Some mid-week links

Among many other things, 2017 should be the year that Western democracies started to wake up to systematic Chinese Communist Party infiltration of their academia, media, legislatures and other institutions (latest episode here). Patriotic Hongkongers are playing their part in this clunky wannabe soft-power effort, as we know from tycoon Ronny Chan influencing the Asia Society. And now here’s a look at former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa’s China-United States Exchange Foundation, which seems to be dabbling in a lot of particularly snooze-worthy stuff – but maybe that’s the cunning plan.

To update from yesterday: apparently it’s not LGBT but LGBTQ, except actually there should be an ‘I’ there too, and an ‘A’ – except in fact it should be LGBTQQIAAP. An excellent if lengthy Atlantic piece on how Trump won on white racism, period, quotes this (perhaps waspish) definition of political correctness…

…an extremely dramatic and rapidly changing set of discursive and social laws that, virtually overnight, people are expected to understand, to which they are expected to adhere…

The concept merges into hyper-correctness and plain pedantry – but forcing a change in commonly accepted nomenclature is also a power-struggle tactic. A few decades back, China’s official English-language publications expected the world to adopt ‘Xianggang’ instead of ‘Hong Kong’. When they gave up, did they feel humiliated at failing to force the Mandarin-Pinyin rendering upon foreigners, and indeed having themselves to kowtow to the colonial oppressors’ Anglicized Cantonese? If they did, we never noticed.

Speaking of decades ago, I was perusing some of those Olde Hong Kong photos and noticed a late-50s/early-60s picture of Wanchai (halfway down). I instantly sensed, in a subliminal déjà vu way, that the location was the junction of Johnston and Hennessy Roads. But why? A look at the scene today through Google Street View provides a clue…

Things come and go, but government zonings for filling stations never change.

 

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Doesn’t the Liaison Office have enough to do?

As the annual Pride march took place over the weekend, Hong Kong’s anti-LGBT forces spoke out.

The fundamentalist Christian/fundamentally gruesome Truth and Light Society repeated its opposition to legal recognition of transgender people’s adopted gender, now accepted in many (notably Western) countries. And a pro-establishment Liberal Party local politician freaked out over a foreign plot to force gay marriage onto Hong Kong after the British consulate flew a rainbow flag. (The Standard’s layout people wittily-perhaps put the story on a pink background.)

For most of Hong Kong, this is fringe stuff. In the West, the transgender issue has become absurd – see the bathroom-war sagas in the US. Radical activists themselves can’t get their heads around it (the TERF thing), and the whole subject of gender identity could use a serious dose of science. But beneath all the hoo-hah is a reality not a curable ailment. Meanwhile, gay marriage has gone from being unthinkable and outlandish to a big snore in open-minded societies.

The key thing is that in Hong Kong (as elsewhere) a fairly small but loud group of people insist that any expansion of LGBT rights somehow oppresses the straight majority, while an unknown number of more tolerant people disagree or simply don’t care much.

The anti-LGBT movement in Hong Kong clearly has religious roots. Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s panicky I’m-a-Catholic non-commitment over the Gay Games is an example. And it’s no secret that fundamentalist Protestants have had a growing influence in the education sector and civil service over the years (trying to push creationism and gay-conversion therapy, for example). We also know that there is a political overlap (the Devil’s handiwork, indeed) between the fundamentalist Christian and pro-Beijing forces.

As well as activists, the pro-LGBT lobby includes the (otherwise pro-establishment) international business community and (to an extent) the government’s own Equal Opportunities Commission.

What is relatively new is the involvement of pro-establishment political parties in these debates. Members of the DAB – a Communist Party-front – have jumped on the anti-gay bandwagon. And now the pro-business/cartels Liberal Party has done the same, as they have with transgender recognition.

This doesn’t look like a coincidence. Cynics would also assume that anything these spineless puppets do is guided by the Chinese government’s local Liaison Office. So there are two possible explanations (which are not mutually exclusive).

One is that the Communist Party sees LGBT issues as part of the Western universal-rights threat, incompatible with its superior Leninist quasi-Confucian Chinese-characteristics human cultural zombification-civilization model. But if this were the case, we would expect gay etc communities in the Mainland to be given the full Muslim/lawyers/feminists clampdown treatment – which doesn’t seem to be happening.

