Beijing’s puppets do some racism

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing lawmakers decide some xenophobia is in order. The New People’s Party’s Eunice Yung decides to attack brown people for cluttering up the city and causing hygiene problems. And her DAB colleagues warn that white judges newly appointed to the Court of Final Appeal could undermine family values by promoting gay marriage, not to mention threaten national security.

Complaining about domestic workers gathering on Sundays goes back decades – maybe back to when the Yung family’s helper was changing Eunice’s diapers. It hugely angers some grumpy, miserable and frustrated Hongkongers that far lower-paid maids on their day off have the nerve to be so vivacious and happy.

The fact is that without cheap Filipino and Indonesian servants, the economics of middle-class Hong Kong would collapse: mothers would have to stay at home, and it would be impossible for single-income households to pay their mortgages. (Correction – the economics of Hong Kong’s tycoon-cartel scam would collapse.)

The foreign judges/gay marriage issues are examples of a major contradiction the Hong Kong government must try to live with.

As an ‘international’ business hub, the city needs some foreign judges at least as a symbol to reassure companies that the colonial-era legal system with an independent judiciary is intact. And, to compete as a location for regional HQs, it needs to issue visas to partners of high-flying expat executives, even when the spouses are same-sex (arrangements Hong Kong doesn’t recognize).

But as the loyal puppet of a Communist/nationalistic dictatorship, the local administration cannot contradict Beijing’s official ideology – that foreigners in general are suspect (unless they wash dishes), rule of law is abhorrent, and fusses about gay (indeed, any) rights are a threat.

The Hong Kong government faces similar dilemmas with press freedom, and with the overall positioning of the city as simultaneously international/pluralistic and patriotic/obedient. In the long run, Hong Kong will be rectified. Meanwhile, the local officials must wring their hands while juggling the incompatible demands of international business and the CCP. (You can’t wring hands and juggle at the same time? Quite.)

Taken aback by criticism (and maybe nervous about rat poison in her dinner that night), Eunice has taken some selfies with happy smiling brown people. And the DAB lawmakers dutifully endorsed the new judges (the CCP has devised ways to override the courts anyway, so can live with them).

With pro-democrats being ousted from the legislature, the pro-Beijing quasi-politicians are presumably being told to increase their profile. But their populism-pandering skills clearly need work.

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Recommended Books

Just finished Everything Under the Heaven: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power by Howard French.

As we have noticed over the last few years, Xi Jinping’s China has abandoned Deng’s hide-light-under-bushel approach to foreign affairs and gone much closer to aggressive, hegemonistic, neo-imperialist, territory- and- and resources-grabbing getting-in-people’s-faces. And even more recently, Xi has taken a firm line on enforcing the ‘correct’, nihilism-free version of history (in Hong Kong, too).

One explanation for this quite sudden transformation is Xi’s sense that it is now-or-never: China’s long-term demographic and environmental problems give it maybe a 10-year window to lock in some serious aggrandizement in its peripheral regions and beyond. With clown Trump in the White House, it might be worth gambling on even quicker, riskier gains.

Another explanation is the well-nurtured sense of grievance and the ‘century of humiliation’, and a sense that China simply deserves to be top dog in Asia because it always was, and that’s what nature intended. It’s about entitlement – and vengeance.

Among French’s many interesting points: the tributary system was in some ways for domestic consumption. Vassal states paid homage to give the emperor face, while their leaders ruled independently when the Chinese weren’t looking. When the 1793 Macartney diplomatic and trade mission turned up, banners informed the local people that the visitor was a king who had come to witness civilization. The rise of Japan in the later 19th Century was a particular shock because the Chinese had no idea their inferior neighbours had any such capacity.

So the past that is shaping China’s push for global power is partly a fictitious one. Calling them out on this will be important. (And Duterte leads the way!)

(Many reviews out there – eg here.)

Also just finished: Attack of the Fifty Foot Blockchain: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Ethereum & Smart Contracts by David Gerard.

This is an accessible look at the cryptocurrency phenomenon from an economic and social as well as technological viewpoint – from bold (let’s say) libertarian experiment to crime-enabler to semi-cult to today’s bubble. The weirdest part is perhaps the rise of coin mining as an industry devoted to verifying transactions through absurd amounts of electricity-consuming calculations. A more bizarre or wasteful method of maintaining a spreadsheet would be hard to devise.

