No Article 23 needed

A not-bad column notes that the Hong Kong government ‘wants to shift understanding of free speech towards a more authoritarian definition’ and has the Legislative Council votes ‘to force through a draconian’ national security law.

Beijing officials and local Communist Party loyalists are openly saying that the government should introduce an Article 23 law against treason, sedition and other offenses, and they strongly suggest that this should criminalize even peaceful talk of independence and ‘self-determination’.

The Hong Kong government, mindful of the semi-uprising last time they tried to ram through a national security law in 2003, is resolutely devoted to dithering on this, bleating about ‘when the time is right’. It’s hard to believe local officials would publicly disobey Beijing’s requests, so we can assume the apparent tension between the two is a deliberate ‘good cop-bad cop’ act.

But it is probably something they have no choice about. To the CCP, accustomed to redefining laws to mean what it wants, Hong Kong’s legal system must be frustrating. And the local administration’s dithering is probably sincere – the poisonous Article 23 branding is guaranteed to provoke major protests.

So the authorities resort to chipping away bit-by-bit at ‘threats to national security’. It is gradual and inefficient by the standards of the Crush Everything Now approach used on the Mainland, but it causes less fuss.

And it’s hardly ineffective. Working within (and if necessary twisting or undermining) the existing legal and administrative systems, local officials have found ways to selectively prosecute protestors, use the police for political intimidation, bar dissidents from the legislature and ballot, and now ban a political group.

What’s next? Drooling, mad-eyed pro-CCP loyalists are now calling for the proscription of the HK National Party to be followed by a similar ban of the bigger and more moderate Demosisto. One measure that is just begging to then be taken is a requirement that all political parties and lawmakers declare support for CCP rule or cease to operate – the declaration to be rejected if a civil servant finds you are insincere. Another is the extended use of travel bans, as already imposed on Demostisto’s Joshua Wong.

As things get creepier, the authorities are likely to use surveillance far more (think ‘wanted’ posters of students spotted by CCTV erecting localist banners on campus at the dead of night). Public-sector workers like teachers and social workers might be required to sign loyalty oaths, with suspected bad elements blacklisted from employment. Maybe a ban on ‘humiliating’ media. More and more people will seriously shut up and keep their heads down.

It could be that Beijing, in its eagerness for a sweeping clampdown will push ahead with the all-embracing extra-tough national security legislation required by the Basic Law. If so, the opposition would welcome it as a rallying point for resistance. But if they are smart, the authorities will simply use Article 23 as a ‘looming threat’ to divert attention as the step-by-step Mainlandization grinds on.

 

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Oh no – it’s the ‘fourth way’!

As a British colony-turned-Communist Chinese colony, Hong Kong does not do participatory government. Policy-making takes place behind closed doors; public consultations are rituals, and the semi-elected legislature is increasingly a rubber-stamp.

If you want to be involved in formal ‘politics’, you can either be in the pro-dem opposition camp, criticizing and protesting to no avail, or you can be a shoe-shining pro-Beijing loyalist rewarded with some ceremonial position. Either way, you will have no input.

Amazingly, a few people imagine that they might be able to play a role and have some influence by rising above and differentiating themselves from the pro-dem/pro-Beijing divide. This must take audacity and optimism – or maybe a mix of naivety and narcissism.

A HKFP article looks at Ronny Tong, a pro-democrat who tried to invent an independent, middle-of-the-road ‘third way’, but essentially handed himself on a plate to the United Front – they saw him coming a mile off. He is now a dependable Beijing apologist.

As that China Daily column makes clear, the CCP does not recognize any sort of ‘third way’: you are either a loyalist under its control, or an enemy that must be eliminated. Someone presenting themselves as neither, and implicitly as some sort of equal, might strike the Leninist power as a possibly useful conceited schmuck or a sinister imposter sent by hostile forces – there are no neutral players.

