiddies, and exchange tours with Young Pioneers.

(Additional information for parents here.)

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The week can stop now, thanks

Yesterday evening, the HK Police smashed my door down, forced me to provide an anal swab, handed me a can of luncheon meat, and warned that I will be arrested if I step outside for the next 18 hours. Or at least it feels like it. Think I’ll call an end to the week before it gets any worse (unless it gets really worse). Links…

Some 10 years ago, the Hong Kong government introduced a ‘Liberal Studies’ high-school course to encourage critical thinking. Next thing, we get the 2014 Umbrella Movement and then the 2019 Uprising – so pro-Beijing figures concluded the curriculum had worked too well. Now, your average shoe-shiner is too afraid not to be seen blaming it, along with the CIA, for the city’s discontent. The most petrified and spineless are using their time and taxpayers’ money focusing intently on renaming the subject

From HKFP: a pointed reminder of how the Hong Kong government’s anti-pandemic efforts are largely pointless, heartless, wasteful theatrics; a call to hold Beijing responsible for its role in letting Covid-19 loose on the world; and, if the disease strikes, a reminder that traditional voodoo won’t do the trick.

Regina Ip, getting desperate in her old age, is churning out Tweets about Uighur pop stars that prove everything is fine up there. Alternatively, here’s the latest stomach-churning gruesomeness from Xinjiang (rapes in concentration camps – feel free to skip).

One thing the Hong Kong government hasn’t had to do yet: the regime in Belarus is knocking down snowmen with a red stripe across the middle – representing the flag/symbol of the revolt. 

A reminder that, historically, Chinese rulers haven’t cared much about Taiwan.

Hey – it might be interesting! In Atlantic, Jeffrey Wasserstrom asks why there are no biographies of Xi Jinping.

Why Beijing is worried that young people aren’t marrying.

In case you missed it, why the US should leverage Chinese domestic discontent with Xi Jinping, and other recommendations from ‘anonymous’.

Former US industry bosses and others call on the Biden administration to pursue decoupling with China in tech.

And (it’s perfect weather for it) some live Hong Kong archaeology action.

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HK becomes Asia’s ambush-lockdown hub

More ambush lockdowns on Monday night, with no Covid carriers found. Just some people stuck in a hair salon overnight. And then last night’s, which disrupted some guys having their hair dyed/permed. (Low-rent neighbourhoods have more hair stylists – that’s my theory.)

What’s the purpose?

Does it have a scientific basis in combatting the pandemic, even when no cases are identified, and even though antibodies cannot be detected during a (approx two-week) incubation period? Is it churlish to criticize officials for taking the threat of Covid-19 so apparently seriously (deep throat saliva collection packs at every post office)?

If the ambush lockdowns are not scientifically valid, could it be that Carrie Lam and her colleagues – owing to stupidity or bad advice – nonetheless sincerely believe the operations are worthwhile?

Is it a performance to show Beijing how tough, determined and zealous the Hong Kong administration is? (Beijing has urged local authorities to address the pandemic. And these lockdowns are small-scale versions of those that have taken place in the Mainland.)

Is it an excuse to spend public money on Mainland-sourced testing services?

Or are the raids, with heavy police participation, trial runs/training exercises for NatSec Regime neighbourhood lockdowns in the event of another 2019-style uprising? (EG, reports of a 12-year-old girl singing Glory to Hong Kong, or suspicions that a resident has an unregistered SIM card.) Or a way to condition the community to accept heavy-handed enforcement action – intimidation – generally? Note threats to knock doors down.

For conspiracy-theory fans (assuming the last one is not hugely unbelievable): do the CCP really just want everyone’s DNA?

More than one of the above?

At best, it seems excessive, given the virus’s limited spread in Hong Kong. At worst, cynics can’t help considering the government’s apparent reluctance to get on with vaccinations and the broader context of a city in suspended rebellion. Covid-19 has already served as a pretext for forbidding public assemblies. In what other ways might the NatSec Regime find the crisis useful?

The SCMP has a helpful explainer on how to tell if the jack-booted Ambush Raid Testing Squad are coming to kick doors down in your tenement block.

One more question to ponder: are ambush lockdowns a ruse to introduce the waddle-like-a-penguin test?

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Olive branch for sale, one previous owner

Paul Harris hit the ground semi-kowtowing when he took over as chairman of the Bar Association two weeks ago. He expressed opposition to violent protest as sternly as any government minister. He also tentatively suggested that Hong Kong could restore extradition arrangements with Western countries if Beijing made a few changes to the National Security Law, so it doesn’t blatantly override rule of law. That would fix the awkward situation where a murderer could flee Hong Kong and never face justice.

