Some links to end the week

Jimmy Lai is cleared. More a relief than a surprise. The Oriental Daily reporter’s contrived accusation of criminal intimidation was a pro-Beijing newspaper doing some freelance vigilante lawfare as an elaborate form of shoe-shining. Lai and other high-profile figures still face unauthorized assembly and other charges that are more obviously direct political persecution by the regime. The way things are going, it will be a bigger shock if the judges resist the CCP-directed prosecution cases to come. 

China Leadership Monitor presents Minxin Pei’s in-depth look at why Beijing killed ‘1 Country 2 Systems’ and imposed the NatSec Law in Hong Kong when it did. 

Xi first referred to a ‘bottom line’ that Hong Kong must not cross in 2017. Beijing declared the bottom line breached in late July 2019, which Pei traces to a specific incident. They really don’t like it when you splatter paint all over their logo. Formal Politburo approval followed a month later, and an overall framework for tighter control over Hong Kong was decided by end-October. The personnel and bureaucracy changes took place in January-February – suggesting that Covid had nothing to do with the timing. It looks as if even Hong Kong’s own leaders weren’t fully filled in on what was happening until April-May. 

Pei mentions ‘path-dependency’ of Chinese policy against dissent – being unable to back down to avoid appearing weak. US News on how Xi Jinping is also painting China into a corner over the Indian border.

Mark O’Neill in EJ Insight on the reversal in fortunes of Hong Kong and Taiwan in terms of closeness to the West. (Also: they used to have censorship while Hong Kong didn’t; they used to have political refugees in exile while Hong Kong didn’t. Etc.)

Geremie Barmé of China Heritage combines his usual erudition with a brutal kicking for New Yorker contributor Peter Hessler. Hessler’s dispatches as a university teacher in Chengdu gloss over subjects like the CCP’s role in mishandling the coronavirus rather too much for Barmé to stomach while Beijing mercilessly persecutes Chinese academics who tell the truth. The venerable sinologist accuses his target of enjoying ‘Caucasian privilege’ and of being what some might call (he uses more delicate language) a Panda-hugging CCP stooge. This letter to the New Yorker editor has upset some people. It could also be seen as a message to any of the ‘liberal East Coast intellectual’ stereotype-milieu who still don’t get it about China.

Another slapping – Vanity Fair reviews Disney’s Mulan and finds it a ‘plodding bore’

Prospect on how the surveillance state came to Xinjiang

On the advice of a police contact, Sholpan and her husband started going to dance parties and drinking alcohol in order to show they were not religious. 

ASPI – China’s least-favourite Australian think tank – does a big survey on how Beijing intimidates other countries.

Forbes reports a Lancet piece predicting that China’s population will drop by nearly half by 2100. (As a reminder to take such forecasts with a pinch of salt, it sees Nigeria’s population growing nearly 300% to almost 800 million.) 

A bit of nostalgia for the old folks: a recruitment ad for the HK Regiment, and SCMP cartoons by Basher (sample above – I’d forgotten how sparingly he drew).

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There’s some corner of a foreign suburb…

An article by a Hong Kong medic about police dragging injured people out of hospitals. (Some more here.)

The crowdfunding campaign to prosecute Brits serving in the force for human-rights abuses has reached its target. (Apple Daily report.) Not sure how this extraterritorial UK law works, but could the valiant overseas inspectors conceivably end up in exile?

In which case, will the CCP give the expat cops Chinese citizenship when they retire? Maybe, like other former loyal and trusted cadres and national heroes, they will be allocated housing in a special compound where they and their families can live out their days in modest comfort. If not in fancy Shenzhen, at least some suburb of quiet Zhaoqing. And of course, in recognition of their service to the motherland, they will qualify for state commissary perks – perhaps a regular supply of Heinz baked beans and frozen fish fingers with lashings of ketchup. 

Will they convert to their new homeland’s ceremonial ways and don medals for National Day parades? Or will they secretly continue to celebrate the Queen’s birthday behind closed doors? There’s a moody, gloomy novel here – Kingsley Amis’s Old Devils as rewritten by Graham Greene.

