Government on alert for creation of issues

A UK parliamentary group criticizes the Hong Kong Police for breaking international conventions in their treatment of volunteer medics at protests. The government denies it and goes into predictable whiny petulant foot-stamping mode. 

(If you like that official statement, you’ll love this little one lashing at social media posts ‘creating issues’ with fake news. The Hong Kong government has for years, of course, assiduously avoided ever ‘creating issues’, let alone spouting falsehoods.)

Presumably with a view to solving ‘issues’, the authorities pile heaps of petty charges arising from the June 4 vigil onto every activist they can think of. (RTHK report.) The alleged offenses have nothing to do with the NatSec Law, but the round-up is certainly in the same spirit and intended to add to the overall ambiance: no-one is safe, and the cops will spare no effort in dredging up the flimsiest reasons to arrest and intimidate. 

With big names like Joshua Wong and Jimmy Lai involved, this will attract more international attention. In its obsession with keeping itself safe from the Dreaded Hong Kong Teenager Threat to the Nation, the CCP encourages such measures as Magnitsky Act sanctions or visits by Western cabinet members to Taiwan. It’s all linked. I know some people find Joshua Wong slightly annoying, but he does seem to realize this – and is prepared to be put in jail as part of the process.

If I had to make a prediction, I would say the next big (2019-style) street protests will be provoked by the imprisonment of pro-dem grandees including Martin Lee or Margaret Ng on idiotic ‘subverting the state’ charges – if Beijing is dumb enough to order it.

In Mekong Review, Kong Tsung-gan offers a full analysis of Hong Kong’s new regime…

…the edict is not a law in any normal sense of the word. Nor does it have anything to do with national security, again in any normal sense of the word. It is entirely a misnomer. It is an imperial edict imposed by the rulers of China upon their colonial subjects…

As mentioned above…

…the edict and the already ongoing crackdown on the freedom struggle intertwine.

Some more interesting reading… 

Nikkei Asian Review finds evidence to suggest that China’s Chairman-for-Life Xi Jinping may really mean it – and stay in power through to 2035. (At least, I would say. Nothing more pathetic than someone who has to go around introducing himself as ‘former Chairman-for-Life’.)

Not news, but Hollywood is self-censoring to please China. ‘Appeasement means profits’.

And (after U of Queensland, if you’re following these things) another Australian university becomes an arm of the CCP’s United Front. Obviously, this comes down to money, but it’s fascinating to see how personally invested some university officers have become in the big win-win Panda-suck friendship thing. Eeewwww… this is humiliating.

New Statesman explains (slowly, using easy words) to leftists why they should oppose China’s human rights horrors even if it means taking the same side as the evil imperialist West.

Plucky little Romania produces a precisely crafted list of conditions for 5G equipment suppliers, almost as if they had someone in mind…

…companies controlled by a foreign government, that don’t have a transparent ownership structure, have a history of unethical corporate behaviour or are not subjected to an independent justice system in their home country, are not eligible.

(As a teenage pioneer-explorer in the late 70s, I hitch-hiked through Romania en route to Istanbul. The greatest impression the semi-medieval country made on me was empty shops and a massively bloated, near-to-bursting, dead horse in a ditch with its legs sticking in the air. Until now.)

Fascinating background to a new book about Jewish refugees in WW2 Macau. (Includes a reference to this place – if I ever heard of it, I’d forgotten. That site is a snare. Next thing, I’m engrossed in this

The execution chamber was considered unique in Asia in that it carried out death by hanging, with the body dropping through a trapdoor directly into the prison hospital’s morgue. 

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Meanwhile, just across the street…

Despite the rain and the gloomy skies, the neighbourhood suddenly looks brighter… 

This six-floor walk-up probably dates back to the 1960s-70s. Normally, if a developer acquires a whole building like this, they knock it down and build a 40-floor block in its place – even if it’s a thin ‘pencil’-type structure. But if memory serves, you can’t do that on certain lots (this one is at the end of a cul-de-sac, which might be the reason). 

