Taxpayers’ money joins HK’s reputation down drain

Most Pitiful-but-Funny Event of the Month for last September, we will recall, was the leaking of the Hong Kong government’s failure to convince any public relations agency to help try to reverse the drastic decline in the city’s international reputation. (Flashbacks here, here and of course here.)

HK Free Press reports that the Carrie Lam administration is not be deterred, and will do the job itself via a 50% boost in spending on the Information Services Dept for overseas promotional work.

As is readily apparent to anyone who looks at ISD communications material, the department comprises civil servants whose main target audience is the boss. Hence such sophisticated and persuasive messaging as Don’t Do Drugs Because They’re Not Nice – Let’s All Not Do Drugs! Sure enough, HKFP digs around the small print of the 2020-21 Budget and finds the ISD mission focusing on buzzwords our superiors will approve, like ‘Belt and Road’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘quality living’.

As the PR agencies no doubt explained to Carrie last year: this is not an image problem – it’s a substance problem.

Hong Kong is suffering a serious lack of government legitimacy. Rather than fix that (which the CCP refuses to allow), the authorities are trying to eliminate the main symptom, namely the protest movement, by bludgeoning it out of existence. The wider world sees this on its TV screens – and Hong Kong’s reputation as a stable, free city collapses.

The ISD’s strategy will be to transpose the government’s same inappropriate, counterproductive and heavy-handed response onto the field of communications. Rather than concede there is a problem, the PR campaign will insist that everything is fine, blaring out the same old slogans about rule of law and hubs. We can bludgeon the audience into believing!

McLuhan’s ‘medium is the message’ happening before our eyes.

A little morale-boost for the ISD spin-doctors as they start their work: the cruelest part of the September leak was that PR agencies refused to pitch for the Hong Kong account because it would harm their reputations. Ouch.

Posted in Blog | 11 Comments

The answer to yesterday’s quiz was…

some outfit at the Science Park

Today’s question is: can Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam find a way to use the Wuhan Virus to make herself look more ridiculous? And the answer is that she certainly can, proposing a ban on the sale of alcohol at bars and restaurants.

This was no doubt prompted by sensational tabloid exposes of a virus-carrying Westerner frequenting Lan Kwai Fong and having multiple/frequent/frenzied one-night stands. To add to the tabloids’ prurient freaking-out, it was a female. For extra added frisson, she was of an advanced age (well, 50) when she should have been knitting socks for cats or running Taiwan or something.

Critics accuse our cloistered bureaucrats of being puritanical or at least pandering to some ‘boozy rutting aging gwaipo’ stereotype. But in fact something else is going on.

What we are seeing here is the Hong Kong civil service’s obsessive-compulsive hyper-specificity – zeroing in on a high-profile but minuscule and barely relevant aspect of a problem, while of course missing the bigger picture.

Recent examples would include the (pre-pestilence) attempt to ban face masks on the assumption that these caused anti-government protests, and the subsequent bizarre (COVID-19-era) ban on charities buying yellow or black masks (on similar grounds).

This is a long tradition. Years ago, after a spate of trees falling and killing people, officials decided to attach a unique personal identity tag to every large-ish plant in Hong Kong. Another example was the shotcreting of every slope after one fatal landslide.

Perhaps the finest example came after a distraught man went nuts with flammable liquid at an Immigration Department office and burnt a staff member to death. Presumably, officials reviewed security in general, but their Big Idea was to issue personnel special vests with built-in fire extinguishers – as if this freakish and tragic scenario would become a regular event.

To the extent that ‘Westerners drinking and becoming intimate’ pose a public health risk, the government should consider blanket shut-downs of all restaurants and bars plus other non-essential gatherings like weddings for a few weeks. But it’s perhaps more palatable/cheaper to focus on specific, easily identifiable sub-groups and activities. The administration is (I hear) currently pondering how to stop domestic helpers from congregating on Sundays.

Posted in Blog | 15 Comments

Working today!

Which is more than we can say about Hong Kong’s whizz-bang space-age high-tech quarantine wristband app thing. Did this system come from:

1) A local university-Cyberport joint research project led by a pro-government professor using a grant from the Innovation and Technology Bureau’s Super Smart City Info-Hub Venture Fund Scheme

2) An obscure Shenzhen company with links to Huawei that also makes facial-recognition surveillance drones in a huge high-security compound in Xinjiang

3) The same civil servants who designed the Inland Revenue Department’s interactive website

Posted in Blog | 15 Comments

Your 14-day self-isolation links…

Not fair! How come lots of people I know get to be forced to stay indoors for two weeks, and I don’t? Sounds like my idea of paradise.

