No longer ‘Doctor’, still ‘The Honorable’

Anglia Ruskin University rescinds pro-Beijing legislator Junius Ho’s honorary degree, following a bout of ‘increasing concern’. While the pro-Beijing camp does not have a monopoly of obnoxiousness, it seems to account for the vast majority of racist, homophobic, triad-linked, hate-spewing, borderline-criminal scumbags who take part in Hong Kong ‘politics’.

This is partly by default. Decent and independent-minded people are unlikely to align themselves with the thuggish Stalinist CCP (and it wouldn’t want them anyway). It is also a result of the United Front practice of buying loyalty. Ho is a lawyer who works on the not-very-legal but lucrative transfer of New Territories ‘ding’ house-building rights – an archaic system that harms Hong Kong’s overall interests but which Beijing supports to keep rural power-holders onside.

Devout, true-Red believers are rare, and relatively few pro-Beijing party activists can be called ideologically committed; most are simply opportunists. This is overt and unapologetic where the pro-business factions are concerned. It is also apparent among the broader-based groups, notably the DAB and its differently-branded proxies, which attract a lot of lightweights and dimwits.

Not all of these schmucks are necessarily evil. It’s just a lot easier to be nominated as an election candidate for a well-resourced Beijing-backed party, provided you are happy to parrot the official line on everything. For example, it’s hard to imagine lawmaker Elizabeth Quat being as vulgar and crass as Junius Ho. She even dabbles in saving the whales and other environmentalist causes. Her university will never need to strip her of her degree.

Oh it can’t – it doesn’t even exist.

Meanwhile, my Twitter career is complete…

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Maybe it’ll work *next* weekend!

For the 20th week in a row, a group of top-level Hong Kong government officials sit in a conference room. The Ad Hoc Rampaging Protesters Unleashing Chaos and Violence Committee comes to order. As in 19 previous meetings, attendees are discussing what the administration can do to bring an end to the regular and unending cycle of rallies and demonstrations turning into mayhem on the streets.

There is silence around the table as one policy secretary after another mumbles or shrugs. Suddenly, the Security Bureau boss sticks his hand up. “I’ve just had an amazing idea! Let’s send in hundreds of riot police to fire tons of tear gas all over the place! I bet it’ll work this time!”

I was at the ‘illegal gathering’ (the SCMP’s description) yesterday. Although there were plenty of black-shirted (but mostly non-battle-equipped) younger folk there, the crowd had above-average numbers of the middle-aged Respectable Bespectacled Brigade, including media types, perhaps because the rally’s original theme concerned press freedom. Some were in wheelchairs. They did not seem to present a threat to law and order.

There were also platoons of heavily equipped riot police everywhere, obviously just waiting to start firing their sub-lethal weaponry. Soon enough, the Peninsula Hotel was shrouded in smoke. Many demonstrators squeezed out through the Avenue of Stars. Tourists with luggage waited in vain for taxis outside the InterContinental. And a few hours later – in accordance with the routine of nearly five months – clashes broke out further up Nathan Road, with the usual arrests, injuries, etc.

Other districts saw outbreaks over the weekend. The almost ritualized heavy-handed police tactics – tear gas everywhere, arrest anyone you can grab – has become one of the main causes of the protests. Protests against police over-reaction are met with more police over-reaction, which leads to (duh) more protests.

Back in the government conference room, nobody asks if this is isn’t getting really stupid. However, Louisa Lim and Ilaria Maria Sala in the Guardian step in:

The escalating weekend insurgency and the police brutality deployed in response have marooned the territory in a cycle of violence that is doing serious damage to its economy, rule of law and public trust in its institutions.

… The authorities are boxed in: any political reforms that fall short of concessions or real dialogue would likely worsen the situation, as would no action at all.

They mention the ‘Northern Ireland’ scenario of perpetual troubles.

The authorities – essentially Beijing – are indeed ‘boxed in’. It is fanciful to imagine the Leninist Xi Jinping regime allowing Hong Kong even mildly representative government. But it is also hard to see them going ‘full-Mainland’ via a rapid imposition of censorship, martial law, suspension of habeas corpus, and so on, given the risks of serious insurrection and international sanctions.

