A future for Agnes on the golf course?

After delaying moves towards representative government in Hong Kong for years, Beijing is now obviously moving the city away from it. The older pan-democrats are toothless and have nothing to add to their traditional pleas-and-marches. The younger radicals scare the Communist Party, and are being hounded out of participation in what is anyway an increasingly ceremonial participatory process. Where will they go and what will they do instead?

For an in-depth look at the Agnes Chow-disqualifying Leninization of Hong Kong’s political system, see HK Free Press’s opinion piece here (parts 2 and especially 3). (If you prefer your analysis insipid and pointless, try the SCMP’s full-page thing here – the contrast is quite something.)

Beijing presumably hopes to intimidate and disillusion Hong Kong people into sullen acquiescence. But this is still not the Mainland, where the dictatorship can eliminate opposition and criticism any way it wants and sweep the mess under the carpet. Chinese officials must find it frustrating to have to confront dissent so timidly and ineffectively, rather than just crush it like they would back home.

It would help the Communist Party if its puppet Hong Kong leadership could divert the population’s attention with halfway-decent governance. The city faces a huge range of livelihood and quality-of-life issues (housing, the elderly, health, traffic, air, etc) begging to be fixed. Instead, despite vast financial resources and the world’s highest-paid civil service, Carrie Lam’s administration is clueless and inert.

There must be scope for localists like Agnes to branch out into populist rabble-rousing here. One amusing little example is what to do with the Hong Kong Golf Club course at Fanling, which is begging to be fixed as a site for housing. Critics can make the government squirm by pointing out that if it spares the golf course, it is admitting that the ‘shortage of land’ that justifies unaffordable housing is a fiction.

On the subject of real estate being wasted on the tedious and the tacky, there’s Hooters facing closure for non-payment of rent, again. And quicker than you can say #MeToo, Steve Wynn’s palatial money-churning operation in Macau finds itself in a roughly similar position. Couldn’t happen to nicer people.

 

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Liaison Office gets subtle

Maybe there is a method to the Liaison Office’s obsessive micro-tweaking of opposition candidates’ access to the Hong Kong Legislative Council by-election ballot. Or they are making it up as they go along. Either way, Edward Yiu passes the ideological screening test that Agnes Chow for some reason failed.

Awkwardly ‘moderate’ Pro-Beijing lawyer Ronny Tong explains that there are technical differences between the two cases. We might also point out that Beijing has a particular phobia about the Demosisto group, whose youthful and photogenic Agnes, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law are – by Hong Kong politician standards – internationally-known trendy glam heroes.

Most likely, Beijing’s officials balked at dumping too much of their stomach-churning wretchedness on Hong Kong at one time. It would have been easier if they hadn’t already debased the local government’s limited remaining credibility by making Teresa Cheng Justice Secretary. As it is, the newly appointed scandal-tainted legal chief struggles to answer lawmakers’ questions on either her own or Agnes Chow’s plights. Perhaps, in an uncharacteristic fit of lucidity, the apparatchiks realized that destroying their puppet administration’s ability to command any respect undermines their mission of bringing Hong Kong under control.

Even loyalists are uncomfortable. Pro-Beijing lawmakers and others dislike having to endorse an illegal-structure-laden, stamp-duty-minimizing, PR disaster of a new Justice Secretary. The Standard, which is supposed to shoe-shine the government, expresses bewilderment about the Agnes/Edward case in its editorial.

Here on Hong Kong Island, the Liaison Office has decided that one Judy Chan of Regina Ip’s New People’s Party will represent the pro-Beijing camp in the March by-election. (Middle-class image, none of the uncouth proletarian Leftist thing, as befits the constituency. Sports fetching, modern, clean-designed crimson and white banners.) She previously said that she would prefer Agnes not to be barred. Don’t blame her. What are the chances that the Liaison Office’s meddling provokes a bigger pro-dem turnout for Agnes’s replacement, Au Nok-hin? (Bearing in mind that we’d never heard of Judy before, either.)

 

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HK’s executive-led government in practice

For a decade or two, Beijing officials and apologists have maintained that Hong Kong is an ‘economic city not a political one’. While people still had faith in ‘One Country Two Systems’, the Basic Law and other apparent commitments, this phrase sounded merely inane. But the Communist Party is now open about its intentions. It wants to Mainlandize Hong Kong’s government structure – create a fully unitary, centralized, top-down system without meaningful separation of powers or popular representation.

The predictable barring of Agnes Chow from the ballot is another step in that direction. (Edward Yiu will presumably follow, making the rigging of the game even more farcical. See David Webb on the absurdity of confusing ‘upholding’ versus ‘agreeing with’ a law. Also consider that the bureaucrat supposedly responsible for barring Agnes Chow was essentially claiming to be able to read her mind.)

