Greater Bay Area opportunities for book-transport sector

Leninist frog-boil ratchet-click of the day comes courtesy of Hong Kong’s main (Chinese state-owned) book distributor, which, it says here, will now require inventory to be shipped via a warehouse in Nansha. The implication, in case you haven’t guessed, is that the cross-border round-trip will give Mainland censors a chance to filter out any counter-revolutionary or other undesirable material.

(I’m not a logistics expert, but I don’t think Watsons-your-personal-store trucks all our toothpaste and shampoo up to a depot in Guangzhou before delivering them to its Hong Kong branches.)

The constant barrage of Mainlandization is numbing. Among the heroes somehow keeping track of it are Kong Tsung-gan, cataloging trials of pro-democrats and political censorship, and the Progressive Lawyers Group with their new annual Rule of Law Report. (Among others: Reporters without Borders, and this interesting monitor of Li Po Chun United World College’s own little ‘Belt and Road’ infrastructure trap.)

One of the PLG lawyers mentions the numbing effect

Our short attention span and even shorter memory have encouraged the government to bombard us with new headaches every few weeks. In this war of attrition, citizens barely have time to process yesterday’s news before a more complex and disconcerting issue hits them in the head and then all is forgotten.

Another reason for Hong Kong’s apparent passivity is simply that each tightening of Beijing’s grip is in itself relatively easy for most people to ignore. If there is any uproar about distribution of books via Nansha, it will be from greenies worried about the unnecessary carbon emissions.

The PLG lawyer goes on…

Our forgetfulness may also be by choice. It is a coping mechanism in response to the sense of powerlessness against a government that we played no part of electing and that remains brazenly unaccountable.

This is probably the clincher: there is no means of preventing this creeping Lenin-ization.

But there are ways of making it harder. Beijing has weak spots. Its local puppet regime comprises pitifully inept mediocrities. Its local support base includes unreliable, self-serving shoe-shiners – such as businessmen petrified of being extradited. Its paranoia-driven Hong Kong policy alienates overseas audiences (not least in Taiwan) and undermines its wider pretensions to be a cuddly win-win civilized player on the world stage. Surely, Hong Kong can hold out longer than Emperor-for-Life Xi and his (possible, alleged, nothing-trivial-I-hope) health problems?

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What do these three stories have in common?

Three interesting items to help ease ourselves back into the post-long weekend world of real life.

First, the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre has archived 1,056 Weibo posts that Chinese authorities have deleted around June 4 every year from 2012 to 2018. (Archive here – you have to wonder how much longer HKU will tolerate such hostile forces’ unpatriotic historical nihilism masquerading as Western-style academic freedom.)

Second, the Occupy Nine, eventually found guilty of such arcane offenses as ‘incitement to incite others to commit public nuisance’, will be sentenced tomorrow. Whoever is making the decisions is facing a dilemma: make a mockery of the Beijing-ordered trumped-up charges by giving the convicted menaces to society slap-on-the-wrist fines or brief jail time; or further shred Hong Kong’s international reputation by condemning some harmless old souls to years in prison.

(Who wants to bet on a tortuously calculated, razor-thin balancing act between the two? A ‘win-win’.)

There is also the possibility – it should be an absolute certainty – of appeals. Several things stink about these political prosecutions, not least the lengthy delays involved. Here’s a must-read explanation, which our international media friends might find useful.

The timing of the sentencing is especially awkward because the world is also watching as the Hong Kong government rams through an extradition process to send criminal suspects to the Mainland. Officials hope to ease concerns by assuring everyone that our independent judiciary (the one sentencing Benny Tai et al tomorrow) will act as a safeguard.

What officials have not done is point out that a formal extradition system should be reciprocal. The prospect of Hong Kong getting hold of fugitives who have absconded to the Mainland would surely generate public support, right?

Our third item is another must-read story on this. In essence: Hong Kong’s anti-corruption cops and market regulators are nothing over the border, and high-level Mainland financial fraudsters with the right connections look set to remain safe over there. The extradition thing is all about sending people from Hong Kong to the Mainland, not vice-versa (or, more to the point, in all likelihood, instilling fear of being sent over).

The answer to the question is: you wouldn’t read any of these three stories in the South China Morning Post. To keep them coming, check out HK Free Press’s annual fund-raising drive.

(In fairness to the SCMP – hate picking on them – they do have some deserving content: here’s an infographic on the death penalty.)

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Great moments in ‘One Country, Two Systems’

Can you imagine if Cathay Pacific (or SQ, BA, UA, etc) suddenly had two rival CEOs, each claiming to be true leader of the airline’s management and supported by the board? That’s the situation at Hong Kong Airlines.