It goes into a bit too much detail on the identity of Satochi Nakomoto (who cares?) but does an excellent job explaining the rest. The author – a techie with experience also in music – tries to find applications for the ever-so trendy blockchain, but fails. Maybe someday. Meanwhile, there are still people out there ‘investing’ in these electronic blips.

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‘Tai Kwun’ – big overcrowding mess

The Central Police Station Mega-Renovation Thing officially opens today. I looked around the art gallery a few weeks ago, and I poked around the prison cells quite a few years back after the Immigration Department closed the detention centre, formerly Victoria Prison. You could still smell the sweat.

(Other nostalgia from 30 years in the neighbourhood… I remember seeing carefully supervised prisoners in brown shorts and bare feet taking the garbage out onto Old Bailey Street; and going to the amazing old police station facing Hollywood Road – once to appear in a line-up in a drunk-gwailo-assaults-taxi-driver case, for which I was paid a handsome HK$600. Happy days.)

I’m sure the restored building and new arts hub-zone complex will be pretty good. The main reason for this cheery confidence is that they’ve spent an incredible HK$3.8 billion on it. We could put a manned mission on Mars for that. (Something similar seems to be happening with the tortuously drawn-out restoration at Central Market just down the hill – why spend $X million for basic no-frills conservation when you can blow $Y billion on platinum rooftop swimming pools and other horrid pointless frills?)

If I recall, the bureaucrats’ original plan for Central Police Station was – surprise!!! – give it to a scumbag property tycoon. The developer would knock down half the historic buildings for the inevitable luxury apartments (without which no tech or culture hub can exist in Hong Kong), and ‘save’ the others, presumably by turning them into handbag boutiques.

Instead, the whole thing is being paid for by the Jockey Club slush fund – a ‘stupid tax’ on gamblers. And running costs will come from horrendously tacky food-and-beverage places, which we should see as another ‘stupid tax’ on idiots who think overpriced restaurants are cool. (Full details of all the vomit-inducingly pretentious places here.)

Note the exciting branding: ‘Tai Kwun’ (大館, ‘big building/station’). Guaranteed to throw the Western tourists – there was an inundation of Germans yesterday – who have no clue it’s pronounced ‘die goon’ [oo as in ‘foot’, or the ‘o’ in ‘bosom’, if you prefer].

Amid all the excitement, our bureaucrats have overlooked one tiny thing: how do thousands of visitors get into and out of the place?

They’ve built a link from the Mid-Levels Escalator…

But the Escalator is already operating over capacity (as measured by the number of Korean selfie-stick wielders residents must shove aside per 100 yards, now approaching double-digits). The streets below in most directions are also over-crowded, and typically have 2-foot wide sidewalks and herds of Alphards nudging their way through to illegal parking spots. And the tourism cretins have just relaunched a Sun Yat Sen Themed Attraction Concept Walking Tour of Boring Places Redeveloped Decades Ago, designed to lure millions more tourists into the area to see fake crap installed in space otherwise wasted on actual inhabitants. Meanwhile, just blocks away, new mega-hotel and other towers are rising as if extra traffic will magically float over the existing gridlock.

Of course, officials’ brains cannot handle the possibility that there might be a conflict here. Cramming more and more tourists in is obligatory and a compulsion, while managing vehicles is impossible and against the laws of nature – thus there can be no problem. Something tells me that we haven’t heard the last of this.


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This week’s compulsory read

Who is this person and why am I supposed to be interested in him? Can’t he just go away? After a recent deluge of frantic on-line shrieking about the hitherto-barely-heard-of Kanye West, I am buried by an avalanche of uncontrollably excited Twitter and other babbling on the subject of one Elon Musk, of whom I know equally little and care even less. Isn’t there a button you can push, so they just disappear? What’s the point of living in an Internet bubble when hyper-inflated inconsequential mega-bores intrude all the time? (And how do you pronounce ‘Kanye’?)

On top of that, I am preparing for an upcoming inspection visit to Japan. In short, just time for a link – a must-read…

Crime, punishment and politics: the legal suppression of opposition in Hong Kong by Kong Tsung-gan at HKFP. Not just an update, but a full survey of the post-2014 ‘lawfare’ against Hong Kong’s pro-democrats.

…Hong Kong has never seen anything like this before, so many people in the pro-democracy movement put on trial over such an extended period of time for such a wide array of crimes … prosecutions being used as a key weapon against political enemies.