I was brought up on dusty back-copies of National Geographic, which was typically full of long illustrated features about how the modern world (literacy, cars, TV) was encroaching on and eradicating the cultures of jungle- and mountain-dwelling tribes in New Guinea and the Amazon. It’s jarring to see the magazine now doing Hong Kong loses its way of life.

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Another week of non-stop-blunder disaster mayhem

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is suffering an average of one horrible mess per day so far this week. So, about average.

Separation-of-powers-Gate stirs not only pro-democrats, but the government’s own supporters. It’s not every day pro-Beijing figures put serious effort into making sense – but they’re doing their best. New Territories lawyer/lawmaker Junius Ho says the three branches of government are separate, but not really. While Ronny Tong lapses into mysticism, claiming that it’s ‘an argument about nothing and depends on your perspective’. Only the guileless Priscilla Leung suggests that the principle has been a chimera all along, and the CCP rules over all.

Meanwhile, the HK Police’s problem with the ‘pregnant object’ in Mongkok two days ago has officials scrambling to sound concerned about a civilian victim while not in any way criticizing undisciplined cops’ rampaging in the streets. Thus Carrie Lam’s feeble hand-wringing pushing blame away from the cops. For a more robust line, Globular Times theorizes that the pregnant woman knocked to the ground by police was all an act staged by evil splittists, presumably funded by the CIA – ‘to smear police, which is their old trick’. Saying sorry, we screwed up just isn’t an option.

At least these excitements are distracting from the so-far modest turnout for the government’s mass-virus-screening thing. People are staying away because they genuinely fear the CCP will gather up their DNA, or because they at least want to send a message along those lines, or they’ve read the medical experts’ skepticism about the exercise, or they don’t want a giant Q-Tip stuck up their nose.

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‘Separation of powers’ is like ‘1 country 2 systems’

Education Secretary Kevin Yeung boldly declares that the previously undisputed school textbooks were wrong: they should never have said Hong Kong has a system of separation of powers.

This puts him at odds not only with the textbooks, but with public opinion, many lawyers, CCP-run newspaper Ta Kong Pao and the Chief Justice. But…

While certain clauses of the Basic Law appear to guarantee separate executive, legislative and judicial branches, other parts make it clear that the three branches’ autonomy is subordinate to the ‘executive-led’ system, which ultimately means Beijing, which appoints the executive. The key example must be the ‘interpretation’ device by which Beijing can overrule Hong Kong’s judiciary by redefining the words of the Basic Law. 

As I said a few days ago, back in the 1990s-2000s Beijing was happy to let you think you have separation of powers. Now they want you to get the message that you don’t.

As with any legal or constitutional dispute with the CCP, they decide what is true. They are above laws or rules, while you must obey them – and they can change their meaning at any time. But doesn’t this mean the Basic Law is worthless, and that we don’t have an independent judiciary? Yes it does.

In a move likely to provoke a big whiny hissy-fit Panda-tantrum about hurt feelings and being the enemy of 1.4 billion people, a Czech parliamentary delegation has the audacity to visit Taiwan. Global Times dismisses the central European country as obscure and irrelevant, while nonetheless denouncing its Senate speaker as ‘a rule-breaker who is trampling on diplomatic civilization. His gilding for his evil deeds is a manifestation of being a political hooligan’. China’s foreign minister, in Europe on a warm and fuzzy charm mission, says they will make him pay with lashings of retribution and revenge, so there.

The Czech government is pissed off. And here is an alleged reply from the mayor of Prague. Hope it’s authentic.

Fans of extreme mouth-froth will be delighted to hear that Yonden Lhatoo of the SCMP has responded to Atlantic’s unflattering coverage accusing him of having unseemly rants, with… an unseemly rant.

Hey, it must feel good knocking a pregnant woman around in the street – it’s been a while now. Sorry, I stand corrected: wrestling a pregnant woman to the ground

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The last 72 hours’ Mainlandizations

Before last Friday was over, a clutch of minor-to-middling Mainlandizations happened.

