On the way to the vaccination centre

Just a few days ago, I briefly wondered for some reason how long it would be before Chickeeduck closes in Hong Kong if landlords won’t rent them space. And voila! I would like to say how prescient I am, but it was just an average no-brainer wasn’t it? HKFP story.

The company’s premises have been subject to spot-checks by health, fire and other officials, and local staff and Mainland suppliers pressured. Next time you hear Hong Kong officials blather about a ‘creative industry hub’ etc, remember that Chickeeduck could have become a big local brand selling local design and style to the world – but now won’t.

Anyone who had two doses of SinoVac may now get a third/booster shot, regardless of age, occupation or social usefulness. Our local leaders go for Sinovac for their third dose, even though…

A government expert committee said in October that the “Comirnaty [Pfizer-BioNTech] vaccine offers greater protection,” though adding that “personal preference is respected.” 

Obviously, in an environment where they kill off budding brands for ideological reasons, officials will accept a vaccine less likely to protect them from a deadly disease to prove how patriotic they are. (Cynics might wonder if they in fact received a sneaky dose of BioNTech when no-one was looking.)

I suppose we should be grateful that the rest of us are still allowed to choose the product of evil foreign forces that will preserve our health more effectively. As it happens, I’m getting mine [checks watch] right now* (under the ‘social usefulness’ category, naturally).

As the tennis world asks where Peng Shuai is, an AP interview with Grace Meng, wife of China’s Interpol boss now purged and disappeared in the Mainland. China is meanwhile trying to get another of its officials into the top ranks at the agency.

And a weekend long read… the (non-CCP) leftist Lusan on the early 70s Baodiao movement as a precursor of the Hong Kong localist and other struggles. 

* Assuming it’s Friday morning right now. 

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Today’s non-fake news

Lee Cheuk-yan’s mitigation before sentencing for ‘incitement’ and other charges relating to last year’s Tiananmen vigil…

Your Honour, the people of Hong Kong who took part needed no person or organisation to incite them. If there was a provocateur, it is the regime that fired at its own people.

What sentence will he get? It says here… 

A couple who chained their friend’s baby daughter like a dog and beat her with a rattan stick until it broke before her death have both been sentenced to five years and four months in jail.

…while Ma Chun-man got five years and nine months for shouting slogans.

The ICAC will deploy 800 staff (it even has that many?) in polling stations to ‘observe voting and ballot counting procedures’ and deploy others to ‘monitor social media for election-related activity’.

The Hong Kong Cyclothon – an event we had previously never heard of – will ban the slogan ‘Hong Kong add oil’ with police assistance in order to prevent the People’s Republic of China from collapsing.

The government that maintains that evil foreign forces induced two million Hongkongers to protest in 2019 is mulling ways to curb ‘fake news’.

Chinese state media issues a screenshot of an email supposedly from tennis star Peng Shuai assuring the Women’s Tennis Association that she has not been disappeared after accusing former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of pressuring her into sex. Oddly, no-one is convinced, with the WTA being especially skeptical. An analyst notes that

This creepy tweet by CGTN is a good example of the fusion of incompetence and authoritarian hubris in China’s official messaging. 

…messages like these are meant as a demonstration of power: “We are telling you that she is fine, and who are you to say otherwise?” It’s not meant to convince people but to intimidate and demonstrate the power of the state.

Except that the ‘power’ being demonstrated is really no more than obnoxiousness and thuggery, encouraging more calls to boycott the Winter Olympics. Expect Beijing to make Peng read a statement on video while strapped to a chair in a dungeon – or a classy good-taste variant of that tactic – before long.

The BBC on how China has painted itself (and of course dragged Hong Kong with it) into a corner with its zero-Covid strategy

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Under the NatSec regime, even chambers are suspect

Not that 99.9% of Hongkongers will notice, but AmCham chair Tara Joseph decides to quit. The RTHK item says…

…she is resigning as she cannot appeal to the city’s government to ease Covid-19 restrictions at the same time as having to undergo quarantine herself…

“It is not in my nature to advocate on something, and then embark on quarantine like a stooge.” … [She] would face three weeks of hotel quarantine if she returned to the city…

A stooge usually chooses to collaborate. I would have thought speaking out while detained against her will in a quarantine hotel would send a more powerful statement. Or she could just have said ‘this city is going down the tubes and I want to get out’, which would also have been impactful.