Around three years ago, the coarse blackened concrete and rusty window frames disappeared behind netting. Since then, workers have been in to do renovation occasionally for no more than a few weeks at a time. Maybe the owner is short of funds, or simply isn’t in a hurry. 

Now the shroud has come off, and we see a gleaming new exterior – a slight art-deco effect with a ziggurat on the roof (top of stairwell and access to roof, I guess). And much bigger windows than before.

I haven’t had a proper snoop, but there’s no sign of an elevator being installed, so it presumably remains a walk-up. I would guess it originally had two 300 sq ft (max) apartments per floor. Are they now studios, or knocked together to create one flat per floor (or subdivided into micro-coffins)? Does the owner plan to sell units, rent them long-term, or let them out as AirBnB? Have his calculations been affected by the unforeseeable changes Hong Kong has been through since he began the project?

Just nosy.

On more pressing national-security matters – that PLA video goes Village People’s Army. And while their backs are turned…

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An attack of obsessive-compulsive dem-elimination disorder

HK01 report that Beijing is trying to disenfranchise or disqualify pan-dems from joining and voting in the Chief Executive Election Committee. This is apparently because the dems’ landslide victory in the district council elections boosts their numbers on the 1,200-strong body. A clear case of CCP officials’ obsessive-compulsive democrat-eradication disorder.

Although it is in theory largely formed by a multitude of small-circle elections among a range of ‘sectors’, the CEEC is carefully designed, to have a comfortable majority of CCP-controlled votes (NPC/CPPCC members, representatives of local United Front groups, fisheries, Chinese medicine, etc). The bulk of the remaining slots comprise slimy functional-constituency representatives who will probably vote in line with Beijing’s orders but are not totally trustworthy (bankers, real-estate tycoons, etc). 

This leaves a minority of a minority representing the people: directly elected lawmakers and councilmen, plus teachers, lawyers, etc – the pan-dems. Even bolstered by a healthy crop of new district council members, their presence is purely cosmetic.

Indeed, the whole CEEC is a solely ceremonial body. The CE is decided in advance by Beijing – end of story. The Election Committee (and the nomination and CE ‘election campaign’ charades) are just for show.

So why is Beijing so desperate to bar pan-dems from a body with no actual power, and whose composition is rigged to keep them in a small minority in any case? We see the same redundancy and overkill in Beijing’s desperation to disqualify pan-dems from the Legislative Council elections when the poll is going to be postponed for a year, and perhaps additionally rigged, anyway. 

The need to cleanse even inert ornamental institutions of pan-dems verges on a phobia. The CCP rewrites inconvenient players out of history. It seems determined to rewrite Hong Kong’s pan-dems out of the present.

The emperor – livid at free thinkers’ refusal to kowtow – orders them to be extinguished. Wait for their lawmakers to be airbrushed from past Legislative Council group photos.

On the subject of extinguishing – an update from Kong Tsung-gan on the number of protest-related arrests and trials. The courts are swamped with this stuff.

Not wanting to put ideas into anyone’s head, but here’s a guide (in lots of languages) to using Magnitsky acts to give human-rights abusers a bad time

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Beijing aggression reaching new heights

First Beijing aimed threats at exotic mist-shrouded and harmless Bhutan; now it’s targeting the sturdily neutral yodelling chocolatiers of Switzerland. China extends its Everyone’s Making Us Really Angry foreign policy into the most inaccessible and inoffensive landlocked mountainous nations. Plucky little Andorra is next.

Some mid-week links…

An interesting thread on a shadow parliament and other ideas for pan-dems in NatSec-era Hong Kong. 

It never hurts to see your persecutors as ludicrous (eg, imagine your interrogator naked). Behold the PLA Hong Kong garrison trying to look hip and tough (or something).

