Anti-social climber

French climber Alain Robert is banned from scaling Hong Kong skyscrapers for 12 months on pain of a HK$1,000 fine. The nasty-minded skeptic and cynic in me wonders whether his punishment would be tougher if, instead of promoting awareness of climate change, he had pulled off his local feats in the name of (say) Hong Kong independence.

(Vertigo fans in particular should check the video with the SCMP report. And read his autobiography, parts of which are terrifying.)

Which brings us neatly to the first item in the end-of-week reading list: a look at the Sinicization of Hong Kong via a review of Ben Bland’s book on localists and others, Generation HK. Meanwhile, Asia Sentinel reports on the Sinicization of Cambodia (perhaps the most likely location of Southeast Asia’s next anti-Chinese pogroms). Also, a shocking expose of the Sinicization of Islam in Gestapo-ized Xinjiang, and a drier piece on the Sinicization of the Catholic Church in the Mainland.

For optimists, more signs that we are reaching Peak Panda-Hubris. First, Willy Lam looks at how the Trump trade war is undermining Xi Jinping’s overall wondrousness. Minxin Pei calls it China’s summer of discontent. These are relatively light reads.

On a distinctly heavier note, Sinologist Geremie Barme translates (a week after it was published) academic Xu Zhangrun’s epic attack on the Chinese elite’s privileges, the Xi personality cult and much more – Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes. In his intro, Barme calls it ‘a daring act of ‘remonstrance’ … an act of sacrifice on the Altar of State … [and of] conscientious objection and of martyrdom for China’. (His annotations on the essay’s literary aspects are optional.)

I declare the weekend open with an amusing little Hong Kong government website featuring a handful of ‘selected’ (random/weird but politically safe) scanned 1950s-70s official publications. Next time KMB bus drivers whine about their conditions, show them what their canteens used to look like – eeewwww…

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Light ordered back under bushel

China’s government, media, think-tanks, tycoons, hyper-nationalist wumao and other organs of the party-state may have given the world the impression in recent years that the country is an economic, technological and military superpower – a developmental marvel blessed with a unique and superior Communist-Confucian political and social system, before which the rest of humanity will soon bow.

The nation’s leaders now wish to make it clear that the People’s Republic is not in fact an unstoppable force of modern might, but just another (if large) lower-middle-income economy seriously lagging in innovative capacity. They regret any inconvenience or misunderstanding.

Yes – Beijing is starting to realize that it is annoying. The official line now is that China is, if anything, rather backward. The Ministry of Truth wheels out a Professor Zhang Jun to explain. Needless to say, it’s basically all stupid Westerners’ fault for dreaming up the invincible-threat tech-powerhouse myth in the first place.

 

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Government blinks in HKNP-squashing

The government gives the Hong Kong National Party a modest amount of extra time to prepare its case against being banned as an imminent threat to national security. Pro-Beijing lawyer Ronny Tong is probably right in guessing the authorities don’t want to give the courts unnecessary grounds to side with the separatists.

This could get interesting (though the outcome is not in question). Communist Party officials frothing at the mouth about the need to crush splittists won’t be very happy with this sign of weakness, or the idea that the government might run into legal problems. Another reason to eradicate dangerous foreign ‘independent judiciary’ nonsense from this little part of the motherland.

Some mid-week links for those burdened with spare time…

Over in the moral-equivalence corner, a Greenpeace guy looks at the ‘narrative frames’ Western media use to portray China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative. For a more robust view, World Affairs Journal sees Cold War II as a Chinese attempt to contain democracy.

On a lighter note…

Frank Dikotter on the myth of China’s opium plague. We were all better off when you could just buy a quarter-ounce of the stuff at Watsons.

The perils of having a ‘rare’ name in China – a tiny yet disturbing example of stubborn, humanity-crushing, individuality-denying bureaucracy for the sake of it.

And a very nicely designed (ie not-by-the-government) website on identifying Hong Kong snakes. Most large mammals are hard-wired to back off from serpents, but a quick summary if you lack this evolutionary feature: don’t mess with the vividly-coloured or stripy or for-some-reason-cobra-shaped ones, but feel free to get bitten by the duller, less-patterned ones, which are pretty harmless, apart from one or two that aren’t.

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Leninist logic to prove Andy Chan right

Andy Chan of the Hong Kong National Party will appear at the Foreign Correspondents Club in a couple of weeks to share his subversive thoughts on the possible future for Hong Kong as a nation.

Guaranteed to go down like a cup of cold sick among China’s locally based emissaries! Will Chief Executive Carrie Lam resign her honorary membership of the club in fake outrage? Will the cops turn up and point cameras at attendees? Expect some awkward mumbling of discontent from Government House at the very least.

