One of our columns is missing (again)

After the Asia Society in Hong Kong was found to be barring government critics, attention turned to the NGO’s top benefactor tycoon Ronnie Chan, whose pro-Beijing and anti-democracy views were then highlighted in an online Forbes column, which was swiftly excised from the magazine’s website. (As an aside: one of the banished pro-dems concerned was recently involved in this rather exquisite stunt.)

Now something similar happens to Shirley Yam’s piece in yesterday’s South China Morning Post. Although there was no solid proof, the veteran and highly respected journalist offered plentiful circumstantial evidence that a couple who sound very much like the daughter and son-in-law of China’s emerging number-two Li Zhanshu are up to their ears in what looks very much like a plain old typical Mainland princeling billionaire offshore asset splurge in Hong Kong, right down to the posing-like-idiot-next-to-race-horse thing.

Of course, there could be another woman in Hong Kong called Li Qianxin – the exotic 栗 Li, not the common 李 riffraff – though less fastidious local press happily assert that she is the daughter, and the pair are dropping everything and running back to the mainland, etc.

Shirley Yam, who frequently covers sensitive Mainland/markets-related murk with necessary discretion, chose her words very carefully. Nonetheless, the SCMP pulled the column, issuing a statement feigning shock at a supposed lapse in editorial standards and whining about ‘multiple unverifiable insinuations’. (‘Multiple’ in this situation surely means ‘more convincing’, but anyway…)

This is a bit rich. Lesser SCMP hacks (today, indeed) routinely slander Hong Kong’s pro-democrat politicians with specious United Front smears. The explanation must be that Shirley Yam was getting too close to one of Xi Jinping’s ‘red lines’. Given the book-seller abductions, maybe the SCMP censors are doing her a favour.

Anyway, the offending article is still on-line here, and ‘the vanishing story’ could end up becoming a story in its own right. That’s what happened to the disappearance of the Forbes piece, which Asia Sentinel are the latest to report, complete with offending column in its entirety for the three people on Tierra Del Fuego who still haven’t seen it (plus gratuitous dredging-up of Ronnie Chan’s involvement at Enron, after all these years).

(Update: gone from above link, but spotted here.)

The irony is that if the cringing shoe-shiners hadn’t removed these columns, fewer people would have noticed them. For a similar example, Google ‘Winnie the Pooh Xi Jinping’…

 

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Recommended reading

While former top Chinese Communist Party guy in Chongqing gets the Discipline Inspection Purge treatment, current top CCP guy dutifully serving at Secretary General Xi Jinping’s side remains safe – despite apparent possible (as in circumstantial evidence that stinks to high heaven) daughter’s ties to billionaire-princeling scooping up overseas assets, including stakes in Hong Kong’s very own Peninsula Hotels.*

A thoughtful comment yesterday suggests that free-thinking Hongkongers establish a local ‘Communist Party’ to oppose this very sort of corruption and cronyism, and to create widespread mirth when the other Communist Party tries to ban it. And right on cue – behold the CPHK’s website for our enlightenment.

Other recommended reading comes from Penguin Books, who have just released a series of slim Hong Kong-themed volumes (which should probably have a dedicated website but don’t). Ones attracting attention include this and this. I downloaded this one, not just because I owe the guy a beer, but because it neatly summarizes the legacy of the CCP’s original screw-up in Hong Kong – co-opting a handful of rent-seeking cartelized parasite families and letting them plunder the city’s people and economy, turning it into the mess of lost opportunities, broken promises and rebellion we see today.

*Other murk just in – on HNA – here.

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Oath-Gate and some questions

According to the South China Morning Post’s calculations, at least nine more Hong Kong Legislative Council members could be at risk of disqualification for retroactively incorrect oath-taking. That’s in addition to those already being barred from office.

In some ways, it would be great if this happened: the disappearance of over a dozen popularly elected (and several quite smart) members would conclusively expose the Legislative Council as a rigged rubber-stamp body, and deprive the whole political structure of any remaining shreds of credibility. More likely, the Communist Party will hope that by axing a few, it can intimidate the others into playing along with an increasingly Mainland-style fake representative system. (If they are doing their United Front work diligently, Beijing’s local officials will have sorted these enemies into different groups to be expunged, turned against one another, or possibly tamed and lured into submission.)

For a detailed breakdown of how the government can take advantage of a neutered legislature, see here. But the powers that be are in a quandary. In theory, they can ram through ultra-sensitive measures like Article 23, national education or quasi-universal suffrage – but only at the risk of provoking street protests. And it would dash hand-wringing Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s already-desperate hopes of uniting everyone behind livelihood issues. In their obsessive determination to attack and crush splittists, the Liaison Office enforcers are making Hong Kong less governable rather than more effectively authoritarian.

