SRTIACR Award winner announced

For many years, I was proud to be one of the judges of the Worst Restaurant in Soho Award. The annual event was cancelled a few years ago when the organizers felt that it had drifted from its original aim of recognizing the most cynical and shallow of the over-moneyed shysters who invest in dire over-priced Korean tapas lounges, themed ‘concepts’ and ‘exciting dining experiences’. Instead, the sponsors felt, it was becoming an exercise in cruelty, tormenting naïve idiots stupid enough to sign extortionate leases with the local landlords (something to do with the spate of suicides every year after the awards announcements).

So the competition was relaunched as the Soho Restaurant That Isn’t A Crap Rip-off Award. There were no winners for a while – one or two sort of came close, but were too pretentiousness or otherwise annoying to make the grade. Anyway, we actually have a winner this year: take a bow, LoveEat. Their motto: ‘screw thinking up a zappy name or flashy website, just make authentic Persian fare’. Don’t miss the mirza ghasemi.

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RTHK one step closer to rectification

The Hong Kong Police don’t react well to allegations that they are hoarding protective clothing. An Apple Daily report hit a raw nerve, and a pointed satirical sketch on RTHK’s Headliner rubbed salt in. (It has had 560,000 viewings on YouTube so far, English synopsis here).

Four weeks ago, you wouldn’t have thought that the Hong Kong authorities could make themselves any more unpopular. But thanks to WuFlu, they’ve managed to do it.

The number of health workers unionizing and striking for tighter border controls, or of previously uninvolved residents protesting quarantine facilities in their neighbourhoods, is not huge. But the fact they are there at all reflects a further hardening of anti-government public sentiment.

Meanwhile, the cops – apparently hogging equipment the hospitals need, and pepper-spraying folks who fear infectious patients swamping their local clinics – seem to be entrenching themselves in their unfortunate role as a failed government’s bully boys. This is presumably deliberate, as demanded by the Beijing officials pulling the strings somewhere up there. After all, how hard would it be for the cops to make a big PR show of donating a load of their masks and white suits to the medics? Instead, they must rant at RTHK. CCP-worshiping former Chief Executive CY Leung demands the station’s boss be publicly whipped .

RTHK is Hong Kong’s version of Xu Zhangrun, author of the famous diatribe against the CCP’s cover-up of the virus. He has now, predictably, been disappeared. It is only a matter of time before the public-service broadcaster is tamed. They are making the most of it.

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Hong Kong gets another knuckle-dragger

Xia Baolong. Sounds like some sort of dumpling. Looks a bit like one. But will be decidedly less pleasant. The media (eg, here, here) quote endless experts sharing profound insights into how the Liaison Office/HK and Macau Affairs Office reshuffle will create a more ‘coordinated’ (top-down) chain of command from Emperor-for-Life Xi over Hong Kong, and be more hardline – without explaining what this will mean in practice.

Why won’t people spell this out? To repeat: a more politicized legal system and courts to repress civil society and rights; censorship of the Internet; criminalization of opinions; ideological pressure on civil servants and educators; propaganda in schools; and other measures in the name of ‘national security’ – gradually, over several years. Probably some superficial attempts at improving livelihood policies, but otherwise the exact opposite of the more representative government Hong Kong must have to retain its freedoms and identity. Removing crosses from churches will be near the bottom of Xia’s list.

I feel fairly confident in predicting that the Hong Kong ‘independence movement’ – originally a scare-mongering fabrication, and subsequently a provocative slogan used by naughty teenagers – is going to become something real.

On a lighter note, Hong Kong Land are taking WuFlu very seriously. I tried to enter Exchange Square 3 at 7.45 this morning to grab tons of free tissues a coffee from the Starbucks. A security guard said the door was for ‘exit only’. The next door I found was blocked off. The next one had another security guard saying ‘exit only’. So I gave up.

I declare the weekend temporarily closed as per the Preparedness and Response Plan for Novel Infectious Disease of Public Health Significance with a varied selection of links…

Hours of fun for all paranoids: frequent Hong Kong epidemic updates.

A (lengthy) video interview with Jeff Wasserstrom, author of Hong Kong on the Brink (a review here).

The SCMP’s history and heritage column gets massively bitchy about the interior décor/socialite daahlings… 

A general lack of taste and genuine discrimination among a critical mass of people with large sums of money helps get people into the interior design trade. 

From Asia Times, a not-too-cliched analysis of why Hong Kong is screwed as an economy…

After the handover, Hong Kong had some 20 years to reinvent itself. Not only did it fail to do so but the powers concerned even failed to recognize that such a need existed…

…barring the unexpected, it is clear that the central government has no interest in consolidating the autonomy of an appendage that, if anything, is proving troublesome.