I declare the weekend (or, if applicable, quarantine) open with some absorbing reading matter…

An SCMP review of City on Fire, Antony Dapiran’s new book on the Hong Kong uprising.

The ultimate in timelines: the Hong Kong protests and the Wuhan Virus outbreak and cover-up.

Atlantic is impressed with Hong Kong’s pluck and resourcefulness in the face of the Xi Virus.

Ma Jian in the Guardian on the CCP/Xi’s own less-than-stunning performance. In HK Free Press, a proposal to call it the CCP virus.

In the interests of rubbing it in, more on how Xi’s China brought COVID-19 to the world, from The Hill.

Someone’s going to sue. Good luck!

SupChina on China’s crummy urban planning, sprawl and a raw deal for the folk from the countryside. (Reminds me of a pro-establishment guy at a social gathering several years ago. When some overseas visitors announced that they were heading on to Beijing, he looked at them in solemn wonder and said ‘It’s a beautiful city’.)

Bloomberg tries to unravel the mysteries of China’s budget.

Coda on the CCP’s rewriting of history on Islam and Uighurs.

For people who prefer video to words, Fox News before and after.

And a London 1665-Hong Kong 2020 mashup…

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Yesterday’s excitement…

China’s de-facto expulsion of NYT, WaPo and WSJ correspondents creates a new headache for the Hong Kong government. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs order that the US citizens hand in their press passes also barred them from pursuing their work in Hong Kong and Macau.

Where the affected journalists are not Hong Kong residents, this suggests that Beijing is openly infringing Hong Kong’s supposed autonomy in granting work visas (as opposed to intervening behind the scenes, as – presumably – in the FT’s Victor Mallet case).

Since it’s possible that some of the journos have Hong Kong residency, it also implies that Beijing feels it can forbid someone with the right to live and work here from working in the media (or perhaps any other profession or trade). This is absurd, not to say in contravention of the Basic Law. (More here.)

Of course, the CCP is not accustomed to legal or other curbs on its power in China’s sovereign territory. This puts the Hong Kong government in an impossible position. Its response to questions on the issue is embarrassingly vacuous, reciting stock phrases on local policy and quoting chunks of the MoFA announcement. No mention at all of what Beijing’s announcement means in practice. In this instance, the drafters of the press release had no choice.

Pray that one of the expellees does have a permanent Hong Kong ID and moves back here to carry on working.

Meanwhile, the High Court orders the MTR to release CCTV footage to a student who is suing the police for assault at Prince Edward Station on August 31. The materials can only be used as evidence for his case rather than released to the public, but at least something might now come to light.

Back to the ‘no legal curbs on its power’ CCP. Any Beijing officials watching this will see more reasons why Hong Kong needs to fix this troublesome ‘rule of law’ thing. They will probably be particularly unimpressed by the plaintiff’s use of a weird-sounding and clearly foreign legal device to get the videos – a Norwich Pharmacal Order.

None of that nonsense with the Mainland way of doing things. A Reuters report suggests that People’s Armed Police are observing the protests in Hong Kong. The PAP is the CCP’s version of a gendarmerie – paramilitary police tasked with internal order. Their presence suggests that someone in China’s paranoid hierarchy is absolutely serious about evil foreign forces being poised to use Hong Kong as a way to undermine the Party and topple the regime. The local fuzz, in their usual persuasive manner, ‘regret such an unfounded report’.

For light relief, lawmaker Regina Ip’s New (by which we mean ‘tired and faded’) People’s Party is tearing itself apart. Its other member – one Eunice Yung – is storming out in protest at being (she reckons) replaced as a candidate by a certain ex-Liberal called Dominic Lee, who (in all fairness to Eunice) sounds even more tedious. We eagerly await further developments. Zzzzzzzz….

Posted in Blog | 11 Comments

HK rejoices loss of silly title

As if Hong Kong’s bureaucrats are not miserable enough, the Heritage Foundation relegates the city from first to second place in its oh-so important list of Freest Economies in the Solar System.

Apart from the bureaucrats and the dogmatic fetishists of the Heritage Foundation itself, few took the ranking seriously. Anyone who understood the benefits of free markets wondered why the top spot kept going to a place where the state owns all the land and official policy distorts the whole domestic economy to benefit four or five families who operate a property development cartel.

Presumably, the logic was that ‘freedom’ = allowing tycoons to force Hong Kong middle-class home-buyers into semi-serfdom. The Heritage Foundation adored Hong Kong’s economy for how it worked in theory, rather than in practice. Perhaps Singapore’s leaders will be less enthralled with the think-tank’s attentions.

