At last minute, K-pop saves world from authoritarianism

Your Mainlandization du jour – as expected – was the passing of the National Anthem (Compulsory Adoration (Sincere)) Bill. Seems it takes effect next Friday. I look forward to seeing mischievous versions of the dirge on YouTube before long.

Meanwhile, the wonders of our era continue. As if the US doesn’t have enough peculiar political demographics, vast hordes of redoubtable K-pop fans support Black Lives Matter by swamping police tip-off services and racist websites with video clips of (I guess) boy bands. Just when you were despairing about kids today and their musical tastes.

And in Hong Kong, the government’s attempt to ban the June 4 vigil flops nicely, prompting impromptu gatherings not only in Victoria Park but a dozen other locations, plus solemn memorials in churches.

For an extra bonus, the annual event becomes newly relevant to youth. In the outdoor gatherings, the sub-theme of the evening wasn’t the traditional ‘democratize China’ but ‘Hong Kong independence’. CY Leung is credited with inventing the concept of a HK Independence movement; the CCP is responsible for making it a reality. This is a classic asymmetric struggle: one side has all the guns; the other has all the brain cells.

Perhaps with a few exceptions. Weirdly, apart from in Mongkok, the police stood back and let last night proceed in peace. What accounted for this uncharacteristic fit of common sense on the part of the cops? It’s hard to imagine their advisors in the Liaison Office caring about how bad it would look to tear-gas a bunch of people holding candles.

I declare the weekend open with another selection of suitably depressing links – many trying to work out what Beijing’s new national-security regime will mean for Hong Kong.

In HKFP, Patrick Poon explains how ‘subversion of state power’ could work in practice, and Kenneth Ka-lok Chan fears the worst for academic freedom.

Isobel Hilton in the Guardian is in little doubt that the Chinese leadership…

…has now effectively torn up the treaty it signed with Margaret Thatcher’s government and condemned Hong Kong to further unrest and decline. If Beijing’s desired outcome was stability and security, it has disastrously mishandled it. Few doubt that Beijing’s security law will criminalise dissent, undermine the rule of law and target prominent activists

In the Spectator, Sophie Mak examines officials’ use of dehumanizing language like ‘animals, vermin, insects, or diseases’ to portray the protest movement.

Simon Cartledge in LRB discusses growing repression in Hong Kong…

In January, China appointed a new hardline head of its Hong Kong Liaison Office. I wondered if the aim was to find out whether it would be possible to apply the coercive techniques used in Xinjiang to Hong Kong.

Or was it so the guy could spend his pre-retirement days feasting on dimsum? Find out here.

On a related subject: why are the HK Police so touchy about the 8-31 Prince Edward memorials?

Several Hong Kong journalists imagine how National Security laws will affect their work covering the city.

Kong Tsung-gan introduces his book, Liberate Hong Kong: Stories From The Freedom Struggle.

Before they get shut down – or the HK/CCP secret police start monitoring your online transactions (if they’re not already) – some causes to donate to.

Some people I follow on Twitter are beside themselves with rage to learn that Apple Daily’s Jimmy Lai does not share the entire spectrum of their political beliefs, and is a Donald Trump fan. Beijing’s decision to suppress Hong Kong is part of a much bigger struggle in the world and perhaps the start of a new phase of history. For those of us who wished they had been at a crucial place at a crucial date – your wish has come true. See it as a privilege to be alive and in the thick of it to witness such times…

Brian Fong in the Diplomat asks why Xi Jinping is making Hong Kong ground zero in the new Cold War? (He doesn’t actually say ‘damned if I know, the guy’s a total effing nut’ but there’s a hint of it.) 

In New Statesman, George Magnus ponders whether

Hong Kong could be the flashpoint for a possible financial war … At the very least, there could be close scrutiny over all capital transactions between Hong Kong and the US, spanning both foreign direct investment and portfolio capital affecting stocks, bonds and other financial products.

And other things, including threats to the currency peg, which sound a bit unlikely. But then we get to the ‘Yum – yes please’ part…

The United States could also sanction individuals deemed to be implementing the National Security Law, for example, by freezing their assets, and financial institutions thought to be associated or complicit with them. 

