Taking a break from my piece for HK Free Press…

…to highlight a report on how conservative media outlets accepted op-ed pieces by fake writers with Twitter accounts. (Middle East connection – not PR firm Consulum’s work by any chance?) Complete with an interesting Hong Kong angle that doesn’t reflect very well on the SCMP’s (mainly) awful op-ed pages. 

I assume that SCMP doesn’t pay for opinion pieces from non-staffers. At the same time (for Alibaba’s sake), editors have to avoid having too many spicy or punchy columns. So they’re particularly receptive to contributions that are both free and bland. Is there a better explanation for the Alice Wu ramblings, and the barrage of David Dodwell in the Business section?

But that’s the strangest part of this story, judging by phony contributions wisely rejected by HK Free Press: the phantom writers’ output – while pushing particular agendas – is so boring. Still, better the world has fake journalists than fake brain surgeons or airline pilots.

If you want to make one at home – here’s how.

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Correction – it’s Mainlandization of the minute…

Today’s supply of Mainlandizations de l’heure are mostly in the Implementation Rules for Article 43 of the NatSec ‘Enabling’ Law. Searches without a warrant, freezing/seizure of assets, intercepts/surveillance, removal of online materials and compulsory disclosure of information. 

One thing it says is this:

Anyone who knows or suspects that any property is property related to an offence endangering national security is obliged to make a disclosure to the Police Force as soon as is reasonably practicable, and must not disclose to another person any information which is likely to prejudice any investigation which might be conducted following that first-mentioned disclosure. 

This sounds like your roommate or landlord is liable if they do not inform the Stasi (behind your back) of the presence of (say) Joshua Wong books in your home. If ‘property’ includes money, then it applies to banks with accounts in the name of (say) Joshua’s publisher.

The parts about on-line information or messages is as creepy as it’s predictable. One potential/obvious outcome is the banning of social media sites. Which is of course why it’s called ‘Mainlandization’. Facebook is already resisting.

But wait! There’s more! Schools are now being purged of books containing dangerous ideas. And stop going on about the independent judiciary – there is no separation of powers in Hong Kong.

I’ll be working on a piece for HK Free Press over the next few days.

Some reading…

An annotated copy of the NatSec Law from Human Rights in China. 

Activists ponder a Hong Kong government in exile. Sounds like a joke at first, but maybe not. Could it have less legitimacy than the current administration? (And of course it would drive all the right people totally Panda-tantrum nuts.)

Kevin Carrico sums up the new regime in Apple Daily (not sure if link will work)…

What can one write to live up to this moment? … what actually is there left to say?

How about, who cares?

After thinking it over, I have decided that the most authentic possible stance that one can take on this pseudo-law is to simply look down and laugh at it as the farce that it is. 

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New! Mainlandizations de l’heure

The management have announced that Mainlandizations du jour are being phased out in favour of Mainlandizations de l’heure. And pre-emptive kowtows will henceforth be pre-emptive repressions. 

Hong Kong’s public libraries suspend loans of books by Joshua Wong and Tanya Chan in case the works are subversive. Special librarian sniffer-dogs are nosing through the pages as we speak in search of prohibited thoughts. The HK Police – who make Cultural and Leisure Services look amazingly subtle – have arrested a teenager for possession of stickers that might threaten national security by bearing the word ‘conscience’, a passage from the Bible, a cartoon of Xi-as-coronavirus and – weirdest of all – a quote by Chris Patten.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government issues a ‘solemn’ statement on the slogan 光復香港, 時代革命. Protesters’ flags usually bear the translation ‘Liberate HK – revolution of our times’. The official release does not explicitly say it is an offense to use the slogan, just that it ‘connotes’ vaguely defined illegal acts. The second paragraph condemning law-breaking and reminding you to obey the law does not actually follow on from the first, though you are supposed to infer that it does. (The cops’ warnings use this trick.) 

Teresa Cheng warns against using the slogan, as does poor Matthew Cheung.

