A thorough disinfecting…

The South China Morning Post gives the street-sleeper found dead in a McDonalds the nearest she will probably get to an obituary…


It could almost be a metaphor for China’s Hong Kong policy here – to leave the city ‘thoroughly disinfected and operating as usual’.

The thorough disinfecting is underway with the Communist Party’s United Front-ordered blackballing of Johannes Chan. Here is Hong Kong U Faculty of Law’s statement, and some other commentary hot off the presses here, here and here.

The effort involved in barring one low-profile figure from one obscure job looks like overkill. Beijing’s Liaison Office and/or agents and proxies had to work overtime and inflict damage to others’ integrity. They illegally hacked into HKU’s emails in search of dirt, leaving the Hong Kong Police publicly complicit as selective non-enforcers of the law. They arranged for Beijing-owned propaganda organs to publish literally hundreds of stories in an over-the-top smear campaign against Chan. They somehow or other pressured pliable members of the HKU Council into voting against Chan for embarrassingly pitiful reasons, leaving them exposed to public ridicule. And HKU is still in the lurch, as it has to find a willing, Beijing-acceptable candidate who can match the rejected Chan in terms of reputation.

United Front tactics rely on intimidation and fear to isolate enemies and leave them friendless. Obviously, overt pro-Communists back the anti-Chan campaign. And the broader establishment has to feign nonchalance or some sort of even-handedness. (SCMP columnists today claim to have ‘no idea if Chan is mediocre or distinguished’ and insist, in effect, that Communist agents hacking emails cannot justify a student whistleblower infringing the corrupted HKU Council’s ‘deliberative privilege’.) And various academics may well be cowed into silence. But the episode has otherwise only highlighted the Liaison Office’s true nature and alerted Hong Kong and the world to what is happening.

The brutishness of Communist officials engaged in a life-or-death struggle for control in a pluralistic society could almost be comical. In the latest attempts to win friends and influence people, the forces of darkness are at this time mounting a propaganda campaign against Li Ka-shing, the God of Hong Kong’s tycoon caste, and (reportedly) planning to erase colonial symbolism from the city’s mailboxes.

So – are China’s officials going to go through all of this to eliminate every real or imagined Johannes Chan out there?

To the extent that the ‘thorough disinfecting’ is successful, the ‘operating as usual’ part is of course finished. Hong Kong’s own officials and shoe-shining elite are waking up to this themselves. SCMP columnist Peter Guy goes back to the fundamental contradictions in the Basic Law


This is perhaps an insult to clerisies – ruling elites with some (originally priestly) sort of literary leanings. But of all the ‘various sectors’ in Hong Kong, the officials and government hangers-on look perhaps the least prepared. Long comfortable, smug and arrogant insiders, they are now faced with the reality that Beijing will see them as just as expendable as a law professor, or a tycoon, or a colonial symbol on a mailbox. To the Chinese Communist Party, everyone is ultimately just a street-sleeper in McDonalds.

On a brighter note – I will be visiting more-resolutely anti-Communist territory for the rest of the week, no doubt conveying much excitement on the Twitter-thing to the right…

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HK hit by ‘worst golden week’ since Shang Dynasty

The South China Morning Post’s headline-writers, unable to fit the word ‘complain’, use the slightly sensuous ‘moan’. Maybe ‘whine’ or ‘bleat’ would have been better. Anyway – Hong Kong retailers are in a huff because this has been the worst golden week ever.

SCMP-WorstWeekOriginally ‘golden week’ was the Japanese spring break, when (by the visitor-arrivals standards of the time) hordes of Office Ladies in lacy socks and funny hats clustered around the Landmark to buy handbags. Now, it means the bundle of public holidays around either Chinese New Year or National Day. I would have thought the ‘worst ever golden week’ in Hong Kong would have been that of 1894, when bubonic plague swept through the city, or maybe in 1942, when the Kempeitai were using civilians for bayonet practice. Surely the retail sector would have noticed slower consumer demand at these times? But if the Travel Industry Council say it was this week, I’m sure they’re right.