The pro-democrats hope that they can resist this gradual process through logical arguments or rule of law (or weekend protests). They are certain to be disappointed. Beijing’s method is to chip away to see where the next ‘Western-style’ constitutional obstacle is – and then eliminate it.

The screening of candidates (and weakening of legislators’ powers) is aimed at turning the Legislative Council into a pure rubber-stamp assembly; it also turns a supposedly impartial civil-service function (overseeing elections) into a political one. If you think the courts will come to the rescue, you are going to be wrong. Beijing has already established a precedent for pre-empting court cases (through ‘interpreting’ new retroactive law into existence in the previous disqualifications). And the NPC’s imperial edict authorizing the rail terminus co-location arrangement establishes a precedent for overriding even the Basic Law (via endorsement of – you guessed it – the rubber stamp legislature).

So the legislative branch is being neutered, and the judicial branch sidelined where it might infringe the Party’s monopoly of power, just as civil-service neutrality (notably in police and prosecutions) has been replaced by political direction as required.

By openly reducing separation of powers and popular representation to symbolic levels, Beijing is implementing its much-vaunted ‘executive-led government’ in Hong Kong.

But this will not increase the local administration’s power. As we see from the barring of Agnes Chow, co-location, and the bulldozing of discredited Teresa Cheng as Justice Secretary, Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her muppet ministers are just following Beijing’s orders. The visible executive branch is being reduced to a ceremonial entity along with the rest of the Hong Kong government. The real power will be that of the Leninist party-state, hidden behind closed doors.

 

 

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HK’s disgraceful older generation

The South China Morning Post’s regular columnists obsessively demonize Hong Kong’s student and other young activists. Obviously, the pro-Beijing paper does not pay them to churn out positive commentary on idealists defending their city from the Communist Party’s tightening grip. But the incessant sniping and goading suggest middle-aged has-beens who are bitter, resentful and jealous of those whose best years are still ahead.

So it’s refreshing to read one of these columnists whining about how awful Hong Kong’s old people are. And it’s true – the city’s seniors are famously pushy, aggressive and ungrateful. Their roughness is especially noticeable because they never seem to go home or sleep: from 5am to midnight they are out doing exercises, collecting cardboard, hogging seats in teashops, or just gossiping and elbowing their way around. Don’t mess with them.

However, the columnist is wrong to merely dismiss them as exasperating. They are living proof of Darwinism.

Hong Kong has pretty much the world’s longest life expectancy. But this is not just because of modern public health, good lifestyles and traditional diet. It’s because – if we want to be blunt – a lot of people born in the Pearl River Delta region before, say, 1945 died young.

As elsewhere in the world, there were no antibiotics. But by any standards, the region in the 1920s, 30s and 40s would have been unhealthy and unsafe. There was extreme poverty, disease, hunger, civil strife, Japanese invasion, civil war and famine. Those who were physically weaker or lacked resistance would have died as infants. As they grew older, those who weren’t tough or fast enough would have succumbed. Ultimately, the hardiest, nimblest, grabbiest and meanest had the best chance of surviving. Hong Kong’s old people are the way they are because the ones who were generous, polite to strangers or waited their turn didn’t make it.

I declare the weekend open with a reminder to shut up and get out of their way.

(Oh, and this.)

 

 

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Putting the ‘RC’ in ‘PRC’

Foreign businesses have a hard time in nationalistic, mercantilist China’s market. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg grovels with vomit-inducing displays of Mandarin proficiency and Xi Jinping’s collected works; Marriott Hotels suffers an attack of obsessive-compulsive panda-sucking; Donald Trump tries to help by slapping tariffs on solar panels.

The Christianity industry has been trying to get into China longer than most, starting with the Nestorians 1,200 years ago, the Jesuits in the Ming court, and Victorian-era Protestants saving souls with rice handouts.

Today, US Evangelicals have identified Hong Kong as the super-connector to the Mainland (and some gullible local donors). They have cleverly wooed the city’s pro-Beijing tycoon caste with assurances that Jesus hates the poor and will make His rich worshipers richer, in this world. And they have targeted conservative bureaucrat and professional classes by neatly melding homophobia and other illiberal agendas with supposedly traditional Chinese/anti-Western values. Expansion over the border is enjoying mixed success through franchising, multi-level marketing channels and other small-scale start-ups.

Their more centralized, Rome-based competitors the Catholics have found it especially difficult to set up formally on the Mainland, as their autonomous model is not compatible with a Communist one-party environment. Instead, it oversees an illicit branch network. Meanwhile, Beijing has established a parallel operation that counterfeits much of the branding and IP, and has grabbed a large share of the market.