Drooling at the thought of how this would seriously wipe some smirks off certain pro-establishment faces.

On a similar note, CSIS mull over the interesting pros and cons of various US sanctions options in a fictional NSC memo.

Following HSBC’s forced kowtow, a thread on the CCP’s calculated use of economic coercion.

Christopher Balding with an important reminder: the conflict with China is not caused by or a reaction to Donald Trump, and is not the result of ‘poor communication/understanding’.

The Australian looks at the CCP’s warping of history to justify dictatorship…

…there are no compelling reasons for thinking the tragedy that befell northern Italy under the coronavirus pandemic had anything to do with latent collective memories of Zeus or Kronos.

China Media Project examines how Chinese official media are trying to cover the US protests without seeming to endorse Hong Kong’s own uprising.

From National Interest, US conservative think-tanky stuff on a potentially interesting tweak to the cross-straits balance of power.

The US officially protests China’s South China Sea claims at the UN.

A New Bloom interview with James Griffiths, author of Great Firewall of China – and maybe an idea of the censorship and surveillance that might be coming online in Hong Kong.

A glimpse into dark, twisted minds as some Mainland fine-arts students fantasize about the PLA invading Taiwan.

DeepThroatIPO’s latest witty/scary analysis of the analysis of Alibaba, including some delightfully rude comments about named analysts.

For history fans – Geoff Wade on the eunuch-commanded Ming-era maritime expeditions.

And a reminder that we in Hong Kong are not alone in praising the merciful Almighty for at least destroying the tourism industry…

…residents have been complaining for a very long time that the city doesn’t belong to them anymore.

From Sinocism discussion
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Hongs express warm and joyous support for law they haven’t seen

The Mainlandization du jour is a juicy one. After being tied to chairs and slapped around a bit, HSBC, Standard Chartered and Jardines finally kowtow to the emperor.

As with forced TV confessions, the point of extracting shows of ‘sincerity’ from these foreign companies is not to convince viewers the victims are speaking freely, but to send a signal to everyone else: this could happen to you. Indeed, if you are a prominent company making money here, don’t expect to avoid having to take a loyalty test.

Having submitted once, they will have to debase themselves again. Maybe they will have to publicly support the imprisonment of Martin Lee or censorship of the BBC website, or denounce UK or US policies on China. And it won’t stop at big firms. Want to practice as a lawyer or get a license to be a news reporter? Sign the loyalty oath. Or get disqualified. Entirely up to you.

It works on the Mainland. Whether it will win China many long-term friends or admirers in the outside world of which Hong Kong has always been a part is a different matter.

Remind me to switch my HKD into USD and work out this VPN stuff.

As Bloomberg says, these are testing times

The obituary of Hong Kong’s status as a global city has been written before … But there’s a strong case to be made that something more final is under way this time.

In other developments, we learn that the Minister of Public Security now has a permanent seat on Beijing’s top Hong Kong affairs body. And the HK Bar Association appeals to the NPCSC – in respectful simplified Chinese – for public consultation on the National Security law.

HKFP provides a guide to June 4 commemorations around town today. Victoria Park should still be open, and in theory you can hold a vigil with up to eight people (or maybe not if that means ‘splitting into smaller groups’ and the cops’ Mind-Reading Unit detects that all groups have a ‘common purpose’). Before setting off, you might also read this account from one of the 9,000 – a guy clued up on law but still messed around after HK Police arrested and held him last week on quasi-suspicion of unlawful assembly. (Update: oh.)

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Some Mid-Week Links

Your Mainlandization du jour: lawmakers can’t ask questions on sensitive subjects now.

Saw a report somewhere that one of the pro-Beijing heavybores (maybe Tam Yiu-chung) is suggesting that candidates who oppose the national security law for Hong Kong should be disqualified. With so many empty spaces on the ballots, what better reason for a complete boycott by voters? Let’s see Carrie explain a 20% turnout. (Update: yes, Tam.)