While the inevitable sulky HK government statement ensues, the Chinese authorities make clear their opinion of freedom by kicking out all US citizens working for the NY Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

The pretext is retaliation, though there is an obvious underlying desire to silence these outlets’ highly effective and embarrassing reporting on (in particular) Xinjiang concentration camps and the CCP’s disastrous handling of the Wuhan Virus. Most of all, it’s a Panda-tantrum – Beijing throwing all its toys on the floor in frustration at a world that won’t buy the CCP’s perverse fantasy of how and where the disease broke out.

Beijing is also apparently forbidding the expelled journalists from working in Hong Kong (where some might have residency, and would not require PRC Foreign Ministry press passes). As HK Free Press points out, this would seem to run counter to press freedom, and specifically Basic Law Article 33 guaranteeing residents freedom of choice of occupation. At least, when Hong Kong officials try to squirm out of explaining it, they won’t have to worry whether it means losing the precious Freest Economy tag.

Posted in Blog | 18 Comments

DB exceptionalism thriving

If my social-media timeline reflects reality – which it does, inerrantly – Hong Kong’s gwailo population is either despicable for not taking Wuhan Virus seriously enough, or pitiful for overreacting and descending into hypochondriac paranoia.

There are the Westerners who come up with reasons you must wear a mask with the zeal of the most desperate blockchain fanatics. And there are the expats whose idea of fun is joining hundreds of others crammed into a side-street bar area that looks like the descent into Hell even without a pandemic.

But maybe it’s not so clear-cut. The expats congregating in Lan Kwai Fong like Korean Pentecostalist super-spreaders are, from my observation, the same nervous ninnies who buy multiple gallon bottles of distilled water from the supermarket every week because they are too precious to drink the stuff that comes out of the tap. And now the stereotyping has surely jumped the shark – with Apple Daily doing an expose on plague-ridden sai yan roaming at will in our midst.

Perhaps, you may conclude, if you average it all out, white people are not really much different from everyone else. Except, of course, you would be wrong. You have forgotten about Discovery Bay – a land where time and space as we know them have no meaning.

Over in the enclave for Occidentals who find Singapore too messy, exotic and zany, they are taking WuFlu especially seriously. Vigilantes are now threatening to shoot quarantine-breakers on sight…

That’s a message from a joint called Hemingways. Aptly named for a place promising instant justice to carriers of pestilence, no? Rugged, manly and using short no-frills sentences. (So I look it up. ‘A range of tasty meat substitutes’, it says. Maybe not.)   

Posted in Blog | 23 Comments

Rectification of the fence-sitters coming

Lau Siu-kai, a gruff semi-official oracle who translates CCP-speak into human language, confirms what most assume – that Beijing is going to more formally end the grip of Hong Kong’s bureaucrat-tycoon ‘elites’ on the city’s power structure.

(The SCMP is quoting an article in a HK & Macau Affairs Office-sponsored journal, not apparently online yet.)

While he cuts through the CCP’s impermeable rhetoric, he leaves Leninist mendacity intact. He maintains that the post-1997 administrations that continued seeing ‘One Country, Two Systems’ in 1980s and 90s terms (insulating Hong Kong politically from the Mainland) ‘failed to implement’ (ie adapt to the redefining of) the formula. Civil servants who have adhered to their traditional impartiality have in fact deviated from it. Loyalty to Hong Kong is ‘disloyalty’, and officials persisting in this are ‘dissidents’.

The most pressing sins of the elites of course concern the Extradition Bill controversy that blew up into a popular uprising. Lau blames the officials for heeding public pressure and failing to act severely enough against the protests.

Essentially, our top officials have tried too hard to balance Hong Kong’s interests and those of the Central Government.

He also accuses officials of protecting their personal interests and says opportunists and even dissidents are among local ‘patriotic forces’. Sadly, he doesn’t name names. But at the very least he must be referring to (supposedly) pro-Beijing tycoons who have kept their heads down or tried to sound even-handed as the public rebelled against the CCP-appointed leadership. This is probably also a warning to any members of the harder-core pro-Beijing political groups who might be tempted to pander to public opinion.

Obviously, Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her sorry rabble are toast. But Lau’s channeled message does not necessarily indicate a full-scale purge of the establishment (which would at least offer some amusement). Beijing’s local power base is too thin for that. But it does suggest a rectification campaign: a classic United Front squeeze of the co-opted useful idiots as the CCP consolidates its control over a reluctant territory.