There are several other variables. Beijing’s fear of rebellion crossing the border would override any other consideration, for better or worse. There are strategic international factors at play (sanctions, etc). And there is the possibility of factional struggles among the CCP elites.

A more local variable: the owners of Hong Kong’s hotels and malls must be starting to feel pain. Local policymaking traditionally revolves around the needs of these family-run conglomerates, whose heads have correspondingly shoe-shined Beijing for decades. They probably have little clout, and few friends – if only they had been nicer to their fellow citizens over the years! It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of parasites.

Barring a serious – and hard-to-envisage – shift, perhaps we do face a real prospect where this does not end. A future of permanent paramilitary occupation and low-scale insurrection, but blissfully few tourists.

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The Returning Officer has not returned

After the 2014 Umbrella Movement, Beijing (via the Hong Kong administration, via district-based civil-servant ‘Returning Officers’) barred many younger localism-tinged hopefuls from the ballot using a concocted political test. Oddly, many activists you would expect to be disqualified, like Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, have been allowed to run in November’s District Council elections.

The only one still waiting for a decision is Joshua Wong. The Returning Officer in his area has mysteriously gone sick, in the way someone might if her conscience did not allow her to obey anti-democratic orders from above (or, you may consider, in the way someone might if she was actually sick).

What brings about (the boy Joshua aside) this outbreak of tolerance among Returning Officers? It would be Beijing’s instinct, after four months of a popular uprising, to suppress opposition voices. It could be that, in a freakish fit of common sense, local officials convinced the Liaison Office that disqualifications would provoke yet more loathing for a government that has run out of legitimacy. Another theory is that the civil servants or their local superiors are petrified of being blacklisted by the US – though this assumes they have a choice.

District Councils are a big yawn, but there has been a recent strenthening of support for pan-dems, and a surge in new voter registrations – and this is a golden opportunity to give the government a big kick up the backside, and Beijing a message.

I declare the weekend open with a multitude of painstakingly curated reading matter.

More evidence that Hong Kong’s political middle ground is evaporating: moderate columnist Michael Chugani tears Carrie Lam to shreds.

A warning to keep away from security or ‘bodyguarding’ companies. I get copied in on email-newsletters from a couple of local ‘risk consultancy’ types. One is a company run by an ex-cop trying to drum up business; the analysis is purely focused on gory mayhem in the streets. Another – some sort of personal security outfit – issues lengthy blood-curdling advice copied to everyone in and around the government on how best to crush the radical fanatic terrorists in our midst. At best they are pandering to corporate clients’ paranoia; at worst, they are mouth-frothing jackboot fetishists.

One thing they don’t mention, but AFP does: violence against Hong Kong government critics.

Not only does the protest movement create artwork – here’s a Yuen Long MTR attack infographic. The Resistance also does mass-spectrometry (or something fancy like that): an analysis of the Hong Kong Police’s new Made-in-China tear gas.

The Diplomat goes inside Hong Kong’s leaderless uprising

Many young Hong Kongers face a terrifying choice: Continue a grotesquely uneven battle against a superior power or acknowledge that the rest of their lives are going to be without civil liberties, without democracy and under Beijing’s strict and brutal control.

A Chinese U professor in Asia Dialogue says Hong Kong’s protests are asking only for the city has been promised

The protest is a small price to pay in the short term if the people of Hong Kong want to preserve the city’s future. Without it, the outcome is inevitable: the city’s gradual absorption into the Chinese system, losing its identity, culture, values, and everything that makes Hong Kong unique and different from the rest of China.

Some historical perspective from Manchester, England: Hong Kong and the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.

And the first time I have ever linked to Teen Vogue: Joshua Wong (need you ask?)

Bloomberg looks for signs that wealth is fleeing Hong Kong for Singapore, and doesn’t find many, really. Bear in mind that people with vast fortunes to move around try not to leave signs, and that the stability of the monetary and financial systems would be the last things to go – long after the rest of us have emigrated or been used for organ-harvesting. That said, it is amusing to see Singaporean officials’ crocodile tears over the plight of Hong Kong.