After all those SCMP op-eds on how Beijing’s decision to impose national security laws is your fault – here’s some relief from HKFP:

I am not going to predict what Beijing will do with the mess it now owns, but I do think it faces a choice.

And basically a load more links, to make it feel like this dismal week is approaching an end…

A quick and highly readable user’s review of the government’s Cu-mask. And, that notwithstanding, an attempt to solve the mystery of why – if three million of the things were handed out – you never see anyone on the street wearing them. It’s not just the ‘Maria Tam’s bloomers’ aesthetic.

AP reveals (or confirms suspicions) that China stalled on providing the coronavirus genome and detailed data on patients and cases, and the unseemly WHO gobble-gobble groveling was indeed a wretchedly putrid attempt to lure Beijing into handing the data over to protect the rest of the planet…

Even then, China in fact sat on releasing the genetic map, or genome, of the virus for more than a week after three different government labs had fully decoded the information.

WHO staffers debated how to press China for gene sequences and detailed patient data without angering authorities, worried about losing access and getting Chinese scientists into trouble.

Jerome Cohen asks whether the recent Ministry of Public Security statement on ‘directing and supporting Hong Kong police’ was a pre-emptive bid for influence versus the rival Ministry of State Security. And he offers a (perhaps by his standards naïve) hope that Hong Kong’s shoe-shiners…

…who until now have been paralyzed like deer in the headlights, will finally come together with positive, concrete proposals that might begin to restore public confidence and consensus and delay or moderate the anticipated, feared [national security] legislation…

Here’s someone else thinking it would be in companies’ enlightened self-interest to side with the Hong Kong protest movement. The problem is that our bureaucrat-tycoon ‘elites’ are not so much deer frozen in the headlights as bound hostages forced on their knees at gunpoint. We don’t know what the CCP has on each one, but we can be sure none of them will resist. At most, if you use your imagination and hold the pic at the right angle, Paul Chan might shed a tear.

More on the national-security laws whose content remains such a mystery. From HKFP, a rigorous search for national security threats in Hong Kong reveals… um, sodium chloride. (Which the government is always telling us to cut down on.) An Amnesty legal advisor looks at what Mainland experience suggests the new regime law will mean here. The International Commission of Jurists adds its view. Johannes Chan of HKU lists the ways the national security law will be of doubtful legality (as if the CCP cares). And Minxin Pei is not optimistic:

The people of Hong Kong will not submit to China’s police state without resistance … As Chinese security agents begin their enforcement activities in the coming months, they will likely encounter fierce resistance from local pro-democracy activists. Spiraling violence will precipitate an economic meltdown as capital and talent flee Asia’s global financial hub … China hawks in the United States will view this looming catastrophe as a godsend.

An LIKHG post predicting a major United Front effort to crush the yellow camp prompts a response suggesting that you hide your grandparents’ IDs the day before election day in September – which I pass on merely for its curiosity value. (This plus a voters’ boycott means a turnout of 8%!)

Finally, some badly needed laughs from the comedy dept…

Beijing thinks Macau can replace Hong Kong as an international financial centre.

On which subject – Aaarrgghhh!!! Another f**cking hub-zone!

If you think you can stomach it: an anecdote about an encounter with Stanley Ho in a men’s restroom.

And Bizarreness of the Week Award goes to Beijing city health authorities, who propose making it illegal (picking quarrels and provoking trouble) to ‘defame’ traditional Chinese quack voodoo-medicine. A welcome reminder that genuine science, like genuine representative government, doesn’t need protection from questioning.

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Prepare Your Pro-National Security Law Statement Now

Two Mainlandizations du jour. One: the police ban the June 4 vigil for the first (but presumably not last) time, using the coronavirus as a pretext. As expected. Two: the United Front is pressuring people into publicly backing Beijing’s national security law, even though no-one knows what will be in it.

Five university heads issue a slightly unenthusiastic-sounding statement saying they ‘understand the need’ for such legislation, and ‘the prosperity and stability of the country and Hong Kong are closely related to the future of young people’ (huh?), rounded off with backing for free speech and academic freedom. Two other universities’ heads give more neutral-sounding statements apparently when prompted by the SCMP; this will be noted. HK University of Science and Technology has some explaining to do.

