Rubber-stamp body votes to create new rubber-stamp body

Phew – that was close! The National People’s Congress vote on Hong Kong’s New Improved Elections was: 2,895 for, zero against, plus one abstention (an ethnic-minority lady from Yunnan who had dozed off under the weight of her headgear).

In a now-familiar ritual of cringing self-debasement, every Hong Kong government department issues a press release to welcome the exciting news. (It doesn’t count as cringing self-debasement until the Govt Flying Service’s statement comes out.) Carrie Lam declares that ‘we will be able to resolve the problem of the [legislature] making everything political’. 

The proportion of directly elected seats in the Legislative Council looks likely to fall to what it was in 1991. But if it’s any consolation, your preferred candidates are barred from running – so it doesn’t really matter does it?

With no pesky pan-dems asking questions and opposing things, the government will finally be able to deliver affordable housing, fund hospitals and elderly care properly, and bring inequality to an end. So there’s that to look forward to.

Some reading for the weekend…

From CJR – Hong Kong journalists’ experiences under the NatSec Regime. Stand News has done something similar on censorship. And reflections of a young local journalist.

A CNN report on why foreigners are choosing not to visit China (now including Hong Kong)…

“If they’re willing to arbitrarily detain someone who was a very moderate, thoughtful academic, or a think tank type of person,” he adds, “then it’s difficult to see how anyone can feel safe.”

China Media Project looks at some fairly putrid propaganda surrounding the recently announced supposed ending of extreme poverty in China. 

And ASAN Forum ponders post-Xi China. (It’s a Korean think-tank – not bad.)

Finally, if you’re feeling too happy and cheerful and really want to be annoyed, try Wellcome to Hell – a gallery of produce in supermarkets pointlessly wrapped in plastic. 

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More on those ‘improvements’

An SCMP letter to the editor points out the absurdities of Beijing’s ‘improvements’ to the Hong Kong electoral system…  

…for any aspiring pan-democrat to be able to stand, they will have to be nominated by an unelected committee comprised of their opponents

Out of the mouths of babes and innocents – an Executive Council and NPC member tells RTHK that the ‘improvements’ send Hong Kong’s supposed political development back to handover times. 

A Bloomberg op-ed says Beijing is sacrificing credibility for control

…it’s a shift from democratic theater – where process is restricted, but still occasionally unpredictable – to democratic ritual.

There’s no longer a pressure valve for a population … no feedback mechanism, a basic requirement even for a tin-eared administration … no need to even pretend to bring citizens along

… [it] will mean even less open debate, less transparency and a poorer understanding of the cost-benefit analyses that underpin government choices. Society is silenced and press freedoms reduced, so it is harder to shine a light on problems and corrupt practices. It’s worse if courts too are called into question.

This isn’t about just having a compliant legislature. The CCP is not planning to eradicate oversight and criticism of government merely from Hong Kong’s weak elected bodies. The NatSec Regime and ‘patriotism’ tests are aimed at suppressing opposing ideas in the city as a whole – in the media, universities and civil society. Authority is not to be questioned, unless you want to be arrested for ‘picking quarrels’ or subversion. 

Since they are aimed at removing upward feedback or scrutiny, the ‘improvements’ will not be to the quality of governance. At some stage, popular anger will appear on the streets again, because there is nowhere else for it to go.

Why bother still having ‘elections’ in Hong Kong? Quartz offers some answers, including ‘competitive clientelism’ – encouraging the shoe-shiners to vie to display their willingness to grovel. 

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Brighter side to electoral ‘improvements’ found

An interesting (by which we mean utterly mendacious) analysis from wily pro-Beijing academic and think-tank type Lau Siu-kai. Under Hong Kong’s old election arrangements, he says, the middle and upper classes elected the Chief Executive, while the middle and lower classes elected the Legislative Council – and that’s why we have inequality. Under the new structure, big business (especially property developers) will have less influence, and therefore the city’s people can have more affordable housing.

Obviously, this BS is an attempt to sugar-coat the dismantling of Hong Kong’s semi-democratic features. It also cunningly shifts the blame for past misgovernance from Beijing – which has always chosen the Chief Executive – to the tycoons who have served as rubber stamps in the Election Committee that pretends to elect the CE. 