Foreign Policy reports on how Hollywood’s shoe-shining of the CCP is backfiring in Southeast Asia. As with the NBA drama – another Xi Jinping hubristic overreach screw-up.

Asia Dialogue again, on why the CCP fears religion

Inspired by American propagandists including Walter Lipmann (1889–1974) and Edward Bernays (1891–1995), the CCP assumes that if a government wants to change the content of its citizens’ beliefs, it can.

(In related news, Beijing has just released new ‘guidelines on ethnic unity’ – perhaps ‘forced cultural uniformity’ would be a better description.)

And say a big welcome to China’s new (‘learn from’) Comrade Lei Feng!

Finally, someone you shouldn’t learn from at all – but he’s the last hope for China’s Soft Power: that amazing/heroic stunt drinker from Hebei you’ve watched in horror.

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A whole 40 cars! Yippee!

In an effort to make the mostly empty Zhuhai bridge look useful, the authorities are going to allow private cars to drive across the zillion-dollar infrastructure boondoggle. At least that’s how the SCMP reports it.

In fact, this will only apply to cars that already have cross-border permits. There are some 30,000 such vehicles (including trucks and buses), currently restricted to designated land boundary control points. (Quite a few, it seems, are already eligible to use the HK-Macau-Zhuhai White Elephant, but given the nightmarishly Kafa-esque permit quagmire, and perhaps a lack of compelling reasons to go to Zhuhai, few do.)

To put it into perspective, an extra 40 – yes, forty – Hong Kong cars will be eligible under the first phase of this initiative.

As the SCMP item mentions, bus operators are also struggling on the bridge, as are truckers. Has it occurred to anyone that it could make an amazing cycle path?

There is talk of allowing all 600,000 or so private cars in Hong Kong to use the bridge, but capacity constraints at either end (plus multiple immigration checks) make this pretty much impossible. One desperate solution to ‘maximize’ bridge usage is a system where car owners book a slot ahead of time.

All this is meaningless, of course, to the 90% of Hong Kong households that do not own a private car. Hong Kong’s transport planners are largely unaware of their existence – so spending thousands of man-hours devising a highly complex policy for 40 cars seems like a really cool idea.

Breaking news for that 90%: the Curfew Control Commissar will allow you to use the MTR up to 11.00pm tonight!

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Hey – it could’ve been Regina Ip!

It seems Hong Kong officials use Reuters as their preferred conduit for leaks (or ‘scoops’ as media folk call them), while their Mainland counterparts prefer the Financial Times. The latter today reveals (paywall, etc, possibly) that Beijing will eject Chief Executive Carrie Lam, maybe in March, after things have ‘stabilized’ ha ha. (Reuters catch-up here.)

The precedent is the FT‘s shock story (if memory serves) on the imminent dumping of Tung Chee-hwa in favour of Donald Tsang back around 2005.

The FT’s latest exclusive on CE defenestrations falls a bit flat by suggesting that the ‘leading candidates’ to replace Carrie – as an interim – are Henry Tang and Norman Chan.

Slightly buffoonish nice-guy billionaire-scion Henry was due to get the job in 2012, but a last-minute switch (at the same time Xi Jinping was coming into power) led to ultra-patriot CY Leung ‘winning’ the quasi-election. Installing ‘Illegal Basement’ Henry at this stage would look like a sop to the very tycoons Beijing partially publicly blames for Hong Kong’s woes. It would also be an insult to the whole city to appoint someone with so little gravitas – though arguably it would give us all a laugh. He could only be a temporary and very, very obvious puppet.

There would be a nice symmetry to it: in 2005, a dimwit tycoon was replaced by a dimwit bureaucrat; in 2020 it’s the other way round (with a rabid-Red CCP fanatic from 2012-16 as an interregnum).