From Kong Tsung Gan, a comparative analysis of Hong Kong as a human-rights offender. Hard to have imagined this just three years ago. No more ‘Asia’s World City’ – maybe the government’s PR people can consider ‘Nowhere Near As Bad As North Korea’.

Panda-hugging ex-leaders are a dying breed, so one of many responses to former Oz PM Paul Keating’s recent comments.

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Open season

Officials are considering letting people shoot wild boars again, after one bit a cop. In the old days, the authorities gave a group of guys permits to hunt the pigs for a few days each year. The most prominent participant was veteran democrat and Professional Teachers Union founder Szeto Wah, who was apparently a pretty good shot.

In these better-Red-than-expert days, the NatSec regime will vet marksmen for CCP-style patriotism, and you’ll end up with Holden Chow rampaging round the country parks with a hunting rifle, accidentally shooting Elizabeth Quat while she waves a fake firearms licence.

The government is out for journalists too. It is sorely vexed over a Bloomberg op-ed about the rigged ‘elections’. And it has denied a new visa for Economist correspondent Sue-lin Wong. Perhaps because of the paper’s not-always-flattering graphics featuring Xi Jinping as an emperor?

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HK hit by post-Plenum shoe-shining outbreak

Hong Kong’s top officials give prompt and fulsome praise to the outcome of the Sixth Plenum, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam telling us

…the consideration and adoption of the Resolution on the Major Achievements & Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century at the sixth plenary session is particularly meaningful.

Paul Chan gravely recommends that we all ‘study’ the resolution, and – perhaps fittingly for the Financial Secretary – rejoice in the parts about ‘common prosperity’.

Anne Stevenson-Yang has a less starry-eyed take. She suspects the trendy-sounding wealth-spreading stuff is little more than CCP-elite pork-barrel…

It is not easy to remain at the pinnacle of Chinese power: governing ideology is uncertain and attenuated, and the system is no longer delivering the benefits it once did. It looks like getting money strategically into the right pockets is more important than ever. That is one reason why the blatant handouts in the “Common Prosperity” program make so much sense.

Samuel Bickett’s appeal is about to begin – a Vox report.

To start the week on an upbeat note – From Oiwan Lam, an appreciation of My Little Airport, complete with YouTube links, etc.

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Hong Kong judicial independence in action

While an SCMP editorial wonders why the young have lost confidence in Hong Kong’s rule of law, some NatSec creepiness to round off the week. An Apple Daily executive is denied bail because overseas officials had voiced support for him after his arrest (‘conspiracy to collude with foreign forces’), thus proving ‘close association’. And Ma Chun-man is sentenced to five years nine months for shouting slogans…

The judge said Ma had evolved from a person being incited to someone who incited others, and this evolution from incitee to inciter shows it’s possible that people the defendant incited could turn into the next Ma Chun-man…

Immediately after the prison term was handed down, a woman in the public gallery shouted, “Too long!”. The judge then asked the security guards to record the woman’s ID card number.

More from Judge Chan here

Ma was said to have a “layered” plan to incite other people to seize Hong Kong’s sovereignty from the hands of China. He proposed starting at school level and gradually expanding to all social classes to “prompt the next revolution,” the judge ruled.

The SCMP editorial sees job opportunities as the problem. Samuel Bickett remarks… 

Real laws are clear in what they prohibit. The NSL is, by design, so vague as to be meaningless. By leaving what it actually restricts wide open, the NSL is designed to dismantle rule of law, not buttress it. It is less a law than an anti-law, a declaration that laws are irrelevant.

Following several departures, it seems every university head from now one will… 

…have to be a Chinese national deemed loyal to Beijing … foreigners or those with ties to Taiwan or the United States would not be considered.

