The Laura Cha petition

October 31st, 2014

Yesterday’s hilarity was brought to us by Laura Cha, the establishment worthy who said that freed slaves in the USA had to wait 107 years for the right to vote, so the people of Hong Kong can as well. If we want to be charitable, we could point out that she also admitted to Les Echos that three administrations’ inaction on growing inequality was part of the problem, adding that had been an Executive Council member all the time.

But do we want to be charitable? Or do we want to skewer these people who insult our intelligence with ignorant and offensive blather? Could it be that fairness or even-handedness towards this lady right now would be misplaced, and that for the greater good we need to show these buffoonish shoe-shiners no mercy, but cause them as much pain and embarrassment as possible?

That sounds more like it. So…

It seems that among her many positions, Laura Cha is an independent non-executive director of HSBC. She also sits on the esteemed bank’s ‘Nomination Committee’ LauraCha-hsbc(whatever that is – not to be confused with the 1,200-strong Chief Executive Nomination Committee, on which, as a National People’s Congress deputy, she would also sit). And, to make everything just positively exquisite, she is on its Conduct and Values Committee.  This sub-board aims to ensure that the company ‘acts responsibly towards the community’ and ‘ultimately helps people to fulfil their hopes and realise their ambitions’.

How’s that skewer coming along?

Anyway, some bright spark has launched an on-line petition urging HSBC to distance itself from (‘denounce’, indeed) Laura’s distasteful and stupid remarks. It’s here, and takes just seconds to sign.

You can also add comments. Hard to know where to start, but Laura’s ‘slave’ quip reveals something about how Hong Kong’s ‘elite’ thinks. One of the impulses behind disenfranchisement of blacks after Reconstruction was lowly southern whites’ need for someone to look down on and their fear that even ex-slaves could out-compete them. Strip away the inherited wealth, the flashy chauffeur-driven cars, the sometimes questionable college degrees, the on-a-plate appointments to prestigious committees, the Gold Bauhinia Stars and the cartelized industries, and Hong Kong’s ruling class includes a fair bit of mediocrity. Many of them wouldn’t last five minutes on a level playing field. The clever, creative, energetic kids with umbrellas frighten them.

This doesn’t necessarily apply to Ms Cha herself: for all I know she worked her way up from sweeping the floors at the Stock Exchange. I see that she went to university in Wisconsin. Not sure why – nothing personal – but my immediate reaction: cheese.

I declare the weekend open.



Love the motherland – talk crap!

October 30th, 2014


The word is out: if you are one of Hong Kong’s great and good and you want some sweeties or a pat on the head from Beijing, you better start talking crap. Not that our establishment worthies need much encouragement. Involuntary pre-emptive shoe-shining is part of their DNA. They have just had a nasty shock after seeing Liberal Party leader James Tien dragged into a corner, given a severe smack on the bottom and sent to bed with no supper. And, hey – they’re just good at it anyway.

The financial bureaucrats are leading the way. Monetary Authority boss Norman Chan says the city’s pro-democracy protests will shake the foundation of the local financial market (yes, the one he oversees) and damage the rule of law. His predecessor Joseph Yam also spouts the ‘rule of law’ warning, predicts a loss of employment opportunities and fears a reduction in Beijing’s ‘preferential policies’ towards Hong Kong. For the record: those ‘foundations’ are 100% intact; the main threat to rule of law seems to come from overzealous law enforcers arresting people for wearing Captain America costumes; we have, if anything, a labour shortage; and the idea that Beijing has ‘preferential’ policies for Hong Kong is a myth.


It takes real skill to compress so much crap into so few words. Of course, it helps to present the doom as forecasts. Chances are that, by the time it becomes clear that the horrors didn’t happen, we’ll have forgotten that Norman and Joseph mentioned them. Won’t we?


Executive Council member and markets regulator Laura Cha takes a different approach: history crap. Unlike the hackneyed warnings about the economy and law, this is exotic and attention-grabbing. Indeed, it can be quite memorable. And that’s the problem. As ex-Security Secretary Regina Ip found with her comments 12 years ago about democracy and Hitler, this sort of crap gets you into hot water.