This is an invitation to broadcast it even more. It obviously infuriates someone up there. (It goes back not just to Edward Leung but the anti-Qing movement.) My local scribblers waste no time in adorning our neighbourhood protest palimpsest zone. Rebels are creating Rhyming, punning or coded versions of it. The more you try to ban the words, the more you’ll see them.

A thread from Christopher DeWolf on how a HK graffiti artist – and the media covering her story – would be treated today with the NatSec Law.

A fetching Winnie vs bees cartoon.

And remember those jokes about how New Zealand has more sheep than people? Now it seems to have more CCP United Front creepos than sheep.

This just in: Orwellian has been cancelled; from now on, things are Kafkaesque.

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A quick set of NatSec law links for reference…

The NatSec law in English.

From HKFP, a basic explainer covering all the main points.

NPC Observer goes through the legal horrors, not least of which is the lack of definitions for phrases in a large number of proscribed acts, such as ‘provoking by unlawful means hatred among Hong Kong residents towards the central government or Hong Kong government, which is likely to cause serious consequences’, plus the extraterritoriality clauses.

As Donald Clarke writing in the China Collection says, the real issue is not the words but the new institutions and processes – unaccountable NatSec bodies, secrecy, vetted judges, direct Mainland jurisdiction and so on…

Language matters only if there are institutions that will make it matter. This whole law is about avoiding the involvement of such institutions. 

Reuters on Beijing agents’ immunity from local laws…

Significantly, the law allows Beijing to create a new national security agency in the city able to take enforcement action beyond existing Hong Kong laws in the most serious cases.

It even specifies that local authorities cannot inspect agents’ vehicles.

A QC notes, among other things, how the CCP’s ‘foreign forces’ conspiracy theory has been written into the law.

Amnesty’s take.

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HK govt, PR company finally snare each other

Best news since the Hindenburg Airship Corporation announced its supplier of fire extinguishers – the Hong Kong government has found a PR agency. PRovokeMedia reports that the lucky winner is Consulum, a Bell Pottinger offshoot specializing in Middle East governments and sovereign wealth funds, and one of many agencies hired by Saudi Arabia. Juicy bit: the company cobbled together a Hong Kong office with hours to spare in order to qualify to bid for the account. You might think it sounds like both client and agency are scraping the bottom of the barrel – but I couldn’t possibly comment.

In true consultant fashion, Consulum will start with ‘baseline research’ to tell Hong Kong officials what they should already know – that the city’s international reputation is a pile of steaming wombat doo-doo. They will then, with a totally straight face, present a slick strategic plan to fix it. All parties concerned will know damn well it can’t possibly work, because, to the CCP, the very features that made the city great are a regime threat and must be destroyed.

Forget biased foreign media – the messaging reality is that both client and agency will be conflicting with Beijing here. It’s a futile mission.

For a one-year gig, then zip off back to Dubai, it looks like a pretty easy US$6 million.

(Pure guesswork on my part, but I’m wondering what the profit margin will be. A Hong Kong government contract is like taking candy from a baby. Say: office at 19/F Two IFC = US$0.5 million; housing in Mid-Levels for two suave expat shysters = US$0.1 million each; salaries for same plus a few local staff = US$0.5 million; sprawling off-the-peg survey from market research company = US$0.3 million? The Grand Relaunch visionary campaign plan = a bunch of PowerPoint templates. That’s a 75% margin – assuming implementation of the subsequent stomach-churning publicity/ad/press activities, which must extend beyond mid-2021, have a separate budget.)

This unfortunately spoils a HK Free Press opinion piece on the government’s search for PR help by a contributor who is an English writing coach. If you think that’s an easy target, the author also – as a public service and/or teaching aid – critiques SCMP chief editor Tammy Tam’s columns for substance and style. This is like reviewing a night-old puddle of vomit in Lan Kwai Fong as if it were a signature dish at Gaddy’s. Get your literary tips here and here. (She’s a severe task master – doubt if I’d come out with any more than a C minus.)