At the same time, the chairmen of eight university councils produce their own rather more fulsome endorsement about how we have a ‘reciprocal obligation to protect the state’. These figureheads are government-appointed establishment shoe-shiners. In case you hadn’t guessed.

Also, 2,000 artists [sic] like Jackie Chan, whose trashy movies and songs make big bucks on the Mainland, sign their own groveling and oozy declaration of support for the CCP’s coming clampdown. Except some say they didn’t sign it. (Do I get the impression these objectors might be the ones with actual talent?)

Of course, companies are also under pressure to make a public kowtow to the almighty Panda. The tax-return can wait; if you run a serious-size business and want to keep the heat off, here – at no extra charge – is an acceptable holding statement:

‘We understand/accept the need for national security laws [as with the university vice-chancellors – essentially means you realize the CCP are paranoid power-crazed thugs], and we hope that with implementation of these laws, Hong Kong will return to stability/prosperity/normality’.

As a line-to-take, this should hold CY Leung and the Liaison Office Thought Police at bay for a few weeks while they hunt down juicier meat. But they will be back, and they will expect the full works at some point.

On the subject of lines-to-take, the Census and Statistics Dept needs rectification for getting their latest efforts wrong. The ‘line’ attached to their memo on provisional retail figures for April completely fails to blame such horrors as the 63% Y-o-Y drop in watch sales on evil foreign-backed separatist radical rioter scum, as required…

Haven’t had enough SCMP op-eds saying pan-dems and all of us brought the national security law on ourselves? Here you go!

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It’s your fault – so there

Mainlandization du jour: like pro-dem election candidates, startups trying to register companies are now being subjected to political tests.

Fans of parallels between the roles of the police in both Hong Kong and US unrest might like this thread suggesting that Minneapolis cops went ‘on strike’ and deliberately left criminals free to roam in certain areas as an act of revenge against community criticism. This echoes a suspicion/theory that Yuen Long police let triad mobs terrorize parts of the town on July 21 last year to ‘teach’ a hostile public what happens without the oh-so important cops.

The SCMP’s moderate/insipid/inoffensive op-ed columnists spontaneously announce that Hong Kong’s imminent subjugation is, well, all of our fault really, isn’t it? Both this one and this one say the blame lies with incompetence – on the part of local administrations, pro-Beijing politicians, the pro-dem camp, and you and me.

We are told from childhood that with power comes responsibility. The political system in Hong Kong is a top-down one: all power flows from the CCP in Beijing downwards. Beijing picks the local government. The rest of us – pro-Beijing figures with ceremonial titles or radical opposition firebrands – have no input. So how can we be to blame?

(Among the idiocies in Mike Rowse’s piece: ‘Who in the pan-democratic camp is advocating talking to Beijing?’ No-one talks to Beijing. You either kowtow and obey, or you are the enemy. There’s no third type of relationship you can have with them.)

This is a system where the people can elect an opposition but not the government. And the only constitutional role the opposition can have is in exploiting obscure rules (now being scrapped) to hinder the rubber-stamp function of the Legislative Council. This isn’t – as these columnists imagine – a cause of Hong Kong’s problems. Not even the incompetence or corruption of the executive branch is really a cause. These are all by-products.

A paranoid Leninist CCP at the top controls everything. It is by definition responsible when things go wrong. Beijing makes all the choices of its own free will.

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So next week can only be better, right?

I declare a well-deserved weekend open with a lot of probably-quite-depressing links, especially speculation on what Beijing thinks it’s doing.

Michael Davies in SCMP on what the national-security push means for Hong Kong’s rule of law…

…the central government is now seeking to force through a law that aims to control or intimidate its critics…

Bloomberg goes over LegCo and other events in last few months to put the national-security move in context: opportunism, panic, but perhaps most of all blind frustration that the emperor can’t do what he wants in Hong Kong…

“They’ve got two guys who are totally not familiar with Hong Kong issues, and who have governed provinces in China in a heavy-handed way and think they can do the same in Hong Kong,” said Kwok… “They want to use a new strategy of terror, fear, attacks, criticism, direct intervention.”