Stan-LauraYamLaura says: “American slaves were liberated in 1861 but did not get voting rights until 107 years later, so why can’t Hong Kong wait for a while?”

Let’s not quibble over 1861 (Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation was a couple of years later, and the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865). And let’s ignore ‘107 years later’, 1968 (the Civil Rights Act was in 1964). Her main assertion is simply wrong. Freed (male) slaves were given equal voting rights after the Civil War (the 15th Amendment, 1870). A white, especially southern, backlash – poll taxes, the KKK, lynchings, Jim Crow laws – gradually deprived them of those rights in the following decades.

More to the point, the whole analogy is absurd: is she likening Hongkongers to recently freed slaves? And what’s this stuff about ‘wait for a while’? If you have atrociously bad governance threatening livelihoods and possibly social order, you don’t ‘wait for a while’ to fix it.

Not everyone is joining in the Let’s Talk Crap for the Motherland campaign. A few of our biggest plutocrats have made vague let’s-all-be-happy-and-harmonious pronouncements, but most have been reluctant to say anything. Beijing probably understands. Everyone hates the property tycoons, so it would only make things worse if they stood up and said they support CY Leung and think he’s brilliant – not least because everyone would know they are lying.

Then there’s the curious case of Tsang Yok-sing, a leading figure in the Communist Party’s local front, the DAB, and president of the Legislative Council. By disputing whether evil foreign forces are manipulating the Occupy Central protests and fomenting revolution, he is directly contradicting one of Beijing’s key Bits of Crap You Must Say You Believe (of course it’s all run and paid for by the CIA – look at all those supplies of bottled water the protestors have in their camps). He is a born member of the Communist ideological faith, not some instant-noodle patriot tycoon shoe-shining whoever’s in charge. He has no business empire in the Mainland for Beijing to hold hostage. He is in some ways in a privileged position. But at the same time, he more than anyone should be echoing the official line perfectly.

We can only assume that he has permission to talk sense to provide a badly needed flash of credibility amid the constant idiotic diatribe, to reassure us that the powers that be have not lost their minds, and there is some sort of sanity at the end of the tunnel. A reminder that the talking of crap is to prove loyalty to Beijing, not to change minds in Hong Kong.

Imposing harmony, Communist-style

October 29th, 2014


We don’t normally associate the words ‘thoughts’ and ‘ideas’ with Hong Kong Liberal Party leader James Tien. Still, there they are. After the shallow and opportunistic SCMP-LiberalLeaderrich-kid tycoon guilelessly blabbed that Chief Executive CY Leung might consider resigning, he gets expelled from the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Snore-Fest.

Beijing is sending two messages. The first is aimed at Hong Kong’s plutocrat caste: You will be publicly totally loyal to CY even as his authority visibly crumbles – or else. The second is aimed at the rest of us: We are totalitarians who require robotic obedience, and those of you who cherish freedom have every reason to be out on the streets.

And so, one of the slimiest invertebrates on Hong Kong’s political scene finds himself improbably cast as a cheeky, loveable, roguish maverick and rebel-hero of the people – for a second time. The first was when he stabbed then-CE Tung Chee-hwa in the back over the Article 23 national security law in 2003. He had visions of the developer-centric Liberals attracting a certain strand of middle-class voter and was desperate to distance the party from the floundering Crop-Haired One, and Beijing indulged him. But this time it’s different. The tycoons’ hatred of CY cannot undermine the struggle against the evil, foreign-backed Umbrella movement.

James’s relatively cerebral kid brother Michael seems unsympathetic, saying that CPPCC delegates have a duty to stay in line and ‘should be prepared to pay a price if they feel a need to air their views’. Michael is a member of (Tung’s Article 23 mastermind) Regina Ip’s New People’s Party, which also targets that certain strand of middle-class voter. It possibly has a better chance of success, being more bourgeois-bureaucrat than cartel-inheriting entitled elite. But Beijing’s harsh with-us-or-against-us clampdown doesn’t make it easy.