But where do you go if you genuinely feel you could contribute constructively to a better-run Hong Kong, and you want to do more than nag for the occasional bicycle path while maintaining some sort of conscience or integrity?

Perhaps former lawmaker Christine Loh is exploring a new lateral-thinking ‘third way’ – judging from the gist of a concept/book she and legal academic Richard Cullen have just produced.

A plug for No Third Person declares ‘The British version of the Hong Kong story no longer holds’. The introductory article goes on about this need for a fresh post-colonial ‘narrative’ – Hong Kong ‘rewriting its own affirmative story and intensifying its commitment to understanding the mainland’s development experience and political system’.

The article insists that ‘China’s writ does not run directly in Hong Kong’ as Beijing must work through our independent courts. It cautions against seeing Beijing’s concerns about national security as ‘a cloak to exert increased control’. It pleas for people to drop ‘Western’ assumptions of how we would be better off with representative government, though it also says ‘restarting negotiations with Beijing on electoral reform is also possible with full acceptance of “one country”’.

Maybe this leaves you bemused. Who even said the British story still holds? No-one. It’s irrelevant. But if you desperately yearn for a neo-third way that makes sense to the CCP without actually ditching your brain or selling your soul, at least too much, it’s a brave try. As if to say – I’m Beijing-friendly, but not a moron shoe-shiner, and I’m available!

Maybe it’ll work. Bet you it doesn’t.

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Have a happy National Day!

Your annual pro-government-line retrospective describing Hong Kong’s Occupy/Umbrella movement as a failure, featuring compulsory key words ‘deflated’, ‘disillusioned’ and ‘frustrated’. Alternative view: by forcing the Chinese Communist Party to clarify beyond all naïve doubt that it had zero intention of ever granting the city representative government, the movement was a complete success.

The following years have confirmed that CCP rule has nothing to offer Hong Kong except pointless infrastructure projects, vacuous slogans and growing political repression. The city’s once-respected police are now deploying the anti-triad squad on thought-crime witch-hunts and trying to ban Facebook accounts, education bureaucrats are ordering schools to find and inform parents of kids with ‘wrong or radical concepts’, and university administrators say ‘no political advocacy’ on campus and freak out over pro-independence posters. And in a global first, Hong Kong rats are now passing hepatitis to humans.

‘One Country, Two Systems/High Degree of Autonomy’ – also known as ‘let’s pretend we’re not part of a Communist dictatorship’ – are officially over.

A group of Occupy veterans called HK Civic Hub issue a report on Beijing’s ‘sharp power’ in the city (here’s the whole thing). Their thesis is that the CCP is testing such tactics in Hong Kong ahead of using them in other free societies, which is debatable and not very relevant – but a good angle for the foreign media.

Who it seems are rapidly catching up with the reality of Communist-ruled China. John Pomfret says Beijing has only itself to blame for its growing unpopularity around the world, even if we have to agree with Donald Trump on this. Academic Deng Yuwen goes further and reluctantly cites Steve Bannon in proposing Xi Jinping as the ‘last leader of true Communism’. (The analyses surely do not need sleazy demagogues to validate them.) For the theoreticians, here’s a comprehensive, indeed dauntless, list of reasons why China is totalitarian rather than authoritarian (brought to you by the phrase ‘Post-fascism with Sino-Legalist characteristics’). For balance, here’s a voice of mild, moderate, calm reason from the Brookings Institute.

Who can we blame? Joseph Bosco points the finger at Henry Kissinger

Kissinger sees China today as the embodiment of an ancient civilization with hallowed principles of governance — not as a modern communist dictatorship whose founder scorned the very culture Kissinger now posits as its operating principle. Mao Zedong conducted a Cultural Revolution against Chinese history and the Chinese people.

And if you’ve nothing to do on Monday, how the Communist Party is trying to control Tibet by micro-managing reincarnation, and why a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan would be such a mess they probably won’t dare.

I declare the long weekend open with this heart-warming little snippet in which a Hong Kong landlord blew at least HK$25 million holding out for higher rent…

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Yikes!