In the Guardian, Ilaria Maria Sala and Louisa Lim note how hasty it seems

…one measure of the speed with which these measures are being rushed through was [Carrie Lam’s] answer at a press conference to the question of who would be responsible for enforcing the law. “I am unable to give you all the details today,” she said…

Another sign that local officials had little warning is the backdrop to the presser:

The wording was cut-and-pasted from the official NPC motion. If local officials understood it, they would have thought up something at least slightly zippier. But they know no more than the rest of us – so just played safe and reproduced the Beijing jargon.

Jerome Cohen’s take:

What Beijing has done is to reverse last summer’s humiliating defeat over its failure to have Hong Kong enact extradition/rendition measures…

Similarly, from Kong Tsung-gan:

Also… the regime is doing it now to punish us for embarrassing it so badly in front of the whole world. To show the world who’s boss. This isn’t just an emotional but also a strategic response: the calculation of the hardline dictatorship is that you can never allow yourself to show weakness…

(From the same author: some anecdotal tales of resistance.)

The Jamestown Foundation’s John Dotson (before this week’s NPC meeting)…

Senior CCP officials likely believe their own propaganda about foreign subversion in Hong Kong, and are clearly concerned that unrest (and the example of open protest) could spread to other regions of China.

An extract from Jeff Wasserstrom’s Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink

Carrie Lam’s position in the current crisis is comparable in some ways to that of leaders of East Germany and neighbouring states decades ago when they were confronted with popular protests. She claims to represent the people … but her actions have been shaped, as those proxies to Moscow were then, by signals sent from a capital hundreds of miles away. One reason there was no crackdown on protests in Leipzig and East Berlin thirty years ago was that Mikhail Gorbachev had made it clear that he was not in favour of … a ‘Chinese Solution’ to the problem … The result was an end to Communist Party rule in East Germany …  Xi Jinping, like his immediate predecessors, views Gorbachev as someone who took the wrong course of action.

In Citizen News, Regina Ip’s old MA supervisor Larry Diamond

[The CCP] never intended to allow “gradual and orderly progress” toward democratic, universal suffrage in Hong Kong, because they lack confidence in their own system, and they fear that if Hong Kong were to become a democracy that it would also become a very appealing model for the rest of China.  So what they have sought all along is “gradual and orderly progress” toward “one country, one authoritarian system.”  Now they are tired of the “gradual and orderly” part of this and are no longer willing to wait until 2047 to crush Hong Kong’s freedom and impose direct authoritarian control from the center.

In the Sydney Morning Herald, Ben Bland says the ‘national-security threat’ Beijing sees simply comes down to the way Hong Kong’s success as a free society disproves the CCP’s Leninist doctrine…

The strong sense of separate identity felt by many Hong Kongers directly undermines Xi’s claim to be uniting and rejuvenating all the Chinese people. And the fact that Hong Kong’s success has been predicated on its British-based legal system and its international way of life undercuts Beijing’s efforts to show the world that its style of governance is superior. This is the subversion, separatism and foreign interference that Beijing is trying to outlaw with its national security legislation for Hong Kong.

…The party is not acting out of malignancy but a desire for survival … How can it sustain its image of infallibility if a free press and independent NGOs are exposing its flaws from within one of its own cities?

From the Australian Financial Review

Xi Jinping’s bulldozing of Hong Kong’s autonomy is actually humiliating for China. For all its superpower pretensions, the Chinese state has proved completely unable to manage the people of a sophisticated and free global city that is also a major world financial centre.

Ching Kwan Lee writing in the LA Times says…

One inadvertent consequence of Beijing’s latest action is that it further liberates people’s political imagination from the confines of the “one country, two systems” structure … freeing people to find their own paths out of the woods, perhaps ending up in a new destination. To Beijing’s utter dismay, the resounding new slogan in recent street and mall protests has become “Hong Kong independence, the only way out”…

We also now hear “Hong Kong people build a country” (using the same word as in Tung Chee-hwa’s given name, “build China”). It’s not just that Beijing’s move liberates the political imagination as leaves people with few alternatives. For the first time ever in Hong Kong, a genuine independence movement seems almost certain to form.