Some reading and viewing material for the weekend…

HKFP op-ed on that strange way so many patriotic officials’ spouses have foreign passports…

I have banged on about this passport hypocrisy before in these columns and apologise for once again being so impolite as to point out how extraordinary it is that the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong’s elite find it necessary to secure the insurance policy of the right of abode overseas.

A thread in which epidemiologist Ben Cowling does quarantine.

And one from royalist Alice Lai, boldly hoping to run for election on the Hong Kong-UK Reunification Campaign ticket. (She has apparently since been barred, and is trying to lodge an appeal. Today’s guest star pays tribute to her.)

David Bandurski on the Sixth Plenum and the forthcoming (third) ‘resolution of CCP history’…

…all previous top leaders, including Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, will be phantoms (都是虚的, as one knowledgeable observer explained), and Xi Jinping’s achievements and experiences will become the overriding facts of Chinese politics.

More on this from Asia Times.

Another (quite detailed) research piece on Beijing’s attempts to extend overseas online influence through hiring Facebook and other ‘opinion leaders’.

Atlantic looks at how the world increasingly finds China annoying

Where the word Beijing once conjured the image of a confident, rising power, today it represents a frowning, finger-pointing, never-erring crank, its constant stream of vitriol diminishing the effectiveness of Chinese anger.

And is becoming more accepting of Taiwan – the NYT reports on Europe

…an unusual flurry of diplomatic activity suggests a subtle shift may be underway in Europe, driven in part by the region’s growing frustration over China’s aggressive posture.

And Mother Jones on how US Democrats and progressives struggle to get their heads around Taiwan.

Slate asks whether China really would try a military invasion of Taiwan. Mostly reasonable, despite the slightly odd remark: ‘The subjugation of Hong Kong has shown that China can dominate a small island power without resorting to military force’.

Bitter Winter reports on Chinese Buddhist monks being forced to watch CCP-approved movies.

Simon Rabinovich comparing China and Biden-era US infrastructure trends (some surprises).

And in case some people out there still haven’t realized that the CCP’s China has jumped the shark and its leader is making it up as he goes along – here’s an article for them.

Finally, a WW2 history vid: the true story of the Jewish commandos who inspired Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Includes a few re-enacted scenes, which I normally don’t like – but they fit in fairly well here.

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The HK supermarket sector has more competition

The ICAC – once an anti-corruption agency, now apparently an all-purpose NatSec regime enforcer – arrests three people for allegedly ‘inciting another person not to vote, or to cast invalid vote, by activity in public during election period’. They reposted an online appeal (presumably Ted Hui’s) to cast blank ballots in December’s Legislative Council quasi-election. The agency says it… 

…will take resolute enforcement actions to combat conduct manipulating and sabotaging the election … [and] urges members of the public to abide by the law, and not to engage in making illegal appeals or repost any unlawful contents in order to uphold a fair and clean election.

No doubt thousands of people reposted Hui’s Facebook message, but the ICAC action will surely spread the word: the authorities are really worried that you, the voters, will boycott the election or cast blank votes.

The weird part is that no-one has done more to ‘sabotage’ the election and encourage a voter boycott than the NatSec regime itself, by jailing most of the candidates citizens would want to vote for – and further rigging the exercise to make voting near-pointless. 

Under the ‘improved’ election system, the public at large elect only 20 of 90 lawmakers, and after nominations close tomorrow and the subsequent vetting takes place, it’s possible that many will have a ‘choice’ of three candidates for each two-member constituency. That’s the current situation in all but two of the 10 geographical constituencies: two Beijing-picked winners, plus one stooge for the sake of appearances, like Allan Wong, who…

…announced his candidacy on Monday. According to Stand News, Wong said he was told to change from the New Territory North constituency by someone “with some status in society.”

With the outcome already decided, even avid Beijing loyalists might be tempted not to bother going along to vote.

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Is this ‘civil society lite’?

