HK Police respond resolutely to outrage over brutality

Public reaction was so bad after rampaging cops knocked over a pregnant woman and piled onto a 12-year-old schoolgirl a few weeks ago that the Hong Kong Police are going to take firm, tough, no-nonsense action. They will be tightening discipline – not over their traumatized/drug-crazed/maladjusted men, but over the media who report the unpleasantness.

The broadcasting regulator is reprimanding radio shows that air negative comments about the police. It seems the cops or their friends are tuning in to phone-in shows waiting for citizens to express less than total admiration for Asia’s once-finest, so they can make solitary formal complaints.

And the police are expanding their control over the press by assuming the right to ‘recognize’ only reporters from bigger established news organizations. That means that at protests reporters from the small independent outlets, student media and freelancers – who make public much of the cops’ brutality – will be liable for arrest for illegal assembly. That will obviously bar them from observing other police actions, which you could argue is tantamount to police tampering with evidence.

This will leave only the established local press and international reporters qualifying as media. The former are mostly owned by pro-Beijing tycoons or organizations. The latter are being squeezed out of Hong Kong by Mainland-style visa-restrictions. Police image problem solved.

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What’s 5’s break-up value?

HSBC’s share price drops below HK$30 – its lowest in 25 years. I remember it hitting around HK$130 (roughly) back in the days when China was cool and trendy. It is among a number of international banks named in a recent revelation of (old) cases of handling ‘dirty money’. Perhaps more pressing, Beijing is reportedly going to classify the bank as an ‘unreliable foreign entity’ (a way of lashing out in frustration at the West’s perceived advantage in using extraterritorial/global sanctions against Chinese companies). 

Beijing’s state media recently hinted that companies on this forthcoming list could help themselves by ‘showing sincerity’ – a grim CCP phrase meaning the spouting of blatant untruths and other self-abasing forms of kowtowing-as-contrition. No shortage of ways for HSBC to do that. Mailing a copy of Xi Jinping’s book to every account holder. Requiring staff to line up and sing the national anthem on the sidewalk outside branches every morning. Chief Exec Peter Wong to kneel on broken glass. Freezing pan-dem-related bank accounts (oh, done that already).

Anything more substantial HSBC does to appease the Panda will rub up against the regulatory and political realities of its UK domicile and presence in Western markets. This creates potentially impossible positions – like the ‘compliance mismatch’ where it has to betray Beijing by handing over dirt on Huawei’s Ms Meng to the Feds.

For Hong Kong, the symbolism is acute. The bank is the embodiment of colonial-era institutions that form part of Hong Kong’s identity. And the pain is real to many small investors, including retirees, who hold HSBC stock.

A case study in both the great de-linkage story and in the Sad Decline of Hong Kong Saga. 

Meanwhile, in More Great Moments in China’s Soft Power: an ABC correspondent on how Chinese officials threatened his family – including 14-year-old daughter – back in 2018.

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HK’s foreign judges’ new role: useful idiots

Carrie Lam’s office says Australian James Spigelman’s resignation as a non-permanent Court of Final Appeal judge had nothing to do with the new rule-of-law-wrecking National Security regime. Yet, ABC reports, he said it did

For a hint at who’s telling the truth, we can (courtesy of here) look at a HK Lawyer interview with Spigelman from a few years ago. He was born in Poland in 1946 into a family that had narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Nazis, and his interests include oppressed peoples and the importance of unbiased and open justice.

Around a dozen Brits, Australians and others from overseas common-law jurisdictions are among the non-permanent CFA judges available to supplement the three permanent ones including the Chief Justice. They are mostly retirees, and in practice their services are not often needed – when did you last hear of Baroness Hale of the UK or Canada’s Beverly McLachlin hearing cases here? The overseas judges’ occasional appearances might have helped bolster the CFA, but their role since 1997 has been largely ornamental, lending credibility to official claims of rule of law and judicial independence. 

The Hong Kong government has traditionally valued this mainly passive contribution. Local rule-of-law supporters have taken comfort in the thought that the foreign judges are there waiting in the wings (and implicitly able to quit rather than endorse a Mainland-style justice system). It’s hard to imagine Beijing itself liking the arrangement, though it maintains silence on the subject. Certainly, the symbolism is offensive to patriotic pro-Beijing types who find it humiliating to have non-Chinese faces (including many locally based ones) in the judiciary.

This is one of many areas where our local officials awkwardly try to cling to the city’s old cosmopolitan status and image, while increasingly embracing CCP-style positions on (say) evil foreign influences interfering in Hong Kong. Their reaction to Justice Spigelman’s departure comprises shrill recitals of slogans, suggesting that they are giving up trying to be convincing about this particular issue. 