Commerce Secretary Greg So lists a wide range of measures aimed at boosting tourist numbers, or at least replace the Mainland Shopper Thing with visitors who might want to check out the local scenery and cuisine. Most of these supposed attractions date from previous administrations or are just Stuff Lying Around added to the list to pad it out (quaint back streets, hiking trails, etc). The tone of his reassurance to the tourism lobby – landlords, in effect – unmistakably echoes officials’ standard and unconvincing concerns about lead in water, overpriced housing or air pollution.

If you think SCMP headline-writers and officials are unsympathetic, see what the Hong Kong public have to say. Lower rents are good, they insist, and the retail sector should go back to serving local people.

The SCMP’s photo shows Mainland suitcase-draggers plodding around the streets with their stashes of Yakult and Louis Vuitton. The caption notes wistfully that fewer of them are coming to Hong Kong now. A close look at the picture shows that, indeed, there is roughly a yard of desolate empty space between each shopper-locust…


Such was the ‘worst golden week ever’. Or, if the Mainland-shopper phenomenon really has peaked at last, maybe we should say ‘worst golden week so far’.

One way to further reduce the tourist menace is to force visitors to look at something so vile and loathsome that their subconscious is forever scarred by the nightmarish image and they carry a subliminal phobia about ever visiting Hong Kong again. I declare the weekend open with the posters seen this morning outside a local construction site…


Yes, it’s an ad. Don’t you just want to rush out and buy a bunch of ‘Evisu’?

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PRC saved from deadly Johannes Chan threat

To no-one’s great surprise, the University of Hong Kong council rejects law professor Johannes Chan’s appointment to pro-vice chancellor. Judging from the leaked account, the veto was carefully scripted: each council member who voted against gave neatly distinct reasons, which taken together left no possible stone unturned. Yet Chan himself and other key figures are reluctant to publicly call this a Chinese Communist Party hijacking of the SCMP-HKUcounciluniversity’s internal affairs. It’s as if Beijing’s agents had never hacked their HKU email accounts, or mounted a year-long anti-Chan smear campaign, or pressured pro-establishment or vulnerable council members and bystanders to fall into line or be silent.

The Liaison Office’s obsession with ensuring that this one low-to-medium-profile individual must not take this obscure-sounding university post is puzzling. Yes, there’s the kill-chicken-scare-monkeys thing. Obviously, the HKU-Occupy-Benny Tai connection made him a natural target, one that would impress the bosses in Beijing. But it doesn’t fully explain the sheer amount of effort in terms of snooping, propaganda and arm-twisting that went into this. Something deeply personal or pathological known only in the psychology of Stalinism is going on.

And it is bound to be counterproductive. The message is supposed to be: avoid incorrect political movements and ideas, or your career will suffer. Maybe some academics scrambling for research grants or tenure will succumb, unnoticed by the rest of us. Otherwise, this episode can only provoke yet more anti-Beijing sentiment within Hong Kong and suspicion about China abroad. The real message is: yes, we’re thugs.

Council member Rosanna Wong (Dame Rosanna, sorry), HKU-grad and pre- and post-colonial do-gooder and all-purpose – and generally decent – busybody, said she voted no because she ‘worried that appointing Chan would split the school further’. I think this was her idea of a joke. If she had ‘…expected that rejecting Chan would increase the community’s love for the motherland’, it would have been a bit funnier, perhaps, but nice try.

Typically, Beijing’s local henchmen have a last laugh of their own, by leaving Rosanna and her buddies in their own doo-doo. After listing Johannes Chan’s every failing, they now have to find and approve a pro-vice chancellor who is demonstrably superior and adored by all stakeholders.