This thread by the Financial Times correspondent argues that Beijing’s obsession with crushing fringe Hong Kong groups is not an exaggerated gesture but a sign of genuine fear. From the Communist Party’s point of view, the democratic values of Hong Kong and Taiwan pose a real threat of toxic ‘peaceful evolution’ that will undermine one-party rule.

Hong Kong’s mainstream pan-democrats and much of the moderate establishment instinctively resist this idea. This is partly because it is more comforting to assume that Beijing is pragmatic and sensible rather than paranoid and irrational. But it’s also because the alternative is too scary to contemplate.

That alternative is that a free and pluralistic society in Hong Kong is simply not compatible with CCP dictatorship. That means the ‘One Country, Two Systems’/‘high degree of autonomy’ formula is a fallacy (in case you didn’t notice Chinese officials pointedly modifying the slogans’ meanings in recent years). It naturally means you can forget about representative government (assuming you haven’t yet).

It also means the idea of a ‘Hong Kong government’ is a fiction. This is already obvious in Beijing’s choice of mediocrities to head the local administration. Check them out. When they discuss the difficulties of rationalizing road-tunnel tolls or finding land for affordable housing, Carrie Lam and her colleagues blather about not being able to find a consensus – they are smug and contemptuous. When it comes to an issue like the HKNP, the tone is totally different. They are stiff, their expressions and phrasing pained. They are afraid. Carrie knows what she is doing is evil, yet she knows she has to do it.

It’s understandable that polite Hong Kong society wants to look away. If a tiny localist group freaks out the CCP, what else will Xi & Co have to crush and eliminate in order to ‘control’ the city sufficiently to set their paranoid hearts at ease? Judicial independence is certainly out, as is press freedom, and then schools, churches and so on. A rough and ready gauge: only when crooks can profit from producing toxic milk powder and kids’ vaccines here will the CCP feel safe. Andy Chan is right – Hong Kong’s only way to keep its freedom is independence.

And then (to take the thread’s starting point), there’s the big global picture. If Beijing can’t distinguish a bunch of smart-ass kids in Hong Kong from a ‘threat to national security’, how is it going to behave in its relations with other governments and international players in future?

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A Tai Kwun tour

A weekend stroll around the old Central Police Station/Victoria Prison compound – now open to the public, after HK$3 billion of work, as the Tai Kwun arts-heritage-hub-zone.

The site’s primary role is to serve as a cultural venue, with the impressive exhibition space at the art gallery (already done) and various performance facilities. So essentially the place will be as successful as the content it hosts. (Content? We need content???)

Otherwise, what we have are…

Open spaces, notably the prison courtyard and the old police station parade ground. They could use more or better seating, and maybe little tables, some shade, and even ideally some greenery. Presumably, the bosses made a conscious decision not to make the areas too park-like, either for the sake of authenticity or to discourage too much lounging around, fun, etc. Still, residents of this neighbourhood are grateful for even a square foot of extra concrete, and a group of Indonesian amahs had managed to devise a halfway decent picnic setup, so we shouldn’t complain.

Historic buildings, which are obviously the main static attraction. The exteriors have been so painstakingly refurbished that they have a sterile, Disney-like appearance, but maybe the weather will sort that out.

The original interior structures are intact, but thoroughly refitted with modern arts-centre/airport-terminal-style trimmings, signage, baby-feeding rooms, etc. This is a renovation rather than preservation project (contrast with this).

As well as cultural areas, you have historical displays, including a handful of preserved prison cells and a token creepy artefact – the mortuary slab. The museum-type offerings cover things like prison diet and the role of the police, but with limited context or depth about the wider society at the time. Perhaps this would exceed the hub-zone’s mandate; it also avoids the political-correctness problems involved in explaining the colonial past.

The buildings around the parade ground host reasonably unobtrusive retail and F&B outlets. The shops tend towards tacky/overpriced junk (leatherwear, clothes, pointless knickknacks), and the restaurants look pretentious/fancy. They all seemed fairly empty, though the glam quasi-oriental café stretching along a verandah of the main block might attract the easily impressed in the evenings. Meanwhile, a couple of ground-floor food places that are clearly affordable and pitched at normal people are crammed to overflowing and need far more space.

This is one of the great mysteries of life. The highest rents are paid by the outlets that attract no customers, therefore you can’t have nice things.

One exception to all this – the Taschen book store, including the world’s biggest David Hockney tome, a volume bound in chimpanzee fur, and other weirdness.

Overall – not bad, in a Jockey Club-paid-for-it way. My hunch is that locals will quite enjoy an occasional hour prowling around the old blocks, hanging out in the yard and taking in the odd movie or exhibition, while tourists might find the whole place a bit disappointing and stay away. (Fingers crossed.)

