Not all fake news

Hong Kong’s favourite feline, Brother Cream, passes away – and, predictably, the Chinese Yuan promptly crashes 10%…
tw-brcrAlso, Hillary Clinton runs a child-abuse ring out of a pizza place in DC. Then it turns out she doesn’t. Then, after the chattering classes suspect revenge for Trump’s phone call with Tsai rather than shock at the death of the cat, it appears the Renminbi is fine and didn’t crash. Perhaps Brother Cream will be spotted alive, at Graceland.

Meanwhile, Chief Executive CY Leung displays his strategic leadership skills by rather elegantly stitching up Financial Secretary John Tsang, leaving his wannabe rival looking like a nasty brute who is unreasonable to those nice radical lawmakers we mature members of the executive branch must cooperate with. OK.

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Phone-call freak-out

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Nearly everyone struggles to get their heads around Donald Trump’s unlawful telephonic intercourse with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.

Beijing is projecting its own wishful thinking by publicly dismissing the call as a trick by the Taiwanese spinster/cat-lover and fellow splittists, with Trump as the naïve victim. The Communist regime thus assures itself that its ‘one China’ formula remains intact as the international consensus that downgrades Taiwan to a region (at least if you interpret it that way).

The really telling reaction, however, is from US/Western (liberal/‘elite’) mainstream or establishment or whatever commentators. To them, it seems to be a mark of insider-ish sophistication to accept Beijing’s definitions and preconceptions as reasonable. It’s an Orientalist ‘inscrutable-Chinese’ thing. Hence the unquestioned assumption among Western media and officials that Taiwan somehow causes the cross-Straits problem and disturbs US-China relations by being democratic and free. (For more on this, see here and here.)

Since Trump is flaky and unpredictable, it is natural for the Western-based chattering classes to see his conversation with Tsai as a stupid error. Their immediate reaction was essentially their own version of Beijing’s – that the call was a trick by Trump’s extremist advisors who are too dimwitted to understand the importance of mollycoddling the Panda and never hurting its feelings. The latest from cutting-edge trendy insider-ish sophistication is now that the Trump-Tsai call was a calculated move.

wp-trumpscasllThings are perhaps clearer to those of us who live up-close to Beijing’s klepto-thugocracy and see the insecurity, paranoia and economic vulnerability behind the mighty, confident emerging-superpower act. It is not too worrying or far-fetched that a Trump administration might start calling China out on its mercantilism, protectionism and use of overseas corporate acquisitions as extension of state power. (Perhaps the insider-ish sophistication types will revisit their bizarre vision of China miraculously assuming the US’s role in promoting a free-trade, rules-based international economic order.) But the idea that the US will start pushing Beijing around for its regional bullying and aggression, let alone viciousness towards domestic dissent, is: unlikely; or perhaps too good to be true; or simply too flaky-and-unpredictable scary to think about.

One helpful lesson from this, however, is how much Beijing relies on people overseas not questioning its (self-centred, arrogant, entitled, We-decide-who-meets-the-Dalai Lama) worldview. As Hong Kong’s localists have found out, it’s surprisingly easy to mess with the supposedly fearsome and confident Communist leaders’ minds. Since Trump does it somehow or other to everyone else, he probably won’t spare them.

 

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HK heading back to the 60s

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During several days while I was waist-deep in the pre-removal sorting of household junk, the rectification of Hong Kong continued in all its classic Leninist subtlety.  Three stories summarize the gloomy outlook.

The government appears to be seriously planning to purge as many radical oath-distorting Legislative Council members as it can. Officials are being suspiciously blatant, even leaking details of the number of lawyers involved. So this could be their idea of managing expectations – a show to frighten the remaining pan-dem monkeys after the killing of two or three localist chickens, or simply to impress the overseers from Beijing.