If you’re into intellectual name-dropping, it’s time to learn more about Carl Schmitt, mid-20th Century ‘philosopher of illiberalism’. The German political and legal theorist who provided deep thinking to justify the Nazis’ policies has – surprise! – become increasingly popular among Chinese academics pushing the idea that Western democracy is finished and CCP dictatorship with Xi characteristics will save the world. The NYT has a good intro on the subject with reference to the Hong Kong clampdown. Here’s the long, heavy background (the second half is about the CCP angle). You can now use the word ‘Schmittian’ with confidence.

Atlantic on how Xi Jinping has screwed up massively on the international stage…

Foreign-policy observers have long debated: What if Beijing were handed a golden opportunity to strut on the world stage, absent a more powerful United States? Would it seize the opportunity, acting for the good of all and convincing the globe of its peaceful intentions? Or would it pursue a cramped vision of national interest? The world has inadvertently run that very experiment since January.

Having an Emperor-for-Life doesn’t help. From China Media Project: Foreign Minister Wang Yi goes overboard (grab a sick-back before reading) in lavishing praise on Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy.

A reasoned, non-wacko thesis – so far as I can see – that the Covid virus did escape from a Wuhan virology lab.

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Farewell to July 2020

Make a quick list of all the horrors from the first 31 days of Hong Kong’s National Security Regime. Chances are you’ll miss at least a few. HKFP count 11 – one every 2.8 days. ‘Like obituaries one after the other’, quotes Louisa Lim in the Guardian describing the new normal in the city…

Every day, the rules of political life are being drastically rewritten and the contours that are emerging are of a system that brooks no dissent. 

SCMP has a what-a-month-that-was wrap-up. The Spectator also joins in marking the one-month anniversary of authoritarian Hong Kong.

July ended with Hong Kong Police issuing arrest warrants for people living overseas (here and here), Including US citizen Sam Chu. This could provoke more of a reaction overseas than any other feature of the new NatSec system – and that’s assuming the CCP aren’t dumb enough to try harrassing exiles like Nathan Law, or their families still here. But why wouldn’t they? Carl Minzner on Beijing coming for the HK diaspora.

One last excitement as the month ended: Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung handed in his notice, ‘not seeing eye to eye’ with the Justice Secretary. You may think ‘at last, how refreshing to see a civil servant with a sense of justice and decency’. Or you might consider that his department has spent the last few years charging activists and whoever the police just rounded up at protests with trumped-up riot, obstruction, offensive-weapon, incitement and other charges, a la CCP lawfare.

Judging from his email to colleagues, his main complaint is over bureaucratic turf – he is being sidelined where NatSec prosecutions are concerned. What would anyone expect? The NatSec structure (NatSec HK government committee, NatSec police, NatSec prosecutions, NatSec courts) is a parallel government, all reporting to Beijing’s NatSec Hotel Lubyanka-Metropark in Causeway Bay.

All this keeps international attention on Hong Kong – and thus on local English-language news media. Atlantic examines the SCMP’s struggle to maintain credibility during and since Hong Kong’s 2019 uprising. 

A peculiar situation. At the top, senior management serve beholden-to-CCP Jack Ma, and at the bottom, dedicated reporters try to get their stories published untwisted. Between the two, a small and apparently not-very-pleasant group of senior editors are noticeably eager to ensure a pro-police/government slant. (Atlantic names names, but spares us sordid explanations. My wild guess would be that the latter group were won over by over-generous pay plus the chance to indulge in a little control-freakery.)

An early draft of an initial story about the [8-31] incident … had an opening that detailed “chaotic and shocking scenes” as officers went after “cowering commuters.” That was not the account that was eventually published, though. The SCMP’s edited story (which was subsequently updated) instead recounted how “elite Hong Kong police” had chased “radical protesters” wearing “masks” into the subway station.

The author’s own dealings with the top management revealed Mainland-tinged hyper-sensitivity. More insider-ish comment on the story here. Wonder how much a subscription will cost when they put up their paywall?