On the subject of irony, page 4 of the South China Morning Post describes how the US media highlighted the Pope rather than President Xi Jinping during the recent parallel visits, while the Mainland press pushed nothing but glowing coverage of Xi’s tremendous popularity and impact in the US. And page 12 of the SCMP has, well, nothing but glowing coverage of Xi’s tremendous popularity and impact in the US…


Meanwhile, away from the SCMP, some investigative reporting to read – more Howard Winn on the Zhuhai Bridge ‘moving island’ mystery/screw-up. He reveals that ‘…[insurance] loss adjusters have been appointed, which suggests matters are not as ‘normal’ as the government would have us believe…’

I declare the National ‘love the motherland’ Day midweek mini-weekend open with a challenge: name one thing that is as ‘normal’ as the government would have us believe?

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Another week, another Hong Kong political party

Behold the Third Side Middle Road Moderation Movement, founded by some not very Stan-Ex-Demsexciting people eased out of the Democratic Party for wanting a more conciliatory approach to Beijing and being willing to work with the local administration. According to the South China Morning Post

[Nelson] Wong, vice-convenor of Third Side’s preparatory committee, said: “As a middle-of-the-road political party, we welcome dialogue with whoever is willing to talk, be they the Beijing authorities, the pan-democrats, or the pro-establishment people.”

He also said they would have no problem accepting government appointments.

“That is a way we can influence governance,” said Wong.

Tik [Chi-yuen], convenor of the preparatory committee, said: “Being a middle-of-the-road party is not easy. The pan-democrats will say you are pro-establishment and the pro-establishment will say you are of the opposition camp.”

“So long as the donations are not conditional … we will not refuse any donations.”

So far, so On The Make. In Hong Kong’s stunted and deformed political system, parties can never form an administration. The disciplined DAB/FTU Communist Party front exists to mobilize the masses. The other groups serve mainly as platforms for personalities – either eternally idealistic pro-democracy campaigners or opportunistic/grasping pro-government sleazebags. There are more chiefs than Indians, and it is amazing that new groupings do not spring up daily rather than weekly.

But let’s look at Third Side’s other supporters. They include Shih Wing-ching, boss of Centaline real estate agency (and one-time student radical), an academic from the private Shue Yan University, and a boss from Hung Fook Tong herbal tea company.

The wealthy Shih is also connected with Path to Democracy, founded by Ronnie Tong, who left the Civic Party out of a desire for a more conciliatory blah blah etc. Shue Yan University has (through its founders and leadership) impeccable pre- and post-colonial establishment credentials. As a trusted Chinese-medicine brand, Hung Fook Tong does nicely out of the Mainland-shopper phenomenon.

Joining these dots, it is not too fanciful to imagine that Beijing’s locally based officials are pulling some strings here. We might think they have better things to do with their time
than divide and rule the hapless mainstream pro-democracy camp by nurturing obscure and desperate-looking rival bands of wishy-washy losers. But that would be to underestimate their obsessive loathing for the pro-democrats. This is one small battle in a vast war between the Communist one-party state and the hostile global forces that seek to contain China.

Which brings us neatly to the ‘One Belt, One Road’ vision-project thing.

Reading between the waffle and the slogans, this Chinese policy seems to be a cynical plan to export the country’s construction and infrastructure overcapacity while hooking backwater-nations and crooked regimes from Laos to Pakistan to Bezerkistan into becoming malleable tributary states, prostituting their resources and geopolitical position to the Middle Kingdom.

I recently met a pro-establishment figure who had apparently been at some sort of Beijing-organized ‘One Belt, One Road’ familiarization study group, where he had been converted with a vengeance. He assured me that I was barely scratching the surface.

The purpose, he said, was to ‘fence America out’ of the whole region stretching from the Western Pacific across Central Asia and possibly up to Eastern Europe, including the Indian Ocean. He assumed every other regional nation would relish this prospect. At one point, he excitedly compared China today with Japan before World War II, which I took to mean wishing/needing to free itself from dependence on Western powers for raw materials through expansionism. In his enthusiasm, he didn’t notice my shock or disbelief. He was getting to the climax of this sinister side of the China Dream: the really, really big deal, he concluded, was the replacement of the US Dollar as the world’s major currency.