Beijing is open to a joint-venture – but obviously on its terms, which include a major say in management, including many aspects of the product, distribution and especially appointment of key personnel. Since the Catholics have long seen Bolshevism as symbolizing the ultimate competitive threat in the ideology business, it has always been unthinkable that the Vatican head office would enter into any such partnership. They do, after all, have a 2,000-year history of integrity and principles to protect.

Oh, well – alright then…

Which leads us rather neatly, on the passing of Mark E Smith, to this…

 

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Mid-week links

We’ll alight from the ‘Sick of Teresa Cheng’ bandwagon today to make room for all the pro-Beijing loyalist and shoe-shiner lawmakers clambering aboard. (If the Liaison Office spin-doctors were really clever, this would be a cunning way to boost the beleaguered Cheng’s public image – if the toady sycophants hate her, she must be OK.)

Instead, some mid-week links.

A good, fairly comprehensive reminder of the ways Hong Kong’s rule of law has been eroded* under previous Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen. The flaw in this is that the author, in complaining that Rimsky failed to speak out or defend rule of law, sees the individual as the cause rather than the effect of the process. The Justice Secretary is simply implementing Beijing’s policy, so there’s no point hoping that a new one will be any different – whether it’s Cheng or some wretched inferior (?) stand-in they scrape from the bottom of the barrel.

On a related note, all you ever wanted to know about oath-taking, by the Bar Association’s Philip Dykes.

China’s official press are steadily elevating and burnishing the pedestal on which Xi Jinping stands, recently declaring him to be the lingxiu of the new international order. (This recent hubris relies on a very simplistic zero-sum assumption: the more of a mental and moral midget the US President turns out to be, the correspondingly greater China’s leader becomes. Is life that straightforward?)

As we know in Hong Kong, China’s new-found strength and confidence sometimes looks more like paranoia and insecurity. Among the things worrying the Communist kleptocrat elites is the Mainland middle class, whose own insecurities are growing – one of many reasons we sense that we are at ‘Peak Panda’.

Maybe China is not a giant-socio-economic pyramid scheme about to collapse, but it looks like the historic recovery from the Mao-inflicted depths has run its course, and the country is settling down as (in developmental terms) a massive Mexico. This article on how the rise is over asks…

How will they handle the trauma of confronting a middle-income trap as hundreds of millions of people enter old age in one of the most polluted environments in all of human history? Will the fear of disorder drive the scholars, the nationalists, and the broader society to support Xi Jinping in his efforts to reinvigorate authoritarian rule? Or will it intensify national turmoil?

*Just had an amazing revelatory insight-flash. One of our era’s linguistic annoyances is the use of transitive verbs as intransitive – for example some people would write that sentence “…the ways Hong Kong’s rule of law has eroded…” even though the rule of law is the object of the erosion. Nothing we can do about this; but is it a result of hyper-sensitivity and aversion to the dreaded passive voice (“has been eroded”)? Just a thought.

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Now it’s Miffy-Gate…

An eruption of Peeved Panty-wetting Panda Petulance, as Beijing insists the US is the main threat to global trade and is forcing it to militarize the South China Sea. This is the same regime that has picked Teresa Cheng as Hong Kong’s new Justice Secretary, only to find she has embarrassing illegal-structure and other problems. If their cantankerousness on the international front is any guide, Chinese officials will dig in and keep her.

Cheng’s credibility is falling away in clumps on a daily basis. The latest blows to her image are: her official declaration of interests showing ownership of multiple properties as far afield as Yunnan; an illicitly enlarged window at her HK$62 million Repulse Bay apartment; and use of a loophole, supposedly to benefit struggling first-time home-buyers, to reduce stamp duty on her purchase of the latter. (This just in: Miffy and Pooh in the wine basement. The banality is so predictable it’s almost sad.)

Her use of the stamp-duty loophole is presumably legal, and indeed common-sense – who would pay millions in tax unnecessarily? But in the context of Hong Kong’s unaffordable housing, rising inequality and a growing sense that the rich feel above the law, it’s a killer.

Beijing has two reasons to stick with Cheng.

The first, as with denying mercantilism and military expansionism, is pure bloody-minded refusal to admit it might be wrong. We must show Hong Kong who’s boss and not defer to public opinion or a free press. Keeping her is a Leninist version of ‘the medium is the message’.

The second is that we can’t find anyone else who can be trusted to publicly manage and justify the continuing clampdown on political dissent and rule of law in Hong Kong.

The main reason to dump her is that she might become a liability to the ongoing ideological rectification of the city. For example, one of the job’s duties will be to help pass national security (‘Article 23’) laws. Among other things, Beijing will probably demand anti-subversion measures that criminalize opinions – opening the way to censorship of the press and the Internet. Will the presence of Teresa Cheng the Stamp Duty Dodger tip the balance and bring enough protestors onto the street to derail the new laws?

