Shock as HK’s meerkats found to exist

Ever since the Hong Kong Botanical Gardens announced the arrival of the mongoose-like critters, I have made a point of dropping by when passing to see the meerkats. For well over a year, they have never shown themselves, and I started to suspect they were not there at all. Maybe our plucky, independent-spirited, freedom-loving furry friends had caught the scent of Hong Kong’s fate on the air and tunneled their way back to Namibia. I have now had sight of the beasts…

Or one, at least. Bit like a squirrel (roughly).

While I recover from the amazement, some ever-popular links.

Some HKFP local reporting: the Nam Sang Wai burning wetlands mystery, and the most-local election in Hong Kong – and yes, you sort of get the impression that the pro-Beijing participants are lying, cheating, bribe-taking scumbags even at sub-neighbourhood level.

Donald Trump’s psychopathic approach to Beijing’s protectionist and predatory trade and investment policy is provoking alarm and concern among many conventional economist and business types, especially outside Asia. As sophisticates who get ancient Oriental wisdom, they agree that China must be treated with deference and respect. But many grittier China-watchers who live in close proximity to the Panda have no such delusions. A few of these hardened cynics possibly find themselves wondering whether Trump (and Bolton en route to Taiwan, et al), while disagreeable and crazy on most issues, might deliver some long-overdue non-deference and bluntness and actually put some of Beijing’s overweening hubris back in its bottle.

Chances are, the markets and most of us obviously assume, Xi Jinping will easily outsmart, con or flatter Trump into backing off while giving him a pseudo-victory to Tweet about. But here’s a good overview of the dynamics of the ‘trade war’ conflict…

 “The Chinese Communist Party has no interest in liberalizing its goods, services, and investment markets.”

Meanwhile, Carl Minzner, author of End of an Era, on what Xi means for social freedoms, notably Christians and feminists…

“Wait until China’s social credit system adopts pro-natalist policies…”

And here’s an interview with him on his book…

“All of those late 20th century political reforms… collective rule, partial depoliticization of the bureaucracy, avoidance of a cult of personality… once you see that those rules are coming undone, the key question is: which are the next norms to go? How far could the system slide backwards? How much of the instability that characterized the Maoist era could return?”

And if that’s not scary enough…

“…there are going to be a lot more international conferences featuring papers and panels on Xi Jinping Thought…”

Cue sound of meerkats digging more furiously.

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If you think HK’s opposition has it bad…

While the Chinese Communist Party is increasingly targeting Hong Kong’s radical and pan-democrat opposition, life for the city’s pro-Beijing loyalists isn’t getting any easier. Delegates to the nation’s rubber-stamp NPC and CPPCC are under orders to start taking their status-symbol roles seriously – attending those tedious annual meetings in the capital and submitting reports on their selfless patriotic work back home during the rest of the year.

This will put pressure on pro-establishment professionals and businessmen accustomed to keeping their heads down when things get ideological. The message is: stop sitting on the fence and give us some displays of love for the glorious motherland and overt support for United Front campaigns.

So, when the word goes out that everyone is to (for example) scream and rant about the horrors of Benny Tai’s latest comment, they should rush to sign – nay, organize – petitions and statements dutifully freaking out. Beijing officials might be watching and noting each loyalist’s efforts, or they might not be. It doesn’t matter. The shoe-shiners will lie awake at night worrying whether their pre-emptive gratuitous gestures of obeisance have been enough. As intended.

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing ‘politicians’ – lawmakers and council members – already publicly follow the Party line, so they know what it feels like. It feels crappy, because you have to align yourself with unpopular and stupid government policies and people shout at you in the street because of it. Yes, zombies have feelings, too.

Imagine the bitterness when, after all your devotion to the patriotic cause, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has dinner with the dastardly Democratic Party, and even gives them a HK$30,000 donation (hey, it’s not the principle, it’s the money). They are sorely miffed and feel taken for granted.

Carrie has reasons for supping with the Dems. To the Liaison Office, the veteran opposition group of has-been weenies probably looks ripe for splitting from radicals in classic (tiresome, obsessive) United Front fashion. And although our formal political process is increasingly ceremonial, pan-dem backing for relatively non-idiotic policies lends officials some desperately needed credibility.

