Yesterday’s total: two

During SARS, Hong Kong’s radio newsreaders would announce the previous day’s death toll – it might be three, or seven, or even double-digit numbers of people. During Covid-19, we have a daily count of rights, freedoms and independent institutions that have been struck down.

Yesterday, we had two (that leap out).

First, the Legislative Council (after pro-democrats had been removed) voted for pro-Beijing Starry Lee as chair of the house committee by 40-0. This clears the way to ram through the National Adoration (Compulsory Paroxysms of Patriotic Joy) Bill. It also makes the legislature redundant as a check on the executive.

A creepy and bizarre picture of LegCo security guards surrounding the chair prompts a rather elegant juxtaposition-meme, and a Badiucao pic.

Second, the government looks set to ban the annual June 4 vigil, by extending the bar on certain types of gathering of more than eight people to that date. Subtle! The community has a couple of weeks to dream up alternative ways of marking the occasion, perhaps ways that  attract more people and are far harder to police – waving gifs of candles in shopping malls, say.

Other mortal blows to the old Hong Kong are of course in train – such as the prosecutions of 15 prominent pro-democrats, who were formally charged and bailed yesterday. The CCP, which is clearly behind the arrests, is also smearing Lee and others in a CCTV documentary for Mainland consumption.

Although just a drop in the ocean of politically-driven prosecutions, the imprisonment of the high-profile and moderate veteran like Martin Lee would be a major blow to whatever remains of the Hong Kong administration’s overseas image. Lee would (I suspect) relish martyrdom after all these years, and the CCP are too consumed with their psycho-paranoiac-Leninism to resist giving it to him.

It would also complete a classic, and brutish, United Front move: forcing the local bureaucrats and tycoons to defend the jailing of the 81-year-old Lee, who was a personal friend and (in some cases) mentor to their kids.

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Freak-out Friday

On Freak-out Friday the CCP orchestrated a Mainlandizing shock-and-awe assault on Hong Kong. Antony Dapiran gives a good summary.

The sentencing of a young man to four years in prison for riot was perhaps coincidental (if we charitably assume that the Liaison Office is not yet micro-managing the courts’ schedules as well as judgements). But the message is clear: anti-government protesters who plead guilty to throwing some objects around will get harsher punishment than pro-Beijing nasties who stab people.

The Legislative Council coup shunting pro-democrats aside enables the government to force through the National Anthem (Compulsory Adulation) Bill. No more of that separation-of-powers stuff requiring an elected legislature to check the executive branch. LegCo is now destined to be a rubber stamp, the way the CCP likes it.

With the contrived uproar over a question in a high-school history exam on Thursday, Beijing is launching a cultural revolution in the education sector. Teaching kids to think critically now means ‘hurting the feelings’, ‘leaving the chicken-coop [of impressionable young minds] without a roof’ – and ‘there is no room for discussion’. You don’t need to be a huge cynic to suspect that the inclusion and/or wording of the question was a set-up.

The SCMP quotes a pro-Beijing mouthpiece as saying that schools have become an opposition stronghold…

“I expect the Hong Kong government to take tough measures in the years ahead to tackle problems regarding curriculum design, the vetting of textbooks and public examinations.”

To complete the Mainlandization-overload, the Independent Police Complaints Council released a blatant whitewash of a report into police tactics against protests during part of last year. Amnesty calls it impotent and biased.

But it gets creepier. To quote Dapiran…

…most galling was the manner in which [Chief Executive Carrie] Lam presented the findings: in front of a vast backdrop of images of fiery destruction from last year’s protests, emblazoned with the slogan ‘The Truth About Hong Kong’.

Carrie also hinted at future measures to curb or censor the press, such as a licensing regime for reporters, and police action against online ‘rumours’.

Awkwardly for the government, Clifford Stott – an overseas expert who quit the IPCC inquiry – is doing a report of his own. He sees Hong Kong 2019 as an academic case study. Out in a month, his report looks likely to suggest that much of the protesting is a response to police tactics rather than vice-versa.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung says critics of the IPCC report have ‘bad intentions’ and we should not take seriously the one-sided videos, misleading information, and false accusations some people have posted online. So there.

