Descent into the bowels of ridiculousness…

It’s bad enough that Hong Kong must be subsumed into a Leninist dictatorship. On top of that, the city is being dragged down to the depths of pathetic-ness.

Movie-makers are convicted for possessing prop banknotes. The guy who heads the mass-transit system explains his dimwitted comments on hot weather and failure to pray. And the laughs keep coming.

The government wants to build a HK$1.7 billion footbridge that would fail to achieve its purpose of relieving congestion. (Assuming, charitably, that this is indeed the object of the exercise. If the planners’ real intention is to waste vast amounts of money and damage residents’ quality of life, the project is just as dazzling a success as much of our psychopathic urban design and budget-blowing infrastructure work – as we shall see in a few paragraphs.) Even the pro-establishment Standard balks at this idiocy.

Note that several groups of professionals effortlessly propose a cheaper and better alternative pedestrian arrangement. Why aren’t these people running our public urban planning and design functions in the first place? Put simply: they are not part of the bureaucrat-tycoon crony-complex, and they are capable of independent original thinking – thus on both counts unacceptable to the paranoid Communist Party that vets our senior officials.

As if Hong Kong does not look sufficiently pitiful, the public libraries have now bowed to pressure from Christian fundamentalists and put ‘gay penguins’ books for children into a restricted adults-only section. LGBT stories for kids might be bordering on over-trendy liberal self-parodying absurdity – but hate-filled Evangelical freaks give them a real credibility boost, helped by our library officials. The Bible-bashers presumably spent ages prowling this catalogue, which has 1.9 million volumes for you to find objectionable.

Last, but by no means least, go here and click on the video link. This is our Transport Department’s guide to driving a car to Macau on the new HK-Zhuhai Mega-Bridge Concept-Vision.

By way of background: Macau is full and cannot actually admit cars from Hong Kong, so you would have to park and leave your vehicle on a massive reclamation outside the city, and then go through immigration into the northern district.

So already, the ferry makes more sense. But the video explains that the paperwork and other formalities, courtesy of three jurisdictions, make the idea much worse. The longer the video goes on, the more horrible and complicated it gets. Try not to burst into tears of mirth and/or despair when the cheerful government narrator mentions the phrase ‘simple and convenient’ to describe a nightmarishly bewildering Kafkaesque, Byzantine, labyrinthine Gordian-knot/hairball of a bureaucratic hell.

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Starting to miss the good old honest ‘Belt and Road’ baloney

Is it just me, or has the ‘Belt and Road’ hype been dying down lately? One skeptic asks where the infrastructure-related trade flows are. Perhaps one problem, aside from the debt-trap/resources-grabs vibes, is that applying the label to anything anywhere overloads the audience or dilutes the brand.

While we’re waiting to see whether the mega-visionary plan withers or gets repositioned, there’s always the Belt and Road Restaurant

And on Hollywood Road today, I see the Yan Gallery is prominently displaying some sort of glossy Belt and Road coffee-table book…

It has the National Geographic logo on the cover and is authored by one Eddy Li. Apparently the same Eddy Li Sau-hung who is a businessman and cheerleader for Beijing’s pet projects – hence perhaps the sub-title’s stress on the ‘market, sceneries and people’ of the exotic and picturesque locations. It’s HK$400, if you’re interested, and they seem to have plenty left.

In Hong Kong, ‘Belt and Road’ is rapidly being superseded by ‘Greater Bay Area’ as the inspiring, mesmerizing and exciting vision-project-concept du jour. One or two members of the city’s Great and Good have recently been overheard fretting about a ‘conspiracy theory’, spread by the ugly likes of Apple Daily, along the lines that the Bay Area Thing is essentially a Beijing plot to absorb Hong Kong into the surrounding region and diminish its identity.

When reminded that former Chief Executive CY Leung (and the South China Morning Post) expressly urges youngsters to forget about being Hongkongers and become happy smiling da wan qu ren, the Great and Good sniff that CY is desperate for a local platform and overdoes things.

They concede that ‘Greater Bay Area’ offers little directly to Hong Kong’s young. But the idea that a downgrading of Hong Kong’s separate image might be in line with the Communist Party’s crushing of Muslim and Buddhist heritage in Xinjiang and Tibet strikes local grandees as eccentric Apple Daily stuff [roll eyes]. Beijing has pitched ‘Greater Bay Area’ to them as an opening of the door to large dollops of hot Mainland money – and everything else fades like a mirage on an old silk route through the Gobi.

 

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It wasn’t me, honest

My handwriting is better than this. Really. I like to think I would take the trouble to put it in Hangul, and phrase it more delicately. Stop looking at me like that.