But it hurts the pro-Beijing camp to see Carrie giving face to the enemy. Face is the only reward they really get for their loyalty. (As pro-establishment business types know deep down, the Communist Party mainly compensates its supporters by withholding harm rather than bestowing positive advantages.) Now they are finding it hard to recruit youthful ‘talent’. Having to recite Beijing’s line on anything means that, even if you win an ‘election’, you still look like a loser.

Bottom line: the Communist Party kicks its devotees in the teeth in the end, anyway – you might as well have enjoyed your freedom and conscience as part of the dreaded, despicable hostile forces.

Feels like time for another four-day weekend – but tragically it is not to be. Some reading for those with time to spare over the next couple of days…

A wrap-up on the NY Times story on the South China Morning Post (so you don’t have to read either of them!)

Two live reports – this and this – on presentations looking at what Belt and Road really means.

Some more deepening grimness on the deepening grimness of Xi Jinping’s dictatorship.

A tour of Beijing’s forgotten theme park/resort wastelands.

And I declare the weekend open with the best PhD thesis ever on songstress Denise Ho.

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Beijing grapples with bogey man

There was a time when ‘Hong Kong independence’ didn’t exist. So Chinese officials had to  invent it. Chief Executive-at-the-time CY Leung highlighted the little-known concept as a looming danger in a policy address three years ago. If the plan was to fabricate or exaggerate a subversive threat, it worked. To many people who had never previously thought about it, separatism sounded like a brilliant and appealing, if idealistic or theoretical, solution to Hong Kong’s problems.

It became one of Beijing’s most popular local ideas!

But having contrived ‘pro-independence’, the mighty Chinese Communist Party must now fight and destroy it – and it almost looks as if they are panicking in fear of the bogey man.

Beijing and its local puppets have used supposed pro-independence thought-crimes to bar radicals from the Legislative Council. And they have now choreographed an absurd mass-freak-out (including an inane ‘shocked’ government statement) over academic Benny Tai, who mentioned independence as one of many hypothetical scenarios at a conference no-one would ever have heard of in Taiwan.

The United Front would keep special tabs on Benny for his role in Occupy (he still awaits trial for somehow instigating the Umbrella uprising) and as a chicken to be tormented to warn Hong Kong’s monkey-academics to keep in line. As a special target for demonization, he is a crap choice – a harmless podgy intellectual – but the CCP seem desperate.

Benny says he is being followed, and that if he crosses the border, it will be against his will whatever he apparently says at the time. This would once have sounded over-dramatic, but is now sensible.

Some good background to all this is here. A key point is that the government insists that talk of independence ‘goes against the Basic Law’ or similar wording suggesting it is illegal, but it has never prosecuted anyone. This is because to propose independence is merely to propose a change to the constitution (or to CCP policy, or to whatever) – it’s simply an opinion. Another is that Benny, disqualified lawmakers and many others who get the full United Front orchestrated mouth-froth treatment are not even proposing independence.

Beijing’s local officials are going overboard in whipping up hatred of dastardly splittists and their ideas. ‘Independence’ clearly scares the CCP (perhaps they are dimly becoming aware that it is a de facto reality in Taiwan), and they are visibly anxious to implement Article 23 or other national security measures that will set a precedent for the criminalization of opinions in Hong Kong (and thus censorship). The more agitated and impatient they get, the harder and more counter-productive it will be.

 

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HK art bureaucrats’ joke actually works

Few people were lucky enough to be in on Hong Kong’s best April Fool’s joke – I hope I am not spoiling the fun by sharing it now. The elaborate prank was an exclusive preview of a soon-to-open art gallery complex at the old Central Police Station/Victoria Prison compound on Hollywood Road (the Tai Kwun culture zone-hub).

The invitation, in a neat trendy minimalist grey envelope, was to a sort of pre-opening exhibition by assorted artists entitled ‘Rehearsal’.

The gallery itself is fine – though the spiral stairs promise mass-broken-ankle carnage when the tourist hordes invade the place.