This polite and constructive proposal went down like a cup of cold sick among Beijing’s local officials. It wasn’t just because he also said the New Year Purge of over 50 pan-dems was a blatant abuse of the law. And of course it didn’t help that the ‘rule of law’ he mentioned is the Western variety the CCP detests. But Harris’s greatest wrongdoing was probably suggesting that the Hong Kong administration and local pro-Beijing figures might take the lead in creating dialogue with the Chinese government. This win-win/charming/naive idea would, to the CCP’s ears, sound like an attempt to usurp its influence over the city. Beijing tells the local administration and shoe-shiners what to think – not the other way round. Foreign lawyers don’t tell anyone.

Thus the Liaison Office issued a statement accusing Harris of ‘personal arrogance and ignorance’, ‘dragging the Bar Association into the abyss’, ‘challenging the constitutional order’ (for daring to suggest a CCP edict was imperfect) and so on. And the local Liaison Office-run media are blasting Human Rights Monitor (founded by Harris) as a US-funded agency, and declaring that the Bar Association is turning into a new Civic Party and should be stripped of its right as a professional body to decide who can or can’t be a barrister. And now Beijing’s propaganda team drags an assortment of obscurities into the orchestrated barrage of criticism.

The moral is: if you don’t want your head bitten off, don’t be cute and make sensible suggestions to the CCP. Your role is to obey, not think.

In other legal matters, the Court of Final Appeal heard Jimmy Lai’s bail case yesterday. The government argued that…

…the default position for suspected national security law violations is that no bail should be granted to defendants.

Which basically means the regime can put anyone in jail for months – many months – on the flimsiest, most absurd charges, so long as it comes under the vague NatSec Law. And, if you are Jimmy Lai, transport you in chains in an armored truck under armed guard, just to send the rest of us that message (again): Your role is to obey, not think.

The hearing is also controversial because there is no overseas Court of Final Appeal judge present. For an extra dash of weirdness, in the actual trial starting in a couple weeks, Lai is being defended by Audrey Eu, while her brother Benjamin Yu is the prosecutor (replacing Dave Perry QC). This would not be allowed in some jurisdictions because, in theory, one sibling might (say) go easy on the other, to spare him/her embarrassment. HKFP explains

And then the Diplomat (picking up on Stand News) mentions an (easily) overlooked trend in the weaponization of Hong Kong’s courts: a multitude of individually minor travesties of justice in lower-level hearings before magistrates and district courts in which the police get away with providing false testimony.

To end on a cheery note, try a sample of the sudden outbreak of obituaries – from the Australian, the Guardian and the Business Standard

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UK wins rare ‘shameless logic of bandits’ tag

So much Mainlandization and general mayhem in the last few days: the Bar Association struggle session, a quick ‘consultation’ on real-name registration for SIM cards, hints at more ambush-lockdown compulsory-testing operations, and more. We start the week with Beijing’s Big BNO Freak-Out

On Sunday, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office … strongly condemned the British for violating its promise not to give BN(O) passport holders right of residence…

The office claimed the UK was beautifying its colonial history and called this “a shameless logic of bandits’, seriously hurting the feelings of the Chinese”.

Beijing’s local minions repeat warnings of retaliation against BNO passports, now the UK is offering those eligible for them plus dependants – maybe two-thirds of the population – a route to residency. There’s a lot of uncertainty about Beijing or local authorities ‘not recognizing’ BNOs. Can the government force airlines not to recognize the documents as valid for outbound travel? Will it sanction those who hold BNOs if they are, for example, civil servants? Can it even identify who holds one? If BNO holders are hassled (it seems to have started already), what message does it send the hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers holding Canadian, Australian and other documents?

There’s a lot going on here. 

The CCP has multiple reasons, yet again, to be angry. It sees ethnic Chinese as essentially the property of the emperor, and Beijing’s officials are seething that another country dares presume to have some sort of rights over part of the bloodline. It finds it insulting that foreigners claim to wish to ‘protect’ Chinese from their own rulers. On a more practical level, Beijing is paranoid about its subjects potentially having foreign allegiances (unless they are CCP elites’ family members). And of course it will be humiliating if sizable numbers take up the UK’s offer. Beijing’s immediate impulse here is simply to hurt someone, out of frustration.

To many Hong Kong people, citizenship has always been a rather fluid concept, like national identity. A foreign passport has long been seen as a desirable insurance policy, and even as a status symbol. Any effective action Beijing takes to penalize BNO (or other foreign passport) holders will have to be heavy-handed and intrusive. What better way than hinting at exit controls to confirm families’ suspicions that they need to get out of this city? Airy talk of ‘just replacing them with Mainlanders’ will further convince people to pack their bags. Most Hongkongers are descended from people who fled CCP rule in the 1950s-70s.