While deliberately overpriced housing has reaped huge profits for the property tycoons, the responsibility for it (and other results of poor governance) must lie with Beijing. The reason is simple: Beijing has chosen and appointed all post-1997 Hong Kong governments, and the CCP does not share power with others – including developers. If Beijing had wanted to change the policies that create overpriced housing, it could have done it with a phone call or kick up the backside anytime in the last 20 years (or, of course, have allowed representative government).

Indeed, unaffordable housing in Hong Kong looks very much in line with Beijing’s preferences. Well before the handover, Beijing insisted that the colonial administration impose tight limits on land supply, and the continuation of this policy post-1997 resulted in the accumulation of the vast fiscal reserves now earmarked for pointless infrastructure projects that benefit Mainland interests. At the same time, Beijing increased the flow of Mainland immigrants into Hong Kong – when there was clearly insufficient housing for them – presumably to dilute or squeeze out the local population.

Not that the tycoons deserve any sympathy, but portraying the election ‘improvements’ as a way to relieve Hong Kong of the property hegemony is clever, not to say audacious, spin. These guys – the astroturfing Bauhinia Party – are clearly in on this.

An array of links to last for a day or two, fingers crossed…

Why pan-dem and pro-Beijing Hong Kong are both going off Facebook.

An interview with Tiffany Sia, author of Too Salty Too Wet – a ‘wet ontology’ of a city in perpetual crisis. (Warning: contains comments like “I’m interested in expanding a fractured notion of place for communities”.)    

ZolimaCityMag on Hong Kong’s iconic (ie, they’re all over the place) plastic stools. And an icon from 2019 – the Stonehenge-style anti-police brisk in the road – wins a design award.

Xi Jinping gets to work on China’s Mongolians

He said Inner Mongolians should “learn by heart that the Han ethnicity cannot be separate from ethnic minorities and that ethnic minorities cannot be separated from the Han ethnicity.”

In Politico, journalist Michael Schuman gives up trying to admire the CCP’s China…

…developments over the past three years are what made me truly hawkish. I changed because it became undeniable that China was changing.

George Magnus asks how much of a challenge China presents to the West, and Foreign Affairs on why China isn’t as big and tough as it thinks it is.

The Diplomat on the great enigma: What is Belt and Road?

…the BRI was first proposed as a grand and extensive policy concept or even a slogan, and was filled in with concrete content afterwards.

Back to War on the Rocks for another view saying the West should take it seriously. Meanwhile, Infrastructure Ideas notes that China’s overseas loans have plummeted in recent years.

For those of us who like reading reference books start to finish: the Decoding China Dictionary of CCP-speak – also useful nowadays in deciphering Hong Kong government press releases. 

Kevin Carrico in Apple Daily does a deep probe into those anal swabs. We have ways of making you kowtow.

All you need to know about Szechuan peppercorns – including why the US essentially banned imports of them for many years.

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New! Improved!

Continuing: show-trial hearings of 47 Hong Kong politicians arrested for planning to win an election and now in jail without being found guilty of anything. Among the 47 is Carol Ng, local British Airways union leader. Haven’t the CCP heard about the perils of messing with cabin crew

We also have Beijing’s ‘improvements’ to Hong Kong’s election system. The two are related. After pan-dems swept last year’s District Council poll – inspiring the 47’s plans – the CCP gave up hope that Hongkongers will vote democratically for parties that are… anti-democracy. From now on, voters will be limited to only Beijing-approved candidates.

Under the ‘executive-led’ system, elections and elected bodies have little or no material impact on who holds actual political power. However, the process bestows some moral legitimacy on the pan-dems who win – and the CCP simply can’t handle it. 

Official explanation here. Reports here and here

Given that so many pan-dems have already been/soon will be disqualified by separate loyalty tests, the ‘improvements’ look like overkill. Essentially, Beijing will: 1) screen all Legislative Council candidates (via local proxies); and 2) reduce the proportion of seats pan-dems could conceivably win anyway. Why both 1) and 2)? To repeat – these exercises are largely a pretense in terms of affecting who holds political power. We’re so paranoid we have to cheat even though we’ve already rigged everything.