Inspired, I can’t resist checking the latest Tammy-gram. In precis: 

Hong Kong’s financial secretary is giving every resident a HK$10,000 handout; he might be wondering how people will spend it, as will they; even more, he must be wondering if this (Coronavirus-related) handout will become a regular thing; meanwhile, we don’t know whether Beijing will support Hong Kong as opposed to Shanghai as a financial hub in future.

That’s it. A non sequitur comes to a point (albeit it illogically), but this doesn’t even have one. 

Some links for the next few days. Don’t gobble them all up in one go – they will have to last until next week, when I settle down, log-in from home, and resume…  

The US starts downgrading Hong Kong’s export license status.

SCAD, a very pricy US design college’s Hong Kong campus and cornerstone of the Creative Industries Hub-Zone Vision, closes

Uwu’s collection of protest art. (Gone in pre-NatSec Law shutdowns. Try here.)

Some districts in Hong Kong did better at fighting the Coronavirus than others. What sets them apart?

Yesterday, I airily mentioned McDull as proto-HK Localism. Behold – the thesis.

A group of UN human rights experts’ statement on China.

Definitions of genocide have grown fuzzy over the years, but here’s depressingly creepy chart of the week. Also this. Starting to hear a few voices calling for a boycott of China’s 2022 Winter Olympics. 

The Marxists who tried setting up a union at the Jasic factory in Shenzhen.

From the Spectator, a Dummy’s Guide to the CCP. The US National Security Advisor offers his version.

Remember when new songs entered the charts with a bullet? Here’s the Chinese national anthem – with several

A thread on a town in Gansu that tried to claim a link with ancient Rome to boost tourism.

Great moments in the history of fruit: China’s mid-1960s outbreak of mango-worship

Wang Xiaoping, an employee at the Beijing No 1 Machine Tool Plant, received a wax replica. The fruit itself was destined for higher things.

“The real mango was driven by a worker representative through a procession of beating drums and people lining the streets, from the factory to the airport,” says Wang.

The workers had chartered a plane to fly a single mango to a factory in Shanghai.

A bus I could understand – did factory workers in Cultural Revolution China charter planes often?

Back to wiping the office PC. Til next week…

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Countdown to July 1

Will Hong Kong’s National Security law be retroactive? Will Anson Chan, Joshua Wong, Martin Lee and Jimmy Lai be arrested on Day 1? Will you be jailed for waving a foreign flag? Will the maximum sentence be life? Not even the Chief Executive knows. To be safe, read the government Gazette carefully before you open your mouth or even get out of bed on Wednesday morning.

Whether the law’s chaotic presentation is skillfully planned expectations-management or Beijing-style last-minute chabuduo, you are obviously supposed to feel ‘shock and awe’. The CCP thinks it is showing everyone how tough and decisive it is, while the Hong Kong public perceive only primitive thuggery.

I can’t think of a precedent in modern (say post-WW2) times (this?) for a free and pluralist society with a developed economy to have authoritarianism forced upon it. Can China’s leaders comprehend that the more superficially effective their clampdown is, the greater the broad underlying hatred of the CCP will be? They haven’t thought this through – but then, it’s a Xi Jinping policy.

No-one is spared. The NY Times notes that in assuming direct control, Beijing is sidelining Hong Kong’s ‘elites’, who are reduced to publicly cheerleading a law they know nothing about. The amount of humiliation the shoe-shiners will take never ceases to amaze.

An Apple Daily column makes a sort-of case for Hong Kong independence…

If the joint declaration was void, or, as China contended, no longer valid, then there would not be any legal basis for China to continue to rule over Hong Kong, given that the Treaty of Nanking and the First Convention of Peking – which the Joint Declaration superseded – stated very clearly that Hong Kong and Kowloon were ceded to Britain in perpetuity. This will be a good place to start the construction of a theoretical framework for Hong Kong independence.