A pause for breath…

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government is trying – for the second time – to invite PR companies to help it out. From PRovoke

This time around, it is understood that the [government] has sought to frame the brief as a purely economic effort, distancing it from chief executive Carrie Lam’s office and underlining that political consultancy is not required. In addition, the new tender is an open one, compared to last year’s invite-only affair, and features a far lower threshold for participating firms…

Edelman is reportedly among the agencies willing to take on a challenge to help out a city they love (aka ‘hungry for fat juicy accounts from desperate, deep-pocketed and naïve clients’).

Even though the government is supposedly asking agencies to focus on a narrower ‘economic’ brief, this comes as the overall ‘China’ brand is being degraded globally following the coronavirus pandemic.

To pick a few little PR problems at random: overseas universities are barring the HK Police from recruiting on campus; consultants are discreetly advising companies to think twice about Hong Kong (read the comments); and a UN Special Rapporteur joins in the criticism of the round-up of aging lawyers.

The prosecution of Martin Lee, Margaret Ng et al starts today. Although a trifling incident in the whole Mainlandization campaign, it is a clear example of how the CCP’s ‘Marxist-Confucian idea of law’ is coming to Hong Kong. Unlike the convoluted exam questions or LegCo coup, the dragging of grey-haired intellectuals before the courts will attract media coverage overseas for its classic, vivid shithole-banana-republic angle – and there’s nothing Edelman could do to spin it otherwise.

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HK govt adds ‘hurt feelings’ panty-wetting to PR toolkit

I remember when then-Chief Secretary Anson Chan referred to the Diaoyutai islands as ‘the Senkakus’. There was about 10 seconds of patriotic mouth-frothing – much of it from the anti-CCP/-Japan variety of nationalists – then it was forgotten (by most of us).

Now we have an inane Mainland-style freak-out over a history exam question asking students whether Japanese rule over China was more good than bad. The Education Bureau blasts the exam authorities for ‘seriously hurting the feelings and dignity of the Chinese people’, no less. Someone in the bureaucracy is obviously petrified that Mr Luo from the Liaison Office might march in and give them a good spanking.

(I wonder how students in Taiwan would answer the question.)

This follows Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s recent signals that Mainlandization of schools is definitely on the agenda.

The Education Bureau has a lot of catching-up to do compared with the Security branch.

There are signs that the Independent Police Complaints Council report on the cops’ behaviour in Yuen Long, Prince Edward and so on last year will be even more of a whitewash than the most-hardcore cover-up fans dared hope for. For example, the outrage over collusion with triads was due to a shortage of clarifications explaining that it didn’t happen. And you wonder why overseas advisors refused to touch this inquiry.

You would have thought someone in authority would consider the damage such a distorted account will do to official credibility and legitimacy – but presumably that doesn’t matter anymore.

The Civil Rights Observer group has compiled (and will send to the UN) evidence of torture and other human-rights violations by the HK Police. These are incidents that don’t get caught on video.

The HK Journalists Association has issued a compilation of footage of the police treatment of reporters on Sunday.

Also on media matters, the FCC is asking some simple questions about whether press people banned from China can work in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government is essentially too scared to answer.

I declare the weekend open with some more worthwhile reading…

UK activist Benedict Rogers joins in the outrage about the HK Police on Mothers’ Day. Interesting how the cops’ (or Liaison Office’s) new tactics for 2020 – Operation Tougher Freaking-Out Over Nothing in Malls – seems to have backfired from the start.

Rogers pleads for international action, which of course won’t happen. Still, the Human Rights Foundation makes a persuasive case – a good intro for anyone overseas who has just woken up to Hong Kong.

Kong Tsung-gan’s quick brief on Hong Kong’s biggest, and then second-biggest, trial – of dozens rounded up for ‘riot’.

