Hong Kong to get tough on liars

Somebody up in Beijing has noticed that Hong Kong’s parasite economy does not necessarily serve the national interest. Reuters reports that our local authorities have been motivated into clamping down on ‘fake trade-invoicing’ – a euphemism for lying to Reu-HKCracksCustoms about the value of goods crossing the border. In effect, it enables Mainland-based companies to move cash out of (or for that matter into) the country in breach of capital controls.

The practice has been going on for decades. It is the respectable grown-ups’ version of channeling funds out through Macau’s casinos. The hordes who smuggle milk powder and Yakult from Sheung Shui to Shenzhen – and who deposit endless little bundles of cash in Hong Kong banks every day – are engaged in a related activity, on a tiny scale.

It sounds better if you call it ‘leveraging arbitrage opportunities’, but what it means is that clean, law-abiding Hong Kong facilitates the breaking of Mainland laws, while Mainland law enforcement and government look the other way. The Chinese regime’s own members and supporters need a way round the restrictions they impose on the masses. Now Xi Jinping has decided that fighting capital flight is more important (this comes soon after other measures, like barring Mainlanders from buying Hong Kong insurance policies).

Like all the other recent micro-managing and interference in markets, this suggests that Beijing is worried – in this case about its own people and business community losing confidence and trying to get wealth out. The Yuan-as-global-currency-replacing-the-Greenback thing is quietly postponed until further notice while we run around in a panic putting out fires. The ‘economic miracle’ Mandate of Heaven looks that little bit more wobbly.

The tradition of ‘trying to plug leaky borders but not really’ goes back a long way. Presumably, it won’t work. But our local officials must put on some sort of show of patriotic, motherland-loving cooperation, though it’s all basically the Mainland’s problem/fault. One interesting question: after decades of taking absolutely zero interest in fake invoicing, are the Hong Kong authorities staffed and equipped to uncover and identify massaged valuations among millions of items of trade documentation? Where do you start?

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Nothing is impossible

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Hard to imagine that someone could be so unthinkable, unfit, unqualified and unworthy – not to mention odious, oily and a purveyor of supernatural beliefs – that you are relieved to hear that the absurdity that is Donald Trump has beaten him to the Republican nomination.

It has to be said that Trump showed magnanimity, maturity, moderation, gentlemanliness and mercy in finishing Ted Cruz off with an accusation that Cruz Senior was buddies with Lee Harvey Oswald. He is too kind: Rafael Cruz is unimaginably creepier than that.

In keeping with the apocalyptic mood of this moment, I find a mysterious glossy leaflet in my mail box. Featuring one of those joyous-figure-on-mountaintop-against-sunset photos, it is an invitation to a ‘Nothing is Impossible event’ in Cheung Sha Wan in a week or so…

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It is from something called the UCKG Help Centre. It offers solutions to a range of health and financial nightmares. Some are not hugely relevant to a safe and prosperous community like ours, such as ‘family members in prison’ or ‘unemployment’. Others seem to be almost tailor-made to appeal to Hong Kong angst, from the metaphysical ‘a sense of being cursed’ to the ever-present ‘skin problems’…

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It gives some mightily impressive case studies, including a young lady cured of multiple sclerosis, and a kid whose twisted intestines suddenly fixed themselves…


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One brief reference to God appears (a woman whose unborn child’s Downs Syndrome vanished before birth). But this seems to be an oversight: the compilers of the pamphlet cunningly try not to put off our secular local audience.

Obviously, it is some sort of church. If it were a non-religious multi-level-marketing scam thing, it would push only promises of financial abundance; instead, it tempts the insecure with escape from all ailments. Presumably some sort of ‘charismatic’ sect stressing worldly wealth here and now, rather than all that airy-fairy eternal-riches-in-Heaven stuff.

So to Google… It transpires that this is the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a Pentecostal empire founded in Brazil, and spreading everywhere, especially Africa. It was implicated in an infamous ritual abuse/exorcism/killing of a little Ivorian child in the UK. A South African academic notes that

…the UCKG insists that relationships with God be devoid of ’emotions’, that socialisation between members be kept to a minimum and that charity and fellowship are ‘useless’ in materialising God’s blessings. Instead, the UCKG urges members to sacrifice large sums of money to God for delivering wealth, health, social harmony and happiness.