I put it down to Communist officials’ talent for spreading inspirational messages among its more gullible, eager-to-please followers. But then I read this scariness, in which a PLA major-general presents a Party gathering with his thoughts on Taking Over the Planet.

It’s pretty lengthy. Essentially, the guy has read up on the last century of international currency arrangements, noted a link between the US Dollar’s value and global upheavals, and concluded that the US systematically arbitrages on its control of both the world’s currency and its political and economic events. In other words, he is convinced that the US is not only powerful and devious but smart enough to micromanage the coming and going of international wars, revolutions and economic crises in order to manipulate its currency and rip off other countries. For all I know, trendy Trotskyites, anti-Jewish banker freaks and others would agree. But here’s the point: rather than denouncing this evil Yankee conspiracy against humanity, the major-general simply says that it is now China’s turn.

I look forward to Third Side announcing their position on “One Belt, One Road’ some time.

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Front-page news


Impressed! While we knew tycoon Lui Che-woo’s grandiose quasi-Nobel ‘Prize for World Civilization’ would get a splash in Hong Kong’s shoe-shining media, we didn’t expect quite this level of high-profile fawning. The quantity of cash – HK$2 billion total or HK$60 million a year – helped catch the eye, of course, and the Communist Party’s approval of the harmony and positive-energy claptrap didn’t hurt. And then, of course, the glowing coverage might just also reflect the importance of the old man’s K Wah Group and Galaxy casinos as sources of advertising revenue.

Buried away elsewhere in the news…


So the legal profession has to allow one of its members to moonlight in some Sino-New-Age quack ‘alternative medicine’ baloney, while some United Front malevolence tries to get a doctor disciplined for manning a first-aid station during Occupy.

But double standards can come back with a vengeance. Ask the MTR, which has recently decided to make it a daily practice to bully local young musicians who carry their instruments on trains.

It doesn’t take much lateral-thinking effort to turn this into another localist battle in Hong Kong’s mighty ongoing war between Good and Evil. Hongkongers ZitherGirlcarrying cellos get penalized while Mainland shoppers are free to clutter up the transport system with cases of Yakult and (reportedly) washing machines and mattresses. One category of passenger is peaceful and creative, while the other inconveniences everyone and makes money for landlords, so (without wishing to labour the point) no prizes for guessing which one gets picked on. A protest at Tai Wai Station – a key Locust Express stop – is now planned. Bring a piano. (I declare the weekend open with the thought that, in fairness, MTR staff brave enough to mess with the redoubtable-looking ‘Zither Girl’ possibly deserve medals.)

By ‘legacy’, we mean ‘embarrassing, narcissistic-delusional, puke-making vanity ego-trip shamelessness’.

By ‘legacy’, we mean ‘embarrassing, narcissistic-delusional, puke-making vanity ego-trip shamelessness’.


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HK to launch more quasi-Nobels

Today is Shaw Prize presentation day. Nasa scientist William Borucki will pick up the award for astronomy at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, along with winners in the life sciences and mathematics categories. The ‘Chinese Nobel’, as it is sometimes called, was founded by late movie mogul Sir Run Run Shaw. What it lacks in stature compared with the venerable European institution it at least partly makes up for with generous cash prizes for the laureates.

Yet by coincidence – or possibly not – a second Hong Kong-funded Nobel-type award will be launched today, just next door at the Grand Hyatt. This will be the Lui Che Woo Prize for World Civilization, named after himself in all modesty by property and casino tycoon Lui Che-woo. (No website, but his lawyers have copyrighted the name, so don’t you dare go pirating T-shirts.)

Apart from his flat cap and the Hong Kong K Wah construction company, Lui is best LuiCheWooknown for the Galaxy casino empire in Macau. They have obviously been affected by Beijing’s ongoing clampdowns on corruption, capital flight and all the rest – with profits for first-half 2015 down 43%. Recent action against the sleazy junket money-lenders suggests Macau’s booming ‘gaming’ industry (money-laundering, loan-sharking, triads, hookers, migrant labour and grotesque architecture) has peaked and is sinking back into the slime. So Lui could use something to cheer himself up, and what better, at age 85, than something that links his name for posterity with ‘advancing civilization’ and ‘the betterment and welfare of mankind’?