My other prediction is that, as other forms of protest are squeezed, satire, mockery, art and guerrilla theatre will take on a new significance as a tool of resistance. Here are some highlights of an interview (via Tsui Lok-man) with RTHK’s satirical talent Ng Chi-sum.

Wilfred Chan in The Nation offers a lament for Hong Kong.

If you can get through the paywall, the WSJ on the Kadoories – a Hong Kong tycoon-family who are ‘a barometer of Chinese openness to the world’. How long before China Light and Power passes to more Beijing-linked hands?

I’ve just rearranged my (at one time a joke) collection of ‘Hong Kong is doomed’ books…

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US notices HK no long autonomous

For anyone keeping count, Hong Kong has scored another couple of banana-republic-dictatorship points: Beijing is already looking to stitch up Jimmy Lai, Long Hair and Joshua Wong on spurious ‘national security’ charges, and Mainland teachers are coming to show Hong Kong educators how to indoctrinate the kids correctly.

The Hong Kong Police devoted yesterday to the tireless pursuit and heroic mass arrests of highly dangerous 14-year-old schoolgirls. They also found time to fire pepper balls at office workers in Central at lunchtime, and engage in assorted rampaging around Kowloon, detaining over 360 people. This was apparently in response to LegCo’s debate on the National Anthem (Compulsory Veneration) Bill, though it looks more like an opportunity to test a new tactic – arresting the entire public.

One theory is that the cops are compiling a database of protesters/dissidents/schoolgirls for Mainland security agencies to use in future. Cue a suggestion that the US offer refugee status to Hongkongers – something Taiwan is looking into.

This morning we wake to find that the US government has determined that ‘Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997’. A State Dept press briefing confirms that a variety of sanctions are possible.

The White House will also now consider sanctions against China for human rights violations against Uighurs. Euro-weenies tentatively join in the criticism of China’s suppression of Hong Kong. And a Canadian court dashes Beijing’s hopes that Huawei’s Ms Meng will walk free soon. You’d almost think Xi Jinping is massively screwing up everything. There’s so much to go berserk about, Beijing’s wolf-warrior panda-tantrum department doesn’t know where to start.

Annoyingly, the Hong Kong government has not (as of 10.30am) issued its own inevitable whiny defensive press release accusing the US of ‘interfering’ in local affairs. Presumably Mainland officials are dictating the wording to ensure it meets their exacting standards of idiocy and petulance.

The State Dept’s notification (to Congress) that Hong Kong no longer qualifies for its separate status is in the short term perhaps mainly symbolic. We must drool over wait to see if sanctions against local leadership materialize. But even if they can still get visas to visit the US, our local bureaucrats will see this as a further humiliation.

For reasons of self-preservation, these officials are having to give themselves a drastic image make-over. They have always been pro-business and cosmopolitan, at ease among the Davos types, reassuring the globalist titans of their commitment to the market, small government and an open economy. Now, nearly every day, they must learn a new, insular language about ‘our motherland’ and ‘foreign forces’, and at least be seen to mimic the CCP’s attitude of hypersensitivity and mistrust, if not hostility, toward the international community they once swanned around in.

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Stanley Ho chooses good time to check out

There are cops on every street corner this morning ahead of the LegCo rubber-stamp-debate on the National Anthem (Pretend to Respect) Bill. (What are they expecting office workers on Des Veoux Rd to start doing?) And we are learning more about Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong.

To no-one’s surprise, it will target groups as well as individuals (not to mention thoughts as well as deeds). And a parallel court system – with only Chinese citizens as judges – will try people accused the various new offenses. This excludes any judges with foreign passports, which might reduce the choice a bit. Alvin YH Cheung noted two years ago that the pro-Beijing camp was starting to pick on non-Chinese judges and the whole common law system as alien.

According to that Asia Times story, a venomous pro-Beijing ‘heavyweight’ is demanding swift trials and ‘enhanced sentencing’ for the law’s targets.