The other is that the Liaison Office has identified this as a wedge-issue in Hong Kong. In other words, they believe they can use pro-family/local-values slogans to draw some popular support away from the pro-democrats to the patriotic camp. Such obsessive micro-management sounds right up their street, as does the probable futility of the effort.

 

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In a pickle

Busy today ensuring a supply of vitamin C for the coming winter by making kimchi. The ingredients are Napa cabbage, salt, chili flakes, ginger, garlic, green onion and in this case rice-flour paste, regular onion, salt shrimp and fish sauce….

There’s also a batch with daikon.

The process ends up with serious mushy mashing activity requiring plastic gloves – it looks like the goriest-ever quack psychic surgery in the Philippines. Hopefully, after a slow start contributes to a deeper and more subtle flavor, warmer weather in the next few days will give the fermentation a kick before the jars can be put in the fridge.

You might still have time to make this evening’s Sauerkraut for Dummies demonstration in Cyberport. Sauerkraut is the way to start, because it makes itself. Use non-iodized salt, squeeze all the air out when you put the stuff in jars – and it can’t fail.

Disturbingly (as the Cyberport gig suggests) home pickling is becoming so trendy in Hong Kong that even the expat housewife food faddist set are getting into it. Time to spread the word, perhaps, that it’s all about breeding millions of bacteria.

 

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HK’s most farcical fake-election since the last one

If Hong Kong is going to be authentically Mainlandized, we must get into convoluted Leninist structure-speak. For example: Wasn’t it really cool last Wednesday when the first plenary meeting of the Electoral Conference of the 13th NPC election elected that Presidium chaired by Chief Executive Carrie Lam?

The correct answer of course is: ‘Yes, it was fascinating’.

The thing that happened on Wednesday was the rigged appointment of the body that will oversee the rigged election next month of Hong Kong’s delegates to the National People’s Congress – China’s rubber-stamp legislature. It happens every five years, but we are supposed to pay more attention than last time.

In Chinese-style elections, the complexity of the process is in line with its pointlessness. So in this case, roughly 1,900 people (the first plenary blah blah Electoral Conference etc) elected 19 (the Presidium) who will oversee an ‘election’ in which 36-plus-a-few people (candidates) will supposedly compete for the votes of roughly 1,900 people (mostly but not all the first 1,900) to become the 36 Hong Kong delegates to the NPC.

In order to get on the ballot, candidates must get 10 nominations from the Electoral Conference (ie the first 1,900), each member of which is allowed to nominate up to 36 individuals.

To prevent chaos and confusion, Beijing’s local minders issue a preferred list of 36 to its loyalists, who are the bulk of the body. In the past, the Electoral Conference have held a pre-election election that screened out undesirables (pro-democrats or mavericks) in the name of capping the number of candidates on the ballot. This time, hopeful nominees must also sign a loyalty pledge and state non-acceptance of funds from evil foreign forces. Carrie’s Presidium will double-check.

Typically, we can expect a ballot with 36 candidates who are clean and wholesome in the Communist Party’s eyes (mostly tapped in advance, but there is some lobbying going on among hopefuls), plus some extras for show. The preferred list of 36 will be sent out again to Beijing’s buddies in the electorate (ie the second/basically same 1,900 at the second plenary blah blah, or actual ‘election’ – do keep up).

Here’s the really neat twist: each voter must vote for a full 36 candidates.

I love that detail.

So not much chance of nasty surprises there. December 19 – it will be fascinating. The South China Morning Post manages to fill a whole page imagining that local delegates to the NPC are serious and mean something.

Charles Manson died this week. I check, and yes – I still have my copy of The Family by Ed Sanders (click on the pic for more Ed).

 

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Another exciting win-win!

One benefit for the Hong Kong government in battling furiously to locate Mainland immigration checkpoints in the bowels of the West Kowloon High-Speed Rail Station is that it distracts everyone from the money wasted by the white elephant project.

The numbers are a blur, but we are probably talking something in the range of HK$100 billion. Quite a lot for a link that has marginal usefulness for most Hongkongers (I can foresee some weekend trips to some rarely visited Pearl River Delta backwaters).

And this is the Good Value part of Hong Kong’s ongoing infrastructure splurge.