Even today, some commentators seem fascinated by the details of the size, composition and formation method of the election committee and legislature – how many seats there will be and who will be entitled to nominate or elect. But the new-look structures and processes are more meaningless than ever. It’s a charade to divert attention from what is really happening: the elimination of the remaining vestiges of separation of powers and the presence of awkward critics or opposition, with wall-to-wall rubber-stamp stooges being put in their place.

For example, one academic taking the structures at face value here naively suggests that further packing the Election Committee with loyalists and small-circle representatives will increase vested interests’ influence over the Chief Executive. Well, that would be true if the EC genuinely chose the CE – but it doesn’t. The inbuilt majority of the Committee merely rubber-stamps Beijing’s decision. And the way things are now, few tycoons or other shoe-shiners would even dare cast a protest vote (assuming the CCP allows an alternative candidate on the ballot). These supposedly elected bodies are simply a parade of puppets and zombies, with no influence over anyone. Speaking of which, nice-but-dim Henry Tang says it’s about having more diversity.

The main impacts on real life will be to further enlighten the world about the obsessiveness of this Leninist takeover, and to further piss off an already-angry local populace.

On it goes…

A Bloomberg op-ed on the decline of Hong Kong’s legal system

…the program is to move posthaste toward China’s unitary system, where legislators and judges are part of the same grand edifice working toward the same ends under the leadership of the party. 

Yuen Chan in Mekong Review on Hong Kong’s waning press freedom, and on RTHK under its new management. (Speaking of RTHK – a bit of nostalgia for the days when Hong Kong was free.)

And of course the CCP are coming for the universities.

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Heritage Foundation: HK no longer exists

Welcome to Hong Kong, where – in a barely surprising plot twist – 15 of 47 people who haven’t done anything illegal are given bail but stay in jail anyway. Who wrote this show trial script? It’s corny and predictable. Or as Jerome Cohen puts it, an ‘unthinkable travesty of justice, apparently about to get worse’. Some pics.

Nor exactly coincidentally, Hong Kong is ejected from the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index, on the grounds that the city no longer enjoys autonomy and is run directly by Beijing. (Taiwan ranks at number 7.)

I remember back in my Company Gwailo days, representing the Big Boss – who had more important things to do with his lithesome masseuse in a Mid-Levels penthouse – at one of these occasions. Must have been late 90s. The mutual fawning was unpleasant to behold and there was much surreptitious use of air-motion sickness receptacles. Who needs an anal swab when you’ve got Hong Kong’s top bureaucrats’ tongues in such close proximity to Heritage Foundation bulky-white-guys’ rear ends? 

The Foundation labelled Hong Kong the world’s ‘freest economy’ even though the Hong Kong government owned all the land, accommodated cartels, systematically excluded public opinion from policymaking, and squeezed genuine entrepreneurs and innovators with red tape and cronyism. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed leaders overlooked the think-tank’s papers calling for tougher US military preparedness against the PRC – long before it was fashionable.

So now it’s whiny hurt-feelings time. Everyone hates us. Not fair. Complete with a panty-wetting press release that goes on and on.

From the Reuters report – those anal swab tests take Barbarian-trolling to a new level. They are…

…performed with a sterile [well, gee, thanks] cotton swab, which looks like a very long ear bud, that is inserted [a rather breathtaking] 3 cm to 5 cm (1.2 inches to 2 inches) into the anus before being gently [we hope] rotated out.

And in case you were wondering.

Next Big Thing: the improvements to the HK electoral system. By ‘improvements’, we mean ‘more zombie-like puppets if we can find them, since even we thought we were scraping the bottom of the barrel with Elizabeth Quat and Holden Chow’. With LegCo elections postponed until 2022, or thereabouts, there’s still time to dredge them up.

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What we’re in the middle of

Happy hundredth to the NatSec Law!

An on-the-spot report of the bail proceedings for the pan-dem 47, giving a taste of the idiocy of it all. It prompts the question: why is Beijing going to such bizarre – and probably counterproductive – lengths to quell disquiet in Hong Kong? Even allowing for the CCP’s usual paranoia? Why have they decided to cut through all that 1 country 2 Systems/Basic Law stuff and just seize direct control?