Ironically, this comes after the carrier had been losing senior managers at such a rate that it looked like no-one would be left.

You could be forgiven for asking why a clean, efficient and professional civil aviation regulatory authority like Hong Kong’s would give these folk a licence to operate an airline (plus bankrupt subsidiary HK Express) in this city.

Here’s a clue. HKA is part of HNA, a sprawling, overextended, debt-laden Mainland Chinese group famous for vacuuming up assets worldwide at any price and for its unclear ownership (one rumour is that retired corrupt PLA generals and their families are behind it – but it’s anyone’s guess). So it’s all about ‘Belt and Road’ rah rah ‘glorious motherland’ ‘Bay Area Opportunities’ rah rah rah!

Presumably, civil war will now break out within the company. Think Libya, but an airline. Staff will split into two factions. Conflicting groups of pilots and cabin crew will seize their own aircraft, and ground crew will ambush buses on the apron to pressgang passengers onto their side’s plane. When an HKA flight is cleared for landing, two A320s will try to nudge each other out of the way to arrive first.

I declare the long weekend open with some more reading on Mainland corporate affairs.

Who really owns Huawei? Could it be the Chinese state? Yes it could.

Over in the more private-sector world, why did Mainland used-car trader Uxin’s NASDAQ-listed shares plummet recently? Could they have falsified their revenue figures? Looks like it (fuller explanation here).

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HK officials in mourning

Like the people of France, Hong Kong’s top government officials are grief-stricken and in distress as a cherished symbol crumbles. It’s not that Asia’s World City® has lost a historic cathedral. Quite the opposite – Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her team have just been handed 900 hectares of scarce land.

This surprise came from the High Court, which ruled that New Territories aboriginals could not claim the publicly owned real estate for building their ‘small houses’. But this is a gift our officials do not want.

They are counting on the local bumiputras’ supposed house-building rights to ensure that Hong Kong has a ‘shortage of land’. The ‘shortage of land’ is vital as the Insurmountable Hand-Wringing Problem that leads to sky-high housing prices that can only be solved by spending HK$1 trillion of (correlated/bloated) fiscal reserves on the Lantau Tomorrow White-Elephant Vision Reclamation project (approx 900 hectares, as luck would have it).

Officials are now running around in a panic, insisting to everyone that the land previously earmarked for the ‘New Territories mafia scam’ type of housing is not at all suitable for the ‘normal homes for everyone else’ variety, on account of corridors and slopes.

Most onlookers will be too mind-numbed to quibble. Still, the government’s most sacred task – the tireless invention of reasons why we can’t use existing land for homes – gets a little more challenging.

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…since 1917

At last, the Chinese Communist Party’s pervasive but hard-to-define, multi-tentacled, influence-spreading ‘magic weapon’ has the pithy slogan it needs.

Behold the United Front – ‘Making idiots useful’.

(Officially, some would say, since1921.)

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Your tax dollars at work, as usual

Hong Kong first considered road-pricing back in the 1980s. It was the pre-digital era, and wealthy philanderers panicked at the prospect of the government’s space-age electronic system monitoring their Mercedes and Rolls-Royces coming and going from love motels in Kowloon Tong, so officials dropped the idea.

The bureaucrats have apparently reconsidered it ‘several times’ since. No-one remembers when, exactly – it’s all a vague blur of intentional inaction. As traffic gets more and more congested, the concept of road-pricing becomes ever more abstract and unthinkable. Only 10% of Hong Kong people drive a private car, yet Overwhelming Massive Insurmountable Mouth-Frothing Public Opposition prevents us from reallocating road space to benefit the other 90%.

The South China Morning Post story gives the impression that this time it’s different. A guy called Ringo who likes to drive down Queens Road to go to meetings has noticed that pedestrians are moving faster than he is. He would be OK with paying, say, HK$20 if he could speed through Central more quickly.

When the SCMP reporter asked the smug-looking idiot why he didn’t just walk like everyone else… Oh no – the reporter didn’t ask that. Sorry.

Officials have used all their skill and ingenuity to make sure the new proposal would have no effect. It covers just 14 roads in the central business district (out of 3,822 or something elsewhere in the city). And, reading between the lines, the pricing will have to be at an ‘acceptable’ level – in other words, low enough to ensure Ringo and other drivers can continue using their gleaming cars to enter the area.

You see, they have to drive because public transport is already overcrowded.

Given this twist, the logical solution is surely this: the government should charge pedestrians and people who ride on buses to enter Central – with the funds raised going to subsidize Ringo and other private car owners who so selflessly avoid burdening the public transport network.