An intrusion from the past provides a brief break from local matters…

Wouldn’t you feel horrified if, while numbly observing the latest in the hog-manure lagoon eruption that is the Supreme Court nomination saga, you suddenly realized that you had been at a ‘wild house party in Bethesda in the early 1980s’? (Maybe more than one, but probably not, whatever.)

You would think: Oh my God! I was there! (Perhaps! Aarghh!)

And you would rack your brain for reasons to believe this was a totally different occasion, and nothing to do with the tawdry icky vile stuff now being regurgitated in slow motion and Technicolor all over the Senate confirmation hearings.

So… The event, so far as I remember, was tediously rather than alarmingly or obnoxiously loud and raucous. And the ambience was more trying-to-act-grown-up – the Kavanaugh crowd can’t have been quite the right age group.

I recall getting bored and leaving, walking briskly the whole way down Wisconsin Avenue back to downtown Preppy-dom. At the dead of night in Mayor Marion Barry’s murder capital. It took half an hour – as everyone points out concerning the links among the Beltway ‘incoherently drunk’ brat elite, DC is a small place.

Phew.

 

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Over at HKFP

It’s all over here today…

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HK in Mid-Autumn Mainlandizing

An intense burst of Mainlandization hits Hong Kong over a 30-hour period, as the Vacuous Express high-speed rail link opens (I was spared attending), and the government officially proscribes the Hong Kong National Party.

The primary purpose of the grotesquely expensive high-speed rail line between Shenzhen and West Kowloon is symbolic. To Chinese officials, the most important thing is that the maps now show the national high-speed rail network extending across the border. Hong Kong thus takes its place alongside Shanghai, Wuhan, Guangzhou and dozens of other destinations on the bullet-train timetable. Another example of the city’s offensive exceptionalism has been eliminated.

A secondary aim was to feed some HK$86 billion of the Hong Kong people’s money to the engineering and other interests. Mainland state-owned construction giants, local developer-linked contractors and foreign groups would all have gobbled their share. That could have paid for (say) a 20% increase in the entire healthcare budget for six years.

Which brings us to the relatively peripheral third purpose of the project – to serve as a transport system. New Territories residents will continue to cross the border by other means rather than come down to West Kowloon. For other Hongkongers, the new link probably rivals cross-border bus/train combinations for trips to certain (not especially compelling) mid-size cities in Guangdong and a bit beyond. But most passengers will be more Mainlanders flooding into Hong Kong as tourists – part of Beijing’s policy of punishing the city for its foreign-influenced past.

All the above also goes for the HK-Zhuhai Bridge, due to open soon.

The banning of the (barely existent) HKNP is also symbolic and ordered by Beijing. Rather than sacrificing billions of dollars, Hong Kong will pay a price in terms of freedom of association and opinion.

The pro-independence group asked for (and received) more time to reply to the official police request for the ban, and then handed in a response after the deadline anyway. It’s as if they are inviting, goading or daring the judiciary to tarnish its own integrity – assuming this ends up in the courts – by allowing the government’s decision and accepting the laughable claim that Andy Chan and his little band of followers threaten national security. If so, it would be a necessary, maybe brilliant, theatrical tactic. Why grace this farce with a serious defence?

The ban, and subsequent criminalization of opinions, and concurrent degrading of rule of law, are inevitable in any case. You are in a Leninist regime.

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World’s most mundane historic Sunday beckons

I am due to take part in a historic event on Sunday: the opening of Hong Kong’s ultra-expensive Vacant Express high-speed rail link to places we don’t want to go to. Specifically, I will be meeting someone arriving on a train. Assuming the traveller makes it through the Chinese security zone and the sinister secret basements, I might go for some extra excitement by eating in one of the humungous and tacky station’s enticing food outlets.

Speaking of thrills, the Hong Kong Free Press article will be out on Tuesday. Apparently, it is ‘utterly depressing’.