The joke was of course the artwork on display: everyday objects like a coat draped over a screen, a glove on a shelf, some cushions on a floor, a popcorn machine and a postcard stand, complete with absurd descriptions of the supposed artists and the deep meaningful concepts. And yes, the carefully selected trickle of privileged aesthete-attendees were suitably mesmerized (apart from those of us too cool to be taken in, naturally).

Makes you wonder what the real exhibitions will be like when the complex finally opens in 2083 or whenever – which of course, is the whole point. By Hong Kong standards, this April 1 jest sets new levels of originality and wit in ‘creating a buzz’. Impressed!

 

 

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Usual free VIP pass fails to materialize

Hong Kong is about to undergo its annual overload of cultural commerce, as Art Basel – the world’s largest arts fair – opens its 2018 Hong Kong ‘edition’.

The MOMA-cum-Walmart show is more exhausting than stimulating. Being popular among the general public and heavily corporate, it has become officially non-trendy. Genuinely cool and cutting edge Beautiful People have [sniff] lost interest and don’t go. (The alt/fringe/spillover Art Central on the waterfront still perhaps has some edgy credibility.)

Apparently, Chief Executive Carrie Lam will speak at the official Art Basel HK opening today. I have a bet that she will mention ‘Belt and Road’ in her remarks. She will definitely stress Hong Kong as an ‘arts hub’. To officials, culture is classified along with tech, inno-, bio- and green – incomprehensible but vital to the city’s need to ‘find new paths for long-term development’, as a tycoon-establishment think-tank puts it.

Arts and culture must therefore be about real estate. The bloated, bureaucratic West Kowloon Arty Hub-Zone eventually promises a probably-decent modern art museum in M+, along with assorted white-elephant stuff like the Xiqu Mega-Horror, a multi-billion basement, the Sudden Patriotic Palace Museum out of Nowhere and – coming soon, you can be sure – luxury apartments.

Actual people who do actual art and culture complain about high rents and a lack of government support (see a hilarious attempt to access a public crafts centre, and other moans here). The taxpayer does subsidize avant-garde dance, film-making and other activities quite handsomely – and the predictable and intended result is that they become safe and non-subversive. Officials want concrete-pouring, development, tourism and anything that pushes rents up. Other than socialist realism with you-know-what characteristics, creative expression in Hong Kong is destined to be more than ever underground.

I declare what is technically a four-day weekend starting Thursday – but for the luckier of us a longer one commencing forthwith – open, with some highly recommended art-or-at-least-illustration entitled Babel Hong Kong by one Emily Allchurch (check out the original first to refresh your memory).

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Arise, ye who don’t want to be fined HK$50,000

Hong Kong is an experiment in what happens when a modern pluralist society is taken over by a Leninist-Confucian dictatorship. The results so far range from injustice to idiocy to irony – and now along comes the imposition of a Mainland law on the national anthem.

It seems Beijing is insisting that the local legislation mimic the Mainland statute by including political blather about enhancing the ‘sense of nation’ in the preamble, and by requiring schools to teach the anthem without imposing a penalty for non-compliance. This degrades common-law principles – though in the grand scheme of creeping totalitarianism, it’s no biggie.

Then there are the practicalities of proscribing ‘disrespect’ for the tune by law, such as the notorious sitting-and-eating-noodles-when-the-anthem-is-on-TV dilemma. Officials seem to suggest it depends on intent, or whether you have malice and evil lurking within your heart: if you don’t – no problem. Fortunately, the police have been issued with malice-and-evil-detection heart probes.

Not least is freedom of expression. Traditionally in Hong Kong, you can rewrite the words to any damn tune you feel like. Yet the government says that anyone who ‘publicly and wilfully alters’ the lyrics or score of March of the Volunteers could get a HK$50,000 fine and three years in prison. (By comparison, careless driving gets you HK$5,000/six months.)

So if you play the tune in a 3:4 time signature, thus turning it into a waltz (and arguably vastly improving it as a piece of music), you go to prison? For changing ‘Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves!’ into ‘Arise, ye who refuse to be mice!’ you get a HK$50,000 fine? What if you completely change the tune and change the lyrics to such an extent that only the word ‘Arise’ remains, as with a Peter Tosh work?