We declare Month Two open with a solid guarantee that Mainland medical staff collecting virus test samples here will Absolutely Never Not collect your DNA. To convince you of its sincerity, the government is looking into arresting anyone who suggests otherwise. 

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Well, at least they take an interest in local affairs

I don’t nose around Reddit much, but here’s something for aficionados of Hong Kong gwailos who are staunchly pro-blue ribbon/CCP. A guy called ‘Dan’, originally from Melbourne, who goes around painting over Lennon walls. Best jump straight to the vid on YouTube.

What’s with these people? In my experience (a sample of two), they often have China business/career/family exposure. Personality-wise, they tend to have a sincere sense of right and wrong, and relish being outspoken for an unpopular but noble cause, but they are also total suckers for things like fake Facebook junk and urban legends – an unfortunate combination.

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The hits keep on coming

What makes you think that, for all the military might and obnoxious bluster, the CCP lacks confidence? One day they arrest a huddle of teenagers for trying to split the whole nation with a social-media post. The next day they bar the most popular candidates from running in an election that’s already rigged – and which they might postpone anyway because they are still afraid of losing.

(Disqualifications plus postponement would look like overkill. Hard to distinguish nervousness-verging-on-blind-panic from plain poor coordination.)

The reasons for barring a dozen pan-dems from the ballot are what you would expect. Thought-crimes – at least suspected ones – basically.

The Civic Party’s Alan Leong tweets:

This is a blatant and naked contravention of Art 25 of the #ICCPR that guarantees every citizen’s right to elect and be elected. It is an affront to open, equal and fair elections and an insult to the legislature in a separation of powers constitutional set up in #HK’s system!

Obviously true, but it shows the enduring naivety of the older, mainstream pro-dems – total incomprehension upon finding that the Leninist machine crushes opposition without regard to rules or law. They totally reject separation of powers, Alan. The most moderate of this lot, the Democratic Party, apparently escape disqualification.

Which leads to the question of what pan-dems will do if an election happens – nominate substitutes, or organize a boycott? Can they get it into their heads that they will not be allowed to win under CCP rules? 

Some links for the coming days…

NPC Observer on some date changes, possibly to rubber-stamp an edict postponing the LegCo elections.

Antony Dapiran on Hong Kong’s new era, when peaceful protest is ‘terrorism’.

In case you missed it, among the Hong Kong government’s smaller idiocies this week – a measure to devote more space to private cars. Maybe not a huge priority, but some sane quality-of-life policies wouldn’t hurt Hong Kong at this time.

Introduction to a book on the ‘Insidious Power’ of China’s intimidation and influence operations aimed at academics and others in eight countries.

Washington Times profile of Miles Yu, Mike Pompeo’s advisor on China. Orchestrated attacks on China-born Yu as a race traitor appear in Global Times and other outlets, including social media (viral video of Yu’s name being erased from his school’s honour roll) – and, interestingly, the SCMP’s own Alex Lo.

Which brings us to just-died Lee Teng-hui, former leader of Taiwan, described by charming Chinese media as a “deformed test-tube baby cultivated in the political laboratory of hostile anti-China forces”.

Maybe you wouldn’t have thought any country could install a leader worse than Donald Trump – But China did it when Xi Jinping took office…

Robert Kaplan, senior advisor at Eurasia Group, said the U.S. was comfortable with China’s system which was “enlightened, benign, collegial, technocratic authoritarianism,” but it has since evolved into a “one-man personality … repressive kind of regime.”

“The result of that is that China has no more friends in Washington… 

Wouldn’t usually pay attention to a sport that might have been entertaining when played by normal-size people, but seems pointless when the athletes are all 7-foot-plus mutants: the NBA’s problems with balancing both US and Chinese sensitivities,

And a comparison between nationalism among 1930s Japanese diaspora in the US and among Chinese migrants today.