What brings these people to Hong Kong? Can’t be the social harmony. Wikipedia mentions the church’s supposed ‘witchcraft’ and ‘intolerance to other religions’, which aren’t really big deals here. But it then adds ‘charlatanism’ and ‘money laundering’. Maybe they’ll feel right at home here, after all.

If that’s not deranged enough for you, and even Rafael Cruz’s preaching doesn’t freak you out enough, there’s always this otherworldly bizarreness to go to.

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Functional constituency in ‘being taken seriously by someone’ shock

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The byzantine structure of Hong Kong’s rigged electoral system is a bit of a sideshow these days. There was a time when pro-democracy campaigners fixated on ‘opening up’ small-circle functional constituencies and liberalizing other arcane details of the political structure. But the quasi-democratic reform package proposed in 2014 finally made it clear that such fiddling is irrelevant: the Chinese Communist Party will accommodate elections only if it can decide the results in advance.

That led to the Occupy/Umbrella movement of 2014-15, followed by the Legislative Council’s rejection of the reform package around a year ago (the opposition ironically wielding a veto designed to give Beijing a braking mechanism). With Chinese officials now openly if clumsily increasing their influence in the city’s government, academia and media, the fight to defend Hong Kong’s freedom and values has spread far beyond the largely ornamental political structure.

Pro-democracy lawmakers still hinder the government through filibustering – to mixed effect. But most of the action is now on the streets and campuses and on-line, in the form of localism, anti-smuggler protests, indie cinema and dozens of future movements the authorities will fail miserably to anticipate. Different groups of young activists plan to participate in September’s Legislative Council elections, but with no agreement on why, let alone on tactics.

So it seems odd that a bunch of people should start to make a fuss about being accepted as electors in what the South China Morning Post calls the ‘cultural sector’.

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The SCMP reporters – like most people – find it all too confusing and don’t tell us whether the individuals were applying to be voters in the Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publishing Functional Constituency or its Culture Sub-Sector. Either way, voters in these two entities must be corporate bodies, not humans. (The Performing Arts Sub-Sector, on the other hand, does allow some humans to vote if they are members of particular organizations.) It’s all here in this pamphlet if you really want to know, but, as we shall see, it doesn’t really matter.

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Whatever these guys hope to achieve, they will hopefully help publicize the true role and function of these ‘rotten boroughs’. As we see from the list of functional constituencies’ electors, this is a classic Communist/corporatist technique, in which rights are enjoyed by approved groups, not individuals. Some FCs – like the teachers, lawyers and nurses – comprise individuals each having a vote. But only a few of the 30 FCs are like that. A larger number represent business sectors (like banking, transport, retail, tourism) in which a small group of companies and/or masses of obscure trade associations vote. Other FCs and sub-sectors apparently represent clusters of unconnected, government-subsidized or barely-existent interests, like the Sports-and-Blah-Blah one (long the fiefdom of joke lawmaker Timothy Fok), or Agriculture and Fisheries.

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The official purpose of this idiocy is two-fold:

  1. Voters in FCs elect half the members of the Legislative Council. Since most of these FCs are made up of small groups of CEOs/tycoons or packed with phony United Front ‘organizations’, the system gives Beijing a large bloc, with a veto, that it can use to control the legislature.
  2. Voters in the sub-sectors elect most of the members of the Election Committee that supposedly elects the Chief Executive (and would have supposedly decided who got onto the ballot had we gone along with the 2014 reform bill). Again, this means Beijing controls a majority of the 1,200 votes – making the whole Chief Executive ‘election’ a complete charade: it simply rubber-stamps Beijing’s pre-determined choice.

If the entertainers applying to be members of the Sports-and-Blah-Blah FC draw attention to this disappointingly little-understood truth, that’s great. Wherever the action is, it’s never going to be the FCs.