The Smithsonian peels back Hong Kong’s Lennon Walls.

On national affairs, the Guardian looks at how the CCP puts control of information before human lives.

A scathing essay on the subject by academic/dissident Xu Zhangrun, translated by Geremie R. Barmé: Viral Alarm: When Fury Overcomes Fear

A political culture has thereby been nurtured that, in terms of the real public good, is ethically bankrupt, for it is one that strains to vouchsafe its privatized Party-State, or what they call their “Mountains and Rivers” while abandoning the people over which it holds sway to suffer the vicissitudes of a cruel fate. It is a system that turns every natural disaster into an even greater man-made catastrophe. The coronavirus epidemic has revealed the rotten core of Chinese governance; the fragile and vacuous heart of the jittering edifice of state has thereby shown up as never before.”

Guardian synopsis of the essay here.

Less literary but just as brutal: Apple Daily’s Mark Simon

The Chinese Communist Party is the greatest evil that currently exists in our world. It is a stone cold killer. No remorse over its actions, no regrets, just the desire to survive at the cost, if it has to be, of all others.

There is no compromise, no truce the Chinese Communists will abide that will protect the freedom of those who come into contact with the CCP. The academic, artistic, and business elites who seek to profit off trade with China are useful idiots who serve our freedoms up in exchange for profit. We cannot let these immoral elites be our front line in dealing with the Chinese Communist Party.

From China Change, a timeline of how China missed the chance to tackle WuFlu promptly.

From China Fileviews on the film One Child Nation.

HK Free Press – Denmark manages to ‘hurt the feelings’ again.

You say ‘cooptation’, I say ‘cooption’. SupChina looks at how big foreign companies in China like Apple have to serve the CCP.

The LA Times on why Macau’s casinos are OK with being closed for weeks (hint: licence-renewal coming up).

An entertaining account of how the ICAO’s CCP-grovelling, Taiwan-negating Twitter debacle unfolded.

The Taipei Times on Taiwan/Republic of China nomenclature.

And for music and tech-retro fans, the national anthem as early Carrie Lam ‘Virus Invaders’ computer game.

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Unspoken threat from the north

Everyone in Hong Kong can see that our valiant and visionary local leaders are floundering and dithering. But what are they floundering and dithering about exactly? A chance encounter with one of our city’s Great and Good reveals that officials do have a major concern on their minds: Shenzhen.

It seems that migrants from Hubei form a large proportion of the Pearl River Bay-Area-Opportunities Delta workforce. Guangdong has reported quite a few WuFlu cases and cities up there are worried. Specifically, Shenzhen is home to several hundred thousand (yup) young tech grads from Wuhan who do code-writing, computer-engineering and so on. I gather that these are spotty hoi-polloi from riffraff colleges in China’s heartland, not the classy cosmopolitan Beijing or Shanghai gentry we get in our financial-services sector. (I hate to say it, but I think we are supposed to infer hygiene issues.) Words like ‘reservoir’, ‘virus’ and ‘possible explosion’ are muttered.

So next time you see Carrie and her hapless colleagues babbling, flapping their arms and wetting themselves – that’s why. Maybe it’s even a legitimate worry. I’ve no idea why they can’t just tell us. (Well, apart from fear of presenting the Mainland as a danger, portraying Mainland people negatively, tarnishing the glamorous Bay Area branding, raising more questions about the Great Border-Closure Prevarication, further distressing Hong Kong’s child-like populace, or upsetting our precious expat community. Anything I’ve missed?)

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Carrie tries to do diplomacy

As if she hasn’t done enough to make Hong Kong squirm with embarrassment, Chief Executive Carrie Lam pleads with consuls-general to help the city procure surgical masks and other protective equipment, and not to impose travel restrictions on local residents.

Her audience did not mince their words. “If your citizens planning to travel to our countries are not carrying the plague,” they responded angrily, “why do you need the face masks so badly? Huh?” Or they would have – but they are diplomats, so held their tongues.

Instead, the US Consulate announces that it is letting non-essential staff take their families back to the safety and security of (say) Baltimore. Which brings the Hong Kong US mission into line with those in Beijing and Shanghai.

The last time Carrie addressed all the consuls (if I recall correctly), it was to assure them that her Extradition Bill was a fine and dandy idea and nothing to worry about. Since then, her main contact with them has been in the form of venomous freak-outs about How Dare You Interfere in Our Internal Affairs, when their home governments had the temerity to voice concern about the business hub’s descent into civil unrest.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Free Republic’s provisional Secretary of State Joshua Wong is effortlessly exploiting the Revolution’s soft power among overseas allies to source face masks – our fledgling nation’s equivalent of oil wells and gold reserves.