An alert observer mentions the World Green Organization – which I’ve never heard of but, according to RTHK, is warning of increased electricity prices as generators shift to natural gas. 

Here’s their website, highlighting various environmental activities, notably with a corporate bent. Coca-Cola/Swire plastic bottle recycling, Mead Johnson formula-can recycling, Great Eagle Group waste reduction, various surveys, walks and government awards ceremonies, and lots of stuff about baby lotion and paper towels. All worthy and overtly non-edgy.

The boards of governors and advisors confirm the group’s moderate/establishment leanings – mostly academics and business people with very long resumes listing membership of obscure government committees, research posts probably dependent on public/corporate funding, and similar tell-tale signs familiar to shoe-shining forensics. One made the SCMP yesterday.

The boss (big bio here) is big into sustainable smart-city innovation stuff – and also on the Town Planning Appeals Board and the Third Runway Advisory Committee. One governor is an independent non-executive director of Power Assets (ie HK Electric), the people who will charge more if they shift away from coal. Another is founder of the Myanmar Chamber of Commerce, and here’s an old plug for a ‘One Belt One Road’ Youth Leadership project in Burma. 

As that last page shows, the group has been around for quite a few years. I personally witnessed one of their plastic bottle Octopus Card rebate machines in action in an office foyer just recently, so they obviously take part in environmentally constructive projects, even if it’s helping businesses do greenwashing. But there are also things they probably won’t do – like protest environmentally ruinous government policies (try their insipid page on air quality).

This is not the first time recently that newly sanitized patriotism-compliant RTHK has featured the WGO with a ‘safe’ non-story – the group’s boss called for Greater Bay Area carbon-trading three weeks back. 

The point is that establishment-linked groups like this will probably be all that’s left as Beijing eliminates the more critical and aggressive parts of Hong Kong’s civil society.

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A ton of stuff from the weekend…

(Might spend a few days next week meditating.)

Bloomberg reports that Beijing is arranging for state-owned Bauhinia Culture to buy the SCMP from Alibaba. SCMP management assures the paper’s staff that ‘there are no discussions’ etc, but that’s irrelevant – Jack Ma will do whatever he is told. 

The report is credible simply because, under the circumstances (ongoing absorption of Hong Kong into Mainland system, semi-purge of Ma, Xi Jinping’s all-round tightening of CCP control), it is hard to imagine that Beijing would not be planning such a move. 

The leak to Bloomberg must have come from Mainland officials – who else could it have been? So whatever happens, the SCMP looks set to become part of the happy state-media family. Bauhinia Culture is an obvious choice, being run by the Liaison Office, and having taken over state-friendly Phoenix TV from PLA-tycoon Liu Changle earlier this year.

It will be fascinating, in a morbid way, to watch how SCMP transforms editorially from its current patchy semi-independence and mawkish kowtowing to overtly CCP-managed output. It will be run by the same people who head Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, aiming to combine the dignified classiness of China Daily and the cosmopolitan panache of Global Times.

Or at least pleasing their bosses. A great thread on the current state of Chinese media aimed at foreigners.

In a Foreign Correspondents Club survey, 46% of journalists who responded were thinking of leaving Hong Kong and 56% reported self-censorship. China’s Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong could reasonably note that the sample was small and leave it at that – but instead they reach for the tantrum freak-out button…

FCC has walked away from its professional ethics … Its smearing of Hong Kong’s press freedom and playing-up of the chilling effect are interference in Hong Kong affairs…

We urge the FCC to distinguish right from wrong, respect the rule of law in the HKSAR, and stop driving wedge in Hong Kong and meddling in Hong Kong affairs under whatever pretext.

(The Chinese version is more mouth-frothing – ‘despicable acts of deliberately making “noise” and blatantly instigating incidents’, etc.)

Unlike other Beijing-directed agencies in town (including the Hong Kong government itself), the Foreign Ministry’s branch office doesn’t often get the chance to join in the patriotic mission to bring Hong Kong to heel – so that might partly account for the cantankerous outburst. MOFA mostly deals with local diplomats and seems to have jurisdiction over the FCC because of the ‘foreign’ tag; other organs would have ranted if the HK Journalists Association or the HK Jockey Club had done the survey.

