More integration win-win baloney

A former Chinese official declares that Hong Kong and Shanghai should build a common capital market with lots of partnership, cooperation, win-win and serving the nation.

A quick reminder about these two cities. One has a free flow of capital (and a proper legal system, free flow of information), while the other doesn’t. And in one, financial services are private-sector and market-based, while in the other, the function is largely state-run. How do the two ‘join forces’? Why is this guy even saying this stuff?

Another ex-official from the Mainland announces with a straight face that Beijing should extend Hong Kong’s economic system across the whole of the Greater Bay Area. This would require an international-style border separating the Pearl River Delta from the rest of China, and it would entail customs and probably currency union between the PRD and Hong Kong. It would split the PRD from China more than it would integrate Hong Kong into the Mainland. It would be a visionary, epic reformist move. And obviously – not going to happen.

(By the way: have you ever heard of a communist dictatorship with a freely convertible currency?)

Back in reality, the trend is for the CCP to tighten control over Hong Kong rather than relax it anywhere else. The AFP correspondent looks back at the last few years. Here’s a neat summary of how Beijing is systematically turning Hong Kong’s legislature into a rubber-stamp. Meanwhile the supposedly impartial civil service performs absurdist comedy to inveigle Eddie Chu Hoi-dick into expressing a personal opinion that would bar him from the ballot, loosely inspired by Franz Kafka and starring Ronny Tong as the tragic, cringe-making poodle-weasel-stooge (latest here).

To put it all into context, I declare the weekend open with the thoughts of George Magnus on how the West’s great minds, after being rather slow on the uptake, are finally working out that this is different…

Xi’s China functions according to a governance system which is a throwback to decades ago before Deng. Yet China is more modern/complex and has economic and commercial aspirations that are of the future. A major contradiction.

(The kind of contradiction that makes Donald Trump look good. Yet another example of the China-watchers finally ‘getting it’  is this Hoover Institute report edited by Larry Diamond.)

 

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Greater Bay Area cooperation boost for Hong Kong

Hong Kong authorities apparently being powerless to do anything about non-Financial Times staff coming through immigration control…

Travel agencies across Guangdong have been ordered to halt all one-day trips to Hong Kong and Macau on weekends via the cross-border bridge to reduce the nuisance suffered by the cities’ residents.

Maybe the Guangdong Provincial government would like to sort out our housing, traffic, education and other problems while it’s at it?

So a HK$150-billion, 55-km, six-lane bridge-tunnel opens. Only a small number of private cars are allowed to use it (subject to nightmarish permit procedures). Trucks apparently have no use for the new route. Hongkongers trying buses to Macau report that it’s quicker by ferry; possibly the same goes for everyone’s fave destination, Zhuhai, but who knows? And the main users – bored retired farmers from Zhongshan and environs – must be restricted because Hong Kong doesn’t have the capacity to carry them.

It’s a bridge linking a place where there’s no space for more visitors or traffic to a place no-one wants to go to.

Meanwhile, a gleam of sanity bursts through the gloom, as an academic confirms that the sort of tourists coming over the bridge add little or nothing to Hong Kong’s economy. Mass-market tourism is a parasite on a developed city-state with a shortage of space and manpower. A few interests (basically landlords) benefit, but only at the expense of the rest of the population and economy, which suffer lower quality of life and higher rents. Hong Kong would benefit from fewer mainland visitors.

It is clear that Beijing and the tycoons each have their own interests in swamping Hong Kong with outsiders. It is also clear (recall Sheung Shui) that it is only the threat of activism and visible hostility from Hong Kong people that makes officials pay attention.

Hong Kong policymakers, in their dimwittedness, are left trapped in a logical conundrum:

  • Tourists are a burdensome pain in the ass, and we need fewer of them
  • Tourists (mostly) come from the Mainland
  • Everything from the Mainland is wonderful and must be worshipped

Guangdong steps in, and our officials’ brains stop hurting so much, for the time being.