The wretched HK-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge with its endless cost overruns seems to serve no purpose at all. Not being a rail link, it can’t improve on existing passenger ferries or imminent land links out of Shenzhen for buses. Car traffic will be limited by highway capacity at the Hong Kong end and cross-border licence restrictions. The Mainland factories and Hong Kong port that would generate container truck traffic are sunset industries. That’s another HK$100 billion-plus-plus. (Weirdly, officials are debating how high or low the tolls should be – like discussing the optimum price for dandruff.)

Both projects are mysteries. Were they intended primarily as a way to transfer huge amounts of Hong Kong people’s wealth into the bottomless pockets of the construction/engineering leviathan (largely comprising Mainland state-owned enterprises and often-privately-held local tycoons/cartels)? Or were they designed as symbols and possible engines of integration, merging Hong Kong and the Mainland mentally and physically, thus absorbing and eliminating the barbarian-tinted splittist excrescence?

If you reply ‘both’, you are probably right. It’s a happy coincidence. A ‘win-win’! And when that happens, you naturally want more.

Behold the HK$400 billion reclamation boondoggle to house 700,000 people who for some strange reason don’t appear in any population forecasts. The article refers to the government’s ‘threadbare’ logic. That’s the optimistic take. This looks more like the biggest crony-Communist mutual-cooperation carve-up ever: Give half the city’s entire fiscal reserves to our buddies, and swamp Hong Kong with enough ideologically perfect Han to smother Lhasa 10 times over. The good news is that you have a couple of decades’ warning.

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Communist Party boosts image in HK again

You never know exactly where the next globule of putrid slime will ooze out of Beijing’s local power/support base in Hong Kong. It could be from any of the shoe-shining tycoons and bureaucrats, shady patriotic businessmen, opportunistic loyalist politicians, obedient academics, groveling pseudo-think-tanks, rural landowners, triads, even entertainers. Their grubby activities might be domestic and among one another, or they could overlap with the sprawling network of Mainland official and semi-official organizations and companies whose tentacles increasingly slither throughout the city. Anywhere with connections and an assumption that the rules don’t apply to me.

Patrick Ho was an eye doctor who jumped on the pro-Beijing bandwagon before the handover and was appointed to the ceremonial Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in the 1990s and the position of Home Affairs Secretary in the government in the 2000s (a half-joke job he performed adequately). He subsequently swanned around little-noticed in various Beijing-friendly roles – until now, when he is arrested by US authorities on international bribery charges. (Good story here; background here; more on allegations here.)

What’s really juicy about this is the sheer number of boxes it ticks. There’s ephemeral stuff, like his actress wife (who reportedly married him because the establishment heavyweight ‘gave her space’). But the most interesting is the Mainland energy company CEFC – supposedly private, supposedly run by whizz-kid out of nowhere Ye Jianming, suddenly a big stakeholder in Russian state oil giant Rosneft. It is also behind the think-tank supposedly focused on energy and yeah-right culture, complete with some sort of NGO UN-connection, where Patrick Ho practiced his ‘public diplomacy’, which allegedly included bribing African politicians.

CEFC is an open proponent of ‘Belt and Road’, China’s famous visionary international infrastructure win-win partnership blah-blah, increasingly looking like a resources-grab-by-sovereign-loan-shark. And joy of joys – CEFC and Dr (genuine!) Ho have been active in pushing Belt and Road here in Hong Kong, so we can drag lawmaker Regina Ip’s Maritime Silk Road Institute into this (Ye is an advisor, they go on CEFC junkets, etc).

Ho is more an early-adopting CCP shoe-shiner than your stereotype pro-Beijing crook-sleazebag. That’s to say he’s a nice respectable educated middle-class Hong Kong guy with whom many of our oh-so decent great and good have connections. They are hurriedly dropping him now – though watch to see if true patriots later quietly defend him: on the face of it, he was serving the glorious motherland rather than just lining his pockets (though it’s always OK to do both). It could be a tragic/side-splittingly funny/all-too predictable case of someone who sailed too close to the Northern wind.

The only disappointment is that the alleged bribes were trifling – but the US prosecution authorities concerned are known for their extreme zeal.

Icing on the cake: Ho backed a United Front astroturfing thing during Occupy aimed at smearing pro-democrats. It was called ‘Public Officials Integrity Concern Group’. (You might ask which Communist-backed public integrity fake-protest group: perhaps not this one, but this one.)