Hong Kong’s own local officials must recite Beijing’s line, but in reality they are torn by all this (and not just because Carrie Lam once promoted BNOs). Many middle-ranking civil servants/cops and their families have foreign passports. As we saw in the 1990s, the urge to emigrate is infectious. Any serious retaliation by Beijing against BNO-holding families could impact people’s lives a bit like US sanctions have affected the top officials – encouraging an exodus among bureaucrats along with the rest of the middle class.

In short, Beijing might really want to assimilate Hongkongers, but its fury over BNOs is more likely to create a bigger diaspora. Meanwhile, on top of ‘ambush’ lockdowns and SIM card worries, the FT reports that companies want Hong Kong written out of arbitration clauses in contracts.

Remember these arguments from 30 years ago?

The UK has stumbled on to a win-win. It can appear virtuous, while boosting its aging population with immigrants who are no less hard-working than Poles and Somalis, but who – after they have sold their apartment in Shatin – will be GBP millionaires.

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Kam Ping Street ambushed

How many cops does it take to unroll plastic barrier tape in Hong Kong’s attempt to beat the World 100-metres Barrier Tape Frantic Unravelling record? Count them. 

Note the Deputy Sub-Assistant Lockdown Ambush Commander sprinting into the sunset with the tape. His mission: to ensure no residents spot what’s happening and flee Kam Ping Street with seconds to spare. He is clearly massively chuffed – after much pleading with his boss – to have been picked for the job. His mother must be so proud. (Similar video of the cops in action here.)

Links for the weekend…

Hong Kong’s greatest living ‘innovation and governance architect’ says cycling is inconsiderate. (Selfish space-wasters on bikes do leave a mess on your Alphard when you drive into them, don’t they?)

An academic thinks Macau might not renew US casino operators’ licences when they expire next year. Obviously, it would be another way to hit back at the US right now. But Beijing has long been unhappy that foreigners were making so much profit from Mainland gamblers. And it would mirror the earlier pattern in other (infinitely less scummy) industries where overseas investors gained access to China’s market until Mainland companies acquired the expertise to do it themselves. 

In Atlantic, Timothy McClaughlin looks at the arrest of activist Tam Tak-chi for sedition and sees Hong Kong going back to being a colony.

What the Hong Kong government has lacked in creativity with regard to addressing the protest movement, it has made up for in finding ways to punish those involved.

(In fairness to the CCP, the Mainland under one-party rule is arguably a colony, too.)

The US State Dept offers writers of press releases a superb lesson in causing maximum offense to the right people with the smallest number of paragraphs and words: PRC pressure on Taiwan threatens regional peace.

China Media Project on how CCP theoretical organ Seeking Truth has become Xi Monthly over the last few years.

John Pomfret in Atlantic on what Xi Jinping is doing when he clamps down on private business

Why is he messing with this golden goose? In a word, control.

National Interest compares (in a fairly non-wacky way) Xi’s China with Nazi Germany and the USSR.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s very readable preface for the Thai edition of his book on the Hong Kong protest movement.

Lowy Interpreter on the wolf-warriors’ own goals, with reference to the Big Kimchi War…

…unnecessary, transitory chest-thumping over fermented cabbage.

Great thread on an arrogant-going-on-delusional Xi-inspired war-mongering piece in the SCMP (link included) by Zhou Bo…

Col. Zhou concludes by saying “Biden… can save China-US relations from going into free fall.” Hope springs eternal because otherwise, you are getting into a fight too early and therefore, likely to lose.

A good basic post-pandemic economic outlook for China by George Magnus.

Magnus Fiskesjo in LARB on Racism with Chinese Characteristics.

A Western artist sneaks subversive work into a Beijing exhibition. 

Did Covid-19 leak from a lab? A long deep look from New York magazine.

A review of Trade Wars are Class Wars by Klein and Pettis.

On off-topic out-of-area matters…

An extract from American Kompromat, a book on Russian influence over Donald Trump.

A digital game designer’s view of QAnon – a game that plays the players.

Hilarity of the week has been Reddit-based kids forcing hedge funds betting against GameStop into a ruinous short squeeze. David Webb explains why other, later-arriving short-sellers will, inevitably, ultimately win.

For your viewing pleasure: a hyper-in-depth analysis of Max Headroom (amazing VJ-concept wrecked by idiotic backstories. For hardcore 80s pop-culture/media geeks only).