 

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Some mid-week links for another rainy day…

The South China Morning Post has a good info-graphic thing illustrating the development of Shenzhen alongside Hong Kong since the late 1970s. But sadly, they don’t seem to able to wedge it onto their website. So instead, here’s a video about Sunshine Island, over by Peng Chau.

Asia Sentinel on Hong Kong’s declining rule of law:

…at some point someone is going to bring a case involving business interests that forces in Beijing will want adjudicated for reasons that have nothing to do with justice.

(See also the once-impartial civil service’s attempts to keep Eddie Chu Hoi-dick off a village-election ballot.)

Lowy Institute discussing Leta Hong Fincher’s book and her argument that…

China’s all-male rulers have decided that the systematic subjugation of women is essential to maintaining Communist Party survival.

China Digital Times on the CCP’s similarly benighted policies in Xinjiang:

Uyghurs are a stateless people who have been colonized by an authoritarian state that is attempting to exert totalitarian control over their society.

Australian Financial Review interviews a China business veteran with interesting comments on the impossibility of doing things ethically or legally on the Mainland, and how the Chinese economy is now running on empty.

Foreign Affairs on how China lost America. This is in some ways another article reflecting the now one- or two-year-old great realization among the world’s chattering classes that China is not the warm and cuddly ‘win-win’ internationally responsible ‘economic miracle’ and blessing to humanity they once thought. It is also part of a newer trend to point the finger at Xi Jinping for blowing it and revealing China to be essentially a new USSR, with far more wealth but no friends and no subtlety. (A criticism echoed in some quarters on the Mainland as well.)

On other matters altogether… The confessions of someone who was into the JFK conspiracy theories, and came out of it sane. And for fans of hilarious, bizarre, disturbing music/video, Laibach’s Sound of Music, Lonely Goatherd and My Favourite Things (with a PG trigger warning for the hyper-sensitive, and a not-especially-suitable-for-work alert for anyone in, say, a convent school).

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‘…curves of clavicles visible underneath black-silk dressing gowns’

Having seen The Devil Wears Prada, I thought I knew everything about the fashion industry. But even with such an expert level of knowledge, I didn’t realize just how much this peculiarly fatuous business has its head up its own backside.

That’s one thing I learned from this insider account by an apparently rather literate model who witnessed the Dolce & Gabbana tacky Bling-Crap Fest Catwalk Thing Show in Shanghai flop, following the tragically lame/mightily offensive Orientalist Pizza-with-chopsticks Video Outrage Horror Mass-Freak-out. The other thing I learned is that Dolce and Gabbana are actual people, not just some chic Latin-tinged name invented by the marketing department.

Amazingly, the company already upset sensitive Mainlanders and anyone with an ounce of taste last year by taking ‘poverty porn’-type condescending (clunky, embarrassingly real-life) photos of hip glam young beauties alongside ragged shriveled Third World-elders in Beijing. It didn’t help that the clean, shiny, trendy foreigners in the pictures exhibited – I can’t help perceiving – barely disguised discomfort and distaste at being in close proximity to the grimy oldsters.

Of course, Dolce & Gabbana had this coming ever since it incurred the wrath of Hong Kong by trying to ban locals from photographing its ultra-classified top-secret shop windows in Kowloon a few years back. (You’d have thought purveyors of pretentious overpriced tacky clothes would get on better with camera-related issues.) The brand is now fit for only one purpose – hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.

 

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HK voters choose correct candidate this time

One of Hong Kong’s most depressingly morose-looking pan-democrats, Lee Cheuk-yan, loses to pro-Beijing groomed stooge Rebecca Chan in a Legislative Council by-election. He would have lost even with the votes that went to aging moderate spoiler-candidate pan-dem Frederick Fung.