Meanwhile, another independent local outlet shuts down, and an editor (whose media-executive wife is in jail) pulls out.

HK universities begin creepy compulsory NatSec classes on…

…the dangers of breaking the law, in one case demonstrating how a message in a chat group could be interpreted as a serious breach, punishable by up to life in prison…

At Baptist University, the course took the form of a two-hour seminar by pro-Beijing lawyer Alex Fan, who … warned students of the sweeping powers of the security law and the severity of punishments for breaking it, according to a 200-page PowerPoint presentation…

The presentation was followed by a compulsory 20-question multiple-choice test … in which students had to identify security law violations by characters with names such as “Ms Naughty” and “Mr Breach”. Several students told Reuters they failed the test.

There are barely enough candidates being nominated for the December LegCo ‘election’ to fill all the seats available. And this is before a vetting process begins to weed out any ‘unpatriotic’ hopefuls.

With the vetting results set to be announced as little as three weeks before the election, Chinese University political scientist Ma Ngok said disqualification of a candidate could cause confusion.

…Tik Chi-yuen, from the centrist Third Side party, said the situation was not sensible and would have a bearing on how much money a candidate was willing to spend during the election.

“What if he spends a lot of money and ends up being disqualified,” he said, suggesting there was no need to wait until the nomination period ended to start vetting work.

This sounds chaotic – until you factor in the presence of Beijing’s officials behind the scenes stage-managing the whole ‘election’ show. This is the way they scripted it, the winners have already been decided, and there will be no surprises.

Two threads in one: BBC China guy on the possible historic goings-on at the coming CCP Central Committee Plenum; and (jump straight to here if you’re not into plenums) on Xinhua’s bizarre recent output on the ‘awesomeness’ of Xi Jinping.

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Rioters should turn up to riots, court rules

Latest news from the new improved election system where we never forget you don’t have a choice: veteran lawmaker Abraham Razak stands down to make way for the son of the Legislative Council president. Patriotic obedience plus filial piety – the chamber looks set to hold the executive branch to account with a very light touch.

And the Court of Final Appeal finesses a ruling on people being prosecuted for rioting when they were somewhere else. The oh-so important foreign judges can stay on for a while longer without too much embarrassment, but will the government/Beijing kick up a fuss?

Some weekend reading and viewing…

It’s Al Jazeera’s turn to do the Hong Kong-sinks-into-isolation-and-despair story

“The selling point of Hong Kong for China, or value of Hong Kong for China, is the ability to be open to the rest of the world when China cannot for policy reasons[,] and Hong Kong is destroying its value to China by being closed.”

From Tim Hamlett – the vandalizing of Hong Kong’s legal aid system.

Quartz on how the US defines a Hongkonger (for purposes of giving visa extensions to those in danger of arrest for political reasons)…

“…we didn’t want a situation where – and this is just one scenario – if they only accept the Hong Kong SAR passport, that would’ve been fucked up because everyone who has a BNO would have to go to the Chinese embassy” to apply for the passport.

Alice Poon’s early 2000s classic incitement to sedition Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong has been translated into Korean. It is Hong Kong’s Shame of the Cities or History of the Standard Oil Company – still worth reading as a work that changed people’s thinking.

If Lulu Wang wants to shoot a Hong Kong movie called Expats 2 on the gritty hell that is housing allowances, here’s the outline of the screenplay.

Panda Tantrum du Jour: European Parliament members visit Taiwan. When Chinese officials say you will ‘pay a price’ for having better relations with an overseas people, how can you not be tempted to book the first flight to TPE?

Idiom of the Week Award goes to one I learnt watching series 2 of Korean TV drama Let’s Eat: ‘Sucking soybeans out of a beggar’s butt’ – meaning to demand help from someone less able to provide it than you are.

And for anyone complaining about the food in quarantine, here’s a taste-test of 1944 British Pacific Forces rations. 

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