In effect, the authorities seem to be moving from casting the foreign judges as confidence/credibility-boosters to more bluntly co-opting and presenting them CCP-style as useful idiots – like gullible Western think-tankers, university administrators and provincial politicians. 

Assuming the eminent judges become aware of this (and our Beijing-compliant courts start sentencing more prominent prisoners of conscience), more will no doubt leave, creating another minor flurry of dust in the crumbling remains of One Country Two Systems.

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Don’t mention the foot-licking thing

A late-week flurry of legal news, much of which does not boost confidence in the Hong Kong judiciary or law enforcement.

Tam Tak-chi is denied bail – thus stuck in jail for a couple of months – for allegedly ‘uttering seditious words’. 

If you want bail, stab Long Hair. Magistrate Cheang Kei-hong frees a man prior to sentencing for doing just that on the grounds that the guy ‘loves society deeply’ – not because he’s 80, which would be some sort of reason. (Not saying this magistrate is biased against the protest movement, but he sentenced a guy to five months for possessing cable ties and took apparent delight in imprisoning others here and here. He also has a connection to foot-licking it says here, but I guess that’s not relevant. CCP foot-fetishism update here.)

If you’re lucky you might get a magistrate who does not bow to the CCP – like the one who has acquitted a pair of innocent bystanders on the grounds that they were innocent bystanders. Why did the HK Police arrest and charge them (let alone start pushing them around the street in the first place), and why did the public prosecutors waste taxpayers’ money bringing the case to court? People are understandably asking questions about police/prosecution practices. Here’s one: what percentage of the 10,000 protest-related arrests were arbitrary or otherwise unjustified, and will the authorities try to jail all of them?

(Just in – another magistrate hands down a not-guilty verdict [Chinese link] and says cops should show ID. Ramifications?)

But even if the magistrate does find you innocent, that doesn’t mean it’s over. The government is appealing against the not-guilty verdict handed to Jimmy Lai following charges of intimidating an Oriental Daily reporter-stalker. Remember that the magistrate who let Lai go was mysteriously promoted to an admin job within days. It’s almost as if the Secretary for Justice is taking orders from a CCP obsessed with getting Lai in prison whatever it takes.

Some quick reading…

Asia Times puts an eye-catching headline to the story: CCP announces plan to take control of private sector.

Never heard of John Boyega or Jo Malone? Foreign brands’ Mainland marketing practices fix that for you.

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HK govt ‘does something right’ shock

In an uncharacteristic fit of common sense and/or responsiveness to public opinion, our leaders have announced the reopening of kids’ playgrounds in a few weeks. 

But wait!!! There’s more!!! The Hong Kong Heritage Museum is to keep its Bruce Lee exhibit for another six years. That’s ample time for a second visit. Well worth it.

These two decisions are the first – admittedly minuscule – signs of official competence Hong Kong has seen so far in 2020. The amazement inspires me to make a prediction. If they retitle the museum exhibition ‘Be Water’ you’ll know there’s been a major shift in the local power structure and we can expect more. Otherwise, that’s all the excellence in governance you can expect for at least another year or so.

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Clarification: normal stupidity continues

When I said yesterday that the Hong Kong government seems to have momentarily exhausted its stupidity, I meant Mainlandization-type stupidity – not the regular pre-2019 sort. Like cosmic background radiation left over from the big bang, standard traditional old-style Hong Kong government idiocy is all around us.

The latest relaxation of pandemic measures opens up gyms, pools and bars – but beaches and playgrounds are still shut off behind barbed wire and minefields. A widely believed theory is that it’s because the tycoons don’t own beaches. Another explanation is plain nastiness and spite towards the public. Or, maybe it’s just cosmic background stupidity.

The Lantau mega-reclamation is apparently still on. I’ve been skeptical that it’ll ever happen. Not least, it will deplete the reserves, which our bureaucrats have always seen as their personal piggy bank, especially to cover their pensions. But I can see why Beijing might like it as a way to transfer the reserves to state-owned construction companies and create more space for population-diluting Mainland immigration.

The government sticks to its contradictory logic that the massive reclamation can solve housing affordability yet pay for itself through land sales. The idea seems to be to ‘decant’ – yes, that’s the official word – riffraff residents from Kowloon and free up downtown land for the developers. This presumes that Hong Kong real estate will continue to enjoy its magical ultra-high valuations even as the city’s advantages fade into Greater Bay Area grey. (It also goes against the bureaucrats’ instinct to maintain the mythical ‘shortage of land’ that props up land values by not allowing the population or wider economy to use most of it. Could the magic money machine survive a genuine increase in supply?)

In order to minimize any chance that Hong Kong might retain some competitive edge from its quality of life, the Anti-Pedestrian Department goes full-on psychopath with the metal barriers that line sidewalks – to the extent Bloomberg makes a story out of it.