David Webb notes that the lyrics have already been altered – another version called for ‘liberty and true democracy’. Expect an extra HK$50,000 and 10 years in a re-education camp for singing this one.

This new law is supposed to convince the undecideds and reluctant to become devout patriots. More likely, it will be a juicy invitation to Hong Kong’s creative and subversive hordes to mutilate, mash-up and mock March of the Volunteers without mercy. Already, wicked compulsive thoughts are flooding into my mind about putting a choral rendition of the tune through a pitch and tempo converter to make it sound like chipmunks.

Another dazzling Communist Party ‘soft power’ victory.

 

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Never a dull moment…

Donald Trump appoints laugh-a-minute Neo-con parody act John Bolton as National Security Advisor, and announces mega-tariffs on Chinese trade.

Presumably, the idea is that with someone in the White House apparently intent on nuking Iran, North Korea and the UN, the rest of the world will come to its senses and sort everything out, so all threats to global peace will vanish.

That’s certainly the principle behind the trade measures, which are really just proposals and possible plans designed to freak out or at least focus minds. The unmistakable tone of seriously miffed Panda suggests it has had an effect. Just because the US President is a clown, it doesn’t mean that China isn’t mercantilist, or that the West hasn’t been naïve about Beijing for a decade or two. And voila…

If you want to feel good, or at least better/less suicidal, about the Trumpian/Brexit/etc post-elites ‘shake things up’ approach, here’s a Big Picture argument that Trump’s tariffs strategy is worthy of a four-dimensional chess genius.

Thus comforted, I declare the weekend open with some links busy people may have missed, in increasing order of fascination.

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s speech at West Point on China’s rise is not overly exciting, but a good summary if you’ve been away for five years. And George Magnus asks whether authoritarian states deliver better economic growth – interesting even though you know the answer.

More hand-wringing as the shocked West starts to wonder whether Xi Jinping might be a Communist. This observer suspects that the ‘crushing of intellectuals, the massive spending on internal state security, the talk of hostile forces and internal coups – these are not hallmarks of real confidence’.

One small scrap of collateral damage in the Xi ‘win-win’ New Era is Hong Kong’s ‘One Country Two Systems’ – a view from Taiwan.

Finally, all you need to know about the lady who prompted That (ie this) Eye-Roll: an in-depth investigation exposes the tedious red-dressed Zhang Huijun as a sleazily-connected bim who slept her way up CCTV’s propaganda greasy-pole organ or something, as you would expect (or not – I couldn’t possibly comment).

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Carrie administers dose of positive energy

Imagine that someone in Beijing gives Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam a kick up the backside about boosting ‘social harmony’ in the city. Instinctively capable at implementing anything without question, she sets to it.

The lady personally declares a one-off cash handout to every member of the poor, semi-poor and not-very-rich segment of the population who (in some cases, at least) didn’t benefit from the rebates, grants, bonuses and other money-flinging measures in the recent surplus-filled Budget. Politicians from across the spectrum whine, thus enhancing the subliminal impression among the public that she has accomplished something bold and worthwhile.

Then she goes to the Democratic Party’s annual dinner, where she hobnobs and even hands them a modest donation. From a United Front perspective, there’s no harm in giving them a little face. The DP is a stale single-issue group that still takes our increasingly ceremonial Mainlandized political structure seriously, and its aging members at least consider themselves to be fellow Chinese. Trying to split them from Hong Kong’s young radical pro-independence elements is a Leninist no-brainer. As a little extra, the patriotic loyalist parties complain bitterly about ‘rewarding’ the opposition (they mean the symbolism rather than the sensuous pleasures of having dinner with Carrie), and they need an occasional kick in the teeth to remind them of their place.