 

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Colonial visionary thinking makes a comeback

Back in colonial times, according at least to the nostalgic and politically incorrect, Hong Kong’s civil servants were capable visionaries who put the city first in a spirit of effortless, can-do, stiff-upper-lip aplomb. Unlike – you are invited to infer – certain incompetent Beijing-worshiping weasels currently in office, whose names we won’t mention. (And seriously: can you imagine a Leon Lai concert being botched to hell under the Brits? Unthinkable.)

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As a reminder, former one-time long-retired ex-Chief Secretary Sir David Akers-Jones pens an op-ed piece in today’s South China Morning Post proposing a tunnel linking Tung Chung to the southern part of Lantau.

Cynics will immediately smell a rat. The concrete-laying, mall-building, landlord psychopath-parasites of the Tourism Sector are agitating for the whole of south Lantau to be turned into a Spa-Resort-themed Luxury Shop Mega-Attraction Concept Zone Hub with 63 exciting branches of Burberry’s. This sounds like one of their frantic taxpayer-abusing, environment-wrecking little scams.

But let’s give Sir David the benefit of the doubt. He has a (discreet) record of not being hugely impressed by the excesses of Hong Kong’s property cartel. And in his SCMP letter LantauMapAJhe actually criticizes previous infrastructure development around Tung Chung for serving the sacred Tourism Sector rather than local residents. He seems genuinely concerned that Tung Chung is a dump.

Most of us are vaguely aware that Tung Chung is, perhaps, less than scintillating. It’s that New Town/suburb that flashes past just before the Airport Express reaches the terminal. It’s where delinquent teenagers from Discovery Bay go for a wild time. It allegedly suffers from air pollution (by the standards of Central, it seems fine). It has a shortage of eating and shopping choices, yet devotes one entire mall to Mainlanders bussed in to buy outdated luxury Designer-Label rejects.

Even so, it’s unclear why Sir David feels a twang of sympathy for Tung Chung in particular. It’s no worse than Tin Shui Wai, Tuen Mun and other far-flung, best-forgotten New Towns – though of course these earlier centres were planned and delivered by his colonial-era colleagues.

Anyway, the proposal… A tunnel to the beach at Cheung Sha. Apparently, this can be so big that people in Cheung Chau will be able to see the sun set through it. More to the point, it will be able to take all the polluted air from Tung Chung down to the aforementioned sandy shoreline.

It is a genius idea. Tung Chung residents who miss the old days of polluted air will be able to hop on the underground high-speed maglev monorail to the southern coast, where they can relive their town’s former smoggy past.

Or they can stay at home, away from the beach, but with clean air.

If that’s not a ‘win-win’, I don’t know what is.

But wait! There’s more! I declare the long weekend open with a flash of inspiration. If it works in Tung Chung, surely we can have our own tunnel from Central to, say, Australia or somewhere.

 

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A new museum for Hong Kong

A long weekend is coming up. It’s going to be too hot for a hike and too rainy for a barbecue. There’s no way you’re going to go all the way out to Shatin just to see the Monet exhibition. And you’ve tried all the Korean recipes on YouTube, and can’t face any more Truth about Trump features. What to do?

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How about a trip to the Hong Kong Museum of Hideously Disgusting Footwear? It’s free, it’s not too crowded, and the curators have found some of the most unforgettably shockingly vile excuses for design ever devised by mankind…

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Visitors are allowed to pick up and feel the exhibits (though not surprisingly, few do). The displays do not simply provoke revulsion; they prompt serious questions about the state of humanity today. Do people really hate their feet – indeed, their entire appearance, not to say very existence – this much? Do they really have nothing better at all to do with their money but buy these objects?

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Many of the items in the collection may remind us of ancient torture instruments. This is more than resemblance: these shoes are created specifically to cause mental torment to anyone who sees them. Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley are amateurs compared to the twisted minds behind the revolting and grotesque exhibits at the Hong Kong Museum of Obnoxiously Putrid Footwear.

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Visitors are advised that some of the content at this museum may cause distress. The illustrations here all come from the galleries featuring designs for men; I’ve left the women’s items out in case any children see this page.

The Hong Kong Museum of Repulsively Ugly Footwear is at 3031-3070, Level 3, IFC Mall, Central.

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Talking endlessly about not talking

How can we curb all this dangerous and seditious talk about Hong Kong independence? Why, of course – we must go on and on and on and on (and on and on) about it.