Not so much a thread as a multimedia documentary: Eight Hours in the Testing/Quarantine Zone at HK Airport.

HK Free Press on why the ‘Singapore solution’ to going authoritarian without scaring business away won’t work. (Essentially, the Singapore government does not report to or take orders from the CCP. We could also add that they’re not chosen by Beijing either, so tend to have a bit more in the brain-cells department.)

Rest of World on the LIHKG website – the protest movement’s forum.

Bellingcat exposes China’s Twitter and Facebook bot networks.

Andrew Batson looks at the role of Xi Zhongxun (Jinping’s dad) in trying to curb land-reform excesses in the 1950s.

And a bit of culinary history – Asian Review of Books looks at a new work on our friend the chili pepper in China.

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A lazy Thursday

Owing to a severe attack of lethargy, Thursday this week is brought to you by a selection of read-worthy links…

An angry rant following the HK Police’s ridiculous Mothers’ Day antics from a member of HKU philosophy faculty.

A new union for PR folk blasts the Hong Kong government’s image-salvaging efforts.

Planning activists (who by now really should know better) express dismay that Hong Kong transport officials manage to totally mangle and mutilate the no-brainer concept of harbour water-taxis, somehow turning what could be a convenient service for residents into some putrid tourist thing, surprise surprise.

SCMP’s history columnist looks back at a time when patriots were authentic like the estimable Dotty Liu (who if I recall drove around in a fetching green Jaguar). (More on her here.)

HK Free Press addresses the world’s critical shortage of keyrings.

Hong Kong movies at next this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Minxin Pei on how the virus is killing the China-US relationship

For the first time, ordinary Americans going about their lives in their own country fear for their economic and physical survival, because of political repression in a distant land.

Simon Leys in a flashback to 1990: ‘The Art of Interpreting Nonexistent Inscriptions Written in Invisible Ink on a Blank Page’.

Taiwan looks at long-overdue de-Sinification: of institutions’ nomenclature, and of the ‘unification’ clause in the national Mainland relations law.

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Restoring post-Covid harmony to HK

There is a theory that the CCP is deliberately trying to provoke major unrest in Hong Kong to justify sending in mainland security forces or ordering the local cops to mow people down with automatic weapons.

Today’s evidence is the local puppet administration’s announcement that it wants to ram through a National Anthem (Compulsory Adoration) Bill, which would punish acts like booing during a performance of the music punishable by three years in prison. Hey – let’s do something like last year’s Extradition Bill again!

(We could add the Police Commissioner’s declaration that his force wants to arrest a woman accusing his officers of gang-rape, but we’ll put that down to the cops’ own unique approach to public-relations charm.)

A reminder from HK Free Press (from a year ago) about the ‘legal malware’ problems with the looming Ordinance.

Assuming the CCP leaders are not total psychos, the other explanation is a massive failure in their analysis and policymaking: they genuinely have no idea of what public feeling might be, or even any concept that it is something they should be including in their calculations. The new knuckle-draggers running the HK & Macau Affairs and Liaison Office have zero understanding of a free and open society. All they have is a robotic Leninist mindset that dissent and resistance amount to a mortal threat and must be overridden.

Stephen Vines on Beijing’s frustration

Like a caged wild animal the Party has taken to clawing at the bars and is threatening to burst out of the cage in order to seek bloody revenge. There is a dangerous mood up in Beijing leading the leadership to believe that Hong Kong’s democracy movement can be crushed by brute force.

The government yesterday announced September 6 as the date for the Legislative Council election. Pan-dems quaintly imagine that the process will allow voters to exercise political power. Xinhua notes that polling could be postponed in the event of disturbances such as riots. More likely, Beijing will disqualify candidates, order rubber-stamp legislative procedures, and/or simply start to impose new laws by edict.