The more authoritarian, student-hating, tycoon-admiring segment of the middle class (typically social climbers, no-hope HK Golf Club applicants, Bible-bashers or cops’ relatives) do exist, and they are more than happy to believe that Occupy Central is ruining the economy and harming rule of law. But these people should not be confused with mindless and devout followers of the Communist faith. As James knew in 2003, they will draw a line at some point, and it is quite possibly where someone says ‘you cannot have your own thoughts or ideas’, or ‘you must pay a price if you feel a need to air your views’.

The defenestration of James Tien is a tightening of the United Front squeeze machine: you submit to being squashed into the correct shape and stay with us, or you pop out and fall onto the wasteland with the other hostile forces. There’s no in-between. If – as someone with business on the Mainland or anything else to lose – you are very lucky and/or quite smart, you just might get away with keeping your head down (as a contrite James will no doubt now do).

Even looking like the Smarmy Idiot-Loser from Hell and endorsing Robert ‘Silent Majority’ Chow’s clownish anti-Occupy freak show won’t help you…


Because 87 minutes would take too long…

October 28th, 2014

One of the many remarkable things about Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy/Umbrella movement is the number of times it has started to fade, only to be rejuvenated when its detractors do or say something idiotic and counterproductive. It happened with Beijing’s White Paper on political reform, with murky cyber-attacks on Next Media, with the police’s use of tear gas, with attacks on protestors by inbred-looking New Territories types, and with Chief Executive CY Leung’s declaration that below-median wage-earners are unfit to vote. Even predictable and silly anti-Occupy activity, like the helicopter assault on the Lion Rock banner, or Robert ‘Silent Majority’ Chow’s latest United Front fake-signature campaign, flatter the movement and give it an extra spring in its step.

But the pattern is becoming less pronounced. It is ironic: the authorities’ assaults on the movement become feebler, and Occupy Central’s tendency to flounder comes to the fore. Yesterday, Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok showed a crass video portraying pro-democracy protestors as full of ‘hatred and violence’, and Occupy Stan-SecurityChieforganizers offered to stand down if the government holds a non-binding referendum – overseen by flying pigs – and they plan an exceptionally lame-sounding 87-second period of silence (one for each tear gas canister, apparently). Everyone is exhausted and badly needs to go home and have a good long rest.

But how many times have we thought that? The Chinese or Hong Kong government’s latest shooting-in-foot, backlash-provoking Mega-Stupid can’t be far away.

In time, maybe as the icy Siberian winds sweep south and plunge Hong Kong into its three-week 15-centigrade winter freeze, officials will finally run out of ways to screw things up, and the remaining Umbrella protestors will pack their tents and withdraw. What then?

I was asked this question yesterday and had to come up with an instant, vaguely credible-sounding answer…

See this in the context of several waves of protest in response to poor governance: Article 23 in 2003; various heritage/infrastructure issues in 2005-10; National Education in 2012; and now everything comes to a head with Occupy in 2014 – provoked by a proposed political reform intended to resolve the underlying governance problems. After much foot-dragging, Beijing has accepted a need for change in Hong Kong but has underestimated (or not kept up with) the scale of discontent, especially among the young.

The political reform package for 2016-17 seems almost irrelevant now; it has ‘too little, too late’ stamped all over it. Ditto whether CY Leung stays or goes. The question is how Chairman Xi Jinping fits minor-but-pesky-irritant Hong Kong in with the development of his personality cult, the subjugation of all but correct art/culture/thought, the eradication of corruption/rivals, and China’s transition to a services/consumption-based economy while preserving the Communist one-party state.

A clampdown to punish Hong Kong and force it to obey is out of the question: you would almost literally have to put everyone in chains. So there are two options. One is that, given his capacity for hard work, Xi decides to get the issue off his desk sooner rather than later, and gives the Hong Kong government a clear mission to get its act together, stop serving tycoons only and start winning over hearts and minds – accepting that this means allowing the city a bit more of its own identity and space. I would give this a (let’s say) 30% probability, being the most foolish optimist.

