CY runs out of butterflies

With no soul, and no capacity to feel happiness or joy, former Chief Executive CY Leung must be one of the most miserable people in Hong Kong. The nearest he comes to experiencing emotional fulfillment is when he is pulling the wings off butterflies. Failing that, he uses Facebook to ‘shame’ companies with the temerity to advertise in the anti-Communist Apple Daily.

CY proclaims himself to be disgusted by an article that (quite viciously) attacked a prominent pro-Beijing businessman who had died just days before. Coming from someone impartial and compassionate – a nun, say – this claim to moral outrage might be halfway convincing. Coming from a full-blown supporter/member of the thuggish Leninist CCP, it’s opportunistic and hypocritical, and indeed compounds the disrespect for the deceased shoe-shiner.

Despite (or maybe because of) his pitiful attempts to remain useful, CY will one day find that the Communist Party is dispensing with him. Maybe his over-eagerness will become too much of an embarrassment (as it did when he was CE), or shifting circumstances will leave him kowtowing to the wrong faction, or his value will simply fade and expire. If he’s lucky, he will be tossed away and forgotten. But there’s always a chance that he will come to a stickier end – purged, scapegoated, falsely accused or denounced. In which case, he will receive the CCP’s finest reserved-for-its-own kick in the teeth. Maybe such an honour will actually make him happy at last.

I declare the weekend open with some updates on the CCP’s latest contributions to civilization and progress. The NYT on how Beijing is sanitizing popular culture and infantilizing the nation. An attempt to gauge China’s ever-expanding internal security apparatus. The spread of Communist ideology in education (including some familiar-to-HK-sounding stuff on getting little kids to do flag-raising ceremonies). And a response to the school that has silenced Professor Xu Zhangrun, critic of all this creeping totalitarianism.

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Reports Week

In the Japanese system of 72 micro-seasons, this week is when ‘Sparrows Start to Nest’ gives way to ‘First Cherry Blossoms’. This ancient calendar originated in China, where this time of the year is now known as ‘Bad Surveys of Hong Kong Bloom’.

The first was the US State Department’s human rights report, which expressed concern over disqualification of lawmakers, the banning of the HK National Party, the expulsion of a Financial Times editor and so on. This was followed by State’s annual Hong Kong report, which similarly expressed concern about the city’s declining autonomy and the impact on business confidence. A few days later, the UK government published its six-monthly report, saying much the same things. Amnesty International joined in with its annual review, which criticized the use of national security as a pretext for restricting freedom of expression and other rights.

All this barbarian meddling prompts predictable whiny panda-tantrums and panty-wetting. By accusing China of interfering in Hong Kong’s domestic matters, you are interfering in China’s internal affairs.

And just a few hours ago, Hong Kong Watch released a paper by academic Kevin Carrico dedicated to a prime example of the ongoing Mainlandization of Hong Kong – the forthcoming national anthem law. Unlike the other documents, which list a wearying succession of major and minor setbacks, this both explains background and gets into specifics about one piece of ‘legal malware’ that will significantly weaken Hong Kong’s freedoms and rule of law (and it has pictures, and references a hip-hop group, etc).

The 24-page document is here; a summary is here.

This proposed law, the author says, “incorporates untenably vague definitions of insult [of the anthem], while … giving the authorities unreasonably extended time periods in which to pursue prosecution, along with excessive prison terms of up to three years for thought and speech crimes…” He gives examples of how the law could be used – by design – for politicized prosecutions. And he points out that by using Annex III of the Basic Law, Beijing is creating a new precedent to force more such restrictive legislation on Hong Kong at will.

While we’re on this depressing subject, what will be left of Hong Kong’s autonomy by 2047? (the article mentions another that describes Beijing’s plan for the city as ‘purge and merge’, so at least we get a zippy slogan out of it).

Here’s cartoonist Zunzi’s view.

Before slashing our wrists in despair, we might also ask what will be left of China by that time, if the regime maintains its current spiral of more clampdowns, more ideology, more military spending, more brainwashing, more anti-reformism, more centralization and more Party?


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Shock as HK government listens, makes concession

Who says the Hong Kong government never listens? Officials show their caring and understanding side today as they drop nine economic crimes from the proposed new extradition arrangements.