Joseph Lian in the (maybe paywalled) NYT thinks it’s because Xi is angling to remain in power beyond the usual two terms. He needs some Big Victories to justify it, and yet he is surrounded by problems – from Belt-and-Road, to Taiwan, to rivalry with the US. A decisive crushing of Hong Kong’s ‘threat to national security’ opposition movement fits the bill perfectly.

This would account for the timing of the charges against the 47 pan-dems (the proceedings look rushed as well as rigged), just ahead of the two meetings in Beijing. The idea would be to make it look like Xi has faced down a mortal threat, and is emerging triumphant. Give the guy a third term!

Carl Minzner on the Xi personality cult being nurtured in official publications…

In these articles, Xi is the focus. He is the one that is making things happen. It isn’t about the Party.  It isn’t about institutions. It isn’t about other leaders. It’s about him.

The fate of Hong Kong now can only be permanent, tighter CCP control. Mainland think-tank guy Tian Feilong on Beijing’s plans to reshape – indeed, replace – its Hong Kong ruling class. Less space for hangers-on and ‘rubber stamps and loyal garbage’. Those who live by the shoe-shine die by the shoe-shine. But watch them grovel and beg for another kick in the teeth as the CCP shoves them to one side.

From Hong Kong Watch, a big and well-researched report ‘Red Capital’ on how Beijing has been gradually expanding its influence in Hong Kong’s economy. Just read it.

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Mid-week links…

…for those exhausted after following the bail hearings for the 47 ‘with multiple defendants nodding off’

The HK Dept of Justice seems more than usually thin-skinned about criticism that the charges against the 47 are a farce.

The HK and Macau Affairs Office boss declares Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong and Benny Tai guilty before they’ve even been tried, adding that all dentists, plumbers and 7-Eleven managers must henceforth be patriots.

An unflattering review of Hong Kong’s quarantine camp out near Disneyland (the bureaucrats devising rules on things like food delivery seriously seem to believe their job is to punish).

A China Daily piece on the HK Bar Association from Tony Kwok Man-wai, former deputy boss of the ICAC.

From David Webb – more analysis tearing the Budget apart.

Translation of a poem on the Covid outbreak in Wuhan – the author got a prison sentence.

A worthwhile HK anime indie song.

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Banana Republic City

So we are now entering the Arresting Defendants’ Lawyers Outside Courts stage of becoming a banana republic. 

An interesting list of the 47 pan-dems’ desperate (and perhaps demeaning) attempts to obtain bail, knowing that under the NatSec Law there is a presumption against it (encased within an implicit presumption of guilt, namely that the defendant might ‘continue’ to endanger national security).

Speaking of ‘desperate’, the full charges.

Who or what is behind the Hong Kong Patriotism Education Centre up near Sha Tau Kok? So far, it’s just a nameplate, a fence and a patch of concrete. My theory: some New Territories landowner/scumbag is selflessly and nobly trying to get the site rezoned to help the Glorious Motherland, and thanks to the inevitable loophole in the paperwork, he will also gain the right to build a 40-floor luxury apartment block there. But I’m so naive.

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Beijing in new bold push to win HK hearts and minds

In the last few days’ horrors…  Local CCP media blast a senior civil servant at the Unpatriotic Mural Removal Dept for supposedly turning a blind eye to Lennon Walls, causing divided loyalties for laboriously patriotic Regina Ip, who (correctly) sees a Cultural Revolution smear. Reuters finds that two NGOs – the New School for Democracy and Global Innovation Hub – have left Hong Kong for Taiwan, fearing safety of personnel and bank accounts. HK Baptist U cancels a photo exhibition; Chinese U disestablishes its student union; and a nursing school dismisses its principal. 

The latter case is linked to the really big one: police charge 47 pan-dems with ‘conspiracy to commit subversion’ – or participating in a primary election. (The aim being to maximize pro-democracy seats in the Legislative Council – election since postponed – to gain some political influence over the executive branch through legitimate means recognized in the Basic Law. The NatSec regime sees this as ‘linked to a plot to overthrow the government’.) Since these are NatSec offences dealt with by specially picked judges, we can assume they will be jailed with no bail for ages, and finally given at least three-year (and in many cases harsher) sentences. (More background from Xinqi Su. Comment from Hong Kong Watch.)