Alternatively, as the Occupy dust settles, local and national leaders think the worst is over, and it’s time for a few Band-Aids. Financial Secretary John Tsang announces monthly coffee and French movie allowances for every household; the Home Affairs Bureau hosts a free Kenny G concert to promote happy healthy harmonious living; Benny Tai and Joshua Wong accept seats on the Official Serious Commission of Inquiry into Why Students Aren’t Happy; and everything seems to go back to normal, to the intense relief of the property tycoons and bureaucrats. And under the surface everyone goes back to getting more and more pissed off, until – probably when the 2016 legislative or 2017 Chief Executive elections are underway – it all blows up again, and it makes 2014 look like a picnic. That gets a 70% probability.

Or something different entirely.

And the most clueless of all – Beijing

October 27th, 2014


At the last minute, Hong Kong’s Occupy Central pro-democracy movement abandons a planned poll of its followers over the ‘way forward’. To those of us too impatient to follow all the details, the saga suggests friction between academic/bureaucratic and spontaneous/anarchic tendencies – perhaps an attempt by OC SCMP-OccupyLeadersfounder Benny Tai and friends to impose some sense of direction over the various Umbrella sub-cultures scattered among tent cities and barricades in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and the Communard settlement of Mongkok.

The anti-Occupy forces are hardly a model of discipline, either. After doing nothing apart from shaking hands after anti-Occupy thugs assault members of the media, police arrest a herbalist. Officials awkwardly voice their shock. Under pressure from Beijing, the establishment tries to bolster its legitimacy by portraying protestors as a ‘threat to rule of law’; but the real threat to rule of law lies in the government’s response – such as apparently (implicitly, allegedly) looking the other way when the thugs do their thing. Meanwhile, like the lingering after-effect of an illness, ‘Silent Majority’ leader Robert Chow is back with another petition campaign; 652,970 signatures appear out of nowhere in support of the police and law and order.

Even the Mainland officials managing the situation don’t seem to have their act together. An intriguing English-language Xinhua article published over the weekend criticized Hong Kong’s tycoons for largely remaining silent about Occupy Central. It seems to have been pulled from official websites, but is still here. The pro-tycoon Standard’s editorial tries to rationalize it without upsetting anyone, and concludes that either a rogue writer was at work, or the piece was a warning to the plutocrats to step into line. A third explanation – for those of us into wishful thinking – is that Beijing is coming to its senses and preparing to dump Hong Kong’s feudal, cartel-owning billionaires.

Anything could be happening. Chief Executive CY Leung made a major error last week in suggesting that the less-wealthy cannot be trusted with the vote (though the pro-democracy camp has typically failed to do much with this gift). The pro-tycoon Liberal Party’s slimy James Tien has suggested that CY stand down – just as he stabbed then-CE Tung Chee-hwa in the back following mass protests in 2003. Do the tycoons smell blood? More to the point: are they rejoicing that it’s CY’s blood or petrified that it’s their own?

If the Chinese government can’t get its head around the mess it has created in Hong Kong, it’s understandable. For murky reasons, they have heavily favoured tycoons over the local public interest since 1997. Yet (also in murky circumstances following the crash of shoe-in Henry Tang) they appointed a CE the tycoons hated in 2012. That man – CY Leung – then somehow managed to alienate the population even more than the unacceptable Henry would probably have done. Having a government-tycoon alliance at odds with the general population was hardly ideal (though the Communist regime seemed reasonably comfortable with it); now Hong Kong’s government and tycoons could be openly splitting, which would leave Beijing with a sort of three-way civil war to fix.

Despite the inability of the pro-dem camp to capitalize on it, anti-tycoon sentiment is not going away. Common sense suggests that Beijing will take this into consideration when it decides what to do. Right?