A HK Free Press columnist asks what’s going on in Carrie Lam’s mind? We could ask this about all sorts of people. One is Grenville Cross, former Director of Public Prosecutions, now purveyor of histrionic far-blue commentary in state media. He pushes not just the standard pro-establishment line of businessmen/bureaucrats under duress, but a full-blown mouth-frothing diatribe worthy of a politburo member for CGTV. (That’s the global propaganda outfit that’s just been in trouble for bias in the UK.)

What is the story with these people? Many of Beijing’s co-opted loyalists in Hong Kong need to keep in the CCP’s good books to safeguard family or other business interests or wealth. For some, it is a career move. Some mediocrities crave social status or the sense of being an ‘insider’. Others became patriotic/xenophobic in response to colonial-era racism. Then there are victims of serious personal CCP pressure, including blackmaily type nastiness. In some sad and twisted cases (remember Elsie Tu?) turning pro-Beijing is a cheap if self-destructive form of revenge after being slighted – like an incensed lover having a one-nighter with some repulsively gruesome ogre after being dumped. 

Anyway, Jerome Cohen puts Grenville in his place with a (quite witty) riposte.

On the subject of pressure, Mainland-linked companies are reportedly ordering staff to sign pro-national security law petitions. And it seems the CCP still hasn’t forgiven Cathay for its subversive-foreigner sins. For a sinister-hilarious glimpse of this future: how Hong Kong U managed to make Stanley Ho’s death all about Edward Leung of HK Indigenous and imprisonment fame.

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Don’t Panic!

Trying to think of historical parallels for dictatorships crushing developed free societies. The qualifiers mean the fall of Cuba or South Vietnam to Communists don’t come close. Czechoslovakia in the late 1940s? Though it was in ruins.

Here’s an interesting comparison: Taiwan in the 1950s, after the Kuomintang Mainlanders took over the former Japanese colony. (The article is from 2018 when Beijing’s creeping ‘comprehensive jurisdiction’ was starting to replace Deng’s non-mixing of well and river waters.)

To take your mind off such things, smarmy Chinese officials and local Hong Kong weasel-puppets rush to say ‘don’t panic!’. Beijing’s direct imposition of national security laws is aimed at only a few people, will end Hong Kong’s problems and reduce the risk of terrorism and improve the investment environment. So stop demonizing! After all, every country has to protect its security and sovereignty.  

It’s almost as if they are shocked at the negative reaction.

Their defensiveness won’t reassure skeptics. Hong Kong already has laws to punish terrorist acts and other forms of violence. Even without national security legislation, it has an outdated colonial Public Order Ordinance and even creakier common-law riot and incitement charges. It uses ‘lawfare’ against political opponents – like public-health regulations to ban protests, and even inane Trade Descriptions offenses to trap activists. Indeed, Beijing already has the ability to force companies like Cathay Pacific to fire staff for their opinions. No new or extra laws seem necessary. What are the ‘loopholes’ that need to be plugged?

Until Beijing can convince us otherwise, we must assume that the intention is to criminalize acts that are currently legal (because harmless to society), or to justify other curbs on citizens’ freedoms. In short, to silence dissent – to control, to Mainlandize.

The Bar Association notes that sidelining local political and legislative structures is unconstitutional. Except according to Leninist logic it can’t be. So this whole exercise formalizes direct rule by Beijing.

The CCP obviously intends to take greater control of courts. As Reuters says, the NPC motion…

…states that Hong Kong’s “judicial organs” along with its government and legislature “must effectively prevent, stop and punish acts endangering national security”.

Danny Gittings points out that even if the courts don’t fall into line, Beijing can issue an ‘interpretation’ simply declaring the new law to be in line with the Basic Law (thus not subject to the latter’s free speech and other protections).

Perhaps a likelier possibility is a Beijing-obedient parallel national-security court system, with only dependable loyalist judges. Either way, Mainland security agencies will operate overtly here. George Magnus expects:

They will be diligent in trying to suppress dissent, curtail freedom of expression and assembly, and introduce arbitrary detention and other forms of repression. 