As their hyper-freak-out tactics on Mothers’ Day suggest, the Beijing-directed HK Police will take harsher action against protests this year – and after the first few fatalities, it will be as good as a PLA-lite clampdown. Does anyone want to take bets on: when Internet censorship starts; when local top officials and judges start fleeing; when an actual HK Independence movement comes into being?

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A busy summer ahead

Beijing’s shopping list for this summer in Hong Kong: the National Anthem (Compulsory Adoration) Bill; perhaps moves towards licensing of news reporters; some sort of disqualifications/ballot-rigging/plain cancellation for Legislative Council elections; extra-stern no-nonsense huffing and puffing about Article 23 National Security laws; and more patriotic education in public schools, including an attack on evil Liberal Studies – a syllabus that somehow leaves students imagining the government is garbage. (So pernicious is this course that it even has this effect on older generations who never took these classes.)

The pro-CCP DAB will make a show of raising some or all of these (plus a ban on eating cats and dogs) at the ‘two meetings’ in Beijing later this month. Dozens of Hong Kong’s great and good have been rearranging their diaries to fit the two-week NPC/CPPCC charade into their busy schedules after it was postponed from March due to the coronavirus.

Not only will the shoe-shiners, tycoons and ‘heavyweights’ have to undergo virus tests upon arrival and departure – they will be confined to their hotels when not doing the daily choreographed snoozing/hand-raising/study sessions thing in and around the Great Hall of the People. For two weeks. (They are normally free to dine and hobnob in the evenings, have a massage, and even discreetly sneak back to Hong Kong for a half-day.) For the Beijing-co-opted businessmen, in particular, this will be a torment.

I couldn’t possibly comment…
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Oh, how’s the search for a PR agency going?

Hong Kong’s top civilian officials and whoever runs its police force are obviously reading from different scripts.

The Financial Secretary agonizes about renewed protests harming post-pandemic economic recovery as…

…fewer people patronise shops and restaurants because of gatherings and conflicts, or businesses have to pull down their shutters temporarily.

Fair point after months of semi-lockdown.

Meanwhile the police celebrate Mothers’ Day by going nuts in shopping malls (using social-distancing rules as a massively unconvincing pretext). A selection of clips from Twitter show the cops freaking out at CitySuper, pepper-spraying a food court, and apparently squabbling with one another. Among other mayhem, they assault lawmaker Roy Kwong, bully and manhandle assorted kids, line dozens of people up against walls, force reporters to kneel on the floor, and God knows what else.

The HK Police are no doubt stroppy after having a bad week, in which media exposed senior officers’ illicit property arrangements, a bunch of them were caught dealing in drugs (and not on a small scale), and they get a dead detainee on their hands, among other problems.

But the frenzied rampaging over people singing in malls at this time is probably part of a bigger strategy: Operation Just-Another-Thousand-Arrests-Will-Do-It Part 9. It looks like someone high up in the chain of command – Ministry of State Security, or new bosses at the HK & Macau Affairs or Liaison Office – is calculating, in their wisdom, that if the cops really ramp up the pepper-spraying and arresting, they can nip the post-pandemic resumption of anti-government sentiment and activity in the bud, oh yes.

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Lessons in controlling the narrative

I now definitely declare the weekend open with the rest of this week’s attention-worthy stuff…

This seems to have been the week that China lost the battle to control the narrative on how it tries to control the narrative: Politico on Beijing’s ‘ham-fisted’ attempts to influence opinion in Europe; Axios on Chinese officials’ oh-so classy demands for public praise in exchange for medical supplies; and NPR on Chinese security agencies’ hounding and silencing of volunteers following the pandemic.

One exquisite example of CCP overzealous soft power backfiring: China Daily publishes a wishy-washy letter from Euro-Weeny ambassadors, and could easily have left it at that – but censored one marginally unflattering fact, thus creating a whole new story. In a similar vein, China is so frantically opposing any sort of investigation into the virus’s origins that it is looking far more guilty (of something) than it probably ever would otherwise. 

A flashback to 1996 – old Lu-Lu spelling out Hong Kong’s future autonomy. (Note polite laughter and overall fawning from the eternal tycoon shoe-shiners gathered round the Beijing emissary.)