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Yes, we’ve joined the ranks of banana republics

Hong Kong can finally look other banana-republic police states in the face – its new national security cops have successfully performed their very first ‘midnight knock at the door’ arrests, complete with bundling people into unmarked cars under cover of darkness. The targets are four, mostly teenage, members of Student Localism. (Whaddya mean, who?) The regime has now captured 16- and 19-year-old threats to national security, to go with the schoolkids-singing-a-song threat to national security, the blank sheet of paper threat to national security, and the half-dozen-word slogan threat to national security.

According to the SCMP report

In a late night press conference, Senior Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah of the National Security Department under the police force said the suspects’ group had recently declared the establishment of a body to promote pro-independence political ideals “using any means possible” and build a “Republic of Hong Kong”.

In plain English, these youthful enemies of the state (or more likely someone overseas) made a Facebook post. 

It looks like a case of desperately over-eager police trying to please their CCP masters. But maybe this is the CCP’s own idea of striking hard against an attempt to split a country of 1.4 billion. Whatever happens to them, Hong Kong’s status as a vicious and cruddy dictatorship is assured.

Meanwhile, the local administration fights the Covid outbreak by making construction workers, cleaners and others eat while squatting in bus stations and on sidewalks. The officials behind this are the same ones who are allowing public transport operators to reduce services – that is, increase crowding on buses and trains. (Similar deal with Post Office opening hours.) 

Moderate folk assume Carrie Lam is deliberately trying to encourage the outbreak in order to justify repression of protests. The conspiracy theorists think she’s just trying to kill us all.

Churches and small businesses are offering space for people to eat in. The government is responding by opening its hot-weather night-shelters, which being air-conditioned halls equipped with tables and chairs, can serve as non-restaurant restaurants – almost as if actual restaurants had been allowed to stay open.

Another conspiracy theory is that the government is attempting to drive the whole population insane with its stupidity.  

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Your mid-week Mainlandizations…

Benny Tai is fired from Hong Kong U, with the Liaison Office applauding the move with impressive speed soon after the gutless announcement. In overruling the university’s Senate, the HKU Council is simply doing the CCP’s bidding. You could say the Council has assumed the role of a Party Committee – but it probably has more shoe-shiners than a Mainland CCP oversight body.

Baptist U has also turfed out a pro-dem faculty member, lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun. Jerome Cohen writes on both cases.

This goes beyond academic freedom. It not only represents the end of universities’ institutional independence – it points to the normalization of purges of government opponents in all professions. There are signs of this already in the civil service and among school teachers. 

Beijing’s officials have been busy. It seems they have also ordered the government to postpone September’s LegCo election. (Reports are unofficial. Let’s assume they are correct.) The assembly has a fixed four-year term – at least if you believe the Basic Law. 

So up until the day before yesterday, civil servants were busy carrying out their anti-dem pre-disqualification inquisition. Suddenly, it’s all off. Some Beijing official with a short temper had had enough.

Judging from the District Council elections and the pan-dem primaries, it’s obvious the CCP’s surrogates would get hammered in September. The NatSec Law has made pro-Beijing camp even less popular, added to which there’s the local administration’s recent poor handling of Covid.

So the CCP admits defeat, with all the grace and maturity of John F Kennedy as a child when he would (I read somewhere) tip over the Monopoly board when someone else was winning.

The original plan was obviously just to disqualify all or most pan-dems (someone has spent ages checking candidates’ Facebook posts) and hold a lot of one-horse races. Now they think that would look worse than using the virus as a pretext. Eddie Chu Hoi-dick – smartest politician in Hong Kong – sums it up…

As headaches to the CCP, Benny Tai and LegCo elections overlap. But (as with the ‘academic freedom’ woes) we should look at the big picture and not get too fixated on Benny’s plan to create an opposition majority in LegCo. The regime would have other ways of dealing with that (disqualifications, etc). Beijing officials’ overriding fear is the vivid symbolism of another huge turnout and pan-dem majority vote. The CCP cannot allow such a clear public rejection of itself.