Elsewhere…

Your daily Mulan-butchering: Benedict Rogers focuses on the human rights angle.

Michael Pettis (compulsory reading on these things) explains Beijing’s economic options.

And the CCP scores another dazzling soft-power victory by getting Taiwan’s bird-watchers ejected from the International Federation of Feathered-Friend Fans. (It goes without saying that, as if its food, scenery and lifestyle aren’t enough, Taiwan has amazing avians.)

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No HK govt stupidity for three days shock

Hong Kong’s real and puppet governments seem to have exhausted their reserves of stupidity. While they’re recuperating before the next onslaught of Mainlandizing, we have more Mulan amusement.

Cruel-But-Accurate (probably) Attack on Mulan of the Day Award goes to New Yorker – which describes the epic as an ‘Americanized celebration of Chinese nationalism’

Vivienne Chow in the SCMP doesn’t like it either, noting ‘bland characters who convey little emotion, [lead actress] Liu’s unbearable emotionless performance, and choppy editing and scriptwriting that make the film painful to watch’. And the flying-through-the-air stuff was terrible. That’s the good side. The worst bit is the movie’s treatment of qi. (I’m not sure if there can be a ‘correct’ treatment of the supernatural force known as qi, but no doubt you can do a really bad one if you try, and Disney seems to have pulled it off.) 

The funniest part of all this is that Disney involved Mainland censors and other advisors in the project, so the bad takes on Chinese culture must partly be due to the CCP. Beijing’s state press (as Chow points out) was at one stage strongly supporting the film. After it started to attract so much bad global publicity – notably of course concerning genocide in Xinjiang – official media started to criticize it, along its own nationalist anti-foreigner lines. Everyone is learning from the experience.

Quick quiz: which Hong Kong political figure’s in-laws took legal action to try to stop her from marrying their brother? Put yourself in their shoes and take a guess – you’ll probably be right

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Doomed dozen

The 12 Hongkongers caught fleeing to Taiwan clearly broke Mainland law when they (reportedly) exited Hong Kong and/or Chinese territorial waters without going through immigration checks. Can’t blame them for trying. But unlike the abducted book-sellers and some other previous or current hostages, they are being detained legitimately.

If Beijing wanted to look reasonable, it could fine or briefly jail them accordingly and send them back to Hong Kong to face their protest-related or other charges (plus now jumping bail). Instead, it looks like the CCP sees an opportunity to make a far more serious political point – especially since the US government has expressed concerns over the case. Beijing will make an example of them, and they could even, as Eddie Chu Hoi-dick puts it, become ‘diplomatic bargaining chips’

Predictably, they are being denied contact with families or access to legal representation of their choice. A foreign affairs spokesman has already declared the 12 guilty of separatism. The Hong Kong authorities are of course offering just the minimum ‘assistance’ required.

Will Beijing be able to resist televised confessions, show trials and harsh sentences? Anything to further alienate and embitter Hong Kong people.

If and when the 12 do get back to Hong Kong, they will join a very long line of people accused of riot and other offenses. Steven Vines asks an interesting question: where does the government put all these supposed dissidents? Maybe the plan is to bankrupt and blacklist everyone so they can’t get jobs. But if they want to incarcerate significant numbers, it could mean doubling prison capacity.

On other matters…

A thread on the ethnic/geographical inaccuracies in Mulan – notably that the ‘Xinjiang’ region was not ‘Chinese’ at the time. And one of the better of many hatchet jobs on Mulan (if you’re OK with such concepts as ‘chimeric’ and ‘self-Orientalism’) by Brian Hioe of New Bloom.

And a thread of Xi Jinping’s Greatest Hits – a list of all the edicts and laws turning China into a ‘totalitarian security state’ in the last seven years or so. Including the Seven Don’t Speaks, Document No 9, the 2015 National Security Law, the Five Never Allows and much more.

A state-linked Chinese company’s data on foreigners – from a project involving Christopher Balding.

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A little DAB’ll do ya

The CCP’s Hong Kong vote-fodder and all-purpose running dogs sense that – even safely protected from elections – they are on the wrong side of public opinion…

The pro-Beijing DAB party has urged the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, to mend fences with the people, saying government policies in the past few years showed that the officials were out of touch.

Could this be the same DAB that has spent the last two decades blindly supporting Beijing’s appointed incompetent bureaucrat-tycoon-crony administrations? Yes it could! But hypocrisy aside, they make an interesting point.

The Hong Kong government is now a mere puppet. The HK Police are a CCP-run political-oppression force running riot (latest escapade looking like vengeance for face-loss after Next Digital shares bounced following Jimmy Lai’s arrest). Judicial independence looks doomed. Schools are enforcing censorship and propaganda directives. 