Michael Chugani in EJ on Beijing’s double standards when it comes to consumer activism. Why does the Yellow Economic Circle idea immensely annoy Beijing’s officials? Obviously, it hurts their business-sector supporters. But mainly because it is an expression of popular will beyond their control: the CCP can rig ballots, but not wallets.

David Webb finds the Hong Kong government misled lawmakers to include those poor starving stockbrokers in the anti-epidemic handout to local businesses.

Minxin Pei in Nikkei Asian Review on how COVID-19 upset China’s bet on Africa. Compare Beijing’s obsession with direct control of natural resources supplies with other resources-poor countries (eg Japan), which invest in their own secondary and tertiary economic sectors, and pay the going rate (which can go down as well as up) for raw materials on global markets. The difference in attitudes probably comes down to insularity and paranoia versus trust in the outside world.

Pei also gives an interesting interview on Xi Jinping’s actual power here

…having too much power can be a liability. The decision-making process can be so skewed toward complying with the wishes of this most powerful decision-maker that many of the risks and potential pitfalls are not vetted … The Belt & Road Initiative is my favorite example. From whatever angle you look at this policy, it is a dud. But you have to ask why that policy was made and implemented with such fanfare in China.

Lisa Movius in The Art Newspaper on the migration of art galleries from Central to South Island and Kowloon. (Who will occupy the empty premises along Hollywood Road – a dozen relaunched Hooters?) And lest we forget: Wallpaper’s fave trendy Hong Kong designers – including tycoons’ kids – are also suffering. Complete with pix of curated artisanal chairs.

Finally, in the local-history department: the loss of Cathay Pacific flight 700Z over South Vietnam in 1972.

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Government joins HK Coalition in mask-inundation

Busy lining up for one of the Hong Kong government’s ultra-sexy free crony-manufactured ‘underwear masks’ (with a view to keeping in original packing for sale as historic artefact on eBay in 30 years’ time). So an early plunge into a weekend’s worth of attention-worthy links…

The Diplomat on ways Beijing might try to neuter Hong Kong without provoking the West into ending the city’s special status…

The Chinese government knows that if it can persuade the world that terrorism exists in Hong Kong, and that it is as severe as the terror threat facing many other nations today, the international community will be less critical of Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong.

On a similar theme, Just Security on the ending of One Country Two Systems

…Beijing’s latest crackdown in Hong Kong is a dramatic escalation … it represents the fruition of several gradual processes in which Hong Kong’s autonomy was undercut. Each of these processes has been visible in Hong Kong’s political landscape for years — in some cases, they predated even the Umbrella Movement. Yet, until the protests of 2019, mainstream consensus on Hong Kong among outside analysts was that there was little cause for concern.

To put these two articles in context, the HK & Macau Affairs Office issues a blood-curdling warning about the ‘political virus of black forces trying to undermine Beijing’s authority and make Hong Kong independence through bombings etc’ – violence that the SCMP thoughtfully recounts at length unquestioningly.

Wonder how the Hong Kong government’s search for a PR agency is going while the Central Government releases statements like this?

The venerable Ian Buruma in Harpers on the emerging resistance to Chinese Empire

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, sees it as his patriotic duty to return Taiwan to the motherland, by force if necessary, under the same formula as Hong Kong: “one country, two systems.” He was foolish enough to stress this goal last October. President Tsai Ing-wen, who was lagging behind Han Kuo-yu in the polls, vowed to resist the idea. Her campaign motto was a warning: “Hong Kong today, Taiwan tomorrow.” Her poll ratings shot up, and in the end, she won the election in a landslide.

Another Geremie Barme translation – Academic Zi Zhongyun’s essay An Old Anxiety in a New Era 1900 & 2020 on…

…the disturbing echo that can be readily detected between the xenophobic extremism of late-dynastic Qing politics and recent developments occasioned by the 2019-2020 coronavirus epidemic.