The weather was nasty, turnout was low, and the pro-Beijing candidate had material and organizational support from the Communist Party’s local United Front operations. But essentially what happened is that voters chose the wrong candidate last time (in 2016) when they elected radical pro-dem Lau Siu-lai, who the government subsequently expelled from the legislature using special new CCP-imposed laws on oath-taking. Now citizens have chosen the ‘correct’ candidate; Beijing can support the democratic outcome.

Distraught pan-dems warn that their bloc will not regain its veto power in the legislature. That’s the whole idea – what part of ‘Communist dictatorship’ don’t you understand? Under Mainlandization, Hong Kong’s already-feeble representative political structures are destined to become purely ceremonial. At best, taking them seriously will be a distraction that absorbs the opposition’s energy and ultimately humiliates them. At worst, it will help legitimize the Beijing-appointed executive’s bad or repressive policies.

At some stage the pan-dems need to get over their obsession with rigged elections and a Mainland-style rubber-stamp legislature, and boycott the whole farce.

One objection to this is that they are too disorganized to act in unison. Another is that they need the generous Legislative Council salaries and allowances. It might come down to voters staying at home.

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So what makes a Hongkonger a pro-Beijinger?

Why would a reasonable and intelligent person declare loyalty to an organization that, among other things, requires its followers to give up their own freedom of expression and recite the Party line, however irrational or extreme it might be?

It’s hard to resist the parallels with religious conversion. With that in mind, we’ll disregard people who were born and raised into devout CCP-worshiping surroundings – a separate ‘Red’ Mao-era sub-culture.

At the ‘soft’ end of the scale of converts you have ‘instant-noodle’ patriots like the tycoons, who were co-opted into supporting Beijing back in the 1980s and 90s. Like generations of Overseas Chinese, they must preserve their family fortunes by automatically and compulsively shoe-shining whoever holds political power in that place at that time. Examples: Li Ka-shing et al. Also the Heung Yee Kuk rural mafia, which perhaps overlaps with the next bunch…

Lesser businessmen and professionals have also been lured into the Beijing camp by the prospect of opportunities or advantages. Over time, the United Front has replaced lures with implicit pressure – hence self-censorship and other pre-emptive kowtowing in media, entertainment, academia and elsewhere. Examples are chambers of commerce, university administrators, actor Jackie Chan, former pan-dem lawyer Ronny Tong.

All the above groups have one thing in common: like ‘Rice Christians’, they don’t really have their hearts in it. Interestingly, the CCP doesn’t much care how insincere loyalists are, provided they speak and behave correctly. This is surely a reflection of CCP elites’ own cynicism about the idealism and dogma of the faith – that’s for suckers. Which brings us further down the scale…

Next we have those who join the pro-Beijing camp for the satisfaction of being on the winning side and getting one over on people who are (probably) smarter than they are. Like the dimwits groomed to be DAB and similar ‘politicians’: Starry Lee, Holden Chow, Priscilla Leung, etc. Earlier examples could be Maria Tam and Rita Fan. This is the psychology of the pathetic loser kids who side with the schoolyard bully.

Useful idiots merge into the useful non-idiots. Some public-spirited figures feel they must make the rational hard-headed Ever-so Realistic decision to sort-of align themselves with Beijing in order to become Moderates, accepted as insiders so they can make the world a better place. Christine Loh is an example. Ronny Tong would claim to be one. Another would be Anthony Cheung, who was a founder in the 1980s of the proto-democracy group Meeting Point, then a member of the Democratic Party, then from 2012-17 the government’s top Transport and Housing official. Some labour activists – maybe the late Chan Yuen-han – also have sided with the pro-Beijing faction out of pragmatism as much as ideology.

And now we get to the interesting end of the scale. Another founder of Meeting Point was yesterday’s star guest, Lau Nai-keung. Something happened back then to convince him to embrace the CCP – and seriously, deeply mean it, even when it started looking psychotic. (In one of his classic columns, after lauding hard-working piano-playing Chinese children, he spat venomously at Western kids who merely learn guitar.)