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Regina’s latest yet-another last-chance frantic bid for glory

What’s the last thing Hong Kong needs right now? Yes – Regina Ip getting in everyone’s face. So here she is, offering to help sue hospital staff for striking, and getting slapped down by the government after claiming officials will use price controls to fix the city’s surgical-mask shortage.

The lawmaker, Executive Council member, Belt and Road fan club founder, and former Security Secretary’s hyperactivity is due to a sad delusion. She believes that her politician’s biological clock is still just about ticking and there is a chance that Beijing might yet make her Chief Executive.

Or maybe it is not a total delusion. Carrie Lam is currently lying flat, strapped into the execution machine in Kafka’s Penal Colony, which slowly etches the name of the crime into the prisoner’s body. This is to punish not so much Carrie as the whole of Hong Kong. The pain continues for what seems an eternity, but at some point death finally comes. Beijing will have to appoint someone else. It could be someone new, to symbolize a fresh start. Or – you may feel more confident in imagining – the CCP might just inflict a new round of suffering on the city. Reg could still have her day.

Elsewhere… For a moment there, Singaporeans were mocking Hong Kong for stripping shelves bare of rice and toilet paper. Then the contagion of fear struck the Lion City too – despite its 1,500-mile distance from China, oh-so competent governance and soothing words from more-charismatic-than-Carrie Prime Minister Baby God.

And the dirty little secret/twist in the tale: it was – Singapore’s Malay and Indian citizens noted – ethnic Chinese who were freaking out in the supermarket aisles. Years of contradictory ruling-party brainwashing about being both obedient and venal combine with ‘race-based stress’ to create anarchic mayhem. In the noodles section at least. It says here. I really, seriously, couldn’t possibly comment.

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Asia’s Somalia

I dropped by the local Wellcome supermarket five minutes after its 8.00am opening yesterday. People were already struggling to carry away multiple 12-packs of toilet paper. There were none left inside, and the shelves were also empty of rice and bleach. Just like in all the news and social media photos – but it’s weirder to see it in real life.

Surprisingly, the Bloomberg opinion piece likening Hong Kong to a ‘failed state’ has not yet triggered a whiny press-release tantrum from the government. The article focuses on a collapse in government credibility and legitimacy, official dithering over things like face masks, and of course the panic-buying. (It also spots Carrie Lam’s narrow bureaucratic focus – where closing museums counts as decisive grand strategy.)

Perhaps the petulant press statement will have to wait while our officials beg the Boy Scouts for help in quarantining possible plague carriers.

While comparisons to Russia’s crisis in 1998 or Venezuela may seem far-fetched, these places have never claimed to be international financial hubs or a ‘World City’.

In some ways, the Bloomberg article goes easy on the Hong Kong authorities. It largely overlooks the transformation of the police force into a tool of political control. If there was ever a time to get the cops back into their smart blue uniforms, the WuFlu scare is surely it – instead, they are whacking frightened residents in Sai Kung and Tai Po. And while the article hints at the weakening of Hong Kong’s legal system, it doesn’t mention the increase in politicized prosecution and other administrative decision-making.

The column does say that the administration’s lack of contingency plans and shambolic performance suggest ‘deterioration’, which should seriously worry the business sector. And ‘the next shock will be worse’.

Speaking of which, HK Free Press looks at the backlog of catch-all ‘riot’ and other cases that will be going before the courts over the coming couple of years.

I do actually need a new bottle of bleach. Will just have to gargle with absinthe for the time being.

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A WuFlu update for every taste

Here’s a claim that Chinese authorities are rigging the WuFlu data to fit a predetermined mortality rate. Patriots, on the other hand, may prefer the charts showing a ‘very rosy picture’ of declining new infections.

If you like your news simultaneously good and bad, there’s Dr Li Wenliang: after mentioning the new disease online in late December, he was intimidated into silence by Wuhan police; he later caught the virus, and was reported to have died of it yesterday, before state media backtracked and insisted he was still alive – but they now seem to say he did die (subsequent to the time he didn’t, so we’re right). Great moments in ‘public opinion guidance’ CCP-style.

Hong Kong has succumbed to panic-buying of toilet paper, rice and other commodities. The city has a history of refugee-society skittishness leading to near-legendary frantic scrambles to redeem cake coupons or get free Snoopy dolls. But we now have a government that is beyond incompetent, beholden to the aforementioned CCP, and devoid of credibility and legitimacy. Officials were last seen dithering about school exams and sorting out how to implement the quarantine they announced two days ago. The only thing irrational about it is that Hong Kong apartments are too small to store all those toilet rolls. (Having spent time in North African villages many years ago, I can manage perfectly well without it.)

Art Basel is cancelled. Some gallery owners had been worrying that taking part would be an endorsement of Beijing’s oppression of Hong Kong – the fear of quarantine and a toilet-paper famine tipped the balance.