If Beijing wants to go for a halfway convincing CE, technocrat Norman Chan makes more sense. He has just left the top post at the HK Monetary Authority, which oversees the currency peg and bank regulation – which is at least a real job requiring some brain cells. But that’s what people said about former Financial Secretary Donald Tsang, who went on to become another failure.

Whatever happens, any Hong Kong CE from now on will be no more than a figurehead while Beijing presumably tries to sort out a more sustainable and effective approach to imposing ethno-nationalistic neo-Confucian Stalinist dictatorship on a modern, free and pluralist society.

Hong Kong’s resistance – now a direct confrontation with the CCP and an international issue – may just be beginning. But at least perhaps everyone agrees that, after 22 years, this whole routine of appointing CEs who turn out to be crap and scrabbling around for another is getting a bit stale.

Update: anyone worrying that an ‘interim’ arrangement isn’t allowed under the Basic Law (here, here) can rest assured that, if you’re the CCP, anything is allowed under the Basic Law.

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Blues for Allah

As part of Operation Clueless Mayhem on Sunday, the Hong Kong Police sprayed Kowloon Mosque a fetching blue. It was a fairly typical deployment of the water cannon: truck prowls along street looking for a target; driver steers up to roadside, stops, and sprays small group of people who are doing nothing; truck trundles away again. But, unlike dozens of other incidents in which the cops have doused bystanders and buildings with the chemical-laced blue-dyed liquid for no obvious reason, this occasion triggered Horrified Panic in the law-enforcement hierarchy and government.

Why does a mosque warrant special post-spraying commiserations, when the cops have never shown any remorse after firing rubber bullets at reporters, pulling a mentally disabled bystander to the ground, tear-gassing old people’s homes and pigeons, invading MTR trains, chasing schoolkids, etc? The only explanation can be… Muslims.

Someone in the police management must have dimly remembered a connection between mosques and Muslims, and vaguely recalled that Muslims might mean something ultra-sensitive.

So the cops hurried round to pretend to clean the place up, and held some painfully embarrassing press conferences. These involved a claim that it was an accident, and another that the idea had been to nobly protect the mosque (a five-year-old caught with hand in cookie jar could do better). The police PR experts added awkward assurances about how much we respect ethnic minorities. Most gruesome of all was the appearance of a real live Mohameddan officer who regaled the media with tales of how much all his infidel fellow constables love him. Then the Chief Executive herself emerged from her bunker to visit the centre and hobnob with turban-wearing elders, who accepted her whiny and hollow apologies with good grace.

Having set this precedent, the cops and officials than had to go and say sorry to St Andrews Church across the road, because they had given that place a spraying as well (a blue-rinse looks better on an elderly Protestand lady). The cops also assure everyone they respect freedom of religion – as if that has anything to do with this.

Watch for a water-cannon truck to be struck by a lightning bolt next weekend.

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A ‘reds-versus-wets’ split?

The Hong Kong government’s mask-banning, blue-water-spraying, MTR-suspending, tear gas-firing, panty-wetting and freaking-out over protest mayhem celebrates a 20th straight week of continued dazzling success.

Observers scratch their heads and ask whether or when the administration will notice that its current approach doesn’t seem to be working. Apologists sigh and mumble that our supposed leaders’ hands are tied.

Then, as Hong Kong’s crisis looks like it can’t get any worse, the inevitable happens. We learn that family members of Mainland Affairs minister Patrick Nip bought brand-new apartments just ahead of the Policy Address, which included measures to (more or less) boost home prices. Who is more brain-dead: Nip for letting relatives do something so cliched and embarrassing, or the family members themselves for buying absurdly overpriced apartments at a time like this?

Let’s sift through today’s signs that things aren’t getting better for the government. For statistics geeks, a look at the methodology behind the public opinion polls showing the collapse of trust in the HK Police. Scroll past the parts about things like “Kruskall-Wallis H = 105.67, p < .001 (ε2 = 0.07)” down to where he says “Holy crap…” for the conclusion. And a stock analyst in the Standard who normally drones on about the latest hot concepts decides to rip the Policy Address to shreds.