Even if the lame Covid excuse is the least worst one, this will still attract international attention. The US has said it will monitor the election. The same even goes for the EU, whose Cartesian officials have a fascination with technicalities of constitutional process. Whatever Beijing does, the case for sanctions and other measures strengthens. (Maybe God is watching, too.)

Reportedly, the election will be postponed for 12 months. Because this time next year we will all adore the CCP and vote the right way.

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Visionary media revenue model invented

Further to SCMP going behind a paywall… I know journalism isn’t free. But I’m never going to read more than roughly 5-10% of any publication’s content, so I don’t get great value for money from most subscriptions. And paying for every worthwhile source (FT, WSJ, Bloomberg, Economist, Apple Daily, NYT, New Yorker, Atlantic, Quartz and a dozen or so more) wouldn’t just become expensive – it would be a mess of different accounts (and don’t get me started on the passwords). If you could buy one-stop access to a bundle of chosen sites and get billed just for content you want (no sports/fashion/celebs/Alex Lo) with just one monthly payment (flat rate or metering system) I’d do it. US$50-100 a month? Maybe media groups are too proud or, more likely, jealous of revenue to cooperate. Or perhaps the monetizing disintermediating aggregating app-creating geniuses of the tech world are too busy pushing bluetooth-enabled Internet-linked smart toasters.

I declare Tuesday open with some (free-to-read) links…

While the government continues its disqualification inquisition to keep pro-dems off the ballot, some decidedly scummy Beijing loyalists try to get Benny Tai fired from HKU. Jerome Cohen says this. (The cops are also now arresting people for spoof DAB posters. Since false information about government policy is now a crime, I will play safe and stick rigidly to stating the indisputable fact that government policy is mostly total crap.)

Antony Dapiran’s latest newsletter – on the NatSec Law.

This is as close as Reuters gets to tear-jerking – the story of newly-wed first-aiders Henry Tong and Elaine To, who faced multi-year prison sentences until being cleared of riot charges by an unusual judge who believes in the presumption of innocence.

Richard McGregor at Lowy Institute: How China’s deep state with wartime-style powers both plunged the country into the Covid crisis and ruthlessly suppressed the pandemic. 

The Dummy’s Guide to the same subject from the Guardian (reporting a BBC documentary).

War on the Rocks goes over the options for countering China in the South China Sea. And John Oliver does Uighurs.

China Media Project gets heavily into the importance of wording in the imperial court. In CCP-speak, the shortening of long-winded titles denotes a raising of their stature. Thus it will be a momentous occasion when ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era’ becomes plain ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ – but it hasn’t happened yet. Managers of the personality cult have been too hasty in trying to elevate variants of Xi Thought (on education, the press, Taiwan and much more) and in some cases had to disabbreviate the slogans. Now Foreign Minister Wang Yo is tentatively trimming ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era’. CMP’s survey of the process is so thorough it even includes bar charts on media usage of the buzzwords. Worth reading as a reminder of the inanity of the CCP.

For economics geeks, Michael Pettis on how China’s national accounts exaggerate GDP and why the country needs to upgrade political, legal and other institutions – rather than inputs like labour, capital and technology – to raise productivity. The CCP can’t make these reforms without losing control. That said, few other developing countries have ever managed to escape the ‘middle income trap’ either.

Know your China-bores, courtesy of the Miss Manners of Sinology: the Mystic China-Knowers, the Death-to-the-CCP Squad, the tankies and the exceptionally annoying CCP bootlickers… 

…who are usually avid proponents of China’s 5,000 years of history. Maybe this Radii China article would enlighten them. (In brief: some 3,500 years of recorded/non-mythological history are real, the ‘China’ isn’t.) 

SupChina explains why that bus driver in Guizhou deliberately drove into a reservoir and killed 20 passengers.

Wired on Audrey Tang, software/open-data geek and Taiwan’s youngest-ever minister who played a key role in fighting Covid and is working on using digital tech to reinvent democracy. Compare and contrast with Hong Kong’s tech bureaucrats.

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