[Above links not working – but the articles are out there somewhere.]

Sebastian Veg on the “neo-statist” academics and officials who see the NatSec law as a restructuring of Hong Kong (including its governance and its relationship with the nation) in which the PRC assumes genuine sovereignty, in line with the Xi-era’s drive for full CCP control of the state. The coming repression… 

…should undoubtedly be viewed within the same political, legal, and philosophical framework, in which sovereignty and party ideology (friend/enemy distinction) take precedence over liberal definitions of legality…

(With reference to this guy, if you’re keen.)

For a taste of what’s in store in the education world: the LA Times on the silencing of academics in China, and Bitter Winter on how Mainland students must hero-study Xi to get ahead.

Quick answer to a little cascade of questions: yes, this website will continue. Meanwhile, time to rip a few DVDs (which seems harder to do these days) before I finally abandon the Company Gwailo’s PC with its CD drive. My Life as McDull (2001) – a founding work of Hong Kong localism? And the Scorsese Dylan bio. Four months after this photo was taken, I, as a little kid, was at this exact spot. My father wanted to drive through the place one last time before it closed. Memory is hazy, but I think the weather was better.

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No, you don’t want the books

Just a few days before I officially retire. Given his existing low workload, the Company Gwailo will have no more time in the day to be idle – so whatever I do, I am likely to be busier. This website will probably be updated less frequently, but rest assured there will be no obvious increase in quality.

People are understandably shocked at the thought that I am throwing out lots of books. Trust me – you don’t want them. Random examples: a volume of speeches by a tycoon, published and given to friends to celebrate his honorary doctorate; a visionary new-age business guru’s thoughts on saving the planet through sustainable mutual lovey-dovey; and pro-Beijing think-tank booklets on Belt and Road. The world will be a better place once they are recycled into toilet paper. To put them in perspective, ones I am leaving in case they are of interest to my successor (yes, we found one) include 500 years of Italians in Hong Kong and Macau, Regina Ip’s 2002-3 Public Consultation on Article 23, and Carrie Lam’s ‘election’ manifesto.

For the last time – from the orifice, at least – I declare the weekend open with some recommended reading…

More thoughts from Jerome Cohen on Beijing’s plan to choose special judges to try National Security cases in Hong Kong, complete with nice dig at Grenville Cross in the opening sentence.

HK Free Press on Beijing’s thinking on the NatSec Law, starting from a little-noticed CCP meeting last October, and how to explain the contradiction in the idea that this radical and elaborate law will target only a tiny number of people.

The FCC writes an open letter requesting assurance that the Hong Kong government will not take a long list of specific actions against journalists. Foreign Policy fears the worst and anticipates the jailing of journalists, Internet censorship and regulation, and clampdowns on academia, media, culture and religion. If it sounds extreme, The Guardian looks at how China extends censorship and propaganda in independent developing countries.

The US Senate passes a HK Autonomy Bill, which we are assured is merely symbolic. It’s hard to imagine really serious North Korea-style measures against Hong Kong or Mainland officials or regime-connected companies. Our local tycoons, bureaucrats and other collaborators are not so far visibly wetting themselves. But we have yet to see what nastiness the NatSec law will bring – how will the world react to the jailing of Martin Lee, for example? More to the point, this is not about Hong Kong, but the South China Sea, the Indian border, the taking of Canadian hostages, wolf-warrior diplomacy and so on. The Diplomat speculates what the US could do…

U.S. financial sanctions on Hong Kong will break the financial lifeline for China … More plausibly the United States will resort to selective financial decoupling to contain the spillover to its own economy. A potent weapon could be a threat to impose financial sanctions on the Bank of China (Hong Kong), or BOCHK.

National Interest on how Xi Jinping is messing everything up

…the problem with Xi and his entourage is that they perceive China’s history and future trajectory from a Han-nationalist point of view … Success is “payback” for the two centuries of “humiliation” that China, the rightful leader of the world, and the Han people have suffered at the hands of the West.