And on to the latest instalment of our series, Links Documenting the Increasingly Depressing and Never-Ending Communist-Imposed Mainlandizing and Decline of Hong Kong, or Look on the Bright Side, At Least We’re Not in Xinjiang

An academic mega-epic by Johannes Chan – A storm of unprecedented ferocity: The shrinking space of the right to political participation, peaceful demonstration, and judicial independence in Hong Kong, courtesy of the International Journal of Constitutional Law.

On a more-digestible level if you’re pushed for time, Kong Tsung-gan’s latest HK Free Press update and analysis following the Mongkok riot/’riot’ trials. (This is the essential series for anyone trying to keep up with the increasingly frantic, just-getting-started, phasing-in of ‘rule by law’ in Hong Kong.)

Asia Sentinel joins in the coverage of the sentencing of Edward Leung, and, in keeping with its regional franchise, likens Hong Kong to the unfortunate Indonesian woman recently devoured by a python. The article includes a list of examples of Beijing’s intervention and repression in Hong Kong. Most people familiar with the Chinese Communist Party’s growing grip on the city will immediately see that the list is incomplete. This is not a reflection on the author, but a reminder of how widespread, repetitive and wearing the process has become. You are being numbed and exhausted into submission.

 

 

 

 

 

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Make way for the Mainlandization Express

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council passes the Express Rail Link co-location plan. The whole episode seems to be about setting precedents.

First, it allows Mainland law enforcement to operate within the city – supposedly prohibited by the Basic Law. In this case Mainland law will apply only in parts of the rail station and underground line technically transferred to Mainland jurisdiction, but the arrangement creates a model for Beijing to deploy cops elsewhere here. If the authorities had wanted to keep Mainland immigration officers out of Hong Kong territory, they could have devised a different system.

Second, the earlier overriding of the Basic Law came in the form of a decision by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. This edict from Beijing is an ‘act of state’ placing the issue outside Hong Kong’s control on a par with defence or foreign affairs. This is the first time Beijing has used this mechanism, but presumably not the last. Again, Beijing could have chosen a less high-handed, more constitutional approach, but didn’t.

Third, this was rammed through the legislature with time limits on debate and the silencing and ejection of opposition lawmakers. It brings the chamber another step towards a full Mainland-style rubber-stamp.

Not least, the whole concept of the cross-border ‘high-speed’ rail white elephant seems to be more about symbolic integration (or merger) of Hong Kong with the Mainland than practical benefits – as with the Zhuhai Mega-Bridge, the Bay Area Hub-Zone and whatever new Mainlandizing measures are to come.

One more: does Frank Chan set new, previously unimaginable lows as the most inept, dorkiest, waste-of-space Transport and Housing Minister ever, or what?

I declare the weekend open with some zany links.

One of the stranger ways China is trying to juggle overpriced housing and indebted developers – pressuring banks to lend money to (and subsidize) renters. To help you get your head around it, here’s a useful discussion.

How the Chinese Communist Party endangers Overseas Chinese – interesting parallels between Overseas Chinese/Muslims and the CCP/Salafism.

In case you missed them, HK Free Press’s Tiananmen Massacre anniversary features.

And the rainy-day mega-read: US-China strategic rivalry as clash of ideologies.

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It was King and Gandhi’s fault

The Mongkok Riot was the most outrageous and frightening, civilization-threatening, decency-defying, wanton outbreak of violence in Hong Kong for half a century – but not important enough to warrant a commission of inquiry, oh no.

Even the South China Morning Post editorial can’t bring itself to follow this contorted official line.

An investigation of the underlying causes of social discontent might have been conceivable in the first 10-15 years of Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong, when the city’s administration appeared to make its own decisions on most internal affairs. But Beijing has since redefined and downgraded ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and ‘high degree of autonomy’. It is now clear that real power lies in the Liaison Office.

There can be no investigation into the deeper reasons for unrest – because the Chinese Communist Party is infallible. It is perfect. It never makes mistakes. Its appointed leadership in Hong Kong must therefore be totally competent, and certainly could never screw up things like housing, inequality, rights protection or governance in general.

The only permissible reason for things going wrong under such a flawless system would be ‘hostile forces’ – typically, of course, foreign in origin. Chief Executive Carrie Lam alludes to this by saying that any inquiry should be into the brainwashers of youth who peddle evil notions like ‘civil disobedience’.

At this early stage of ‘integration’ with the motherland, a Mainland-style paranoid and xenophobic campaign against malicious alien thoughts would meet with mockery and/or upset the precious international business community. (Carrie’s predecessor CY Leung would have gone for it with relish, but he was ahead of the curve.)