My hunch is that this group were pushed rather than pulled. Maybe they were involved in rights protests and got beaten up by the police, or maybe they suffered from colonial-era racism, discrimination or snubs from snotty gwailos and their minions. It looks like, for whatever reason, they had major chips on their shoulders about the old establishment and its supporters. Supporting the CCP was revenge. For some, it seems the hatred never went away; perhaps the chauvinism and nationalism also satisfied an emotional need (some scientists theorize that there’s a genetic predisposition to religious-style faith). Other examples: the Tsang brothers (Yok-sing and Tak-sing), Elsie Tu (in her own way), and one-term-Chief Executive CY Leung, whose blind devotion to the CCP apparently even creeped out the CCP.

This is all pure guesswork.

I declare the weekend open with some stimulating diversions. The Guardian review of Ma Jian’s China Dream. Some interesting background on Beijing’s persecution of Uighurs. In case you never knew about it, the story of the Philippines as a refuge for Jewish refugees from Nazism. And a great documentary about young North Koreans who made it to the South (like Nothing to Envy one generation on).

 

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RIP much-loved crazed, hate-spewing wacko

Lau Nai-keung, CCP hyper-loyalist and spite-filled tormentor of Hong Kong’s ‘dissidents’, dies. Few writing in English paid him much attention (forgivably), so I will dig up a few old bits and pieces by way of a eulogy…

…what the SCMP gives us is Lau Nai-keung – patriot, scourge of pro-democrats, and compelling study in mental fracturing, week by week, column by column.  Just when you thought his mouth-frothing hatred and loathing for the world couldn’t get any more pathological, he manages to get just that little bit more psycho.  It is far and away the best reading in the newspaper… [from here]

While Lau cannot exactly be described as the voice of reason, his mouth-frothing loathing of the pro-democrats often takes precedence over his loyalty to the motherland, with the result that he speaks unpalatable truths that the more self-controlled pro-Beijing figures avoid uttering. [from here; another example here]

Is there anyone he doesn’t loathe? That he detests the pro-dems and the tycoons isn’t news, but he doesn’t even rule out the local administration – or even the Beijing officials who recently resurrected the zingy love-country-love-harbour catchphrase. Whether you accept 0%, 50% or 100% of his outpourings, you can’t deny the anguish. Everyone else on the more-or-less patriotic side is gearing up for soul-selling, principles-shredding compromise, leaving him the only true believer shining in the darkness. [from here]

Also: Lau Nai-keung Talks Crap, after the great man ranted about evil Westerners in the context of toilets. There’s much more, but I’m in a good mood today.

Lau’s passing is an opportunity to examine how some Hong Kong people mutated into ardent Beijing sympathizers – before it became de rigueur in the years around 1997 (think Tsang brothers, CY Leung, etc). Which we will do tomorrow, probably.

Meanwhile (on a perhaps not-unrelated subject) a guest contribution on what happens next in the Christine Loh thing…

 

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China vs World on who is at crossroads

China’s Chairman of Everything-for-Life Xi Jinping does not warmly encourage challenging debate about his government’s policies. But in recent months, a few dissenting voices – economists, a former official, Deng Xiaoping’s son – have been making themselves heard.

The latest, a state think-tank guy, uses suitably tactful language but echoes the basic complaint: Xi’s domestic centralization, overseas assertiveness and fundamental counter-reformism is against China’s interests. The Leninist instinct threatens economic stagnation at home and hostility abroad.

Xi, who may be a greater (and more slickly packaged) fantasist than Trump, meanwhile claims it’s the rest of the world that is at a crossroads.

This leaves the International Society of Panda-hugging Shoe-shiners looking increasingly dated. Take the Davos chapter: a recent World Bank paper on Belt and Road provokes mirth as a gratuitous grovel-fest (quick and snarky summary here).