If the government really does sweep eight or a dozen lawmakers out of office, it is steering Hong Kong towards potentially deep trouble. Many assume that the government aims to use an even-less-representative legislature to rubber-stamp Article 23 national security laws into being. But this is missing the point – Beijing already can and will kidnap and abduct people off Hong Kong’s streets to protect ‘national security’. The big picture is a significant decline in the already weak roles of the legislature and the election system (and scmp-travelofferpossibly the courts). And of course that diminishes the government’s already laughable legitimacy. Hong Kong’s style and method of rule could end up more ‘colonial’ in terms of intolerant, top-down control than at any time since the late 1960s.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party’s most cunning, scheming, profound micro-managing United Front brains have contrived an ingenious method to consolidate the Hong Kong government’s power base at this difficult time – give traditional moderate pan-democrats the right to cross the border and visit what is supposed to be their own country anyway. Delighted and flattered, the mainstream pan-dems and public opinion will obediently line up to kowtow to Beijing and reject the evil separatists. By way of icing on the cake, the aging idealists will enjoy many trips to the Mainland, where they will learn the truth about the wonders and benefits of the Communist one-party system. Yup.

Lastly, the latest gossip insists that Beijing has told Financial Secretary John Tsang to forget about being Chief Executive. If Tsang showed signs of original policy vision, we might lament this as a lost chance for Hong Kong to reform its distorted and crony-ridden economic structure. As it is, we can only mourn for the fact that the affable bureaucrat would not have embraced ever-more oppression to crush Hong Kong’s pluralistic spirit. That, in a second term for CY Leung, is the default scenario – as is greater discord and resistance.

 

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And now cards…

The end of the great clear-up is in sight. Among various dust-encrusted forgotten horrors from the past, a metal box of business cards, including those of some interesting and some not-so-interesting people…

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I am estimating this lot is from 15-20 years ago. But life was not totally uncool in those days. Tucked away among the presidents, Nobel winners, tycoons, media folk, politicians and all-purpose establishment bores – a Yelts Inn membership card.

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Book-sorting, cont’d

Is it worth keeping the Handover-ploitation Collection of (mostly 1997) books agonizing over the future of Hong Kong? Possibly…

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A few gems far too good to let go…

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On the bright side, I’m also doing this with clothing.

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A bookish ‘off’ day

Another few ‘off’ days beckon before my first house-move in nearly a quarter of a century. One task is to sort through hundreds and hundreds of books. (Pictures of volumes up for adoption may follow.)

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Meanwhile, on other shelves far away at 759, an exciting product…

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Japanese potato chips/crisps ‘who have imagined caviar’ it says in French. On the pack, they look like they have narrowly escaped death in a tragic fire. In real life, they appear to be crawling with some sort of fungal infestation…

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I could report them, and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department would dispatch trucks full of enforcement officers to round up every bag of the product in town. But instead, I courageously try them. Not bad – slightly fishy and salty, pretty much as you would expect as an occasional but hard-to-impress consumer of sturgeon roe. Such desperate new varieties of snacks often last just a few months before the marketing people withdraw them in shame, so it’s now or never.

 

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Man with nasty hair/jacket issues city dire warning

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The South China Morning Post devotes both its main and business sections’ front pages to a hitherto unheard-of but Extremely Important and Probably Intelligent and Influential tycoon from the Mainland called Chen Hongtian. (Shenzhen-based. We could add ‘property and finance’, but you guessed that.)

He runs an assemblage of Mainland and Hong Kong plutocrats with the menacing and sinister title of the ‘Harmony Club’. (It aims to strengthen the cooperation between enterprises and government, between banks and enterprises, and between Shenzhen and Hong Kong’ – thus a United Front-linked trough-space distribution machine.) He bought a Hong Kong home for HK$2.1 billion and a Wheelock office tower in Hung Hom for HK$4.5 billion.

scmp-takemyselfNow he dutifully blasts Hong Kong localists, because obviously anyone possessing such immense wealth and with such an impressive sense of Mainland nouveau-riche style must deserve our rapt attention as a noted authority on all matters to do with the city. (It’s the old ‘might stop investing here’ threat-or-promise that Li Ka-shing used to come up with before he calculated that Greater China has jumped the shark and the opportunities are in the UK/Europe.)

Meanwhile, Hong Kong supposedly eagerly anticipates the December 11 Election Committee Sub-sector Elections. You are supposed to see the process as the selection of a sort of electoral college. In fact, a rigged group of voters elect a smaller rigged group of voters, who – after Beijing has already decided the winner – will cast ballots in the March 2017 ‘election’ for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive.