Among many interesting points: the pro-dems’ helplessness in responding, and the government’s success so far in maintaining the reputation of the legal system.

The article describes a systematic campaign to intimidate and subdue opponents and critics, which seems to have come in two waves: post-Occupy, and a renewed effort after the 2016 Legislative Council elections.

Its thoroughness suggests explicit instructions and supervision from Beijing and the Liaison Office, reflecting impatience or panic up in the Chinese Communist Party (not to mention the totally obedient/petrified stance of the local administration).

Note that this is happening at the same time as mounting suppression of Xinjiang Muslims, human-rights lawyers, on-line media, and so on in the Mainland. Note also that this coincides with stepped-up United Front ‘ideological’ work in Hong Kong (the national anthem law, school curriculum revision, push for ‘Bay Area’ identity, likely curbs on opinion), which in turn is tracking strengthened propaganda efforts on the Mainland through Xi Jinping Thought, Marxism, Amazing China, and so much more CCP-BS-hype.

This is one of those times when you don’t fully see what is happening – but when you look back 10 years later you realize what you were living through.


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Harpist Jailed for Overly Latin Swing Interpretation

Enjoy it while you can: a rather fetching jazzed-up version of March of the Volunteers, which could be illegal under the forthcoming National Anthem (Sincere Veneration (Compulsory)) Ordinance. The report says plain-clothes cops were videoing this performance, and you have to ask: is the government seriously going to prosecute people for this?

I foresee expert witnesses from music academies telling courts that playing the tune in a particular key or time signature imparts a mood of jollity or somberness or Allegretto, but is not disrespectful – or is. The headline will be: Flautist Gets 18 Months for Playing in 3:4 Time. At what point does the Chinese Communist Party’s obsessive and neurotic micro-management of Hong Kong become comedy?

I declare the weekend open with a couple of quick links for aficionados of other disciplines: the risk of renewed capital flight from China, and sunlight requirements in pre-reform China’s urban building codes (yes, they had them). For long-read fans: the story of one of America’s bloodiest hitmen; and for binge-watchers of low-budget creepiness: Sapphire and Steel.


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Politico and SCMP jump into bed/have a quick grope

US media company Politico and the South China Morning Post announce a mildly surprising collaboration agreement.

The SCMP’s report perhaps sounds a little self-congratulatory, rather as Hong Kong officials do when receiving their idiotic annual World’s Freest Economy Prize from the Heritage Foundation. Without wishing to sound cruel – could it be that a Hong Kong newspaper owned by pro-Beijing interests is rather flattered to have the Washington Post/Time types at Politico treat it as an equal?

But maybe that’s what they want you to think: as recent trade talks show, the Chinese can get anything by letting the gullible Americans think they are winning.

Politico’s statement talks of expanding coverage to include China as if it were a new and exciting idea (the Washington-centric outfit’s previous venture overseas was four years ago in sleepy Brussels, as the EU’s slide into insignificance gathered pace). To add to the impression of innocents abroad, it creates a stir by describing its new Hong Kong partner as “the oldest newspaper in Asia [wrong] and … the only independent English-language publication in the region [hmm…]”.

The deal is focused on sharing content – cutting and pasting each other’s articles. This raises the question of whether Politico is aware of the possibility that some (in fairness, not all) SCMP China coverage might have a pro-Communist Party bias.

Jack Ma’s SCMP has a declared mission to ‘explain’ China to a global audience. Attentive readers will have noticed that the SCMP’s on-line articles now helpfully use English as well as metric measurements. And the paper is encouraging staff to write more items with international appeal. If Politico carries the right sort of SCMP stories, Jack succeeds in his patriotic soft-power-creating duties.

It’s hard to see what Politico gains. Does it want to scoop other US media in carrying staged interviews with Mainland political prisoners reading out forced confessions?

Alternatively, it could be that a flow of Politico content dilutes or displaces the SCMP’s China-cheerleading, West-bashing ‘positive energy’ material. Let’s be open-minded. (Indeed, the whole thing could be another evil foreign plot like Peppa Pig, to spread Western influence and bring down the CCP.)

Or it could be that the two simply see more mundane and basic reasons to cooperate.

The SCMP might hope to learn from Politico’s business model, which includes print, on-line, paid, free and regional products, including a subscription daily briefing pitched at ‘insiders’. It achieves the rare feat of at least sometimes making a profit from political journalism in the digital age.