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Weekend reading

Two complementary stories from the South China Morning Post warn of the dangers of believing your own censored, history-rewriting, lie-spinning, think-tank-banning, self-glorifying, philandering-Internet-czar-infested propaganda machine: Beijing reshuffles info/cyber bosses to improve the nation’s image, and how did China mis-read US trade intentions?

One possible solution to the former problem is to consolidate all the Xi Jinping Blah-Blah Thought variants, of which there are 11 (can you name them all?) Sinologist Francesco Sisci addresses the latter with a broad sweep through China’s international relations back to the late 1980s (worth reading just for the recap of the last 30 years).

This week in China Spreading Friendship and Gaining Influence Across the World…

Mysterious and missing CEFC oligarch sells lots of real estate, including at Trump World Tower, Manhattan. But fear not – CEFC still has (for example) the Czech Republic, and for the time being, the silence of Patrick Ho, about whom new factoids have emerged (nothing exciting, but plenty of offshore/CCP ambience). A look at former US officials now lobbying for the Panda. And elsewhere in Beijing’s party-state-industrial complex, ZTE’s ties to military and sanctions-busting entities. On the Belt and Road Win-Win front, two vassal states are coming along nicely – Cambodia land of casinos and Laos the high-speed rail hub-zone.

On a (pretty much) non-China note, a long piece probably getting to the truth of what happened to Otto Warmbier, brain-dead US hostage in North Korea.

Closer to home, a somewhat snarky (could there be any other?) report from a Hong Kong Young Leaders gathering. And as Hong Kong merges with the oppressive Mainland, will it make sense for NGOs to move to Taiwan?

A different sort of merging-with-mainland – Hong Kong’s disappearing islands.

And Welcome to the Mid-Levels. (Where is this – under the Escalator? Need to get the Central and Western Concern Group to turn it into a heritage conservation shrine-cum-Korean-tourists-selfie-site.)

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New HK uni motto – “Don’t Bother”

The Chinese government’s Mainlandization of Hong Kong is clever – sufficiently incremental and wearing to avoid much outrage. The forthcoming ban of the HK National Party is the latest in a series of steps including the denial of registration and permits to groups and the disqualification of election candidates on the grounds that they are separatist. Each step seemed minor enough for most people to shrug off. The Chief Executive can now openly suggest that expression of an opinion will be a crime, and no-one pays much attention.

But the process is happening on multiple fronts simultaneously, so you can’t keep up anyway. Few notice as a string of mostly obscure and uninteresting academics don’t get promoted. Then one day suppression of opposition and dissent on campuses has become normal. One prominent economist who has just retreated from the Mainland says:

I did not even apply in Hong Kong because to sum up a number of conversations: the writing is on the wall and happening fast, in a few years, Hong Kong universities will be Chinese universities. Don’t bother.

With disqualifications of candidates and the transformation of elected bodies into Mainland-style rubber stamps, don’t bother voting, either – but maybe people are realizing that. There’s no point in legitimizing a fake process.

However, Hong Kong’s resistance still sees hope in the legal system and courts. HKNP should definitely give it a try.

It’s not that the judicial system can dependably protect people’s rights any more. But by going to the courts, you force Beijing to show its hand – or its face. Every ‘interpretation’ (with retroactive effect) of the Basic Law or other Communist rule-by-law device humiliates Hong Kong’s local puppet administration and exposes what is really happening and who is doing it.

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At your fingertips – best roller-skate route to Shatin

Finding a wad of taxpayers’ money lying around, the Hong Kong Transport Department decides to reinvent the wheel. Behold the HK-Mega-Smart-City eModeTravel-node App, which allows you to plan journeys around our bustling metropolis.

One small drawback: it omits the schedule information for Kowloon Motor Bus, CityBus and the MTR mass-transit network. I would guess these account for (pluck conservative figure from head) 75% of the routes people take around town. However, it does offer arrival times for Hong Kong Island’s rinky dink/charming trams (frequent, but still quicker to walk) plus ‘the best walking routes in Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui’ (a joke coming from a bureaucracy that regards pedestrians as vermin, especially in those two districts).

The civil servants have also included helpful info on things like traffic jams and parking spaces for the small part of the population who drive private cars – who by bizarre coincidence are mostly… civil servants.

Apparently, the app’s relative uselessness is because the big transport operators’ top-secret commercially sensitive data cannot be divulged for reasons of national security.

So why bother?