Some pro-democrats are allowed to participate in limited segments of the selection process. They debate how seriously to take it – they don’t want to legitimize a charade, but in theory they could cast votes in such a way as to highlight the farcical nature of the exercise.

The pro-establishment shoe-shiners who take part mostly pretend to take it seriously. Indeed, some may actually believe they are part of a privileged group of insiders whom the Communist Party has allowed to wield some power.

Since Beijing decides the winner ahead of time, no individual in the pro-Beijing camp will be presumptuous enough to express an intention to ‘run’ as a candidate for CE unless invited to do so. And because shoe-shining and obeying Beijing is key, no loyalist Election Committee Sub-sector Elections voters will openly support anyone at this stage – it would be a Communist United Front form of social death to back the ‘wrong’ candidate.

So all the shoe-shiners smugly grin and claim they have ‘not yet decided’ who to back. Last week it was a pro-Beijing group of engineers saying, after four years of mayhem, it was too soon to decide whether CY Leung deserves a second term as CE. They have to back Beijing’s eventual choice, because their pockets come first, and they believe their industry will be rewarded with yet more contracts for white-elephant infrastructure projects.

And today it is the accountants, blathering about how it is ‘too early’ to decide one way or the other, though sheepishly conceding that not everyone is rapturously wild about the status quo. What will the accountants get as a pat on the head for their obedience? Maybe a more-complex tax code – or just a few Bronze Bauhinia Medals. I guess the white-elephant projects generate fees for accountants at some point.

 

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Many happy returns, Stanley

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For many years now, every December 31, amateur actuaries with a twisted sense of fun have put casino/property mogul Stanley Ho at or near the top of their Hong Kong Celebrity Death Pool list. And every January 1, as they tick off their correct predictions and calculate their winnings, they ruefully note that the old guy has breathed another 12 months.

With just five weeks of 2016 to go, it looks like Macau’s most prominent tycoon has defied the odds again. The ever-groveling Standard celebrates Ho’s 95th birthday with a grinning-family-plus-cake photo and an enthusiastic account of the sprightly billionaire flinging money at worthy causes. A close look at the picture suggests a near-phantom, briefly unplugged from the hi-tech equipment at the hospice, unaware of anything, especially the vultures circling overhead.

I’m still not convinced. Shouldn’t there be a copy of yesterday’s newspaper on the table?

I declare the weekend open with an exciting selection of diversions. Another believable and generally grim outside-looking-in analysis of Hong Kong’s struggle against Chinese Communist Party oppression, including the phrase ‘irreversible feedback system’ (of the sort ‘that runs the risk of making Hong Kong, one of Asia’s most important international cities, ungovernable’). And talking of casino owners – an abandoned 1990s documentary about Donald Trump, in which business contacts, neighbours and others say pretty much what you would expect. Then, we have free booze…

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…being given away by Finland’s Consul-General in Hong Kong, if you come across him. I think the message is: since you people don’t buy Nokia phones any more, we’re desperate and going into the gin business, so try some.

Lastly, a (for some reason blogspot.hk) site that is essentially a shrine to 1970s UK civic/municipal communications-materials design and ethos, by way of a creepily surreal parallel universe – Scarfolk

scarfolkposter

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Greg So nominated for economics Nobel

The Hong Kong government informs taxpayers that the billions of their dollars it is donating to the needy and worthy fount of culture known as Disney will be ‘real’

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Citizens no doubt wonder how the government, which claims to be too impoverished to increase funding for things like health care or elderly services, can find this genuine, authentic cash. Since the money will be used to expand the theme park, they will also wonder how officials managed to find the land, when these same officials agonize over the impossibility of finding space for affordable housing.

The most obvious and profound question, however, is: ‘Huh?’ And the answer is: To cram more tourists into Hong Kong, of course. Because, as we all know, Hong Kong desperately needs more tourists.