The lucky beneficiaries of this uncharacteristic sensitivity to external opinion are business-folk, who proved unexpectedly (and curiously) nervous about being sent over the border. In consideration of their feelings, the government will drop nine categories of commercial crime from the deal, covering such issues as bankruptcy, securities trading, IP, public health (because, seriously, who cares about that?), import/export, pollution and tax.

However, some economic crimes are still included, namely bribery, fraud and money laundering.

This looks calculated to calm Hong Kong and international businessmen. The nine areas of white-collar offense are the sort that vindictive Mainland local officials or business partners might use maliciously against them. The three remaining areas look more like the ones Beijing would use to get its hands on fallen members of its own elite who are holed up here.

The Hong Kong officials announcing this yesterday looked a bit sour about having to make this concession (they are muttering about it just being an interim thing anyway). It is unlikely that they will be as accommodating to human-rights and other people pestering them for changes to the proposed arrangements.

The government announced this embarrassing retreat at an unprecedented ‘Three Screw-ups in One’ press conference, in which officials also admitted that they had failed (again) to sort out cross-harbour tunnels congestion, and that contractors had indeed ‘cut corners’ (but not meaningfully) in the MTR Shatin-Central link construction scandal.

Cynics suspect this bundling of multiple disasters for press conferences is a way to divert public attention from (or at least overload news reporters’ senses with) blunders. Optimists will welcome it as an innovative approach to boosting government efficiency.


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Reds under the PTA

Pro-democrat Lee Wing-tat says 40 Communist Party members are among the 150 immigrants per day Hong Kong must must must accept  from China. Everyone assumes as much. In her 2010 book Underground Front – The Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong, Christine Loh mentioned that many of those selected (by Mainland authorities) for one-way permits are CCP loyalists.

One-way permit holders are supposedly coming here for family reunion after being on a waiting list for years, and are presumably not especially educated or skilled. It is unlikely that Party members among them would be on high-powered ‘missions’. Beijing can send whatever academics, businessmen or officials it wants here to work as serious intel-gathering or other agents.

Lee suggests that this influx of Mainlanders is partly intended to boost the local pro-Beijing electorate. Now Beijing has clearly ruled out representative government in Hong Kong and rigs ballots, this sounds quaint. But his point that the migrants join United Front grassroots activities makes perfect sense. They will speak Mandarin rather than Cantonese. The loyalist newcomers will have ‘neighbourhood committee’ and similar backgrounds. And of course they will bring up their kids to be oh-so patriotic (barring mishaps). This is Mainlandization at its most obvious and basic.

One-way permits would be more a reward for loyalty to the Party than handed out as cover for an official assignment. Bribery and other favoritism probably also come into it – choice of these migrants is all out of Hong Kong’s hands.

So, it’s nothing weird or sinister – just a policy to gradually dilute the native population and culture until they go the way of the Manchu.

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Some rays of sunshine

As befits a day of dank, swirling mists, the markets open with a fall. Everyone suddenly notices that the global economy is running out of steam. Policymakers, after straining for years to raise interest rates from zero to slightly above zero, talk about easing. Displaying similarly dazzling and profound originality, the usual herd piles back (allegedly) into the world’s one gravity-free investment-asset class: little concrete boxes in To Kwa Wan.

To put a little brightness into the gloomy scene, top business writer Shirley Yam joins the HK Free Press – starting with a look at how Hong Kong regulators go easy on investment banks that fail to do due diligence when bringing cruddy Chinese companies to market (an activity in which Mainland banks are increasingly dominant, well gosh fancy that).

And we enjoy another ray of sunshine, as the last remaining functioning business writer at the South China Morning Post takes the Hong Kong government’s trillion-dollar Lantau reclamation absurdity and brutally tears it to shreds. Ouch.

Finally, someone has a stab at answering one of the great mysteries of life: why do tourists go to Stanley? And, essentially, it seems they increasingly don’t.

When relatively intelligent- and curious-looking visitors (the ‘vacationing academic’ types) in Central ask me for directions to the dismal destination, I occasionally take pity and tell them it’s a dump. I advise them to board a cross-harbour bus at random, just see where they end up – and explore the place (probably a New Territories estate with cheap-and-cheerful noodles, gory wet market and mountain views).

According to the article, one possible solution for Stanley’s retailers is to stop selling ridiculous crap no-one in their right mind could possibly want. How on earth do people get these dangerously wacky and radical ideas?