The media invite…


CondieWah, so high-class lah! One of the prestigious deeply rooted international experts in attendance will be former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Why Condie? Or maybe I should put it ‘Why, Condie?’ I would hate to think she’s hard up. I’m sure there’s a good reason.

Secretary for Financial Services KC Chan will represent the Hong Kong government – his boss the Financial Secretary, and his boss the Chief Executive, apparently being otherwise engaged, unfortunately.

CY does make it to the Shaw one. Notwithstanding that, it will be interesting to see how our tycoon media-owners’ news outlets manage their coverage of the rival Shaw and Lui quasi-Nobel events. While one grandee is dead and the other getting on, there are younger generations to shoe-shine and both dynasties have potentially useful historic or current Mainland connections. It’s not that pre-emptive kowtowing will bring any obvious benefits, just that nagging doubt about what unpleasantness could conceivably happen if you fail to show due obsequiousness. But how to divide the relative groveling between the two? It’s the sort of worry that keeps newspaper-owning tycoons up at night.


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Your tax dollars at work


A collective noun for Hong Kong public-works screw-ups? Coming up…

A complete and absolute Donald of white-elephant infrastructure horrors dominates today’s headlines. RTHK conveniently has them all: the Zhuhai Bridge artificial island is sort of moving; Express Rail Link contractors might stop work if the money runs out; and the Central Market re-uglification project will no longer feature something called a ‘floating garden’.

A fuller investigative piece on the Zhuhai Bridge thing is here by Howard Winn (formerly of the South China Morning Post, which apparently can’t bring itself to pick up the story). The problem is that the reclamation method used for the artificial island housing the border facilities – while relatively environmentally friendly – needs a long time to settle, in a sort of ‘now they tell us’ way.

The bad news is that this means the whole bridge connecting Hong Kong and Zhuhai will be delayed. The good news is that no-one will notice or care because the link is destined to serve no useful purpose anyway.

It could have made sense back in the Pearl River Delta export-manufacturing miracle boom days, but that’s history now. A fallback excuse for the project was that it would deliver billions and billions more Mainland tourists and shoppers into Tung Chung and Central, but of course that idea now goes down like a cup of cold vomit.

The unspoken reason for the bridge is that it symbolically attaches uppity, insufficiently de-colonized Hong Kong to a humdrum semi-crappy bit of the glorious motherland, which means ‘integration’, which is a Good Thing. Plus, of course, someone’s making a bundle out of all the contracts.

The Express Rail Link from Kowloon to Shenzhen similarly exists to satisfy some sort of psychological need to make Hong Kong appear connected with and absorbed into the rest of China. My hunch is that planning-oriented Communist ideologues are genuinely angered by maps that show the country’s high-speed rail network stopping at Shenzhen. Hong Kong, they would mutter, thinks it’s too important, too superior, too cool to be like all the other cities with their vaguely creepy-looking bullet trains. It must be forced to conform.

The big selling point was ‘You can get to Wuhan in five hours!! Yippee!!’ That failed to enthuse – as of course did the default alternative lure of ‘zillions of tourists’. So it’s just a Stan-RailLinkplain old white elephant. There is talk of work coming to a halt owing to unpaid bills. Sadly, this is far too good to be true, and is just a scare story designed to get extra billions flowing again. (The shortfall is HK$3 billion – mere beer money.)

Strolling to the office this morning, I helped a lost Scandinavian-accented backpacker. She said she was looking for Central Market. I replied that she was standing inside it. She asked how she could go upstairs. I said she couldn’t – it’s closed. So where, she asked, could she go to see the place where they sell the vegetables? Sparing her a trip to Park N Shop, I sent her off in the direction of Sheung Wan Municipal Services Building.