There are also signs of a split in the pro-government camp. On one side are True Red pro-CCP elements People’s Daily, ex-Chief Executive CY Leung and Mainland princeling-intellectual Ren Yi; on the other side are moderate establishment figures Chinese U Vice-Chancellor Rocky Tuan, who (sort of) sides with students against the police, and CE Carrie Lam herself for hinting at the need for an independent inquiry into the cops. (More on university chiefs walking a fine line here, and Carrie on a police inquiry here. There are other murmurings suggesting top local officials are uneasy about the Yuen Long incident in particular.)

I say a ‘split in the government camp’. This is a longstanding, papered-over division becoming more visible – ideological nationalist patriots versus wishy-washy ruling-class ‘elite’ types who cling to ‘Western’ values. Beijing has thousands of ruthless full-time United Front enforcers tasked with preventing or rectifying such splits, and this represents a serious breach of ideological discipline and/or loyalty. Rocky could be in danger of getting the John Slosar treatment.

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And for Carrie’s next neat trick…

You are Hong Kong’s leader. After four months of greatest-political-turmoil-ever and a string of incompetent decisions, you have just announced measures to push housing prices up and benefit the property tycoons. How do you follow that? You might think it cannot be done. But behold – the government is going to try ramming through the National Anthem law to criminalize disrespect of the glorious motherland.

Carrie Lam is God’s gift to the protest movement. (In fairness, as she would point out if she could, her hands are probably tied on this – not to mention her feet nailed to the floor and the gun pointed at her head.)

This just in – Panda-Tantrum of the Day Award goes to Norwegian lawmaker Guri Melby, who has nominated the Hong Kong people for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I declare the weekend open with a mish-mash of reading and viewing material.

In HK Free Press, a well-meaning commentator proposes that Hong Kong has a truth and reconciliation commission (totally unacceptable to Beijing), functional constituency reform (ditto, plus irrelevant) and a broader tax base (also irrelevant). However, it ends with neat summary of why obvious reforms of any sort are non-starters, thanks to Xi Jinping’s ‘Document Number 9’, which…

… essentially stated that all Western political ideas were bad, and the core ideas of Western democracy were especially bad.

The [Hong Kong] Basic Law entrenches the core values of Western democracy in One Country, Two Systems. The Basic Law is therefore inconsistent with Document Number Nine. This is the contradiction at the heart of much that is wrong with Hong Kong’s governance…

…until the ideological contradiction at the heart is resolved, I fear there is little prospect of a long-term solution.

The Standard reports its owner Charles Ho in a Bloomberg interview claiming – as do many Hong Kong business ‘elites’ – that a mysterious ‘big leader’ is behind the protests. As evidence, the tobacco scion says the slogans are in ‘Taiwanese Chinese’.

It is tempting to attribute this view to Beijing shoe-shining. But my hunch is that the tycoon caste are clinging to this idea because the alternative – that the movement is spontaneous and reflects anger among the majority of the population – is too awful for them to contemplate. They take comfort in the fantasy that things can go back to normal, and the CCP is not coming to Cathay Pacific-ize them. (The rest of us can take comfort in the fact that at least we have the tycoons’ self-criticisms to look forward to.)

Howard French on why Beijing won’t send the tanks into Hong Kong (other than the terrible traffic).

Journalists tell the HK Foreign Correspondents Club magazine about covering the protests.

From the Culture Department…

Long after the Egyptian, Mayan and others passed away, one logographic system of writing survives. Hong Kong’s protest movement is putting it to extraordinary use.

An interview with Badiucao-as-artist.

And a video of the Hong Kong Police in action set to ‘Macho Man’ by Village People.

Onto Mainland affairs…

More dirt on Wen Jiabao’s family.

And what Chinese money-laundering and investment has done to Sihanoukville (basically, half-built collapsing buildings, casinos and raw sewage everywhere). Update: it gets worse.

Finally, Formosan history…

Views of Keelung in the late 50s and early 60s. If you know the city, you’ll still recognize some vistas.

And for ‘paleo’ fans, the ancient Taiwanese diet, which was heavy on dog and raw meat.