HK: the triumph of cool

October 24th, 2014


It has been a wackier-than-average week in the Big Lychee. Chief Executive CY Leung spied foreign non-reds under the bed, but refused to identify them; next day, he declared universal suffrage dangerous on the grounds that it could lead to policies that help the poor. His top officials, by contrast, said nothing of interest in their SCMP-BannersOpponentslong-anticipated meeting with student protestors and just highlighted their powerlessness. The Occupy Central movement dodged a bullet when it looked like hopelessly uncool performer of pseudo-music Kenny G was a supporter, before – to all right-thinking people’s relief – he bowed to Communist-financial pressure and backed off.

Forget CCP-patriotism and oligarchy versus freedom and democracy: Hong Kong is engaged in a battle between the cool and the cringe-inducingly unhip. On one side you have selfie-magnet flying drone-cameras, pavement chalk artists and volunteer medics; on the other you have the tragically buffoonish waste of space that is Lau Kong-wah. One side abseils down Lion Rock and unfurls a banner that can be seen from outer space; the other sends police to pull it down, and who find the job a bit too outdoorsy and so dump it on the Agriculture and Fisheries Department, who basically don’t do cliffs. One side does homework in the street, the other does pepper spray. Everywhere you look, spirited, creative rebels and guerilla satirists are running rings around a gray, dull-witted and unsmiling officialdom. It’s a PR massacre.

The South China Morning Post has used up its liberal-to-objective quota for the month and needs to cram some heavy-duty pro-Communist patriotism into its pages for a few days. Thus we get one of the hardest-hitting op-ed pieces in ages from a hitherto unheard-of Dabing Li on Why Democracy is Really, Really Crap.

It seems to have been rejected by China Daily as too ridiculous to print. By ‘democracy’, we allude to ‘Western’ values (and, quite possibly, people). The masses are ignorant and can’t be trusted with the vote. Adolf Hitler was democratically elected. All Western democracies are falling dominoes, with subprime junk loans, bribing masses with the national treasury. “All modern-day democracies inevitably degenerate into this race to the bottom.” In Hong Kong, illiterate old lady held up infrastructure project; people like her have votes = disgrace. Greece, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Philippines, Thailand = crap = democracy. Singapore, China = unique-benign-consultative = wonderful.

In fact, what he is criticizing here is not democracy, but bad policy. Democracy does not automatically deliver good policy, though it certainly can’t match the economic depravities of China’s Mao, whose idea of a development plan was to starve 30 million people to death. Democracies do deliver something that authoritarian regimes do not. It’s whatever puts places like Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand and Canada at the top of all the quality-of-life and human-rights indexes. It’s whatever convinces so many Mainland Chinese to migrate to Australia and the US, and whatever keeps so many Americans and Australians from clamouring to move to Shanghai and Beijing.

And it’s about cool. It can’t be a coincidence that Kenny G’s biggest fan base is China, or that you can’t imagine Singaporeans abseiling down a mountain with a pro-democracy banner.

CrawlingCandleCondomAs if to underline this point, the SCMP gives this diatribe against democracy what must be the most bewildering but also vaguely repulsive of illustrations – Crawling Candle-Condom. So gut-wrenching is the cartoon that I declare the weekend open with the thought that this whole op-ed article just might be the wickedest, most subversive Umbrella Movement satire yet.


Echoes of 2003

October 23rd, 2014


After he eventually re-emerged from his bunker days after the big July 1 march against the Article 23 national security law in 2003, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa tried offering some concessions. For months, critics had demanded tighter safeguards in the proposed legislation – things like requiring police to get a warrant before raiding suspected subversives. And for months, officials had said these were impossible. Suddenly they became delightfully easy to do. But it was too late. The national security law, a requirement of the Basic Law, was finished, and the real issue was how long it would be before the Crop-Haired One stood down, and whether Beijing would do anything to improve the quality of governance in Hong Kong.