Anyway, academic Benny Tai and companions will soon be tried on ‘incitement to incite’ public nuisance charges. This desperate prosecution, obviously in response to Liaison Office demands that Hong Kong crush threats to national/CCP security, could serve as the inquisition Carrie is hinting at. If our pressured and pliable courts martyr Benny (along with themselves), the truth will be confirmed: malevolent Western ideas duped local kids into rebellion and undermined faultless Communist Party rule.

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‘Pro-dems also eat babies’ says CY

Former Chief Executive CY Leung blames insufficiently dictatorial government for Hong Kong’s housing crisis – specifically, an insufficiently dictatorial government in which he played a role.

Not for the first time, CY’s desperate eagerness to support the Chinese Communist Party’s totalitarian philosophy leads him to twist logic. In this case, he is plugging an avowed patriot’s book by implying that if we all shared the author’s fondness for Leninist despotism, we could have averted Hong Kong’s greatest current social and economic ill.

His thinking is as follows. If Hong Kong’s first CE, Tung Chee-hwa, had stuck to the (CY-driven) policy of maintaining an adequate supply of affordable homes despite the post-1998 property crash, we would not be in today’s mess. But instead, big softy Tung listened to the common people and especially the pro-democrats who complained about property values falling – so the Crop-Haired One cut off the supply of affordable housing to push prices back up, leading to today’s bubble.

This is not how most of us remember it. It’s true that people who bought apartments at the wrong time in the mid-1990s ended up in negative equity, and they whined bitterly and in a few cases committed suicide. But the idea that CCP-appointed Tung (hand-wringing disposition notwithstanding) cared primarily about the plight of over-extended lower-middle-class citizens is absurd.

The greatest howls of outrage – albeit behind closed doors – came from the property developers. At one point, Beijing summoned the cartel-running tycoons to a no-nonsense ‘support Tung’ reprimand. But they got their way. The real-estate lobby encouraged home-owners’ complaints (the Liberal Party organized an ‘astroturf’ protest against declining prices). Tung helpfully pulled the Tamar site off the land sales list, which just so happened to prop-up rents at nearby new office blocks CITIC Tower and Cheung Kong Center. Alpha-tycoon Li Ka-shing’s son got cheap land on which to build luxury apartments under the guise of a ‘Cyberport’. Barely completed subsidized housing was abandoned and sold on to developers. Etc, etc.

Tung’s successor Donald Tsang continued to constrict land sales, and gave developers incentives to build luxury apartments just as Mainland capital-flight/money-laundering started to hit the market. The next CE was none other than CY Leung, whose big housing policy was new stamp duties that – surprise! – happened to push demand away from the secondary market to the developers. That brings us to current CE Carrie Lam, whose core effort is an attention-diverting rigged task-force on long-term land supply, which you will be amazed to hear is irrelevant to the immediate affordability problem.

For good measure, let’s go back to the colonial 1980s and 90s. The Chinese government, after signing the handover agreement, insisted that the British administration tightly restrict land sales – a policy that fed into the late-90s bubble and crash.

None of this was or is populist pandering or the doing of evil opposition lawmakers. What’s going on?

For many years straddling the handover, it seemed Beijing was manipulating Hong Kong land and housing supply to benefit the property tycoons – a predictable United Front tactic to co-opt local grandees. More recently, it has looked and felt more like a deliberate strategy to enable Mainland elites to move their money and families in while squeezing the local younger middle class out. The bottom line is that this mechanism turns Hong Kong into a cash cow that sucks wealth out of the population via land-related revenues into the government’s phenomenal HK$1 trillion-plus reserves, which can be transferred to the central government one day.

Maybe a fuller answer is in I Have A Red Background, So What? by Chris Wat Wing-yin.

 

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Rule of Law ends at science parks

This countdown to the Kim-Trump meeting is reminiscent of long-ago hyped-up boxing clashes – the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, the ‘Thrilla in Manila’, and now (fingers crossed) the ‘Mega-bore in Singapore’.

On the subject of fights, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has apparently knocked Science Park Chair Fanny Law out cold. It’s unusual for disharmony among bureaucrat/establishment insiders to become public – though Law has a reputation for abrasiveness.

It would be nice to think that Carrie might celebrate her first year in office with a purge of space-wasting ‘elites’. But even the shuffling of public bodies’ figureheads requires the approval of Beijing’s overseers, and they want unity and calm. (And anyway, who do you replace them with except more ideas-free shoe-shining dotards?)