…it is likely that history will remember Xi not as the man who restored China to greatness, as he so desperately seems to desire, but as a sort of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who instead of waiting patiently for the inevitable triumph of his own country, felt compelled to aggressively push that triumph down everybody else’s throat, and in the process brought ruin to his country.

Over the last few years, Beijing has tightened its grip on Hong Kong and progressively eliminated the possibility of a peaceful or constitutional way of accommodating public demands for better governance. HKFP on the parallel evolution of Hong Kong’s protest slogans.

Hong Kong looks set to enter a new era of protest art. Another look back at the genre from the Nation and from Uwu.

And China Daily’s clunky and idiotic graphic on the NatSec Law suddenly becomes elegant and profound, courtesy of LIHKG forum.

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What to do with 40 dozen laisee envelopes?

As his last day approaches, the Company Gwailo continues to clean out the orifice. I’ve filled up a huge (now immovable) box of books for disposal before the Illicit Publications Police come snooping. And there’s the inevitable stack of old business cards. Some will be donated to the HK Museum of Evil Radical Troublemakers…

Long Hair anticipating today’s radical trend and toppling a statue – of Tofu-for-Brains.

I also find an envelope of my father’s things – mostly photos of aircraft, but also a copy of a Singapore newspaper. Sin Chew Jit Poh was founded by Aw Boon Haw, and is related to Sing Tao (and thus the Standard) of Hong Kong. The date is Wednesday, November 20 in the 35th year of the Chinese Republic – 1946. In the news that day: Zhou Enlai walks out of the negotiations overseen by George C Marshall in Nanjing and goes to Yan’an – which led to the final full Civil War between the Communists and the Kuomintang…

A little Dragon Boat festival reading…

In Apple Daily, Michael Davies offers a good summary of the flaws and contradictions in basic principles in NatSec law…

…the crime of collusion seems aimed to stifle all international human rights advocacy.

Apple Daily has an English-platform app. (Also in media news, Now TV is being Mainlandized.)

Some detailed analysis of that disputed China-India border.

And for anyone who cares what overseas die-hard dogmatic leftists think about China and HK, New Bloom on the Qiao Collective. (I follow weirdo sub-cultures – far leftists, white nationalists, Salafi nuts, Jehovah’s Witnesses, survivalists, extreme terf/anti-terf freaks – for entertainment. Mentally unhinged = fascinating. This is about a curious subspecies of overseas Chinese tanky, who in addition to the usual struggle with contradictions (How can non-whites be imperialists? How can we defend the rights of Hongkongers when the evil boo hiss USA does it too?) have to grapple with an ethnic identity angle. The author sees this group as ‘a form of left-wing diasporic Chinese nationalism as a response to … right-wing white American nationalism’. For enthusiasts only.)

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You can set your minds at ease

Hong Kong officials and supporters take the initiative to reassure everyone that the new National Security law will be wonderful and benign.

Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng says that she believes (and that’s good enough for me!) that the CCP-appointed Chief Executive will not pick biased Red-friendly puppet-judges to hear NatSec trials on a case-by-case basis. Instead, they will be chosen from a list of them that the CE will already have drawn up. We can therefore ignore former Chief Justice Andrew Li’s bleating about threats to judicial independence.

And along comes ‘heavyweight’ Tam Yiu-chung, who sits on the rubber-stamp body that passes Chinese laws but – like everyone else – so far knows nothing about the contents of this new legislation. He opens up by saying it is inappropriate to explain what the phrase ‘subversion of state power’ means. To add further clarity, he tells us ‘the law should be kept confidential before it is made public’. (In other words, if you need it spelled out to you, it will be non-public until it is no longer confidential. You’re welcome.)

Finally, the mystery Black Dungeons in which NatSec suspects may be held indefinitely (you know – the ones we first heard about yesterday) will possibly be sort of like one that the British used in the 1967 Communist bombing campaign, or kind of similar to what they do in Singapore. So nothing to worry about there!