You can’t make this stuff up…

 

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But we still have the highest-paid officials…

It’s not often that people pay attention to business in the Hong Kong Legislative Council, or to the thoughts of lawmaker Regina Ip. But today is an exception. The former Broomhead, Security Secretary and wannabe Chief Executive criticizes the government’s plan to hire an extra economist apparently with a mission to maintain Hong Kong’s position in international lists of business locations.

She describes this as a ‘colonial mentality’. In fact, the obsession with Hong Kong’s ranking in tables of global commercial hubs is more of a post-1997 thing. However, Regina seems to be questioning official fawning towards Western media and the whole Heritage Foundation/Davos/Forbes/Wall Street Journal/bores in suits/Freest Economy milieu. And not without reason – after all, no-one else takes this stuff seriously.

Seasoned observers of Hong Kong bureaucracy will raise an eyebrow at the reported HK$2 million salary for this job – surely, they will say, such a pointless civil-service post calls for at least HK$3.5 million?

They will be less surprised at the basic line of thinking – that these rankings matter and that appointment of a new official can solve the problem. In her earlier pledges, Chief Executive Carrie Lam specifically mentioned creating new government jobs in overseas-relations missions for no discernible reason at all.

The real story, however, is the underlying assumption: Carrie foresees Hong Kong slipping in international rankings of business-friendly locations. These lists essentially measure respect for individual rights, quality of life – and good governance in general.

 

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The coming ‘new normal’ of shoe-shining

It’s hard to keep up with the fast-swelling Xi Jinping personality cult. Officials in one town are paying homage to a (thriving) tree the Chairman-of-Everything once planted. Minions in another are ordering villagers to replace pictures of Jesus with images of the true divine prince. Xinhua’s 8,000-word mega-puff describes him as the unrivalled helmsman.

Presumably, dictators don’t have to specifically request this sort of treatment – aides pass the word down, and eager bureaucrats not already engaging in pre-emptive groveling rush to join in. Remember that Xi has fired, imprisoned, ruined, hounded, humiliated and tormented thousands of possible rivals and opponents (or ‘consolidated power’ as they say), so bowing to a tree to be safe is a no-brainer.

The test comes when the emperor notices the extent of the adulation: do his modesty and good taste lead him to ask the spin-doctors to tone it down, or does he love it and want more?

While we are waiting to find out how Louis XIV Xi goes, shoe-shiners will keep up the obsequiousness, and those with the right sort of motivation will probably sincerely buy into the worship and the hubris. It is a slide from the ridiculous to the disturbing.

Behold a little column by a Malaysian-born Hong Kong lawyer in the Standard somewhere along this incline…

Such public and zealous expressions of patriotic faith are hardly new in Hong Kong (since the 1980s, people have bent with the wind, opportunistically leaped to support the new winning team, avenged old colonial racial scores, or just hedged their bets for family or business reasons). But we should expect a lot more of it as Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing and pro-establishment camp adjusts to a ‘new normal’ of shoe-shining.

Even if the propaganda machine refrains from full-blown deification of Xi Jinping, it will certainly turn up the glorification of the Communist Party and nation. As economic growth slows and financial, demographic, environmental and other long-term problems become apparent, the leadership must depend more on strident Chinese nationalism for legitimacy/survival.

As the Mainlandization of Hong Kong continues, local pro-Beijing forces will have to go along with it. Specifically, the traditionally secular business/bureaucracy establishment will have to more openly embrace Xi-New Era-style Chinese-ness and the Communist Party and its symbolism. (Which uni here will be first to open a X-thought Institute?)

At best, it’s going to be seriously stomach-churning.

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Carrie ordered to get on with impossible job from Hell

Beijing official Li Fei delivers his very important speech on How and Why We Will Continue to Crush Worthless Hong Kong Vermin. This was a much-anticipated event because hundreds of schoolchildren were forced to watch via TV links. Local officials urged schools to organize this because, in the new-look Mainlandizing Hong Kong, not forcing kiddies to watch would be disrespectful to the sovereign power.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam is leading the way in making deference to Beijing appear normal – even perhaps wholesome, if not exactly fashionably elegant. Where her predecessors and others insisted for years that Hong Kong enjoyed a ‘high degree of autonomy’ (here’s her abnormally pro-Communist predecessor CY Leung doing it), she now employs the phrase ‘semi-autonomy’.