How many years ago did Central Market sell its last produce? I have no idea how you can spend so much time converting a largely open-plan four-floor building into an indoor park and food court. And then there’s the cost. It seems a six-month, HK$100 million job became a six-year, HK$1 billion one. All they had to do was knock a few old stalls out, give it a lick of paint and install some benches. Instead, according to the latest reports, the geniuses in charge have been unable to find a way to convert the rooftop into a public space without chucking half a billion bucks away, so they will now leave the roof as it has been all along. Or something. The public will have to be content with the rest of the building, assuming they live long enough to see this project completed.

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Li Ka-shing goes off-message

China’s propaganda machine takes a swipe at Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing for selling assets in the Mainland.


Li’s strategy – after raking in easy profits from Hong Kong’s cartelized domestic economy – has long been to buy cash-generating assets at the right time. It means spotting global trends early and thinking on a timescale of decades. A classic move was to buy stakes in Stan-TycoonWeatherscontainer ports around the world just as the massive 1990s-2000s expansion in international trade was about to take off. Another was to develop major commercial real-estate projects in top-tier Mainland cities just as China was entering its huge (related) boom.

A key part of the strategy is to sell the assets as the global trends are peaking, and move into the next big, undervalued, thing. In recent years, Li’s empire has been reducing its exposure to real estate in exciting, sexy, booming China and acquiring utilities and infrastructure in tired, drab Western countries. This repositioning is based on a simple calculation: China’s easy, fast growth is over, while Euro-zone disasters like Greece can only rebound – if you can think 10 years out. Time will tell, but growing signs of problems in the Chinese economy suggest the timing looks pretty good.

To certain Chinese officials and nationalistic public opinion, the coldness of this strategy comes across as ungrateful and unpatriotic. The act of selling assets should make no difference to China’s economy or people: no-one suffers if Li ‘moves investments out of the country’. Other companies take over the shopping malls, ports or whatever. But we can see reasons for resentment.

First, there is the perception that Li benefited from personal connections and influence. The famous example is the eviction of a McDonalds to make way for the Oriental Plaza project in Beijing (in which future Hong Kong Chief Executive CH Tung’s family also had an interest). Conversely, Li has donated fortunes to education and other good works in the Mainland. There seems to be an instinctive belief in the Mainland that emotions like patriotism, blood ties or mutual SCMP-StateMediaobligation should override commercial logic or market forces – consider Beijing’s orders to businesses and investors to prop up stock prices. For amusement, we could trace the origins of this attitude to feudal and/or Communist thinking, and maybe even the warped notions of ‘fairness’ arising from the China-victimhood fetish. The sourness of the People’s Daily quote about making Li ‘regret’ is thin-skinned, truculent CCP childishness at its finest.

Most of all, however, Li’s business-as-usual moves are inadvertently delivering a highly unwelcome, politically incorrect message: the Chinese economy has finally jumped the shark.

The Standard manages to turn the story into a shoe-shining opportunity in which Li is praised for the magnificence of his corporate PR team’s space-age reputation-management technology.

Meanwhile – if only Hong Kong bureaucrats could keep up with Li Ka-shing. In the 1990s, when the Pearl River Delta sweatshop export manufacturing powerhouse thing was taking off, it could have made sense to link Hong Kong with the western part of its hinterland. It would have given factory owners new room to expand, and enabled lots of lovely trucks to bring tons of cheap plastic goodies over to Hong Kong’s port for shipping to global markets. Today, the idea is redundant. Yet they are working on the thing, and it seems the reclamation is being rushed and it’s turning into yet another multi-billion screw-up. The good news: ‘the sea wall is not expected to fail but it may not keep the correct shape.’ (Update: more here.)

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Chen Zuoer fails to elaborate


Another week, another outburst of incomprehensible blather from some Mainland ogre seething at Hong Kong’s refusal or inability to believe and behave in the (unspecified) correct way.

This time, it’s former official Chen Zuoer. He is mightily miffed over the city’s failure to de-colonize and its perverse revival of de-sinicization (which is apparently rampaging around us as we speak). Such travesties of history, he maintains, are the cause of our economic woes and social strife. His key point is ‘things SCMP-ColonialHoldthat should be removed should really really be removed, while things that should not be removed should really really not be removed’. On which, the Standard notes, he does not elaborate.