If Beijing’s Liaison Office is thinking ahead, it must also consider the pitiful reputation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s administration. Carrie has no role in any of this, except to look helpless. But a Hong Kong government that looks and acts powerless-bordering-on-joke weakens Beijing’s control. Letting Carrie appear to take charge and get rid of the new Justice Secretary would bolster the puppet’s authority, such as it is.

On balance, the pan-dems should quietly hope the Communists keep Teresa Cheng in office.

 

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Cheng-gate moves to Repulse Bay

The Chinese Communist Party’s greatest gift to its Hong Kong opponents this year keeps on giving. That’s new Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng, of course. In a just-after-midnight-on-Sunday press release, Cheng announces that the illegal structures at her Tuen Mun house are being fixed, and her two properties in Shatin and one in South Hong Kong Island have been checked.

The details sound suitably mundane – the big excitement is an insufficiently fireproof (possibly) kitchen door. But, like the clumsily underhanded timing of the press release, this just intensifies suspicions that she has something to hide, and officials who instinctively insult the public’s intelligence are helping her do it.

The irony is that even her more egregious illegal structures are pretty standard in much of Hong Kong. Longstanding dimwitted government land-revenue policy that severely constricts residential area has induced or even impelled people to extend or create living space illicitly. (The system makes the Window Tax sound sensible.) Authorities’ enforcement is selective, lax, lazy, overwhelmed or non-existent.

Cheng’s real sin has been trying to worm her way out of it through ‘a denial that is simply not credible’. Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s support for her further undermines an administration with enough credibility problems. We have to live with this. Both women were picked and appointed by Beijing’s local Liaison Office to implement Mainlandization of Hong Kong, notably the degrading of the rule of law here. The Communist Party chose them not for their principles, but for their lack of principles.

At a more basic level, a major affront is Cheng’s property dealings and holdings. The Shatin investments look like average middle-class-housewife dabbling. But the price she paid for the Tuen Mun place – double the previous price of a year before – raises eyebrows (as does the hitherto-secret husband-next-door’s wealth). And now it seems she bought a 2,000 square foot flat in Repulse Bay for HK$62 million in September last year.

This is a time when mass-market apartments carry price-tags equivalent to well over 15 years’ median household income, and many families are living in subdivided squalor. It is an almost perfectly scripted episode in which the oblivious elite contemptuously kicks the populace in the face.

 

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Rejoice – it’s just Leninism-lite!

In the interests of making this a happy Friday, a reminder that Hong Kong’s growing authoritarianism is a very watered-down version of what the Mainland is going through in Xi Jinping’s rectification campaign.

Obviously, if this were the Mainland, there wouldn’t be an independent Bar Association warning of threats to rule of law, and it wouldn’t be electing evil foreign human-rights-pushing elements to head it. Joshua Wong and his fellow activists would have vanished, and their names would have disappeared from any media. The lawyers who defended them would be in jail rehearsing their televised forced-confessions for subverting state power, and the families of all concerned would be followed and intimidated wherever they were in the world.

The new Secretary for Justice would not have unauthorized building works, but billions in real estate, shareholdings and other assets secretly stashed away in a variety of English-speaking democracies. Christians would be distressed when the government pulled down their ugly churches, rather than eagerly inviting developers to do it. Muslims would be tracked by CCTV and forbidden to let their kids attend mosques.

There would be no Google, YouTube or Twitter, and bookshelves and media content would dwindle as ‘Western’ culture and values were replaced by patriotic positive energy. It would be a crime to suggest (among other things) that Communist forces played only a small role in fighting the Japanese in the war. There would be no women in senior government positions.

On a brighter note, golf courses would be eradicated.

For what it’s worth, Leninist Mainlandization of Hong Kong is not even 5% complete. The Communist paranoid control-freak wimps still daren’t even impose simplified characters. Maybe Chief Executive Carrie Lam could stress this – the cup is still 95% full – with a big smile and cheer everyone up, rather than look so depressingly resigned about overseeing relentless stagnation.

I declare the weekend open with a ray of sunshine in the form of early 1970s Ethiopian popular music, before Marxists brought Red Terror and starvation to the country – a mesmerizing jazz/North African/dash-of-minimalist hybrid.

 

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World’s most famous Hongkonger in headlines again

Determined to work more on youth development in Hong Kong, the Chinese Communist Party has enlisted Joshua Wong to play a key role in boosting the nation’s international ‘soft power’ charm offensive, promoting the reputation of the city’s legal system, and encouraging voter turnout in the forthcoming legislative by-elections.

 

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