This is not as illogical as it seems. Young radicals’ scurrilous calls for a separate city-state have scared insecure paranoiacs in Beijing into declaring splittist opinions illegal and demanding that the traitors concerned be resolutely and vigorously crushed. Lacking the powers to do Mainland-style crushing but desperate to display obedience, Hong Kong’s establishment indulges in choreographed mouth-frothing about how terribly awful, bad, shocking and disgusting all this independence talk is – at great length. This show of righteous outrage and wrath is mainly aimed at the grey, grizzly, grumpy old malevolences in Beijing, rather than at the Hong Kong people.

This is clear because, in so doing, Hong Kong’s leaders are making the idea of independence sound cooler by the day. Chief Executive CY Leung refers to Golden Bauhinia Square as a unification gift from the motherland and a must-see destination for Mainland tourists, who support national unity and (dabbing tears from his eyes) might not want to visit any more. This plays to the official post-1997 story that Hong Kong survives only because of ‘support’ from Beijing. CY assures his audience that he shares their fantasy that Mainland tourists are a favour and we fear a drop in their numbers.

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Local residents, who detest the inundation of visitors, can’t believe their luck: demand GoldBauhindependence – get rid of the tourists. Who’d have thought it could be that easy? (Maybe they can take the ugly Gold Bauhinia eyesore with them.)

CY’s localist detractors and other tormentors take a break from skewering him over Airport Bag-Gate and mock his sudden insistence that pro-independence chatter will harm the economy. In essence they jeer: “One minute you say you will arrest us, and now you realize you can’t so you’re trying to con everyone into thinking we will cost people their jobs – how pathetic.” It is almost painful to watch. If I were Beijing, I would cut Hong Kong loose just to rid the country of such heartless and cruel youths.

The South China Morning Post’s contribution to the campaign is a lengthy editorial on Not Talking About The Thing We Must Not Talk About. I failed to share the writer’s sense of cosmic wonder contemplating why the law allows us to have ideas that are neither feasible nor constitutional, and suffered a sudden attack of Attention-Deficit Disorder around sentence 3. But as with CY’s remarks, we are not the intended audience.

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The government that can’t do anything right

Consider two single-mother-with-two-kids households. One has HK$12,000 a month to spend on food, utilities, transport and clothing, while the other has only HK$8,000. Are these two hard-up families equally poor?

To put it another way, consider those people you see/read about who help feed their kids by scavenging at wet markets for leftover produce at the end of the day. Do you think they are more likely to be living in public housing, or in private subdivided units?

For some reason, when Hong Kong established an official poverty line, the idiot bureaucrats didn’t include housing arrangements in the calculation. The result is bad data. A ‘working poor’ family in public housing might spend 10% of its income on rent, while the same family in a private subdivided apartment might see half their income go to the landlord – yet our ‘poverty line’ implies that the two households’ circumstances are the same.

An attempt to fix this has just been rejected by the Poverty Commission.

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A university professor of social work on the body claimed that incorporating housing costs in the calculation was too brain-taxing for him. But the real opposition came from what might be called the labour/welfare-lobby subset of the pro-democracy camp, backed instinctively by much of Hong Kong’s general population of people who distrust if not loathe the government. Their assumption was that officials would take the new, more-informative stats and claim credit for a miraculous drop in poverty levels in the city.

Whether our leaders, in all their slimy duplicitousness, would try to get away with such a lame sleight-of-hand is debatable (given their past clumsy attempts to con the public over, say, electoral reform, we can’t rule it out). But that’s not a sound reason to keep a misleading poverty benchmark when we could have a more reliable one. The conclusion is that whatever this administration does, people will interpret its intentions as malign. Which means, in short, it might as well give up.

Even if they weren’t being evil on this occasion, the officials were being stupid. The correct way to go about this would have been to present the change in the poverty line as one that would accentuate the hardship suffered by the poor in private rentals, rather than apparently lessen that of their counterparts in almost-free public units. In other words – it would make the government look worse, not better. Frederick Fung and his buddies would have fallen over themselves to approve the proposal.