The backlash is getting to the point where we must seriously consider boycotting Putonghua.

A few mid-week links. David Webb has a go at Hong Kong’s Companies Registry, which is making gargantuan monopoly profits from selling access to what should be freely available public records and, in so doing, facilitating fraud and money-laundering – a confluence of outcomes that you may consider a bizarre and unfortunate coincidence, or not (I couldn’t possibly comment).

And a couple of stateside diversions…

Remember the Hanfu movement, where historical-fantasy cosplay meets racial supremacism? I never realized that fake authentic traditional cultural revivalism also lay behind ye olde square dancing, Henry Ford’s wholesome Anglo-Saxon antidote to the Jewish jazz menace.

And with cryptocurrencies now giving off a stench like rotting tulip bulbs, aficionados of wacky pseudo-investments might like to check out the Donald Trump fans who believe Iraqi dinars will reach parity or more with the dollar, with help from God.

 

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Pitiable plutocrats in patriotism, profits panic

A mildly amusing but telling moment in Mainlandization today.

Hong Kong’s Liberal Party – which despite its name represents entitled hereditary business owners in parasite/cartelized industries – was going to propose a motion in the Legislative Council calling on the government to introduce national security laws.

This would be a pretty standard, not to say unimaginative, way to shoe-shine Beijing. These guys all have interests in the Mainland as well as Hong Kong, and the gesture would be timely, given that the more ideologically devout pro-Communist lawmakers have already made similar statements following the recent pro-independence scares in the city. In short: the Liberals felt that a precautionary unseemly rush to kowtow was in order.

But it then occurs to them that this Mainlandization stuff is going down badly overseas, not only among media and NGOs, but some corporations and US politicians and trade officials. Western governments are hinting that they might withdraw Hong Kong’s separate and privileged economic status if Beijing curbs the city’s freedoms – a threat that is probably (for the time being) hollow but petrifies local officials and some local businesses, no doubt including their own.

So the Liberal Party legislators hurriedly drop the motion. It’s hard to be loyal with so many different things going on. Do they grovel to the Communists by demanding local anti-sedition laws, or do they display concern for the national interest by not provoking evil hostile foreign forces – and, for ultimate torment, without having time or space to fully factor in their own grubby financial interests either way?

A little reminder that the tycoons will also sweat as Mainlandization continues.

 

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Overtime cancelled for government spin-doctors

And so, at last, the trial of the ‘Umbrella Nine’ begins. Here’s the full background, including links to a legal explainer and much else.

There’s probably never an ideal moment to try to throw a peaceful 74-year-old clergyman in prison, but for the Hong Kong government, this is especially unfortunate timing.

Under pressure from Beijing, local officials have stealthily extended censorship and other repression since the 2014 Umbrella-Occupy movement. With this Mainlandization becoming noticeably more heavy-handed in recent months, the overseas press are now paying attention. On top of that, the administration is trying people’s patience with an above-average range of plain everyday domestic screw-ups and messes, like a half-trillion-dollar reclamation plan, the PLA’s cross-border cabbage patch and a new public-nuisance-on-steroids influx of tourists.

Meanwhile, on the international stage (and possibly at home), Xi Jinping’s hubristic and overreaching regime is losing friends and ceasing to influence people over trade, Xinjiang, APEC, United Front obnoxiousness, debt-trap-diplomacy, the South China Sea and much else.

Now Benny writes in the NYT, and Amnesty wades in. Even in its officials’ whiny protests against external ‘interference’, Hong Kong is gradually looking and sounding more like part of the Mainland. The ‘incitement to incite’ trial – perhaps delayed for years in the hope few would notice – looks set to highlight and confirm it.

Rummaging around for reasons to be optimistic… How about ‘rewriting the Hong Kong story’ – would that work for you? Here’s more from ex-lawmaker Christine Loh on her theory that we can fix all this with a ‘new narrative’.

 

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