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Nothing to analyse

Beijing releases some more hazy semi-details of the draft Hong Kong National Security law in the form of a Xinhua report outlining some of the explanatory introduction and framework. It omits any definitions of criminal offenses, like ‘colluding with external forces’. 

This vague piecemeal approach is probably the closest we will get to a public consultation. Maybe Beijing is trying to manage expectations, or redraft scarier-sounding clauses following the negative international reaction to the law (the Xinhua report includes lots of reassurances about legal protections). More likely, Mainland officials are doing their usual making-it-up-as-they-go-along thing.

NPC Observer has a good summary. Among other things:

– the Chief Executive (ie Beijing) will choose judges to sit on NatSec cases;

– Beijing will establish a local office headed by a NatSec Commissioner;

– this body will ‘supervise and instruct’ a Hong Kong government Commission for Safeguarding National Security comprising top ministers plus a Beijing-appointed (Mainland?) advisor – among its roles is to somehow ‘cooperate’ with the judiciary;

– Justice and Police functions will have their own dedicated NatSec units;

– this law will override all others; and

– in undefined ‘special cases’, Beijing will handle things even more directly.

Also…

…the NPCSC [ie Beijing] will have the sole power to interpret this Law … it is unclear how the Hong Kong courts could hear and decide cases arising from this Law without interpreting it.

A lot of this framework stuff is window-dressing to make a Mainland-managed system look like it’s being run in and by Hong Kong.

One distinctly ‘Mainland’ feature of this framework is the clear conflict of interest involved in having the Chief Executive (ie the prosecution, ie Beijing) choose which judges hear national security cases. Some pro-Beijing voices are spinning this as a concession – a more liberal alternative to barring foreign judges from such trials. This is garbage: rather than screen out a few non-ethnic Chinese, this system will weed out all judges except a few who are guaranteed to deliver the CCP’s required decisions. The Bar Association are naturally alarmed. But would you seriously expect a Leninist regime to accommodate an independent judiciary?

There are no details of what actions will actually be offenses, nor, as Jerome Cohen points out, about extradition, jury trials, the privilege against self-incrimination, etc.

And anyway, as we all know, the law will mean whatever they want it to mean.

NPC Observer has an update on the likely next steps of various rubber-stamp committees – it all points to the law taking effect on July 1.

That’s a very important date: it will be the first day of the Company Gwailo’s retirement (and quite rightly a public holiday). While I get on with clearing out my orifice, some recommended links…

An interview with one of the best commentators on China – Anne Stevenson-Yang…

It’s very sad about Hong Kong because it’s so small and vulnerable, and the same really is true of Taiwan. I wouldn’t be surprised if the mainland government had figured: “Well, we’ve only got six months left of Trump and we know he won’t do anything, so why don’t we move now.” Xi clearly has very poor political instincts, at least internationally…

Alibaba and Tencent are the two biggest private banks in China. That’s principally what they do: They aggregate and deploy capital. It’s essentially pyramid schemes.

China Media Project on how the British Embassy in Beijing has fallen victim to the CCP’s censorship system.

And, complete with introductory sentence that touches a raw nerve, Bloomberg opinion on how Beijing’s rewriting of history has distorted its Hong Kong policy

Refusing to acknowledge or understand that sense of separateness has led Beijing into a crisis that now threatens to ruin Hong Kong as a global financial center and further upend China’s relations with the United States and other democracies.

…To many in Hong Kong, the return to China is not the “homecoming” envisioned by the Communists, since China was never home. A survey … found that more than three-fourths of respondents identified themselves as ‘Hong Kongers’ compared to less than a quarter who considered themselves ‘Chinese’.

…In Hong Kong, mainland officials are trying to integrate what is essentially a foreign society with its own history and sense of self. And their heavy-handed tactics are only reinforcing Hong Kongers’ perception of their separateness.

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