And they are talking about staff exchanges. Like many in the Beltway comfort zone and similar Western media habitats, the expert elite Arlingtrons at Politico would surely benefit from some exotic global mind-broadening Asian exposure.

The least-exciting explanation is often the best.


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Asia’s sexpat journalists become the story

The LA Times‘ man in Beijing isn’t having a good year – first it was this, and then this.

MeToo turns the spotlight on Asian newsrooms and accuses (some) male foreign correspondents of sexual misconduct against female colleagues. Quite a story by Joanna Chiu: on top of the usual gender-based power-relations phenomenon, it has racial privilege/entitlement, a dash of Oriental fantasy-exoticism/cheap booze, and plain hypocrisy in a profession that aims to fearlessly expose injustice and exploitation.

Who are braver: the women coming forward with painful personal stories of harassment and assault, or the smallish number of men who dare poke their head over the parapet to ask whether this is fair on all males/over-hyped/necessary or at least question details? A few embarrassed guys who know the accused are apparently denouncing this as a witch-hunt. It’s a bold position to take – there’s not much room for sitting on the fence here.

There is also a mild backlash against describing the villains as Western male expats, on the grounds that it doesn’t apply to Germans. Perhaps ‘Western’ is largely code for a few particular nationalities – possibly those known for dominating international media and with serious histories of getting into other cultures’ faces in Asia and elsewhere. Alternatively, we can’t rule out the possibility that some locally born native men in Asia can also be predatory pests or rapists (indeed, purely domestic MeToo protests provoke seething outrage among male establishments in Japan and Korea, and are banned as an evil foreign influence in China).

Nor of course does it stop at ‘sexpat’ journalists – there must be ‘sexpat’ bankers, ‘sexpat’ teachers, ‘sexpat’ priests and for all we know ‘sexpat’ chiropodists (there are certainly ‘sexpat’ Oxfam workers).

Here is some earnest advice for white male 20-somethings abroad in response to this story. Males will either cringe at it, or with it (to some extent, it might depend on age – it does say 20-somethings). The point is that underlying this tale of obnoxiousness and intimidation is a story about things getting better, and very rapidly.

Until a few years ago, it would not have been news, let alone shocking or distressing news, that some Western guys in Asia preyed on female colleagues with impunity. (They were the ill-bred, loud, boisterous oafs whose uncouthness, it has to be said, did not repel all women as instantly as those of us who were and are well brought-up and decent might expect.) And you didn’t even ask what happened at the regional management conference or rugby club tour in Bangkok. I recall a Hong Kong-based financial services guy whose doctor would helpfully call his wife in for a ‘flu shot’ if he came back from a business trip with something nasty. How could the world not be getting classier?

There were no hashtags in those days. MeToo is not about something that’s recently started to happen, but something that has become unacceptable – so suddenly, that even guys in newsrooms didn’t see it coming.

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The Nobel dimension

The stock market leaps gracefully this morning as – Phew! – China and the US agree to end the massive world-shattering trade war before it has even begun. Both sides remove tariffs that they piled on in fits of righteous wrathful fury just days earlier, and everyone will now live peacefully and harmoniously ever after in mutual win-win friendship, with free-flowing soybeans, and new improved corporate governance at ZTE later.

Meanwhile, the rest of the planet beyond the stock market still doesn’t rule out unprecedented economic mayhem on the grounds that Trump and Xi (in their own ways) might just be overestimating their respective nations’ bargaining positions and cannot make pragmatic concessions for fear of face-loss.

There are all sorts of little details no-one wants to think about. Surely, if China lowers tariffs on US products, it must do the same for all other countries? How can the US increase exports of commodities when the producers are already operating at or near full capacity? What’s the point if the international flow of beans is simply redirected among markets – China buying more from the US, forcing everyone else to buy more from Brazil, leading to a net change of zero?

The answer to this last question is that to Trump’s infantile and superficial mind, the fall in the US trade deficit with China equals a Big Win. If Xi and his regime can restrain their own over-aggressive insecure instincts, it should be easy to fob Trump off.

Now a horrible complication enters the picture: Trump (says William Pesek) is factoring a Nobel Peace Prize into all this by way of Kim Jong-un under supposed guidance of Leninist uncle-substitute Xi (it all goes back ultimately to the Kenyan Nemesis who won the accolade, which has lost much of its integrity since the Scandinavian medal-bestowing sages got a Panda-mauling for honouring Liu Xiaobo – but of course Trump has trashy taste).