Just checked to see if the government has advised against panic-buying. Seems not. Very wise (or maybe they’re too dim to think of it).

I declare the weekend open with a range of illuminating reading matter…

Asia Dialogue examines how Beijing is losing Hong Kong – not much new, but the last half dozen paras are interesting.

An in-depth – and damning – account from Chublicopinion of how Wuhan officials suppressed news about the WuFlu outbreak.

In a similar vein, China Media Project on how China’s official media handled – or didn’t handle – the WuFlu outbreak in January.

How is Beijing’s supreme central core tackling the crisis? The Jamestown Foundation offers a nerdy look at why the Central Leading Small Group for Work to Counter the New Coronavirus Infection Pneumonia Epidemic comes under Li Keqiang rather than the Emperor-for-Life.

ChinaFile asks whether WuFlu will damage the CCP’s legitimacy. If you think it obviously must, Asia Dialogue looks at why China’s younger generation seem so pro-CCP.

You know ‘traditional Chinese medicine’ is unscientific junk, but here’s a reminder.

On to Formosa, and Ketagalan Media on the impossible position the KMT finds itself in trying to convince Taiwan it wants to be annexed by China.

Beijing interrupts this healthcare crisis with some mouth-froth about how any attempts to leverage the virus to promote Taiwan independence is hitting a raw nerve (or ‘doomed to fail’). Equally amusing, Anonymous hacks into the UN’s website on behalf of Taiwan.

As Hong Kong’s luxury-brand emporia shut their doors (though not enough), an older SE Asian Globe article about how the glitzy overpriced-garbage retailing/ultra-high rents phenomenon also affects Singapore.

And lastly, some subversive music before the PRC collapses: the Chinese national anthem in the style of Epaksa. (I had to look it up too – Epaksa is the Korean behind an immensely annoying musical genre known as ‘techno-trot’, as seen in this Japanese commercial for cockroach spray.)

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You mean this quarantine thing applies to us as well?

Hong Kong’s government has lost so much credibility by now that the public automatically perceives any announcement as garbage. Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s decision to impose quarantine on everyone coming in from the Mainland has predictably met with derision (and apparently triggered a run on toilet paper – though that might just be inspired by the general ongoing ambient official incompetence).

Chances are that the threat of quarantine will dissuade a lot of people from crossing the border. It could certainly make life very difficult for anyone who has to make the trip.

Spare a thought for retired low-income Hongkongers living in Shenzhen who need to pick up medicines here our Beijing-groveling tycoons who are members of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. They were already dreading the prospect of having to spend two weeks in the nation’s capital attending the ‘two meetings’, which start on March 3.

In the old days, they could get away with goofing off and having long lunches, massages and naps in their hotels while the rubber-stamp bore-fests took place. Some would even sneak back to Hong Kong for a few days to attend to their family-owned rent-seeking cartelized conglomerates’ business. That all changed when Xi Jinping took over and demanded that even billionaires must display patriotism by showing up for mind-numbing lectures and briefings on Party-State ideology.

Now, if the ‘lianghui’ go ahead, the plutocrats’ two-week ordeal in Beijing will be followed by 14 days’ confinement back here, sitting in isolation behind nailed-up doors, wearing a GPS bracelet – while their devious siblings and mentally challenged heirs wreak corporate mayhem in the boardroom. As if they are not suffering enough from plummeting rents.

Having received a premonition, meanwhile, the Mormons have already fled.   

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‘If goodwill still exists’

Antony Cheung, mild-moderate pro-democrat and former government official, asks where Hong Kong goes from here. After the 2003 SARS/Article 23 trauma, Beijing appointed a mediocre but arrogant bureaucrat as Chief Executive, and pushed cross-border integration. As Cheung notes, these are not exactly promising options this time round (though don’t underestimate the CCP’s ability to double down and compound its mistakes).

He does not hold back on the awfulness of the current administration, and he hints at the need for a more representative political system. But, as is invariably the case with these op-eds (why is this???), he fails to spell out any ideas – simply concluding that…

If goodwill still exists, adversity could force all sides to forge the determination to review the fundamental situation and contemplate bold but necessary choices.

Almost as gutsy as Carrie Lam proposing to set up a committee to consider the possibility of doing something! The ‘fundamental situation’ points to just two possible ‘bold but necessary choices’. First is a more bottom-up, representative government – which totally contradicts the CCP’s top-down, control-obsessed Leninist worldview. Second is a Mainlandized authoritarian regime that suppresses opposition and dissent – provoking deep local resistance and defiance.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong ‘government’ continues to do its remarkably good impression of a lump of rotting meat that no-one can or will take away. This is at least good news for creators of brutal memes

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