Who have we left out? Oh yes – the tycoons. Carrie decides to relax and give herself a treat by setting up a committee. Obviously, she isn’t going to freak out with an original one; this Chief Executive’s Council on Innovation and Strategic Development is a resurrection of Donald Tsang’s Mega-Commission, though perhaps more tightly focused on getting leaders of parasitical oligarchic ‘pillar industries’ to suggest how to free Hong Kong from the grip of parasitic oligarchic ‘pillar industries’.

And talk about fortuitous timing! Appointments of Westerners – and indeed females, and as if that weren’t groovy enough, Western females with track records in icky same-sex trendy stuff – to the Court of Final Appeal, just as everyone moans that the Communists are scrapping our rule of law.

See how nice things can be when you don’t go around electing localists?

 

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One-party rule is wonderful wonderful wonderful

Among the many excitements at the ‘two meetings’, Tam Yiu-chung replaced Rita Fan as Hong Kong’s Supreme Principal pro-Beijing Heavyweight-in-Chief (in technical terminology, he was ‘elected’ to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee). The role of Heavyweight involves making vaguely menacing statements in a supposedly personal capacity while behind the scenes Communist Party officials ponder their corresponding next move in crushing local rights and opponents.

Thus a few days ago Tam opined that avowed critics of one-party rule could be barred from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, as pro-independence voices have been. This was clearly news to our local government officials, who mumbled about doing things in accordance with the law. Now one of Beijing’s people in Macau backs Tam.

Maybe the word will come down that, on the contrary, candidates are perfectly free to call for an end to the one-party state – sorry for any misunderstanding, haha. Otherwise, we can expect this additional loyalty test to screen out undesirables from the local legislature, now on a clear course to NPC-style rubber-stamp status.

With a national anthem law being rushed through, more of this is to come (a ban on insulting Xi Jinping, for example). Pro-democrats, finding it increasingly difficult to get their head around this Communist-dictatorship concept, will express wrathful anger. Hong Kong officials will put on forced smiles and pretend all is well.

It’s quite possible that Beijing goes from prohibiting ideas to making the opposite beliefs compulsory – thus it becomes an informal requirement for moderate, meek-and-mild pro-establishment-by-default figures to publicly endorse one-party rule. For the businessmen who need to get along, the eager-to-please political-social climbers, the grasping vested interests and others in the United Front herd who quietly keep their heads down, passive shoe-shining will no longer be enough. They’ll need to earn their safety and their pats on the head, and get their hands dirty with overt fealty.

And of course, it’s highly likely that bans on ideas will extend from election candidates to everyone, which means censorship, through National Security laws or other means – but we know that. (When asked, Tam Yiu-chung said it would be OK for private individuals to ‘chant slogans’ against one-party rule, but as we recall with Rita, the Heavyweights have no clue what is actually happening.)

 

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‘Two Meetings’ not fun any more

China’s top leader Xi Jinping delivers his grand speech to mark the end of the ‘two meetings’ in Beijing. Somewhere out there in the sea of faces in the Great Hall of the People are several dozen Hong Kong delegates trying hard not to fidget or look at their watches. Just another hour (or maybe two, or perhaps three), and they will finally escape to the airport and get back home to freedom.

In past years, members of the Hong Kong delegation managed to juggle these annual patriotic ‘political’ duties with having a life. The aging shoe-shiners of the CPPCC would turn up at enough of their consultative committee’s sessions to look dedicated, and spend the rest of the time with the city’s reporters – similarly bored at the stage-managed proceedings. The more eager members of the NPC would make a point of being seen awake and with their right hands raised as required at least two days in a row before spending more time at restaurants and karaoke. The tycoons pressganged into the charade would often get away with just two days in Beijing (much of it on the phone in their hotel rooms), then sneak back to the office for a day, then returning to the nation’s capital for another two.

Not this time. Many of the Hong Kong representatives have been stuck up there for 15 days now. Attendance at functions and presentations has been compulsory. The pointless interminable ritual is no longer just a show. The ceremonial stuff has become more militaristic and nationalistic, with creepy Communist salutes instead of flowers on the podium. With their counterparts in the Mainland elite being disappeared, investigated, purged, imprisoned or shaken-down, it is dawning on the Hongkongers that under Xi, being a Beijing loyalist is going to become more serious.

 

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