What’s going on? It could be that the CCP want a more dependable stooge to supervise the tech-park empire, which is going to include the Lok Ma Chau Toxic Mud Shenzhen Innovation Hub-Zone Thing. As the South China Morning Post story points out, the Hong Kong government is spending billions on down-the-toilet ‘Tech’ subsidies, and Xi Jinping himself has decreed that Hong Kong get further into ‘Tech’.

‘Tech’ is also of course the main mission of the Greater Bay Area Vision Hub Thing, which seems designed to absorb Hong Kong at least psychologically/symbolically into a larger cross-border entity. And, needless to say, ‘Tech’ is a competitive weakness for Hong Kong. The more Hong Kong focuses on ‘Tech’ rather than on industries that thrive on its non-Mainland strengths (rule of law, a free press, etc), the more the city’s ‘separate’ economy and identity will be diminished. Which is the plan.

On the other hand, if Carrie or her minders want to indulge in a little populism, there is no shortage of front-men at under-performing public bodies to fire. The poor wretch Fred Ma, titular leader of the once-flawless-now-deteriorating MTR, cursed by hot weather and forgetting to pray, would probably (secretly) love to be sacked from his sinecure.

 

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Welcome home

Just returned from Japan. Now methodically reading through all last week’s Hong Kong newspapers to see what I missed. I see the South China Morning Post’s top letter today is from dimwitted pro-Beijing legislator Holden Chow cheering the Greater Bay Area Tech Hub-Zone Innovation Concept Vision. [Heads back to Airport Express station.]

The pedestrian tunnel runs under the sea linking Kyushu and Honshu islands and is a popular jogging track – best not to think about earthquakes.

These are for dogs…

Nowhere’s perfect.

 

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In case you missed them…

…an extra special helping of links ahead of my forthcoming inspection tour next week of a cooling, calm, soothing corner of Japan.

In Hong Kong, the designation of a polluted pile of swampy mud (of vague Shenzhen-linked ownership) as a Thrusting Space-Age Hi-Tech Innovation Hub-Zone prompts a boom in swampy-mud real-estate deals. Much to everyone’s amazement. You will be even more shocked to learn that “…at least ten groups of obscure local and mainland investors, some hidden behind sham directors and secretive offshore companies…” are mentioned.

Yesterday, I mentioned the impossible ‘international/pluralistic vs patriotic/obedient’ dilemma faced by Hong Kong’s officials. Here is a perfect little example. Torn between accommodating patriotic ‘TCM’ voodoo and evidence-based common (and humane) sense, the Hong Kong government decides wacko bear gall remedies are fine and dandy.

I hate to see a much-loved venerable institution that tries hard to stay relevant and constructive get torn to shreds, but I guess sometimes it has to happen. Poor old National Geographic gets a kicking for not fully grasping the nuances of Hong Kong’s housing crisis.

On to cross-straits matters: Why Taiwanese are not Chinese, with reference to Ben Franklin; and (if you seriously have nothing better to do) life in jail with that Brit who had ‘Taiwan’ tattooed on his forehead.

And let’s give thanks to those noble people who read things so you don’t have to: the Times Literary Supplement looks at Xi Jinping’s ‘Big White Book’; and David Webb goes through Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing DAB party’s annual financial report – and if you really want, that of the HK Democratic Party as well.

An in-depth look into China’s technology policies (as seen with ZTE fuss). One conclusion is that the US needs to tackle this alongside its allies – Beijing hugely prefers unilateral skirmishes and fears multilateral ones. Cue Trump busting basic trade relationships with key US partners.

An amusing bit of chat on Belt and Road and Greater Bay Area.

I am working on a grand unified theory of the ‘Greater Bay Area/tech hub’ thing. Basically, it’s about symbolically and psychologically downgrading Hong Kong as an individual and separate economy and identity. The means include at-least titular merger with the cross-border region (‘Bay Area’) and thus relegation of economic status (‘tech’ is not a strength or advantage of Hong Kong’s, so the city can play only an inferior role). Also, the furthering of demographic merging through migration of young workers and elderly north. The aim is reduced awareness of a discrete Hong Kong identity, less civic self-esteem and roll-on 2047 end-game. Something like that. More later.

Lastly, a big read. Not sure why the South China Morning Post is going to such trouble, but here’s a mega-multimedia package on the Spanish trans-Pacific silver trade between Mexico and Asia, drawing on the recent The Silver Way and other sources. By ‘multimedia’, we mean annoying sound effects and irritating hi-tech text-image interaction. But the actual words (and, in fairness, maps and very cool ship diagrams) are worth it: The China Ship. (Would it be churlish to wonder whether the title, which could have been ‘Manila Galleons’, hints at an agenda?)

Lastly, to certain gentlemen commenters, a solemn and serious reminder to consider during the forthcoming week of silence…

 

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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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