Top CCP-watcher Richard McGregor having a ‘chinwag’ (you can read the transcript or listen to the recording) about what Beijing’s behaviour over the virus tells us.

The also-venerable Francisco Sisci on why China is nervous about North Korea (genuinely illuminating, with historical and US-Russia-HK-Taiwan angles).

China Digital Times compiles Chinese diplomats’ greatest hits. And a Twitter thread summarizing Beijing’s (or a Beijing think-tank’s) oh-so classy and sophisticated PR strategy to win over the world.

Via HK Free Press, the China Media Project on Chinese regimes’ fondness for ‘blood-soaked dumplings’ – or contrived tear-jerking, emotion-blackmailing, suffering-laden propaganda.

Reuters’ award-winning photos of the Hong Kong protests. And more on the Human Rights Press Awards.

A journalism student writes about his time in Hong Kong for his hometown paper in Nebraska (might help if you’ve ever been to the featureless and snooze-inducing state).

Another victory for Hong Kong soft power: the (never-seen-it TV thing) Westworld creator credits the city’s protests for inspiration.

Bitter Winter on how Uighurs became ‘terrorists’ and what it’s like to look like one.

Bloomberg looks at how Taiwan had a good pandemic. Also a plan to de-Sinicize liveries and documents. And a stunning painting of old gritty urban Taiwan – looks like Renegade Province is acquiring Hong Kong’s heritage-retro-nostalgia.

In case you missed it…

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Depressingly hackneyed alliance of shoe-shiners unveiled

The Hong Kong government decides its number-one harmony-promoting priority following the virus pandemic is… pushing through the National Anthem (Compulsory Adoration) Bill.

And former Chief Executives Tung Chee-hwa and CY Leung launch a ‘Hong Kong Coalition’ to counter the city’s anti-government movement.

The new grouping is almost a parody of a Liaison Office-driven United Front operation. Its other faded and unpopular leading members are ‘heavyweights’ Tam Yiu-chung and Maria Tam. As if that’s insufficiently unappealing to public opinion, it drafts in every property tycoon and his son(s). Its first Big Original Initiative to grab hearts and minds: to distribute face masks to the peasantry.

Like that lame idea, the website suggests that the supposed alliance has been hastily put together – though someone must have worked overtime arm-twisting 1,500 other shoe-shiners, especially from business and universities, into signing up.

Maybe a few less-discerning blue-ribbon types will get a kick from this stale concept and its stale cheerleaders. Its main purpose is the classic United Front tactic of ‘unifying’ loyalist elements – forcing fence-sitters to publicly align themselves with the Party. Maybe this worked under Lenin in 1920s Russia or Mao in 1950s China. But in Hong Kong in 2020, the masses will find it amusing at best, otherwise just pitiful, and certainly alienating.

Some mid-week links…

From HK Free Press, a handy explainer on the Expat Cops Illicit Property Scandal Uproar. And a great thread on the subject, complete with delightfully unflattering commentary on the officers involved.

If the Shoe-shining Alliance of Shoe-shiners want some ideas on how to design a website with cool graphics, some HKU people have released an Anti-Extradition Bill research database, including a timeline, stats and a glossary of phrases. Also, an amazing and addictive poster search engine.

Asia Sentinel proposes a fascinating theory about how Beijing’s paranoiacs see the unrest in Hong Kong. It’s not the CIA that’s behind it – it’s Xi Jinping’s enemies in the Bo Xilai faction.

Also perhaps to be taken with a pinch of salt, the latest leak received by Reuters suggests that Beijing fears the virus pandemic could boost global anti-China sentiment (hey, d’ya think so????) A ‘pinch of salt’ because of course the leak could itself be a deliberate message to the US to not mess with us when we’re in extra-fragile hyper-panicky freak-out mode.

And in the spirit of Positive Energy – not only the people but maybe even the government of Hong Kong (or at least some departments) deserve a pat on the back for beating back COVID-19.

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