In the meantime, I declare the weekend open with Mainland-themed recommended reading.

Parallels between Hong Kong and Taiwan are always interesting (as are the differences). One similarity is the Chinese government’s inability to admit that it is part of the problem – viewed from the Taiwan angle in this Taipei Times op-ed.

Even by the sketchy standards of most national accounts and statistics, no-one knows anything about China, and that includes its own government.

From CSIS, another brave attempt to work out what Belt and Road is, noting that by now the visionary initiative includes the Arctic, cyberspace, and even outer space. In New Zealand, it’s Burglary and Road. And Bloomberg poo-poos Beijing’s tech dreams.

If you work at Xinhua, your key mission is to promote Xi Jinping Thought. David Bandurski walks you through the jargon-stuffed memo from the boss. Here’s a much bigger overview of how China’s propaganda apparatus probably works. And for deep hardcore CCP watchers, from Geremie Barme, the fourth part of Drop Your Pants – you must patriotize again.

If you want ‘utterly depressing’, legal activist Xu Zhiyong on time in prison.

 

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New cold war shock horror carnage looms

Chinese officials snottily reprimand the US for imposing tariffs, violating oh-so sacred free-trade principles and behaving irrationally. Behind this self-righteousness and bravado is shock and fear.

Half the newspaper columns in the free world ponderously conclude that even if Donald Trump vanished tomorrow, the trade war would continue – the West has finally woken up to China’s systematic predatory and exploitative gouging of the rules-based international economic order. A few commentators are drawing on ‘cold war’ clichés to broach the subject of a looming major ideological divide between China and the West.

From Beijing’s point of view, this growing hostility is an attempt to keep China down. This is not just self-serving and self-pitying propaganda. The West assumed and hoped from WTO-accession days that China would mature into a more open, market-based economy. But this implies the Communist Party giving up its powers to allocate capital, rig markets, guide industrial development, pick winners and stuff its elites’ pockets. To the CCP, maintaining control over economic levers is indistinguishable from keeping itself in power – otherwise known as ‘restoring national greatness’.

From the West’s point of view, the time has come to stop accommodating China’s ruthless mercantilism, and reciprocate. If the West is cohesive and determined about this, and assuming that the CCP can’t/won’t let go of the economy, this leaves the Mainland moving closer to autarky in the future. It wouldn’t be the first time in history that China’s refusal to open its markets hasn’t ended well.

Global markets meanwhile seem unfazed. Perhaps they know how cohesive and determined the West is likely to be.

 

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Carrie Lam announces committee on Bee Swarm procedures

The Hong Kong Transport Department starts Wednesday with an announcement that it needs more time to clear roads still blocked after Typhoon Mangkhut on Sunday. It is an unintentional reminder (along with the Great Tai Po Post-Storm Traumatized Killer Bees Frenzy) that Chief Executive Carrie Lam screwed up by not requesting everyone to stay home Monday.

Her real error has been subsequently refusing to fess up and apologize – thus ensuring that this episode sticks in everyone’s memory for years to come as far bigger and worse than it really was. She continues to bleat that she could take no action because of ‘legal consequences and the effect on different industries’.

Some links on the subject: in case you missed it, an HKFP piece on what Carrie should have done; and today’s Standard editorial describing her excuses as ‘pure hogwash’.

This just in… Carrie announces a cross-bureau meeting to begin a multi-departmental/various-sectors review of mayhem-cum-chaos recovery arrangements. This is, for her, an abject, public, groveling, wrist-slashing admission of gross negligence and plea for forgiveness.

She can now get back to the issue of land supply, otherwise known as ‘leveraging the housing crisis into a HK$500 billion reclamation boondoggle for the construction lobby’. A quick guide to following the money from Paul Zimmerman, and some activists find land the government had mysteriously forgotten about.