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No mythical democracy for HK

In case you hadn’t noticed, Beijing is planning changes to Hong Kong’s ‘electoral’ system. This might seem superfluous. The CE is hand-picked by the CCP, with a small-circle rubber-stamp ‘election’ following. The Legislative Council has always been rigged, and is now largely cleared of pan-dems. District Councils are largely powerless, and now due to be cleansed of pan-dems as well. 

But just rigging outcomes is not good enough. Underlying polling figures still show that Beijing ‘loses’ whenever a free vote is allowed, making the process itself humiliating for the CCP. So we are now hearing talk of rejecting nasty Western-style democracy and replacing it with a healthy ‘consultative’ approach – essentially to strip universal public participation out of the formula.

Presumably, District Councils will end up being ‘elected’ by (Beijing-friendly) functional/United Front bodies – thus becoming like Municipal People’s Congresses, which send delegates further up the pyramid to rubber-stamp the regime’s decisions, like selecting Chief Executives. The symbolic presence of popular representatives in the Chief Executive ‘election’ procedures will end. 

This is not about control so much as appearances. The abandonment of just a pretense at a Western-style electoral system (outlined in the Basic Law) sends Hongkongers an obvious message about their cultural/national identity. And simply the sight of opponents within the essentially ceremonial structure drives the Leninist mind nuts. The system is perfect, so by definition there is no place for opposition or dissent. In order to maintain this state of bliss, it follows that accurate public opinion polls will also have to cease.

In other Hong Kong matters…

The FT reports (paywall) that the HKMA, SFC and Financial Services Bureau are phoning bankers and fund managers leaving Hong Kong for Singapore and Tokyo, to ask why they are relocating. 

The calls … described as new and unusual, asked for a full picture of the decision-making process behind the moves and the significance of the timing. 

Sadly, no mention of the answers the agencies received. It would be a bigger story if these agencies weren’t keeping tabs on this trend.

And a Bloomberg op-ed wonders whether Beijing is more nervous about suppressing Hong Kong than we might think. The circumstantial evidence is that the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China – the organization behind the annual Tiananmen vigil – survives. 

Of course, the June 4 gathering itself is suspended owing to Covid. But continued toleration of the vigil was one of Governor Chris Patten’s dozen or so tests of whether Beijing was upholding One Country Two Systems. Another example of Beijing’s supposed restraint would be RTHK, which remains editorially independent and vibrant (notwithstanding attacks on specific programming and staff members). 

So maybe the CCP is slightly mindful about upsetting international opinion. Or maybe it just has a long list of hostile forces to work through.

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Govt introduces quick and painless mini-lockdowns

Chief Executive Carrie Lam describes the anti-Covid lockdown in Jordan – which 98% of armchair experts agree was chaotic and pointless – as a success. She says her officials might do it again, though on a smaller scale – limited to just a street or a few adjoining buildings. She has omniscient power and knows for certain that future suspected clusters or outbreaks will be less extensive than in Jordan. 

But – just in case we think she is going soft – she adds that the government might impose several such lockdowns at the same time in different places. And to keep everyone on their toes, there will be no leaks or other announcements, so the operations will be ‘raid/ambush-style’, to use her own inimitably crap choice of wording.

And voila! At an intersection in deepest Yau Ma Tei, the cops suddenly descend and roll out the expandable barriers to seal off several buildings, while plain-clothes nurses with nets and spears fan out into alleyways, where they in wait to to pounce on passers-by. 

Not being a public-health expert, I can’t say for sure whether this lockdown approach makes sense (most doubt it). The problem is that, even if Carrie and her officials merely act competently – let alone dazzlingly – the aura of stupidity and malice is so thick that we will only perceive another mess.

Are the quasi-military tactics and language a conscious choice by forces that wish to acclimatize citizens to life in a police state? Or have top officials so thoroughly absorbed Beijing’s paranoid hatred of Hongkongers that testing elderly slum residents for Covid and clubbing MTR passengers are all part of the same thing? Either way, the government seems compelled to alienate the public through its contemptuous style – a need to assert crude dominance – even while the community has by global standards done a better-than-average job of fighting the virus. 

Which reminds me – what’s happened to that PR agency Carrie hired?

Some mid-week links…

The SCMP reports on Hong Kong’s latest exciting demographic figures. One minute there’s not enough land, the next minute there aren’t enough people.

Christopher DeWolf at ZolimaCityMag explains how bureaucrats forgot – and the community quickly discovered – the Bishop Hill reservoir, which looks like some Byzantine emperor’s stables.

From Sebastian Veg: Music in the Umbrella Movement – on the role played by music in Hong Kong’s protests, complete with tons of links to the songs and other material.

And SMH looks at Xi Jinping’s ‘doublespeak masterclass’ to the Davos World Economic Forum bore-fest.

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