You would have thought someone in the murky but very involved and in-your-face power structure would at least want to create some sort of hearts-and-minds diversions. Something to sway fence-sitting ‘Silent Majority’ types who are uncertain whether or not it’s OK for the cops to knock pregnant women and 12-year-old girls around. High-profile initiatives that look at least superficially like there is a government interested in taking constructive positive action for the populace. There’s plenty of money. 

A boost in health-care spending to reduce waiting times for treatment, for example. Reallocation of land slated for auction to affordable housing. If you want to be really basic, cash handouts for poorer families. Or if you want to tackle something tougher, phase out on-street parking for cars, or shake up the education system (on which subject, if you get angry about your tax dollars being wasted, best not read this on Chinese-language for non-native-speaking kids).

Yet playing nice (or at least playing at good governance) is the last thing on the CCP officials’ minds. Their only mission is to crush opposition, and establish the government’s legitimacy and respect through brute force and fear. Almost as if they want the job of taming the city to be as hard as possible. 

Some China links you might have missed…

China Media Project on Beijing’s celebration of victory over the coronavirus (and a few ‘eyerolls of irritation’). How long before Hong Kong has to put up with this sort of stuff…

Let us unite even more closely around Comrade Xi Jinping as the core of the CCP Central Committee, strengthening the “four consciousnesses”, strengthening the “four self-confidences,” and achieving the “two safeguards,” bearing forward the great spirit of the anti-epidemic fight. 

Also Beijing’s state media are setting up shop in Brussels to ‘tell China’s story’. What does that mean? 

War on the Rocks looks at China’s strategy in the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands – creeping ‘law-enforcement’ presence.

And remember that snotty letter from the Qianlong Emperor to Lord McCartney in 1793? ‘We don’t need no stinking barbarian manufactured goods’. Here’s a revisionist look at it. Apparently, foreign emissaries were not that unusual in the court around that time, and His Celestial Eminence was pretty laid back about kowtows – but for some reason he had a hunch that the Brits might be bad news.

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‘Mulan’ provides genuine entertainment

Grab some popcorn and take a seat. A badly needed little ray of sunshine in our lives comes courtesy of Disney’s Mulan mess. Rarely has Hollywood provided the public with so much amusement for a production budget of just US$200 million. 

First, it has been a magnet for nitpickers. Various pedants have whined that the thing is not historically accurate – in real life the heroine would have been Mongol or Turkic rather than a patriotic Han (though being a legendary figure, she was actually none of these). Another set of bores complain that none of the scriptwriting committee were Chinese ‘or Asian’ – so are obviously deficient in ancient Oriental wisdom and cultural sensitivities and nuances needed for a kung fu movie for kids. (Disney did, however, share the script with Chinese censors.)

Then the real fun starts. 

A global pandemic shut down the entire planet’s cinemas.

Then gorgeous pouting starlet Liu Yifei (a Mainlander with – obviously – a US passport) prompted calls for a boycott of the movie after voicing support for the HK Police. Co-star Donnie Yen, a Hongkonger, also called protesters terrorists.

Now, alert movie-watchers have noticed that the film was shot in scenic wonders not far from detention camps in Xinjiang, and that in the credits Disney thanks the friendly and helpful Public Security Bureau in Turpan – the authorities accused of various genocide-type human-rights abuses. The boycott campaign suddenly gets much bigger.

At least Mainlanders will line up to see it, right? Maybe not. The SCMP says it’s likely to bomb in China – and who are we to doubt Jack Ma’s organ? Apparently, the film is hackneyed and has weak characters (unlike every other Hollywood movie of the last 50 years). And in an insult to Chinese culture, it treats qi as magic (at least Disney got the science right).

The virus outbreak is obviously unfortunate timing. But then so is the whole project.

I would guess that from initial brainstorming concept to release, a blockbuster takes, what – four or five years to make? So when Disney set out on rehashing its (reportedly fun) animated Mulan as a live-action special-effects extravaganza, China was still the hip and trendy, warm and cuddly emerging superpower we all fondly recall. Studio execs would have safely assumed that wowing Western audiences with a picture calculated to shoe-shine Beijing would have been politically (notwithstanding commercially) feasible.  

Instead, under Xi Jinping, China’s international standing has turned sour thanks to trade, tech, heavy-handed influence operations, wolf-warrior diplomats, Hong Kong, Indian border, Australia, Trump, South China Sea, kidnapped Canadians – and of course, the Uighur oppression. The backlash over the latter now extending to cotton and tomatoes. CCP influence over Hollywood has itself become an issue.

The moral of Mulan is that corporate kowtowing to Beijing has gone from being smart to dumb in less time than it takes to make a movie.

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