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It’s Friday

I declare the weekend open with a selection of just five links, four of which will statistically be of no interest to the average reader, while the other will fascinate.

For fans of the worthy but dry, a rebuttal of the ‘Zhong Lun declaration’ on Huawei’s obligations under Chinese law (click to get pdf). (The original declaration, to the US government last year, is here.)

For archaeologists, an obituary of historian Li Xueqin, including a description of the problems that arise when the Communist Party wants to rewrite ancient myth as politically potent fact.

For architects, how old-style ‘big hat’ roofs ended up on even modern Chinese buildings, resulting in much ugliness in such places as Beijing.

For the antique car types, how an Austin 7 came from the UK to Hong Kong and then the US before finally returning home.

And for everyone else, the Hong Kong Mexican Bun – how a little remembered returned Chinese-Central American tribe lives on at your local bakery.


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Carrie impresses

Impressive Contortions of the Week Award goes to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam as she twists and turns in trying to push through a revamped Mainland extradition system.

Her officials are still using an alleged murder by a Hongkonger in Taiwan as a pretext for this measure, complete with distasteful crocodile tears for the victim’s family, etc. If sending the suspect to face justice in Taipei was so important, they could in theory use existing case-by-case arrangements to extradite him – but that can’t/won’t happen because we must conform to Beijing’s fiction that Taiwan is not a separate country.

The irony is that Taiwan says it wouldn’t go along with the proposed new system anyway, precisely because it would formally treat the country as part of the PRC.

In fact, Taiwan is irrelevant to the whole thing.

As vividly evidenced by the Hong Kong administration’s uncharacteristic brisk urgency in all this, the proposal is an order from Beijing. The Chinese Communist Party wants easier extradition arrangements worldwide. The aim is not simply to catch and punish perpetrators of corruption and other offences, but to use criminal charges (real or trumped-up) to purge, silence or deter political enemies – which could mean anyone who crosses the wrong person or faction. To Beijing’s Leninist-minded leadership, it is absurd that it cannot use this intimidatory tool even in its own Hong Kong sovereign territory.

Since Xi Jinping took power, Chinese agents have (allegedly blah blah) abducted several people across the border through extra-legal means. These individuals probably had ultra-sensitive personal dirt on top leaders. Beijing would naturally like more formal ways to transfer other suspects, fugitives or anyone else, and apparently has a list of 300 already.

The extradition proposal was bound to meet with opposition from lawyers and human-rights folk – now increasingly sidelined along with the rest of the city’s civil society. But it has also hit resistance from Hong Kong’s local and international business communities. These upstanding captains of industry, who normally grovel and kowtow instantly to government, suddenly have a bad case of the jitters.

Their reasons probably vary. Some may have a guilty conscience about actual Mainland business misdeeds like tax-dodging or bribery. Maybe some have messy personal lives – bigamy or whoring – over the border. All must know that the CCP has files on, and hooks in, everyone. It’s not a question of whether you have committed a crime, but whether the CCP wants to use one against you.

So the business community wants white-collar crimes exempted from the new extradition deal. The Hong Kong government – trying to leverage a gory murder in Taiwan, and eager to defend the city’s reputation as business-friendly (not to say a haven) – might be tempted to leave commercial crimes out of the deal. But to Beijing, white-collar crimes are probably the whole point.

If Beijing is in the mood to be pragmatic, it can leave the main white-collar offences out of the arrangements for a year or so, then come back and plug the gap. If the CCP is anxious to come after foes in Hong Kong, officials will just ram all or most of the plan through.

This is not a dummy run for Article 23 national security laws, but it is a taste of what’s coming as the CCP extends its capricious rule-of-law system of control into Hong Kong.


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What you could do with HK$624 billion

The government announces its official estimated cost for the Lantau Tomorrow Mega-Vision Reclamation Concept. The sum is absurdly precise – why 624 billion, as opposed to 625, 620 or 630? Or 600-700?

The South China Morning Post calculates that you could buy two-and-a-half Li Ka-shings or 160 hospitals for this money. Such redundant alternatives risk making the reclamation look like a relatively attractive use of wealth. Better to say ‘we could build one Hong Kong-class hospital for every half million people in the Greater Bay Area’. (Of which more in a minute.)