Most of the pan-dems are here: Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, biggest vote-winner in any Hong Kong election; Benny Tai, academic and theorist/strategist for Occupy and the primary elections; former airline pilot/lawmaker Jeremy Tam; journalist ex-lawmaker Claudia Mo; Long Hair; Joshua Wong (already in prison); Ray ‘Slowbeat’ Chan (one of my esteemed Twitter followers, making it slightly more personal); young aspiring politicians; and on and on. (More here, and farewell messages here.)

Curiously, a handful were not charged yesterday (they must await further decisions). Could it be the authorities thought jailing non-ethnic Chinese and healthcare workers on such idiotic charges would look bad?

Meanwhile, we have Martin Lee, Margaret Ng, Jimmy Lai, Albert Ho, Cyd Ho and others, including Long Hair, again, awaiting trial for other charges. Basically, anyone who enjoys support from the majority in Hong Kong is now in jail, unless they are in exile.

The sheer overkill in all this is bewildering. It’s not enough to twist laws to bar critics from elected bodies and public life – you have to arrest them and imprison them, often multiple times. Erick Tang will only need to work harder on his ‘love the CCP’ theory. 

The usual explanation is that the wanton cruelty and injustice is the point: we can do this to anyone so shut up and kowtow. Worked in Russia in the 1920s or China in the 1950s. But a large number of Hongkongers have met at least one or two of these figures in person, and millions have voted for them. Jailing them all on trumped-up BS charges might momentarily stun onlookers in the midst of pandemic. But in the long run, all the CCP is achieving here is an increasingly bitterly angry populace feeling under occupation – many probably pondering how to resist or avenge.

Speaking of which, Hong Kong authorities wouldn’t be aware of it, but as many have noted: yesterday was the anniversary of the 228 anti-Mainlandization uprising in Taiwan in 1947.
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HK’s tackiest retailer decides it likes the place

Just a handful of links after a wearying week in Mainlandization. William Pesek puzzles over the Hong Kong government’s efforts to maximize inequality as the city struggles with pandemic and underlying political divisions. Everyone Thinks Budget Was Garbage Shock Horror. And some thoughts from hotel quarantine, including comparison of Hong Kong and Australia.

Also, amid all the pessimism, Don Don Donki announces its faith in Hong Kong’s future

If you’ve yet to discover these magnificently garish emporia of J-crap, they are going to fix that. There will be no escape. A brief idea of what to expect… 

Imagine what Yata or Aeon would be like if they were crammed into a third of their usual space, redesigned by the people who do the CCTV’s Spring Gala sets, and you were visiting while on psychedelic drugs. A labyrinthine floorplan that sucks you in, deeper and deeper, through narrow canyons of instant noodles, 1.5-litre boxes of cheap sake, refrigerator deodorizers, more instant noodles, pervy kids’ costumes, five hundred varieties of trashy matcha-flavoured snacks, ladies’ elbow-lotion, socks, plastic things that stick (allegedly) to bathroom walls, 10-packs of frozen udon. A malevolent non-stop jingle that makes Wellcome’s ‘Yuu’ song sound like Mozart. Staff on quaaludes (surely). Denser crowding than Admiralty MTR at rush hour – because obviously Hongkongers just can’t resist the place. 

The only two merciful things about it: 1) at least you’re not being eaten alive by rats; and 2) there’s a hot food counter (teriyaki, oden, etc) near the exit.The company is planning to quadruple its Hong Kong stores, adding 18 to the current six. (That could be a typo – maybe it’ll be 180.) As it is, several branches are open 24 hours (should you want to enjoy the song at 4am). Donki fans at Invest HK must be on their knees in gratitude for this expression of confidence in the city. The loudness, brashness, claustrophobia, and general hellishness of the outlets is compelling, and I wonder if the expansion is a last-ditch attempt to keep the younger generation from emigrating – you won’t get this in Manchester.

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