Evidently it did not. Today’s Hong Kong government is in the same position, multiplied by a hundred or so. It is hinting at minor concessions to the political reform package, such as the scrapping of corporate votes in the election process that forms the 1,200-strong nominating committee. This comes on top of the Big Exciting Offer to send a supplementary memo to Beijing giving a truer picture of local opinion on political reform. As in 2003, such ‘concessions’ should have been in-built from the start – but that’s not the point. Protesters and their apparently growing numbers of sympathizers should be looking beyond the technical details of electoral arrangements. With Chief Executive CY Leung blaming invisible foreign enemies and describing the less-wealthy half of the population as unfit for civic life, the nominating committee is a sideshow.

SCMP-GovtSourcesHintThe boss aside, the administration remains morbidly fixated on the political reform package and the protesters occupying the streets. The attitude is ‘wet streets cause rain’: protestors occupying intersections create political crisis. Officials have offered all the concessions they can, so why aren’t the students pulling out of Admiralty and going back to class? It’s a fascinating and puzzling thing to watch. Do they genuinely not get it? Or are they deliberately closing their eyes to reality for fear of what they will see? Or are they pretending (superbly) not to get it because that’s what Beijing expects and requires?

The cliché du jour is that it’s unfair to expect the poor old Hong Kong Police to sort out this major political mess. The fact is that it’s not even reasonable to expect CY and his floundering functionaries to solve it. It is Beijing that has screwed this up. It has mishandled Hong Kong over the years by putting losers in charge, enabling rampant cronyism, and alienating much of the population, especially the young. And now it has brought everything to a head by using disproportionate, belligerent and crude methods to impose what is essentially minor political reform.

If 2003 is any guide, the Chinese government will just walk away. But then again, the one thing the Communist Party fears is its own citizenry – especially when they’re on the streets.


HK healing process starts as students give officials slapping

October 22nd, 2014


Under strict orders to spout nothing but lines from Beijing’s turgid and tattered script, government officials had no chance of ‘winning’ yesterday’s non-debate with pro-democracy students. All they could do was come across as impotent has-beens being kicked around by a bunch of geeky kids in T-shirts.

But it does represent a victory for the local administration – over Mainland cadres who have been micro-managing the fight against the pro-democracy movement. SCMP-StudentsOfficialsThe Chinese Communist Party’s only conceivable response to opposition is to crush it, or at least freeze it out by orchestrating mass-hatred and smear campaigns. The failure of such tactics in Hong Kong must have sunk into even the thickest Beijing skull: over several months, United Front bullying and ultimately excessive police action turned Occupy Central from a dry academic exercise about to fizzle out into a glorious and globally acclaimed people’s uprising. Yesterday’s humiliating acknowledgment that the student activists exist suggests that the local bureaucrats are being allowed to run the day-to-day show again. (When historians get around to doing the Umbrella Revolution, they will want to explore the behind-the-scenes conflict between local and national governments.)

One of the students’ more powerful arguments was that the Hong Kong government’s report to Beijing on the need for political reform was a farce. As a concession to save face all round, the administration proposes to send an ‘informal’ note to the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office with an updated (as in ‘more truthful’) account of local views. Like the students-officials summit itself, this won’t lead to any substantial change, but it is a symbolic admission of a mistake by the government.

That was also, of course, Beijing’s doing. But wait! The Communist Party is infallible, so mistakes are by definition somebody else’s fault.

This means the hunt for foreign interference in Hong Kong must continue. Chief Executive CY Leung has promised to unveil the rogue barbarian subversives when it is ‘appropriate’.

The pro-Beijing camp has long accused pro-democrats of treachery. One favoured piece of evidence is veteran campaigner Martin Lee’s frequent visits over the decades to Washington DC to lobby in vain for his cause. A more recent one is pro-dem publisher Jimmy Lai’s business dealings with former US official Paul Wolfowitz, or the fact that his aide Mark Simon’s father’s best-friend’s neighbour’s great-aunt knew someone who worked at the CIA. They could make a fuss over pro-dems’ spouses’ foreign passports and kids’ education overseas – but they don’t because government officials have them too.