On the subject of inept governance and unintended consequences: a part-tongue-in-cheek but thought-provoking look at demonized Chief Executive CY Leung as ‘the father of Hong Kong independence’ and the inspiration for a golden age of vivid creativity in the city – here.

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Thought-crimes here we come?

Looking back, it is clear that since Xi Jinping came to power in late 2012, the Chinese government has decided to take the post-1997 gloves off and start smacking Hong Kong around as if the city were a bunch of uppity Tibetans. Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung – installed in office not long before – has seemed all too eager to go along with Beijing’s new ‘get tough’ approach. But most of the city’s top bureaucrats and other officials find themselves in an almost-impossible position.

Previously, they saw their role as broadly reflecting local needs in reconciling the contradictions in ‘One Country, Two Systems’. They performed ‘patriotic’ rituals for National Day flag-raising and other occasions. But otherwise they promoted and implicitly defended Hong Kong’s non-Mainland/Communist Party characteristics – every speech to an international audience stressing all the ‘rule of law’, ‘free press’, ‘clean government’ stuff to the point of tediousness.

Since around 2013, the city’s sovereign has increasingly required them to publicly downplay or disown these local values. A perfect example of this is how to treat Hong Kong’s supposed ‘independence movement’.

Thanks to Beijing’s cumulative mishandling of Hong Kong, the previously unthinkable and, in purely constitutional terms, laughable concept of separatism has gained traction, especially among younger people. Some may be idealistic and sincere. But in effect this is protest by trolling – the young localists have found one of Beijing’s hyper-sensitive nerves, and they are mercilessly needling it for all it’s worth.

Chinese official spokesmen predictably take the bait and sternly warn that calls for independence are illegal. Hong Kong’s local officials awkwardly respond using ambiguous wording – saying independence is ‘contrary to’ the law, as in ‘disagrees with’ rather than ‘breaches’ it. State media spot this ruse and accuse the Hong Kong government of doing nothing. Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen whines that he is indeed examining the law to see whether some part of it might apply to independence advocates.

Now, Hong Kong’s former top public prosecutor declares that peaceful expression of an opinion is no crime – as everyone has assumed all along. Pro-Beijing politicians lusting for approval from the central government start talking blatant crap in their attempts to shoe-shine…

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Regina Ip suggests that pro-independence groups might be committing sedition by recruiting more members. And the even-more embarrassing Priscilla Leung maintains that expressing an opinion can become illegal when more than a certain number of people do it (the Wang Zhenmin ‘dinner table’ test).

Other top officials, notably the Constitutional Affairs and Security ministers, waffle helplessly as the local press demand an answer to the quandary: do you round up dissidents in line with Communist Party instructions, or do you maintain freedom of speech in line with our status as a civilized international financial centre? (‘Rimsky has answered this already’ they splutter.)

If the Hong Kong government states that no law exists against expression of the idea of independence, it will invite pressure from Beijing to outlaw thoughts. Should the local administration try to comply – it will have no choice – it will invite widespread 2003-style resistance, more trolls calling for independence (or jokily turning themselves in to the cops), and international concerns about rule of law.

If the local government tries to prosecute localists for expressing ideas about separatism, the same thing will happen. If the courts reject the cases, you go back to the ‘pressure from Beijing to outlaw thoughts’ scenario. If the government somehow gets convictions, you still go back to the ‘widespread 2003-style resistance’ scenario, complete with martyrs.

Whatever happens from here, it looks like a mess.

The only way out is for Beijing’s officials to grow up and learn how to handle a pluralistic society – which means putting the gloves back on and letting the local officials run the city as distinct from the motherland again. How likely does that sound?

 

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Localism provokes outbreak of personality disorder

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Economist Francis Lui says Hong Kong ‘Localists’ have a personality disorder. He doesn’t say which one – presumably not Obsessive-Compulsive Shoe-shining Syndrome, which tragically afflicts so many public figures in the city today. China Daily gives more coverage to Lui’s Nobel-level insight: if Localists got their evil way, Hong Kong could survive only seven months on its financial reserves, real-estate values would drop more than 90%, and everyone’s genitalia would shrivel up and fall off.