On an entirely unrelated subject: a contender (you might think) for the Most Interesting Boring Book on Hong Kong Ever, the memoirs of a former Deputy Postmaster General – this sample chapter has amateurish spooks lurking in the Post Office basement.

The rest of the week will probably/mainly be in the form of a Hong Kong Free Press thing (link in due course), which could be titled (if space allowed) ‘Mainlandization of Hong Kong Will be Deeper, Redder and Quicker than Most of Us Expected – and There’s Nothing Anyone Can Do About It’.

To support this prediction, Beijing legal ideologist wacko Tian Feilong has written this charming paper called ‘We Must Crush Those Hong Kong Western-Influenced Rabble Like Ants’ (in Chinese, but should Google-translate well). Also aimed at Taiwan, it includes such themes as the Hong Kong elite’s shockingly deep-rooted internalization of British culture, ‘anti-colonialism’ and ‘patriotic love of Hong Kong history’ as necessary prerequisites to decolonialization, and stuff about dialectics. Read it and, um, emigrate.

 

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Actuaries’ conference a great success

Time to pull up a seat and enjoy the irresistible sight of righteous wrathful hordes savagely turning on a lame, whimpering, out-of-touch government that has made a basic and predictable blunder.

Hong Kong front-line services like the fire department, observatory, hospitals, the drainage guys and even methadone clinics handled the city’s worst ever typhoon on Sunday pretty well. A prudent, perceptive and competent administration would have followed up by declaring Monday a day off for non-essential business, as during a Number 8 storm signal. But it seems the smug mediocrities at the top thought it would look really cool if everyone just went into work as if nothing had happened.

Result: commuter mayhem – at least in certain districts – as transport systems still hadn’t recovered. Understandable criticism ensues.

Standard damage-limitation practice would be for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to come clean, admit she and her top officials were in error and apologize profusely. Whoops – we forgot you people don’t all have chauffeur-driven limos to take you to the office ha ha.

Instead, the government digs itself into siege-mentality mode and insists It Is Right and Everyone Else Is Wrong, so there.

The Standard reports actual (semi-paraphrased) quotes from Carrie: ‘…the government has done sufficient and effective preparatory work to cope with the typhoon [what more do you whiny taxpaying rabble expect us to do?]’ and ‘…encouraging a mutual understanding between employers and employees suits the city better [you know how mutual understanding levitates fallen trees and repairs rail lines]’. The administration’s ardent defender Ronny Tong joins in: ‘…the government is in no position to order the suspension of work in a capitalist and free society [if shoe-shining Leninists by spouting Libertarianism doesn’t get me a Gold Bauhinia Medal, nothing will]’.

Other desperate reasons we are being offered… By the time the government figured out its own legal powers to declare an emergency, it would be late November. A day off would reduce GDP by 1/x (where x = working days per year) – ask any Nobel-winning economist, and imagine how much wealthier we’d be if we all worked 7-day weeks. It’s all the fault of the environmentalists for insisting on having these damn trees everywhere.

We can only look on in amazement and imagine what is going through Carrie’s mind at times like this (the ‘not much’ theory is as good as any). She could have been seen looking concerned visiting affected areas, but instead she went to a conference for actuaries* – indeed, it is tempting to believe that her immediate gut response when she saw the videos of flooding and broken windows and closed-off roads was to blink incomprehensibly and then snap at an aide: “Right – find me an actuaries’ conference to go to!”

It’s still not too late for her to do a contrite, teary-eyed, bow-down-to-the-cameras ‘Sorry’ act. Maybe her Beijing enforcers at the Liaison Office, mindful of her symbolic role in the ongoing dissident-crushing campaign, will order her to do one. Otherwise (as her detractors will make sure), Carrie has let a good crisis go to waste, and consolidated her clunky, clueless, toilet-paper-buying-incapable, klutziness image, and widened the gap between Hong Kong’s government and governed – the seemingly impossible.

* Mentions of ’Belt and Road’ and ‘Greater Bay Area’ in speech: 5 each

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