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Carrie Lam in small further step to oblivion

Time after time over the last six months, the Hong Kong government has had a choice between making things better or worse – and consistently chosen the latter course. We all know the administration is incompetent and cut-off. It is also, of course, controlled by a higher power. As it says here, officials…

…know what ought to be done but they are not allowed to do it. It is perhaps a tribute to the care and caution which goes into the selection process that the entire team seems to be willing to go on working, or pretending to work, on this basis.

An intriguing question: have they been press-ganged, blackmailed, or lobotomized? You be the judge…

Predictably, Carrie Lam’s Policy Address is another missed opportunity to gain a few shreds of public respect. But it is so inept as to surprise even hardened cynics. It almost looks as if someone is deliberately trying to make the administration as hated as possible.

Among the usual array of one-off hand-outs are several subsidies for the small wealthy segment of the population who own cars (electric charging points for private housing estates, and tunnel-fee waivers) and housing measures that look designed to push prices up. These look like Carrie told civil servants to find ways to win over the middle class – if only by ‘making it easier to buy homes they cannot afford’.

(It is impossible to work out what Hong Kong’s counter-cyclical/pro-cyclical/making-it-up-as-we-go-cyclical housing policies are really trying to achieve. In fairness, it is not only officials who are irrational. What on earth would possess anyone of sound mind and non-billionaire net worth to buy a plain Hong Kong apartment at a time like this at prices like these? Can these people really not think of a single more-economical/better-value/less-imprudent way to use wealth?)

Beijing is setting Carrie up as a scapegoat when the time comes to rearrange the local de-facto power structure. In the finest tradition of the CCP stabbing its loyalists in the back when they are no longer needed, Beijing will (we can guess) engineer her resignation for ‘health reasons’ and simultaneously leak smears about her atrocious performance. It could even be that the Chinese government’s local approval ratings bounce up when it happens. As a reminder of how the CCP prepares the ground before moving in – and as another pro-democracy activist is attacked – here’s a quick intro to the Beijing-gangster coalition.

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Snooze-Fest transcript to have blue cover!

Hong Kong’s annual Chief Executive’s Policy Address has long since degenerated into an insipid substance-free ritual, befitting the city’s largely ceremonial formal political system. Carrie Lam, for her part, has even less imagination about policy than her benighted predecessors. But – here’s the key thing – Beijing will not allow her to produce any serious initiatives anyway. So today’s speech (which she might deliver by TV link from her bathroom in Government House for fear of marauding mobs) can be safely ignored.

As a fully paid-up establishment mouthpiece, the SCMP has a stab at taking it seriously, asking whether Carrie will Get Real (no need to read unless you’re very bored). Of course, common sense says that after 19 weeks of a popular uprising bordering on micro-scale civil war, she must do something mega. Surely, she should at least do some diversionary ‘shock and awe’ on housing – say, by barring non-residents from buying homes. But forget it. The big exciting leak is… more charging stations for electric vehicles.

I guess people focus on ‘What Carrie Should Do’ because it’s comforting to think someone with a name and a face might be in charge – even if it’s someone who has…

…failed to own up to [her] epic incompetence in creating the biggest political disaster Hong Kong has ever faced, with aftershocks tearing apart the city’s social fabric and shaking our economic foundations.

Even SCMP op-ed writers are getting exasperated.

Similarly, we have constant chatter about Who Beijing Will Replace Her With. It could be a chimpanzee. It’s irrelevant.

The one thing the Policy Address will achieve is to just make everyone even angrier, if that’s possible. While we’re waiting for that, here’s an interesting – partly contrasting, partly parallel – pair of articles…

A former CCTV presenter outlines the CCP’s long-term plans for Hong Kong in the context of the 1,000-year mandate of heaven awaiting the Communist Dynasty. It sounds depressingly horrifying enough to be right, including the displacement of unpatriotic businesses with state-controlled ones.

And a Westerner experienced in Beijing’s treatment of Christians and other CCP nastiness salutes Hong Kong’s protest movement, and takes a heartfelt stand against some of their methods while desperately wanting them to win.

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