In search of something more convincing, fingers are now pointing at the National Endowment for Democracy, a Reagan-era, partly government-funded non-profit aimed at spreading liberty around the world. It rejects accusations of masterminding the (seriously disorganized) Occupy Central movement, explaining that it gives funding to some local groups like Human Rights Monitor (founded, I think, by now-Environment Under-Secretary Christine Loh).

It has also funded a thing called the National Democratic Institute, which is similarly dedicated to building up accountable government and apple pie across the world. Among its activities in Hong Kong, the NDI has provided training in subjects like media relations and polling techniques to political parties, including the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of HK and the Liberal Party – both of which are pro-Beijing. It was a while ago, and you’d need to dig around to find out more (this Wikileaks fragment alludes to it – NDI also worked a bit with Civic Exchange, also founded by Christine Loh). But if the powers of darkness do start smearing pro-dems for dealings with patronizing US foundations bringing truth and enlightenment to benighted little brown brothers overseas, it’s worth bearing in mind that pro-Beijing parties and a now-government official are similarly tainted.

(A very Mainland-style think tank called the Tianda Institute alleged something along these lines in a hilariously silly piece in yesterday’s South China Morning Post. To get an idea what sort of psychedelic drugs these guys are on, you should also check their Construction of Middle Class Ideology: A New Set of Universal Values. Hard to say sometimes whether the Communist Party is a sort of religion or an actual parallel universe.)

I think I’ve got it! Foreign organizations that are genuinely responsible for stirring up unrest among the Hong Kong people: Louis Vuitton, Prada, Audemars Piglet, Armani, Omega, L’Occitane, Gucci, etc, etc. etc, not to mention Cow & Gate, Wyeth, Abbott, etc, etc.

Well – you can’t say CY’s boring

October 21st, 2014

Fresh from accusing un-nameable foreign forces of masterminding unrest, Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung declares that open elections based purely on numbers of votes are unacceptable because the poor will gain more political power. Brought up to assume this issue had been sorted out around 1789, the overseas media he was briefing were suitably intrigued. More here, here, and elsewhere.

He was justifying the Basic Law’s concept of voting via rigged ‘broadly representative’ bodies (as opposed to directly by individuals). This is how we get corporatist-style quasi-electorates of interest groups like Functional Constituencies, the CE Election Committee and the proposed Nominating Committee. In the New York Times Quartz-HKPoorpiece he cited his need to pander to the sports lobby (taxpayer-funded parasite cyclists) as an example of the superiority of this system.

As with the ‘foreign influences’ thing, CY is simply parroting the Chinese Communist Party’s official line on the need to protect Hong Kong’s ‘capitalist’ class of cartel-owning landlords. It is stunning and grotesque to see a Marxist sovereign power declare that its mission is to shield a small, mainly hereditary, landed oligarchy of hyper-wealthy from the poor (not to mention a large chunk of the in-between middle class). How do we get our heads around this?

We can attribute Beijing’s 1980s-90s co-option of Hong Kong tycoons to simple United Front-building. There are two possible – and overlapping – reasons why this unholy relationship has subsequently grown stronger.

One is that the post-Deng Xiaoping Communist Party has metamorphosed into a crony-capitalist kleptocracy, a la mid-20th Century Latin America. Asset-stripping, land-grabs, nepotism, pocketing of infrastructure funds, Bo Xilai-style confiscations and all the other horrors have turned the one-party state into a pyramid of corruption into which Hong Kong’s developer-dynasties have been absorbed. In other words, it’s all about money.

The other is that Beijing under Mao-messianic Xi Jinping and other princelings supposedly above such grubby crassness see the Hong Kong plutocracy as a shield Atla-HKLeaderagainst the spread of the democratization disease into the Mainland. By ensuring that the tycoons and cronies fear and oppose universal suffrage here, the Communist Party can feel that bit more secure up in Zhongnanhai. Seen this way, it’s all about power.