In an attempt to justify the hand-out, Commerce Secretary Greg So said the 58 million people who have felt compelled to visit Hong Kong to see the trashy non-attraction added a whole 0.38% to the city’s GDP…

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In other words (even assuming tourist spending equals a net increase to GDP), in exchange for a barely noticeable reduction in wealth, we could have avoided being burdened by 58 million extra humans cluttering up our streets and stores. (And we could have used that space in northern Lantau for housing. Of course, So is omitting the government’s previous gargantuan funding for Disneyland, plus the value of the land, from his calculation. Factor those in, and what you get is a massive transfer of Hong Kong people’s wealth to the Mouse-malignance. ‘Real’ money, as he would say, down the toilet.)

Presumably having taken a range of hallucinatory substances earlier in the day, So then asks us to believe that the greater the number of visitors coming into Hong Kong, the more efficient our economy becomes…

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Yes: the longer citizens have to wait to get onto the MTR, the more they are delayed by Korean hordes with selfie sticks on the Mid-Levels Escalator, the slower the traffic in streets full of tour buses, the higher the rents for shops, and the farther you need to go to find stores serving your needs because they were displaced by some Overpriced-Junk-for-Tourist-Idiots merchant – the more productive our economy. Yes, Greg.

Anyone who wants to further worsen their blood pressure through even greater anger at wasteful and corrupt crony-government in Hong Kong (or any investigative journo types out there) could check out this titbit, and a little icing on the cake here.

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Moving day approaches, slowly

histhkAnother ‘off’ day, as preparations continue for the world’s most leisurely, drawn-out, slow-motion and lethargic residential relocation, from the Soho tong lau abode of almost a quarter of a century to a rented place up the hill.

The plan, ultimately, is to sell the old apartment, sit back and wait for the long-overdue Hong Kong property price crash – ideally in around six months’ time – then buy a reasonably good-value permanent place. In more pessimistic moments, noticing how Hong Kong’s home prices move inversely to the city’s quality of governance, prospects and happiness, I stop wondering ‘Island or Kowloon?’ and ponder something more along the lines of ‘Taiwan or Thailand?’

Anyway, there are hundreds of books, long-unworn clothes and multiple-identical kitchen utensils to sort out and discard in the nearer-term. With energy and effort (unlikely), the old place might be cleared and ready for sale by January-ish. But now a slight complication comes along, in the form of Richfield.

richfield-csrClosely linked to Henderson Land, Richfield are – some believe – such a scummy, putrid and loathsome pile of slugs that they make the rest of Hong Kong’s property development industry look cute and cuddly. Essentially, they buy up units in old buildings until they have enough clout to override holdouts, and then hand over to Henderson to demolish for redevelopment. Operators of this sort have been accused in the past of such charming tactics as enabling flooding or other damage to drive out residents, installing funeral paraphernalia in the property to freak out innocent old ladies, or locking gullible owners into agreements to sell with no money up-front.

The pushy, soulless Richfield-floozy who forced corporate 2017 calendars on everyone last week actually seemed fairly forthright (by the standards of utterly never-ever-to-be-trusted toxic slime). She has an uphill struggle.

The ground-floor owner rents his space out to a fresh restaurant-investor-masochist-cretin every two years, and wouldn’t trade it for a gold mine. (A smaller street-level property a few doors down is supposedly on the market for HK$70 million – which looks like a typo but isn’t.) At least half the other owners are landlords letting to young expat fools who buy drinking water from the supermarket and live off pizza. It will be difficult to get in these owners’ faces.

That leaves the resident-owners, namely me plus mostly humble and elderly indigenous folk who can recall the neighbourhood before it had a name or found itself tragically pioneering Hong Kong-style post-1990s gentrification-on-steroids. (Wistful nostalgia here, though only if you’re bored.) Like many older-generation Hongkongers, they are probably not gullible and indeed they are pretty tough – they lynch Jehovah’s Witnesses for breakfast. They would happily tell the Richfield-floozy to drop dead.

However, Ms Richfield-floozy has a lure. Her company, she says, is thinking of offering everyone an attractive deal to buy the place up. She says, matter-of-factly, HK$21,000 per square foot. Sometime after Chinese New Year.

It depends how quickly I can sort out all the books and junk. It would also help if Richfield did not have a reputation for lying, cheating and conning.

 

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