We learnt that on the same day Jimmy Lai was arrested, Nikkei HK had a visit from the police, with a warrant, supposedly in connection with carrying a crowdfunded ad in 2019.

VanGO, a small chain of convenience stores owned by state-controlled China Resources, stops selling Apple Daily. Childish, except all vendors will now be under pressure to do the same. If 7-Elevens (owned by Jardines) stop carrying the paper, it will be clear that not following VanGO’s example equals not being patriotic. Meanwhile, we must all make sacrifices – this means boycotting VanGO’s pick-n-mix gummies.

A hitherto unheard-of joint universities body called the Hong Kong America Centre closes after criticism from Beijing’s local newspapers and the subsequent slinking away of local uni heads from the board.

And a magistrate sentences someone to five and a half months in jail for possession of cable-ties. (Also on unequal sentencing: Steven Vines on the penalties for negligence for construction giants whose workers were killed building the Zhuhai Bridge. The courts gave higher fines to the people who ransacked Junius Ho’s office.)

The Hong Kong government spent much of the weekend frantically freaking out again and again over critics/skeptics’ advice to the public to boycott the universal virus-screening exercise. Beijing’s officials join in using such harsh language that it’s obvious the screening plan is of great importance to them for some reason. The paranoid but-they-would-wouldn’t-they? theory is that the whole thing is a cover for scooping up everyone’s DNA for the CCP’s surveillance-state database. The more benign explanation is that, involving Mainland ‘help’, it’s a contrived patriotic PR stunt. For all practical purposes, Carrie Lam now has a tattoo on her forehead saying “If you don’t join in the screening, I will be very angry” – for our guidance. (A layman’s explanation on the politics vs science angle.)

A flash of sanity amid the madness – Gary Kasparov advises Hong Kong democrats: get out of town and stay safe.

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Mainlandization flurry ends week

Commissioner Tang acts all hurt about criticism of his force’s rewriting of the 7-21 history. Maybe the benighted/naive police management had no idea that anyone would notice or object to a radically fictional new account of what happened at Yuen Long. Clifford Stott – academic who walked from the rigged inquiry into the HK Police – offers his thoughts on the cops’ revisionism.

After a six-month wait, the Immigration Dept refuses a visa for highly respected journalist Aaron Mc Nicholas, who was to join HKFP as editor. Presumably, from now on, organizations in Asia’s media hub that don’t actively promote the government line can forget about hiring expat staff.

Paul Mozur says a Mainland-style digital dragnet is descending on Hong Kong. At some point, they will start banning whole sites (NYT, YouTube, etc). By the CCP’s control-obsessed paranoid logic, they must, to safeguard the glorious motherland’s ‘digital sovereignty’. Meanwhile, the cops are using catch-all NatSec and tech-crime laws to detain admins of activists’ chat rooms and deleting online materials.

And talking of dragnets, the Chinese Coast Guard intercepts a dozen people – at least one having been arrested under the NatSec Law – fleeing Hong Kong for Taiwan by sea. Given the standard of justice they can expect here now, who can blame them for jumping bail? 

There is talk of the Mainland marine services blocking ‘several routes’ (I’d have thought for the first few hundred miles there’s just one basic direction to Taiwan). But If this becomes a regular thing, maybe dissidents will end up heading to Vietnam or the Philippines first, then onward to refuge elsewhere. Like I-I’s or boat people in the past, but in the other direction – or like North Koreans getting to the South. 

Further down the ‘banana-republic’ spiral we go.

The US complains that HSBC is freezing bank accounts of senior executives at Next Media but not of individuals subject to US sanctions.It’s hard to see how in the long run the bank can continue to be both British and obedient to the CCP. Maybe split it in two? Sell the bamboo-curtain operations to a Mainland institution?

A mega-investigation by BuzzFeed on detention camps in Xinjiang, drawing on extensive research of satellite photos – a story in itself (they zeroed in on locations helpfully masked by Baidu maps). 