Oath-Gate is doing even greater damage to Hong Kong’s legal system – making it clear that Beijing is willing and able to re-write the law and apply it retroactively for purely political reasons. While idealists and purists quoted by HK Free Press might complain, the Progressive Lawyers Group’s Kevin Yam is surely realistic when he says local courts are ultimately powerless. This is how a one-party state and Leninist dictatorship uses the law.

Two questions come to mind.

First: is there still any reason for critics of government in Hong Kong to engage in formal, constitutional politics? Even the old traditional Democratic Party moderates must be wondering whether constructive participation within ever-tightening rules makes sense. Why lend the system credibility as Beijing makes it less representative?

Second: if the Communist Party can trash Hong Kong’s legal principles over lawmakers’ oaths, when else might it, on a whim, rewrite the law and hijack the courts? The unofficial-official reassurance is that splittists crossed a ‘red line’, and Beijing will continue to respect rule of law on this side of the border in all other respects (leaving aside occasional can’t-be-helped abductions). But having done it this sweepingly on this occasion, and finding it so easy and effective to impose ‘rule of man’ here, can a paranoid one-party dictatorship restrain itself in future?

 

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Let’s all ‘focus on’ the honeymoon

A South China Morning Post op-ed column asks whether Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive Carrie Lam will see her honeymoon continue. She currently has ‘the wind in her sails’, we are told, because everyone welcomes her plan to boost education spending, and some opposition members stood up when she entered the Legislative Council chamber the other day.

Nice idea. But instead, the purge of opponents launched during her predecessor CY Leung’s administration rolls on, with the High Court disqualifying several lawmakers for their retroactively forbidden oath-taking.

Some portray this as a time-bomb, as if it has been left behind deliberately to undermine her. In reality, the Communist Party officials in Beijing’s Liaison Office who ordered the action against the oath-twisters would have been too carried away with the chance to crush splittists and mangle rule of law to think things through in such detail.

At some time in the intervening period, Carrie was press-ganged into becoming CE. She is presumably sincere when she says she wants unity and harmony – only an ultra-masochist or ideological maniac would stick with CY’s non-stop struggle against class enemies and counter-revolutionary elements. And she must have taken the job on the understanding that the United Front paranoid-psychopath freak-out campaign would be toned down so she could ‘focus on’ schools and housing and the elderly, and all other problems that created so much discontent in the first place.

So the result is tension. She has to go along with the aftermath of the earlier purge of pro-democrat lawmakers, whatever happens. She has to sound as if she wants to draw a line at that – although she might be powerless to prevent more, owing to timing and the new-look deformed due legal process. And she must be assuming or hoping that the Liaison Office will cooperate and play its part in backing off.

And then, she has to pretend all is well and implore the pan-democrats who have not (yet) been picked out for persecution and rectification to ‘focus on’ their legislative duties and pass her oh-so popular hike in education expenditure. Which presumably you have to, in this situation. But so much for any honeymoon.

 

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Glorious, mighty China finally free of deadly essayist threat

China’s Communist regime must have mustered all its internal-security and message-crafting resources to ensure that Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo rotted, ailed and died as discreetly and seamlessly as possible, while maximizing anguish and fear among his loved ones and sympathizers.

Yet, so petrified was the dictatorship of the dying writer and his ideas, that its micromanagement of his last few days was visibly clunky. Beijing’s soft-power geniuses seem to have bickered over the idea of bringing foreign doctors in at the last minute. Shouldn’t we just let Liu die unseen off-camera rather than attract attention? Or would an invitation to overseas medics make us look humane? (Could we even get the world to think the foreign doctors were culpable in his lack of treatment?)

Global Times portrays Liu as a victim of the West (which conned him into thinking governments should obey their own constitutions) and also falls back on the old line implying that China’s economic progress excuses/requires incarcerating and killing critics.

This argument would be more convincing if they supplemented the record of rising prosperity with the undeniable reduction in the quantity of Communist Party barbarism and blood-shedding over the same period. Thus annual per-capita GDP in the 1950s-60s was US$100 versus US$6,000 today; and the average annual number of deaths from political/ideological causes in the 1950s-60s was (say) 3 million versus (say) 3,000 today. For a paranoid psychopathic mafia increasingly obsessed solely with keeping power, we’re headed in the right direction! But of course, if the one-party state could be honest it would cease to exist and wouldn’t need better PR.

In Hong Kong, Leninist dictatorship continues to grind away. Today the High Court will rule on the disqualification of oath-mangling pro-democracy lawmakers. If Beijing wins, it succeeds in weakening the legal system and the legislature. It also further diminishes the credibility of the local government, and Beijing’s image as a capable sovereign of a pluralist society. Net result: it further strengthens the alienation and hostility of the population, especially the younger and more-educated. Which leads me to declare the weekend open with a reminder that, while this is going on, Taiwan is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the end of martial law.