It’s not as if this space-age high-tech service doesn’t already exist. Google Maps offers a user-friendly and comprehensive ‘directions’ function that virtually holds your hand and leads you to the right bus stop, MTR station, etc, complete with advice on when the next service leaves, which seats don’t have deadly pins in them, etc.

It is true that there are Hong Kong public servants devoting significant resources to actively and maliciously inflicting damage upon the once-great city. Current examples include gerrymandering (allegedly, ho ho) election boundaries, banning books, and of course stamping out thought-crimes.

But there are also whole bureaucracies dedicated merely to wasting time, space and (especially) money. We have Computer Emergency Response, Travel, Food Safety and other offices full of personnel ‘monitoring’ and re-sending already available alerts, and Tourism and other commissions absorbed in futility and pointlessness. The Transport Dept App Development Tech-Inno-hub Unit is an example of the latter. To be fair.

 

 

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It’s rocky, says Rocky

Landlords will face ‘intense competition for tenants’ in some Hong Kong districts, as the increased supply of new apartments leads to a glut. Real-estate agent Rocky Wong warns that a 194-square-foot unit ‘may just go for about HK$10,000 a month’. Some experts see more micro-flats flooding the market; others say the effect will be temporary and ‘normal’ rents will soon return.

The SCMP does not mention the all-important matter of rental yields. Average prices for these units seem to be around HK$3.8mn, suggesting a yield of 3%, which is lower than (to take some boring examples) Hang Seng Bank or Cheung Kong Holdings pay out – plus you don’t have to mend their leaky bathroom taps.

But presumably, many of these nano-flat buyers don’t have cash. Such barely habitable developments are aimed at the classic Hong Kong must-have-property-at-all-costs bubble-chasing herd, who are relying on oh-so-tempting (developer-arranged) financing deals. What will they be paying in mortgage interest further ahead? Did they stop to ask themselves that at any stage? (Hang Seng Bank and Cheung Kong no doubt did.)

Meanwhile, up the road, banks are issuing 1 million credit cards every 4.5 days as urban households borrow to buy housing. Thanks to rising property valuations, this is on average almost doubling their annual incomes – on paper. (I didn’t know they could print credit cards that quickly.)

 

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Hong Kong’s business-bureaucracy inter-ooze

Readers of the Standard opening page 8 this morning experience a sudden bout of air-motion discomfort as a ghoulish apparition peers up at them. The Morticia Addams lookalike hungrily eying Donald Tsang is in fact lawmaker Regina Ip, who tells reporters that the disgraced ex-Chief Executive is suffering ‘post-public office syndrome’.

A better description might be ‘tycoon exposure disorder’.

Senior civil servants earning only a few million a year socialize with the city’s plutocrats in elite hangouts like the Jockey Club. The exclusive surroundings and trappings might suggest they are social equals, and indeed they are on first-name terms. But the relationship is far from symmetrical. The bureaucrats have risen through a meritocracy and believe they are the cream of Hong Kong. The businessmen are dim and were just born into extreme, cartel-owning wealth. The civil servants feel like paupers in comparison, but they have discretionary administrative and regulatory power. You can imagine the rest.

Poor Rafael Hui was a victim. Many others probably are, but we never find out (though we can be sure Beijing knows, and finds such information most useful in keeping senior officials loyal).

Just as bureaucrats are mesmerized by tycoons’ riches, the business class covets the intellectuals’ academic and professional credentials. Embarrassingly, the lesser magnates envy the big boys’ fake doctorates (from real donation-hungry universities), and must acquire phony fake ones – and it all gets rather icky.

Horrified Standard readers flicking back from the Regina-Donald story will come across a classic example (page 6-7 on today’s ‘flipping version’ here, if you must).

It’s a sponsored one-and-a-half-page spread to congratulate one Ken Wong of MG Holdings Group on receiving a cascade of honours: Nobel Laureates Series’ Asian Chinese Leaders; Senior Fellowship of Asian College of Knowledge Management; and Doctor of Management from Lincoln University.

We’ve been here before. The ‘Nobel Laureates’ thing and the related Asian College of Knowledge etc have a strong whiff of United Front permeating the stench of shoe-shining. Not to mention, of course, bullshit – as Mr Webb already revealed in an expose of ‘Lincoln University’ and various fake professional institutes mentioned in all this.

Looking at the link on the 2017 awards ceremony, it seems presenters included a real Nobel Laureate and a top Hong Kong official, Health Secretary Sophia Chan. And sponsors of the announcement in the Standard include oh-so reputable companies like Hang Seng Bank and Prudential. The inter-oozing of business and bureaucracy continues.

Tragically, the world of Hong Kong establishment-wannabe social-climbing title-accumulation has still not produced anyone to rival Duke Dr Raymond Lee.

 

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