Meanwhile, in Twitter-land – this nightmare couldn’t happen to a nicer CCP stooge.

On more cosmic matters – I don’t often get worked up about mathematical weirdness, but this is bizarre.

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HK Police rewrite Yuen Long

So the arrest of Lam Cheuk-ting is supposed to help corroborate a revised history of the Yuen Long attacks on July 21 last year. RTHK report here. HKFP summary of the shifting official version of the events. 

The live-streams were biased, and everything you think you know is wrong. Lam’s role is transformed from victim to suspect. Triad thugs’ assaults on commuters, which you thought were with police connivance and possibly Liaison Office coordination, become an equally matched ‘gang fight’ to which cops responded promptly and impartially.

Interesting timing: this comes just days before the anniversary of 8-31 – in which it was cops, rather than triads, who rampaged in an MTR station and attacked passengers. (Maybe the police called the triads for help but they were busy.) Amusing timing: the Society of Publishers in Asia gave the NYT article ‘Where Were Hong Kong’s Police?’ an award last night.

So drastic is the rewriting of the narrative that the HK Police are, as Xinqi Su puts it, ‘blatantly correcting their own record’. She shreds their new version of events with a series of questions. More on this absurdity, including reports from the cops’ press conference, here.

An explosion of on-line interest in the incident suggests the HK Police are digging themselves into a bigger hole. But as befits an extension of the CCP, they feel they have the right and ability to define new truths. 

They would certainly like to convince themselves and the blue-ribbon/pro-Beijing camp. The 7-21 attacks destroyed the HKP’s reputation in a few hours. The force’s simple-minded management might see this rewrite as a morale-booster. The event also weighs on pro-Beijing politicians, who still fumble for an explanation of what happened.

Do the cops expect this fantasy to be believed by the rest of us? Their PR skills are dismal at the best of times – if you are reduced to insisting a cop was ‘pushing’ rather than ‘patting’ a gangster on the shoulder, you look like idiots. (They have massively pissed off moderate pan-dems, among others. Will this convince them to boycott LegCo?) Gwyneth Ho says…

It is not possible for the authority to distort the facts of the 721 incident unless the government of Hong Kong shut down Facebook and YouTube in Hong Kong.

Beijing’s officials – masters of these dark arts – are in charge behind the scenes, so more ‘sophisticated’ explanations offer themselves. Maybe the point is simply to lie brazenly as a display of unaccountability and power, to demoralise dissenters. Or to wear people down with yet another outrage to provoke yet more futile anger, ahead of more NatSec Law round-ups and more of Hong Kong’s continued fall.

The CCP has learnt through decades of guiding the masses toward correct thinking that by erasing inconvenient facts and replacing them with more defensible fake ones, it can ultimately reshape reality. In replicating this in Hong Kong, they aim at first to dilute or drown out the truth. In time, they hope, a Yuen Long ‘conflict between two sides’ story will become the default, or at least rival, account, because who knows what to believe? Then maybe they can rewrite that – and 7-21 will become a dastardly ambush by vicious commuters and pregnant women against innocent Yuen Long triads. Hey – it works in the Mainland, where nothing much happened on 6-4.

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Carrie takes demented mouth-frothing intolerance too far

Carrie Lam gets miffed to the max about qualified scientists disputing a need for her community-wide virus screening plan…

…so-called experts, doctors or members of the public kept finding excuses to stop citizens from participating in the test … They are smearing the central [Beijing] government and it’s an effort to sever Hong Kong’s relations with the central government.

She gets equally stroppy about lawyers complaining about the Department of Justice’s barring of Ted Hui’s private prosecutions, accusing them of ‘casting doubt and disrespect on Hong Kong’s judiciary system’. (And Hui gets arrested, in case he didn’t get the point.)

There is something quite creepy about this hyper-aggressive intolerance in someone who used to be a just an average arrogant and haughty civil servant who would wave criticism aside without a word. She has become furious and insulted that others have different opinions – almost beside herself with incomprehension that she still cannot snap her fingers and a squad of henchmen will drag any dissenter out onto the street and behead them.