 

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Simple explanation: Asia Society is part of CCP United Front

Anyone still looking for the vanished Forbes article on the Great 2017 Asia Society/Ronnie Chan Panda-grovel Censorship Massacre will find it here, all on one page, convenient to read and/or save somewhere in case it disappears again.

It remains to be seen what, if anything, the venerable, esteemed and righteous Asia Society itself will do about this embarrassment.

We are assuming here that there is an entity called ‘the Asia Society’ that is separate from an entity called ‘Hong Kong billionaire using fortune to buy venerable esteemed institution to suit Communist dictatorship’. If they are in fact largely the same thing, there is nothing for the organization to fix – except perhaps remove the ‘N’ from ‘NGO’.

A Wall Street Journal column wonders why the US doesn’t hit China’s elites where it hurts (the cause being North Korea, but feel free to add your own favourite offences against Western interests and/or decency) by denying rulers’ kids visas for Harvard (and other venerable esteemed seats of learning).

Common threads here: ‘venerable’ and ‘esteemed’, but also Ronnie Chan, major donor to the university (along with his brother – lengthy glowing background for the truly bored here). As with the Asia Society, perhaps fancy universities are already partly merged with the Chinese Communist Party Soft Power Hong Kong Tycoon Sphere of Benevolent Influence. On a brighter note, the US visa-issuance system remains beyond the greasy clutches of Pro-Beijing HK tycoons (I think).

Hong Kong’s own upstanding defenders of core values are also being absorbed into the CCP’s United Front. Behold – the Independent Commission Against Corruption is investigating the owner of a political parody/satire website. The ICAC have to act on any complaint, so it could be that they toss this aside as a nuisance call. Otherwise, we enter that zone where parody/satire and reality are hard to tell apart.

Which brings us to the South China Morning Post, which carries yet another diatribe from Tian Feilong – the Leninist dictatorship’s most counterproductive apologist, whose latest idea of smooth-talking seduction is to rant: “Twenty years after the handover, Hong Kong people still have some way to go in learning to think like an adult.” I’m not sure at what stage in the writing-commissioning-publishing process the CIA gets involved, but it works.

 

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Reader, I drunk it

Out of a sense of public duty, I finally sample the Pokemon Ocean Bomb Deep Sea Sparkling Water Cubumber (Pikachu)…

As seen here posing gleefully next to the latest batch of kimchi (third day of fermentation), it is indeed as clear and effervescent as the name suggests…

While it has a pronounced salady nose, the actual cubumber taste is pleasantly restrained. It is sweet, but not sugary and certainly not gummy like regular sodas. Extremely refreshing on a hot day.

I suspect that a dash of vodka would work. Maybe some trendy hipster Sheung Wan bar is already serving it as an artisanal themed Eastern European cocktail concept, with a sprig of hand-reared dill beneath the ice and a slice twist of gleaming organic cucumber impaled on the rim of the clunky jar, for HK$180.

For the curious – you want the yellow can, and it’s at the 360 snacks emporium, and maybe elsewhere. Now all it needs is a new name.

Update…What do you call it when an article about censorship is censored? Yesterday’s link to the Asia Society/Ronnie Chan/Panda-grovel Forbes piece has mysteriously disappeared – thus apparently proving its own thesis more conclusively than its author and the providers of quotes could ever had expected. (The first page at least survives via Google cache, and it’s all here, too.)

 

 

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Asia Society faces shoe-shiner’s dilemma

Followers of AsiaSociety-gate will enjoy a Forbes article looking at the bigger picture behind the story of a venerable NGO’s Hong Kong branch banning Joshua Wong.

Asia Society HK head and major donor Ronnie Chan represents Hong Kong’s inherited-wealth oligarchy, co-opted by Beijing and eager to protect its privileged parasitical role in the economy, not least by resisting political reform. Western corporates with Mainland interests play along.

The net result here is that the Asia Society faces two choices, internationally or locally. Either it openly becomes a Beijing-friendly organization, eschewing politics and economics for ‘oracle bones and Ming vases’ (to quote author Joe Studwell). Or it retains its integrity and finds other sources of funding.

Assuming it sacrifices its supposed values, at least at the Hong Kong level, it reinforces the impression that Hong Kong’s ‘elites’ have little but contempt for the broader community, thus increasing the ‘sense of futility’ (ex-Hong Kong U Professor Michael Davis). But it keeps its nice government-granted clubhouse.

This leaves the Foreign Correspondents Club as a rare remaining haven for free speech. They also, of course, enjoy a nice government-granted clubhouse.