Pesek notes that this does not bode well for emerging markets. Does Trump playing four-dimensional chess over a delusional prize for a delusional deal with North Korea courtesy of delusional warm-and-fuzzy cooperation from Beijing bode well for anything?

Even more horrible thought: Xi senses a strategic opportunity, and gets what he wants out of Donald (US troops out of Asia, free soybeans for life) in return for persuading the Nobel bureaucrats (still guilt-stricken for hurting the Panda’s feelings over Liu Xiaobo) to give Trump his tacky prize. I mean – this is 2018.


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Some weekend reading…

Almost feeling sorry for China’s barbarian-handlers – how can they use their cold, calculating, cynical cunning to undermine the US-led rules-based international trade order when Trump’s negotiating team is a baboon show too incoherent to con?

Presumably the answer is: patience. Apart from a few jitters, the markets are plainly assuming that Trump will pathetically fold – give China’s state-owned tech giants access to any sensitive components or markets they want in return for shifting some soybeans or financing a family-branded Belt-and-Road golf course.

The result: an even more overweening sense of entitlement in Beijing, and real friction and shocks further ahead when China’s hubris eventually collides with reality. With that in mind, some CCP-baiting links for the weekend…

The re-education camps in Xinjiang have suddenly hit the mainstream press. Much more in this Jamestown Foundation paper, which suggests that Xinjiang’s core Belt-and-Road role has convinced Beijing to pursue a ‘definitive solution’ to the ‘Uighur question’.

(Update: the ever-so-convincing not-creepy soft-power machine swings into action.)

Two questions. One: the tactic of forcing hundreds of thousands of people to chant slogans they know are lies (or consider blasphemous) is up at the Pol Pot end of the subtlety scale. Can it not provoke a major backlash or uprising at some stage? Two: are any Muslim governments, societies or movements (outside the Turkestan region) taking notice? How do they feel this ranks as an atrocity alongside, say, Israel’s treatment of Gazans?

Meanwhile, in the South China Sea

China’s lack of real external threats requires it to push out until it comes into conflict with resisting powers. This might be termed a ‘search for enemies’ strategy, wherein the needs of domestic politics require an external military confrontation.

So far, it keeps the PLA happy. If the debt-fueled asset-bubble mega-crisis calamity ever materializes, Xi and the CCP will need overseas conflicts to stay in power.

More on the Panda-skeptic front in the familiar form of Belt-and-Road problems, again, and the associated debt-trap gimmick, again.

And the US is starting to wake up to Beijing’s ideological activities in its midst, with United Front infiltration of a panel on United Front infiltration – here and here.

It’s not just China: I declare the weekend open with this alarming revelation of a new pernicious campaign of foreign influence over innocent citizens’ minds in Australia.

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Asia’s mumbling-inanities and hand-wringing hub

For the second time in a week, security men assault Hong Kong reporters covering sensitive stories on the Mainland. Outraged citizens imagine that the Hong Kong government will take a stand – but they should be thankful for a bit of pro-forma hand-wringing.

It’s like expecting Hong Kong leaders to indicate whether candidates calling for an end to one-party dictatorship in China will be barred from the ballot. Their response is essentially: don’t ask me, I’m only in charge of the office paper clips. In the background, behind a half-closed door, a Beijing official rants that China is not a one-party dictatorship and calling for an end to this non-existent regime is forbidden.

If you were representing Hong Kong’s puppet/doormat administration awaiting instructions, you would mumble inanities too.

The UK’s Benedict Rogers, chair of Hong Kong Watch, summarizes the ‘lawfare’ Beijing (in the guise of the Hong Kong authorities) is using against the city’s pro-democrat activists. It is a damning synopsis. The government, he notes, has prosecuted one in three pro-dem legislators since Occupy, often using desperate and archaic charges.

Unfortunately, Rogers’ proposed remedies are also unconvincing and stale (presumably influenced by our traditional mainstream pro-democrats).

He says the public prosecutions function should be transferred from the Beijing-approved Secretary for Justice to independent hands. This directly contradicts the Communist Party’s view of ‘seamless’ government – the reason police, electoral and other departments have lost their (relatively) impartial public-service character in the last four years and become political tools. He also hopes, or dreams, the international community will do something.

If it’s any consolation, Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her colleagues, grasping for something coherent to say while Beijing freaks out, can sympathize with such helplessness.


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