Yes, we know the CCP are in charge and she is a mere puppet. But it’s like something went wrong with her conditioning and she is doing it too robotically. Petrified by something Beijing has on her file? Botched lobotomy? 

The aim of all this is of course to silence ‘so-called experts’ who could embarrass hapless officials but now fear being hounded out of their jobs or indeed Hong Kong for criticizing a government policy. Here’s a quick intro to the subject

Even when sitting on the binge-watching couch, we get the message to fight despotism. Evidence that neo-Nazis in all shapes are even more desperately uncool than we ever imagined comes from none other than The Saint (it’s all in the first minute).

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Would HK lose more face than it saves at WTO?

Proof that you should use your quota of free articles wisely – the SCMP has a good in-depth feature on the pros and cons of Hong Kong appealing to the WTO over the US decision to require ‘Made in Hong Kong’ goods to be labeled ‘Made in China’. With comments from former trade reps and others. The author has more background on the story here.

Essentially, such a complaint would require the presentation of evidence by both sides. Does Hong Kong really want an international tribunal highlighting every aspect of the economic and other cross-border integration that the CCP has been pushing for well over a decade? Or of the new quasi-direct rule from Beijing under the NatSec Law regime?

Hong Kong’s response will – like so many things nowadays – be decided by Beijing’s officials, so don’t expect the city’s interests (whatever they might be) to come first. Also, the process would take years. A pity, because it could backfire on the government nicely.

On the subject of these labels, HKFP reveals the identities of two Hongkongers colluding with evil foreigners to try to split the city from the nation. The splittists want to dissociate local products from those of the rest of the glorious motherland – almost as if Mainland goods have a poor reputation owing to bad quality or manufacturers’ use of enslaved Uighurs. 

One example of where accurate labelling would be useful: the United Front’s copycat opinion pollster in Hong Kong – with a similar name to Robert Chung’s PORI, but none of the transparency in methodology. HKFP interview with Chung here.

And the National Endowment for Democracy hits back at Beijing’s (and blue ribbons’ and tankies’) allegations that it masterminded Hong Kong’s protests. (A bit hard to disentangle quotes from original commentary, but the last two paras seem to be from the NGO itself.) 

A few interesting items on glorious-motherland affairs…

CMP on the contrast between spotless Xi Jinping and…

Li Keqiang trudging through the muddy waters, engaged in an active discussion with local officials. A man of the muck. A man of the people.

From Willy Lam, a layman’s introduction to one of Xi Jinping’s big economic ideas – the ‘great domestic circulation’, or an attempt to engineer a more self-sufficient market.

And a CNN interview with Cai Xia. Globular Times is sorely vexed at her treachery.

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How the CCP poisons everything, Part 423

Can Hong Kong fight Covid 19 effectively when Beijing is ordering its puppet administration to focus on battling political opposition?

The authorities have already weaponized social-distancing regulations against protesters while leaving more obvious infringers alone. And of course, the LegCo election is postponed for at least a year on flimsy virus-related grounds, even though other life goes on as usual. (Is a day of gatherings to vote any different as a health risk from everyone’s weekly supermarket visit – entering a crowded building and standing in line for a few minutes?) Aside from undermining rule of law, this abuse of the rules sends a message that the government doesn’t see a genuine health risk. 

Now we have a proposal for a health code scheme, which some local medical professionals warn is a move towards China’s social credit system. Sensible people do not indulge in conspiracy theories. But do you really believe the CCP would not exploit a health policy that could serve as a cover for increased surveillance and control over the local population?

This puts a sinister slant on the government’s eagerness to test millions of people for the virus. Is the public’s skepticism paranoia or summon sense? Especially when the screening of care homes – surely a prime target for such an exercise – is mysteriously ‘not practicable’. And extra especially if they try to threaten everyone to give samples.

The point is that, even if the government sincerely formulates a good policy (say, mass shots when an effective vaccine is available), so few people will trust officials that they will resist it anyway, and community health will suffer. The CCP, of course, couldn’t care less.

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