The government claims that the extra space will accommodate lots of affordable housing – yet at the same time the reclamation will pay for itself through the traditional overpriced land-sale scam.

This is sort of contradictory, though the numbers probably look better when you see the reclamation as an area into which riffraff can be ‘decanted’ (the official term), leaving the old urban neighbourhoods of Kowloon to be flattened and sold off to developers to build luxury apartments.

But this all assumes that 20 years down the road, Hong Kong will still be a relatively desirable place to live in, or launder wealth through. That assumes that: a) the CCP regime will still be in power with comparable economic and political systems to today’s; and b) this regime will not have largely merged Hong Kong by then, so local land values will still be much higher here than across the border.

Indeed, the whole reclamation ‘vision’ looks arguably anti-Bay Area. Cunning opponents could point out that, rather than create extra land at vast expense on this side of the border (colonial-era, ‘little Hongkonger’, anti-motherland thinking), we should be patriotic and forward-looking, and be expanding into groovy trendy Zhuhai, Zhongshan, etc.

Perhaps it is ultimately an excuse to build an entirely new transport network – a serious boondoggle in its own right, and of course not necessary if you manage population growth and use existing New Territories land properly.

Which brings us to ex-lawmaker Edward Yiu, who reminds us that talk of the project sort-of profiting from land sales overlooks the obvious fact that brownfield and other NT sites represent similar value – which sits unlocked.

We have yet to hear Beijing’s thoughts on this plan.

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Digital news media time-efficiency breakthrough

Working [sic] from home today, so perusing the online rather than print version of the South China Morning Post. The recent website redesign is cleaner and less cluttered-looking – but most of all, it is a major time-saver.

Although the content seems to be divided into predictable categories (Hong Kong, China, Business, Comment, etc), it is hard to find much current ‘new’ news. Maybe the stories are buried further down in sub-categories (politics, health, education, etc), but these are too numerous and laborious to click into and back out again, so we will never know for sure.

Scroll down any page, and you’re back to repetitive links to (often days-old) material from other sections, anyway. Meanwhile, whatever section you click on, one side of the page is occupied by links to the paper’s opinion columns – including the rancid pro-Beijing hacks and the (allegedly) stomach-churning one about women’s feelings and relationships.

I guess the idea is to steer readers to the trashy and glitzy stuff that is supposed to generate clicks and thus ad revenue. In practice, that means actively preventing readers from getting at the plain old-fashioned daily local and Mainland news reporting that is (was, should be) the SCMP’s core usable feature.

Anyway, you zip through it in 20% of the time you would spend on the paper product.

Update: weirdly, searching ‘Hong Kong’ on Google News reveals SCMP items not visible on the paper’s website.

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‘Being obnoxious makes you unpopular’ shock claim

We last heard of Professor Zhang Qianfan a month ago, after Mainland censors ‘disappeared’ his textbook on constitutional law as Western Threat of the Week. He now appears in Hong Kong, suggesting that Beijing’s tightening control over the city is a cause of the separatism and other discontent it is supposed to crush.

This is not exactly news to most of us. It is pretty obvious that if Beijing had allowed Hong Kong more representative or at least responsive government since 1997, the local population would today be happier and, quite possibly, have far more respect for the central authorities.

But Leninists do not do ‘hearts and minds’. If they knew how to be popular they would, after all, be democrats. They assume everyone hates them, and so their toolkit consists solely of co-option, coercion, intimidation and brute force. Hence Beijing’s Hong Kong strategy of cronyism, increasing authoritarianism, population displacement and cultural absorption, and an administration of inept but totally obedient bureaucrats.

Professor Zhang seems to share with our local mainstream pro-democrats a sunny and optimistic view that the Chinese Communist Party can come round to realizing the advantages of a system where government power is limited and subject to the law and ultimately the will of the people. This supposes that China’s princeling and state-capitalist elites will perceive the benefits and joy of giving up their vast and tightly held privileges and monopolies.

In the spirit of sunny optimism, maybe the fact that the Professor is here and saying this – they only disappeared his book, after all – is a glimmer of hope. No doubt Hong Kong officials, businessmen, pro-establishment academics and Beijing-friendly shoe-shiners of all sorts will now come forward to agree with his modest point that the CCP’s heavy handed tactics are a turn-off to local people, and thus counterproductive. Stand aside for the rush.


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