Lurking in the background is the Chinese Communist Party. Hong Kong tycoons kowtow and Western business leaders otherwise prostitute themselves for a pat on the head from the Panda. Their reward is initially access to investment opportunities, but in the longer run, it is simply not having your wealth sequestered or plundered. Until they come for it anyway. Ultimately, everyone gets kicked in the teeth. If you are lucky, like ultra-loyalist Belt-and-Road-cheerleader Tung Chee-hwa’s family, they pay you – or as the Standard story quaintly puts it

…due to increased pressure from the mainland government, the family agreed to sell after a reasonable price was proposed.

Yet again – he who lives by the shoe-shine, dies by the shoe-shine.

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Great Moments in Marketing, cont’d

The latest Gullible-Tourist Tat Outlet to open in the old neighbourhood calls itself Mon Cher Osaka Dojima. It follows in the tradition of Jenny Bakery’s unremarkable cookies and Horng Ryen Jeng food-safety-hazard sandwiches – taking perfectly decent flour, sugar, eggs and butter, and turning them into witless overpriced crap with plasticky ‘authentic’ branding that somehow impresses the endless streams of Mainland and Korean visitors.

The Hong Kong government’s investment-promotion bureaucrats claim credit for attracting the Japanese cake chain here, thus bolstering our city’s position as a leading international business hub. If you want a HK$200+ Swiss roll, this is the place…

Meanwhile, a genuine venerable brand – HSBC – sends me one of its regular cringe-making desperate pleas for attention. While the long wait for higher interest rates and thus lending margins continues, the bank embarks on its millionth effort to mesmerize me with flattery in such a way that I eagerly call up its insurance salesmen. The lure today is ‘new and exclusive’ membership of something called ‘Jade by HSBC Premier’.

Where did this pretentious ‘X by Y’ construction come from? There is a chain of supermarkets in Hong Kong called ‘Market Place by Jasons’. I vaguely suspect it has its origins in restaurant franchises using famous chefs’ names.

Anyway, this oh-so-classy banking concept (?) is inspired by the supposed ancient symbolism of jade – highly priced but ultimately useless metamorphic rock made of silicates, the most abundant material on the planet. The Exciting Unique Value Propositions include Expert Lifestyle Managers to simplify my everyday needs (assuming not having Expert Lifestyle Managers doesn’t work) and access to Expensive Tiny Hotels of the Globe™…

The good news is that you have to download an app, which – something tells me – isn’t going to happen.

Even better news: highly affordable, non-exclusive Plankton Soda by Pokemon…

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Asia’s World City makes room for CCP Han-supremacism

If Hong Kong is to move towards a more Mainland-style political culture in which everyone worships the Communist Party’s rejuvenation of the glorious motherland and restoration of the Chinese race’s preeminence over all under heaven – what do we do about all the foreigners?

In the Mainland itself, official ideology declares 90% of the population ‘Han’ (though genetically they might overlap with, say, Vietnamese in the south and Koreans in the north). The rest are divided into over 50 listed minorities, ranging from major distinct cultures like the Tibetans to contrived amalgamations of small tribal groups. The implicit official line is that non-Han are backward, and the policy is to absorb them into a Mandarin-speaking whole in which different heritages are reduced to tourist attractions. And foreigners, of course, are foreigners.

(Not sure what the latest is, but I did read something about Mainland experts getting miffed about Taiwan authorities elevating the status of aboriginal minorities, thus messing up the official Greater China ethnic taxonomy or some other national myth.)

The whole idea of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ was to insulate Hong Kong from unwanted, alien Communist/Mainland influence and customs (and vice-versa). That means everything from censorship to forced abortions to propaganda to corruption to religious persecution – and CCP hyper-nationalism and, so far as possible, racial hang-ups (of which the city had its own). But Beijing is now demanding that Hong Kong schools start teaching kids about national identity, and new Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said she wants kindergartens to teach infants ‘I am Chinese’.

Along with many apparently-Han Hongkongers claiming not to see themselves as Chinese, there are significant numbers of South Asians, Southeast Asians, Westerners and mixed – some going back generations in the city – who would not pass Beijing’s racial-purity mindset as Chinese, even if they wanted to. Yet some of these same people’s kids are at these schools where, in theory, they will have to recite ‘I am Chinese’. One writes a straightforward letter to the South China Morning Post asking Carrie to clarify.

This is just one small example of the many contradictions that await us as Beijing insists on hammering the cosmopolitan/pluralistic Hong Kong peg into the CCP’s xenophobic/nationalistic hole.

This just in: the Hong Kong government answers the question elegantly – do what we do and send your kids to propaganda-free international schools. The Communist motherland brainwashing stuff is only for the riffraff. I declare the weekend open with a suitable sigh of relief.

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