Some might guess he is talking about young people waving British flags. This admittedly weird phenomenon is a protest against bad governance and apparent threats to Hong Kong’s cherished non-Communist values and non-Mainland character. It is a reaction to Beijing’s own policies towards Hong Kong, and Chen would be better off complaining to the relevant organs up there.

Others think he might be endorsing the idea that Hong Kong ditch its colonial-era positive non-interventionism and adopt more Singapore-style economic planning. Does this mean more Disneylands? More billions wasted on pointless infrastructure white elephants? More state-owned enterprises using Hong Kong as a base for the greater East Asia ‘One Belt One Road’ co-prosperity sphere project, or cultural tentacle-creep like the Communist-Warner Tentpole thing?

He did not elaborate. By comparing us unfavourably with Macau and Singapore, he could be advising Hong Kong’s people to be more docile, in which case he may be disappointed. Or he could be encouraging our policymakers to focus ever more blindly on GDP growth as an end in itself by cramming more and more tourists and guest-workers in, in which case he is preaching to the converted.

All we can be sure of is that Chen has malice towards Hong Kong in his heart. Even the city’s Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam, who should in theory heap groveling praise on such Beijing ranting, tells him to be ‘more tolerant and trusting’, which in patriotic shoe-shining terms pretty much means ‘shut the hell up’. Obviously, Tam would be more civil if Chen were still a serving official with the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. But it seems at least some people in the Hong Kong government recognize that the barrage of Beijing bluster is counterproductive. Unfortunately, Chinese officials have a limited range of social skills when offended by a refusal to kowtow: mouth-frothing table-banging freaking-out is pretty much it.

On a lighter note, along with a massively heavy glossy supplement about ‘Mice’, today’s South China Morning Post comes in a wraparound promoting a company called Brunello-something, which apparently sells furry boots – essential in Hong Kong in September…


What depraved orientalist exoticism is going on in the ad agency’s murky mind? The photo seems to show survivors following an aircraft crash in the mountains. A pair of plucky Euro-trash help a delicate Asian babe who is overcome with distress. The hairy Italian-looking guy feigns concern, while his red-headed dominatrix companion eagerly anticipates whatever unspeakable loathsomeness the two are planning. Let’s face it: if this doesn’t make you want to rush out and buy some furry boots, what will?

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Of zero interest

It’s not as if 25 basis points is going to make a detectable difference to anything in reality, but Janet ‘accommodative’ Yellen just has to drag this out for at least a few months more. Still time for Hong Kong property developers to rope a few more suckers in…


Yes, you still have to sleep on the sofa until 2018.

Zero interest rates are supposed to encourage borrowing, and thus help the world recover from the financial crisis of 2008, which itself was caused by overly low interest rates and too much borrowing. The alternative is to instill financial rectitude by making borrowing painful – a system that served humanity well for thousands of years but seems just too much like hard work in today’s world.

Unusual economic events make for pretty strange charts. Here is a fairly normal one, showing how borrowing increased in three Asian countries as they developed over the years. It’s an easy graph, with the y axis showing credit as a percentage of GDP and the x axis showing time…


This is a weirder one. It shows the same thing but over the course of rises and falls in GDP per capita. It does not show time in the form of years, but you can spot events as lines go backwards or loop round. The Japan line’s reversals in direction show economic contractions that took place in (I think) the mid-70s, the late 90s, early 2000s and in the last few years, when the figure falls from around US$38,000 to US$35,000. The Korean line does a neat loop, which would have been the country’s sharp contraction around 2009, since when per-capita GDP has gone from approx. US$14,000 to over US$20,000…


And yes, China has reached roughly similar levels of credit-to-GDP before barely hitting per-capita GDP of US$5,000. I declare the weekend open with the comforting hope that it probably doesn’t matter and will surely sort itself out.

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