This downgrading of terminology is selective (‘high degree’ is still a default slogan for defensive whiny responses to foreign criticism), but obviously at the behest of Beijing, as Li Fei made clear in his speech. According to the South China Morning Post

Li devoted most of his 50-minute speech to Hongkongers’ lack of respect for China’s sovereignty and constitutional authority over the city… [He explained that] Beijing would “jointly govern” Hong Kong with direct control over “important issues”, while the city’s autonomy would be limited to local affairs.

Though not new, this is a clear confirmation that the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ promised in the 1980s and 1990s and apparently honored in the 2000s, is over.

Li also complained that Hong Kong had still – 20 years after the handover – not passed national security laws against sedition, treason, etc, as required by the famous Article 23 of the Basic Law.

Beijing feels that the lack of Article 23 laws enables and encourages the anti-Communist Party and pro-independence sentiment that it finds so petrifying. (Obviously, Chinese officials could never consider the possibility that their own totalitarian attitudes and instincts create Hong Kong’s fear that national security laws would be used for internal suppression.)

It is interesting that Li Fei, like others before him, is publicly prodding the local administration on this. Beijing wants to distance itself from what promises to be a nightmarish fiasco and make it look like Hong Kong’s doing. Local officials bleat about waiting until the time is right (apparently when we have some sort of community-consensus social-harmony thing).

They would be mad to try to push Article 23 forward – yet if Beijing sees it as a solution to pro-independence horror, foot-dragging cannot be an option.

If the government has to go for it, it will presumably try to learn from the failed attempt in 2002-03. For example, it might consider making the public consultation period briefer, or introducing smaller, low-profile, less intimidating pieces of legislation rather than one big scary package. The problem is that anything that does not threaten rule of law or human rights and generally instill fear will probably be too lame and ineffective to satisfy Beijing.

It would be in character for our officials, including law-enforcement, to plan for the last war and assume an identical repeat of 2002-03 opposition and protest tactics. Something for creative and imaginative opponents and protestors to think about. One difference is that the Liaison Office will launch an Occupy-Umbrella-level of United Front activity, so we can expect smear campaigns, fake pro-Article 23 protests, lawfare and similar jollity.

I declare the weekend open with a prediction. Carrie and her officials have little more than a year – less than two – before they need to get moving on this. When you see more Valium delivery trucks entering Government House, you will know.

 

 

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Cuddly Panda-power update

People keeping up with China’s United Front ‘soft power’ rampage Down Under will know of the latest from New Zealand and the Australian book cancellation – and another Badiucao cartoon to eloquently sum it up.

One feature of China’s systematic infiltration of the two democracies’ institutions is that it is so breathtakingly presumptuous. As more aspects of this strategy come to light, you have to wonder how Chinese embassy and other operatives thought they could get away with so much co-option, propagandizing, financial inducements and intimidation. Did they imagine no-one would notice or care or (as is now happening) sound the alarm?

In Hong Kong, the Liaison Office does all this stuff, with the advantage of a mandate that overrides and can command the local administration. Like the United Front work in Australia and New Zealand, it is multi-pronged and brazen. Beijing’s agents here have an ‘excuse’ for heavy-handedness in that the city is a hair’s breadth away from CIA-backed uprisings of teenage splittists and kids who boo the national anthem. Yet even here, the meddling and infiltration seems hyperactive to the point of being counterproductive.

Could it be that Chinese agents in Hong Kong, Oz, NZ and elsewhere are out of control – overextending their missions to advance their bureaucracies and careers? In which case, Beijing would consider reining them in to limit damage. Or is this another facet of Xi Jinping’s nationalistic hubris?

Either way, the story is coming out, and it’s not doing any good for China’s warm-and-cuddly image. And it’s getting noticed in the US. (An interesting comparison would be with Putin – see PBS documentary here and here.)

A notable and disturbing part of this is the role played by ethnicity – Beijing’s atavistic/feudal claim to lordship over anyone of Han ancestry, with added gratuitous victimhood – of which we will be hearing more.

A less shocking feature of the phenomenon is the role of money in enticing academia, politicians, media and other influential but financially desperate players into acting as China’s stooges. With that in mind, here’s a fascinating look at an Australian nexus of Chinese money/Chinese Communist Party/Chinese pseudo-medicine.

 

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