It will not be enough for moderate pro-establishment types to merely avoid saying anything nice about the opposition; they will have to actively join in blood-curdling denunciations, and visibly display their total loyalty to the CCP. Some of the more genteel bureaucrats will probably back out – but expect the property barons’ kids to start bleating about Xi Jinping Thought.

Lau’s analysis of course disregards the possibility that the CCP might have any responsibility for Hong Kong’s predicament. It is the Hong Kong population who are wrong in failing to have ‘national identity’. Their lack of respect and obedience towards the CCP are due to foreign forces and insufficient patriotic education for the young.

If you want to carry on being Beijing’s friend, you will loudly agree and take part in putting that right.

Posted in Blog | 17 Comments

Emphasis on ‘fingers crossed’

If Chief Executive Carrie Lam had an ounce of political sense, or just basic people skills, she would now start drafting a speech to deliver in maybe a month or so. In it, she would praise the Hong Kong people for their effort and spirit in the face of WuFlu. She would admit that her administration perhaps wasn’t always as quick to respond as it could have been – but the city’s people had the initiative and resourcefulness to take their own precautions regardless, and helped by dedicated health-care, cleansing and other staff, the community had come through largely safe. She would express her respect and thanks.

Obviously, this is the last thing she’ll do. But with the virus sweeping the rest of the world, Hong Kong can (fingers crossed) give itself a pat on the back. Here’s a good description of how Hongkongers…

…convinced our government was failing at a time of crisis, as it had since June 2019 … acted as if the virus was already here and raging undetected.

…and went back into SARS mode. The article says that the twin assumptions that the threat was real and the government useless created a version of herd immunity – other viral infections also fell this winter.

Asia’s other (former) ‘little dragons’ did it their own way. While Hong Kong was avid about masks, school-closures and social distance, Taiwan ended traffic from China early and rationed protective supplies, and Singapore nagged about hand-washing and threatened quarantine-breakers with extreme punishments. No-one knows how well each precaution on its own worked. But the lesson is clear: act fast and just do the whole lot.

Another lesson is that, if possible, you should be a small centralized city-state or modest-sized island nation, rather than have a sprawling patchwork of municipal health departments and hospital systems.

Lastly, there’s an element of luck. In South Korea, just one person at a church meeting led to hundreds of infections. As Trey Menefee points out, the actions of Mainland authorities in Shenzhen and Guangdong fortunately helped insulate Hong Kong. Then again, if Mainland authorities elsewhere hadn’t screwed everything up, we would never have had a problem in the first place.

I declare the weekend open with a little selection of related items. Unmitigated Audacity of the Week Award goes to China’s foreign ministry spokesman for suggesting that the WuFlu virus came from the US. One of China’s top doctors has been fired for rejecting CCP-promoted ancient voodoo treatments. And Mainlanders are using imaginative ways to spread WuFlu information online without getting censored – including putting sdrawkcab stxet eritne and using Hebrew, Morse code, Braille, emoji (good luck with that) and something called ‘Elf language’ (with a beautiful script).

Posted in Blog | 7 Comments

Think of it as a premature obituary

From Vox, an in-depth mauling of Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s hapless Chief Executive/Beijing puppet.

This is like shooting fish in a barrel – though the author tries hard to be fair, considering the subject is the haughty, disaster-wreaking bureaucrat ‘who accidentally sparked an uprising’. And as the profile mentions, Carrie pretty much admitted in leaked comments last year that she is not really in charge of Hong Kong. The last 10 months’ catastrophic campaign to force the city’s people to kowtow and obey is a Leninist obsession. To Beijing, her main role now is as a scapegoat who at some point will likely be paraded around town in chains before being ritually defenestrated.

But hey – it’s entertaining…

He [Lee Wing-tat] had never seen her laugh more than five times in 40 years… [and] said she became increasingly arrogant and “supercilious” as she climbed up the bureaucracy … dismissive of other people’s opinions…

…on Valentine’s Day in 2017 [before her quasi-election]… Lam’s husband wrote a public letter that wished her luck in “contributing to the implementation of ‘one country, two systems’”…

The article doesn’t attempt to analyze the tragic woman’s underlying personality issues. (Is she so intensely imbued with her childhood rote-learning ways that she can’t conceive of alternatives to what she is doing?) It would be interesting to know how, as a devout Catholic (let alone native, well-educated, non-plutocrat, one-time student activist Hongkonger) Carrie finds total loyalty to the CCP apparently so effortless. Maybe Civic Party boss Alan Leong was thinking about her this morning when he endorsed a Global Day of Prayer for Hong Kong:

Let us confess we have sinned, humble ourselves by admitting our arrogance and conceitedness and ask for forgiveness and blessings.

Posted in Blog | 21 Comments