With him was real-estate tycoon Ronnie Chan, who ‘explained’ that the Localist problem goes back to colonial times, when the evil Brits deprived Hongkongers of any identity (thus, presumably, leaving them – well, Hongkongers)…

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The event, by the way, was organized by the Hong Kong Development Forum. For an idea of how hip and groovy and cool and up to speed they are, feel free to visit their funky website, preferably using a 56k modem for the full effect.

Ronnie began by praising localism as wonderful, but not if it undermines national CD-LocalismCidentity. It is a tribute to the Localists that pro-Beijing/establishment types are trying to jump on the bandwagon. Financial Secretary John Tsang has been flaunting his native credentials. Some DAB politicians’ publicity materials use the ‘local’/‘indigenous’ phrase, and the party has tried boosting its HK-first image with anti-refugee sloganizing. Today, the Standard joins in…

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The paper’s main priority, as ever, is to push its owner’s friends’ real-estate scams. As with the anti-Localist sycophants ranting at the HK Development Forum, the purpose of this unseemly groveling is not to convince onlookers and the public to change their minds. In finest shoe-shining tradition, the only aim is to openly demonstrate nauseating obsequiousness towards the intended recipient of the kowtow. That innocent bystanders will mock, or puke, is immaterial…

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It is Hong Kong’s most prevalent and debilitating personality disorder.

I declare the weekend open with the cheering expectation that the week ahead will see a million umbrella movements in Hong Kong…

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Another day in Beijing’s hearts-and-minds disaster

Few openly suggest that the People’s Republic of China is actually an empire – not to say the world’s last surviving one. In the West, the trendy ‘Free Tibet’ cause implicitly SCMP-NoMinorstates it. But generally, the regime in Beijing does a good job of obscuring this provocative slur/obvious fact, and induces the world to see China as a multiracial and unified nation-state.

At the same time, the government in Beijing also manages to convince the world that it has a unique status and even right to represent ‘the Chinese’ as a race and culture. To con the rest of the planet into accepting both these notions pretty much without question is impressive.

Take the plight of Taiwan. Anyone who visits the place knows instantly that they are in an independent country. Yet Beijing routinely belittles and humiliates the place – and inconveniences other states – in its insistence that it has sovereignty over the island and its people. The world acquiesces. To get an idea of how outrageous this is: imagine if the UK refused to have diplomatic relations with any country that recognized the government in Dublin or threatened to invade if the administration there declared a Republic of Ireland, on the grounds that the place was still British.

While gullible and distant international leaders still kowtow, there are signs that, closer to home, this mythology of ‘China as nation, as culture, as race, and as CCP monopoly’ is breaking. Beijing’s atrocious people-skills and self-delusion have convinced many young Taiwanese to see China as a malevolent force. It’s fairly mind-blowing to think that another place where this is happening is Hong Kong. It is less than 20 years after the handover, and we are surrounded by people talking and thinking about how to insulate the city from the danger represented by China, up to and including independence.

At the establishment-friendly end of the scale, a South China Morning Post piece today agonizes over the harm done by the (alleged, etc) abduction of book-publisher Lee Po, Chief Executive CY Leung’s apparent abuse of power over his daughter’s bags at the airport, and the distrust and polarization in Hong Kong. The writer would prefer Beijing to be more understanding. The list is of course much longer, from cronyism, to swamping the city with Mainland visitors, to the denial of universal suffrage, to the smears and intimidation of pro-democrats, to attempts to tame the media and academia, to eradicating street culture, to hassling kids with cellos on the MTR – in sum, simply imposing a worse colonial regime.

Away from the tycoon-owned media, Beijing’s massive failure to win Hong Kong’s confidence or respect, let alone filial warmth, continues. Young localist writer and broadcaster ‘Lewis Loud’ turns the rhetoric of alienation up a notch in his latest Passion Times piece. The first two paragraphs above summarize much of it; he also claims a Hong Kong ethnicity, which happens to pre-date the Chinese one by 70 years. You might dispute facts, detect callowness, or be impressed by the breadth of ideas. But you can’t deny the sheer audacity, or the sense that, with opinions like this stirring things up, Beijing – with its current tactics – has already lost the battle.

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