To the extent that it’s more about power than money, Beijing would be prepared to drop the tycoons if their unpopularity in Hong Kong became more trouble than it was worth. It would be great if the students meeting government officials later today grilled CY’s top officials on this subject. ‘Do you believe people earning HK$14,000 a month [CY’s benchmark] are a danger to governance if given the vote?’ There’s a dozen questions about the tycoons’ economic dominance that students could utterly skewer the officials with. (They could also ask if the officials believe foreign forces are manipulating the pro-democracy movement, and if so, to name them.)

Sadly, we can be pretty sure they will let the government off the hook and zero in on the mind-numbing subject of nomination systems.

Meanwhile, an excellent opportunity to dig this out – by an unknown genius amateur cartoonist…


Foreign forces, govt, everyone spin out of control

October 20th, 2014

SCMP-Spinning‘Spinning out of control?’ asks the South China Morning Post about the protests in Mongkok. Demonstrators repeatedly block intersections with barriers and the police repeatedly try to remove them, creating a cycle of anger and violence with no end – either in the sense of a purpose or a conclusion. So the answer is obviously ‘yes’.

The question should be: who has lost control? Another way to put it is to ask: who is supposed to be in control in the first place? Someone, after all, is supposed to be steering the ship – or as the ancient Greeks said, ‘kubernao’.


Chief Executive CY Leung went on TV last night and blamed ‘foreign forces’ for influencing the pro-democracy movement, though he also said the movement had become ‘out of control’. So the mysterious foreign forces aren’t in charge, but nor is he. The Hong Kong administration admits that it is not exercising power (in parts of Mongkok, at least), which sounds like a serious admission of failure. But the good news is that foreigners aren’t running things there either now. Which sort of makes it OK.

CY has to blame external malevolence because Beijing officials have already done so, and they would lose face if he fails to agree. The Chinese Communist Party is perfect, so if anything goes wrong it must be the fault of hostile forces, which are invariably based overseas. CY has a simple choice: point the finger at big bad foreign forces, or be openly disloyal to the Party; if the Communist leadership said the world was flat, he and Hong Kong’s other devout followers of this quasi-religion would repeat it as a fact. From his and Beijing’s point of view, Hong Kong people’s refusal to convert to this faith is the problem. From Hong Kong’s point of view, the leadership’s inability even to begin accepting responsibility is the problem. You can see how wonderfully productive tomorrow’s government-student talks are going to be.

To regain a shred of credibility, the government needs to find evidence of malicious foreign influence over the protests. Where to start? Part of the government complex at Tamar has been covered with messages about peace, love and freedom, and named the ‘John Lennon wall’ after a native of Liverpool, England. A senior PaddingtonBearpolice officer spoke to the press a few days ago wearing a colonial-era badge on her cap; to compound the crime, she called the item a ‘souvenir’. A poster at Admiralty promoting non-violence features Paddington Bear, who is known to be from Peru. And – the elephant in the room – have you noticed that in Hong Kong the vehicles drive on the left, just as they do in the UK?

As for specific details of foreign interference, we will have to make some educated guesses. If I were in charge of the international Western plot to prevent China from rising, I would create civil unrest in Hong Kong like this…

First, get the CIA to infiltrate the bureaucracy and property developers to undermine the land and housing system in such a way that people have no choice but to live in 165-sq-ft apartments that cost some seven times median household income. If that doesn’t get people rioting, what will?

Then I would use Vatican-Kuomintang-Dalai Lama splittist elements to organize mass-scale movement of Mainland shopper-tourists into Hong Kong to swamp the public transport, drive rents up and shut down locally oriented retailing. Streets full of gold shops and nowhere to buy noodles – guaranteed to piss off the populace.

As a cunning extra touch, I would get MI6 to recruit double agents in Hong Kong law enforcement and prosecutors departments, and persuade them to implement the law selectively, so 17-year-old student activists and a guy writing stuff on the Internet get arrested, but police who kick a handcuffed prisoner don’t, and decisions to chase and prosecute computer hackers depend on the political views of the victims. You’d be surprised how sensitive the public get when the law is applied unfairly like that.

This is just scratching the surface. Look around you. These evil foreign plotters are everywhere, and their plans are working.