Perhaps this parallel jurisdiction will have its own prosecutions agency and prisons, too. They will presumably need a lot more cells. To quote Prof Ma Ngok: “Usually the penalty will be much heavier when it is national security.”

One of the main targets for national security laws, as Tofu-for-Brains and others ceaselessly remind us, is Evil Foreign Forces conspiring with radicals in plots to overthrow the CCP. In practice, as Antony Dapiran points out, this could endanger foreign media organizations and reporters, foreign NGOs, academics and ‘any foreign business or individual whose home country has a turbulent or strained relationship with China’. It will also of course (and primarily) ensnare locals who have dealings with such evil foreigners.

If Mainland use of national security laws is any guide, anyone – local or foreign – can ‘subvert the state’ simply by openly disagreeing with it, or helping or talking to someone who does. Just the threat of being accused of such vague, catch-all offenses intimidates every individual, group or business.

Among other delights, there is Mainland-style tech, telecoms and surveillance regimes to look forward to – Internet censorship, bans on VPNs, and the ‘dystopian’ facial-recognition social-credit scores and so on. And propaganda in and out of schools. And loyalty tests for the public sector. And who knows what else.

But it will only affect a small number of extreme radicals.

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One last spin for the old faithful ‘We Are Right, You Are Wrong’

For two decades, the Hong Kong government has relied on a default template to promote and explain its latest steaming pile of garbage: the oh-so persuasive We Are Right and You Are Too Stupid to Understand argument. After deploying it to dazzling effect with a certain Extradition Bill a year ago, they bring it out again (perhaps for the last time) for Beijing’s National Security laws.

Thus we have a swiftly orchestrated show of support from top officials whose opinions the public consider buffoonish at the best of times. Even poor Chief Health Dweeb Sophia Chan is required to cut and paste stuff about terrorism on her Facebook page, apparently at 3.56 am. (Update: here comes more.) As a kiss of death, Beijing officials add their toxic endorsement to the campaign. If all else fails, we can always have a video of Jackie Chan as Goodwill Ambassador singing the Internet-Censorship-is-Good-For-You theme song.

It seems some Mainland and local officials are slightly perturbed by the negative reaction from the markets and international community to the National Security law plans. They assumed the world would look the other way, as it always has with South China Sea grabs, Uighur prison camps or Belt and Road debt traps. Maybe Xi Jinping has miscalculated this time. If so, we can expect them to tone down the We Are Right spin, and put more effort into convincing us that the new laws will ‘only target a small group of people’. With oodles of sincerity, charm and warmth, of course. But perhaps, following the Covid pandemic, the rest of the world might finally have woken up about Xi’s China.

Hong Kong represents an impossible contradiction: a free, pluralistic society that’s part of a one-party Communist dictatorship. Leninist logic is that anything the CCP can’t control is by definition a threat to the party’s monopoly of power. (If you have an independent judiciary or free media, it follows that the party does not have a monopoly of power.) But you can’t have a vibrant international financial centre without rule of law and a free flow of information and opinion. ‘One Country Two Systems’ was supposed to accommodate this contradiction. But unless Beijing genuinely treats Hong Kong as essentially detached and insulated from the rest of the country, the two systems are incompatible – one of them has to go.

Jimmy Lai has joined Twitter; Global Times already sees grounds for prosecution…

A couple of interesting items:

A new view of Hong Kong protests – from a bicycle.

And should we in Hong Kong start thinking about VPNs?

Also some lengthy responses to the National Security clampdown…

NPC Observer explains the NPC’s decision on a NS law, how China’s legislative process would insert a law into Annex III, and the issues of overlap with the basic Law and potential conflict with Article 23 legislation (suggesting Beijing’s lack of concern or preparation). Scroll down to Section 6 for the main point – ultimately they can do what they want.

From CHRD, a long list of ways Beijing uses ‘national security’ as a tool of oppression in the mainland, and a statement demanding withdrawal of the planned laws.

Human Rights Watch’s statement.

And one from Human Rights in China.

Also, a huge report from the Progressive Scholars Group on the Hong Kong Police.

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