But rest assured that nothing will happen. This is bureaucrat-run Hong Kong in 2019 – even a road-pricing system that doesn’t reduce traffic is doomed.

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The Occupy Nine verdict

The big news in my absence this last week was the verdicts in the Occupy leaders case. The nine were variously found guilty of conspiracy to commit public nuisance, inciting others to cause public nuisance, and – in case you hadn’t noticed that this is political persecution – inciting others to incite others to commit public nuisance.

The judge seems to have accepted the government prosecution’s arguments without much of a struggle. By maintaining their devotion to high-minded principles like the right to democracy and the justness of civil disobedience, the defendants helpfully lined themselves up for martyrdom. Might it have been better to forget the idealism and attack the charges as a farce contrived by the Chinese Communist Party’s local poodles?

The judge put off sentencing for a couple of weeks. This gives behind-the-scenes scriptwriters time to calculate how to calibrate the various personalities’ punishments so as to satisfy the CCP’s need to strengthen control through fear, while limiting further damage to Hong Kong’s reputation for a laws-based system at a time when the world is watching the Mainland extradition amendment. Or – if you prefer to believe it – perhaps the judge will decide on the sentencing all by himself.

Presumably, there will be appeals. The pattern (sort of) seems to be that lower-level courts with judges looking forward to promotions go along with these vindictive political prosecutions, while the Court of Final Appeal overrules the nonsense. If this is so, Beijing will need to fix it.

Even now, the pro-democrat activists stick to their deluded fantasy that, if we ask enough, we can have democracy. Like their self-pitying and tendency to overdramatize, this is stale and unconvincing. To many Hong Kong folk, it is probably getting tedious. To Beijing, it is a joy. Making such appeals (and other engagement, like participating in rigged elections) just legitimizes the regime.

They need to not just accept, but boldly state, that the CCP is systematically dismantling Hong Kong’s pluralist society and rule of law, and that while tiny Hong Kong can do little or nothing to defend itself, the rest of the world – especially Taiwan – should take notice. That might even, conceivably, make Beijing pause.

Some heavy-ish related reading: the Progressive Lawyers Group’s first annual Rule of Law Report, and Nazi political theorist Carl Schmitt’s popularity in China.  

I declare the weekend open with a (totally irrelevant) one-minute film clip. Be patient. Ten seconds from the end, I was muttering ‘Oh come on buddy, go and get yourself a haircut or something’. Then, upon the (not so much unexpected as too-good-to-be-true) denouement, I was splitting my sides laughing. Your reaction may differ. Here it is.

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Lessons from the first inspection tour of Malaysia in 10 years…

Numerous trips to Japan and Taiwan spoil you. Malaysia is a reminder that Hong Kong governance still has a long way to fall.

In terms of wealth, the country is obviously not as First World as (say) Singapore, but not as Third World as (say) Thailand. Rather than aspire to do better, the main city of Kuala Lumpur seems determined to be a Manila/Jakarta-style urban-planning mess. The gritty old neighbourhoods are mostly still there, but increasingly overshadowed by vast, empty, quasi-luxury residential towers and ruthlessly penned in by layers of looping freeways.

This presumably goes back a couple of decades: better not have walkable streets or a proper transit system or no-one will buy our precious ‘national car’. The people behind this make Hong Kong’s transport officials look like geniuses.

The food is still, of course, wondrous – and amazingly cheap.

All this is a recipe for obesity. The people are (almost always) happy and smiling and friendly, but this country is getting a serious weight problem. (Comment from a local: Malaysia doesn’t have a national cuisine, it has a national suicide pact.)

My first visit to Ipoh (of white coffee, noodles, etc fame). Very nice relaxed town, with lots of old fading (and some quite well preserved) architecture. A superbly grimy Little India, with garish sari shops, grocers and incense purveyors, interspersed with classic old-style forbidding-looking Chinese-run parasite businesses like liquor stores and moneylenders.

Unaware that their decaying time-warp is excellent as it is, the municipal authorities want to attract tourists by introducing nasty inappropriate horrible crap. Thankfully, they are failing. A designated trendy hipster-scene district is mercifully small and quite funny (though day trippers come from KL to photograph the mural).

(On the subject of crumbling architecture, this website’s comments and pic upload functions are out of order. No great loss. But the time is approaching to pack up and move.)

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Government’s crooked lines

The Mainland-extradition amendments get a frosty reception from pro-democrats in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Anticipating this, the government has painstakingly crafted various exquisite lines-to-take.

One is the claim that since oh-so-classy, fancy-sounding countries like France have extradition agreements with China, there’s no reason why Hong Kong shouldn’t. (And Finland!) Opponents respond that it is hard to imagine Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her kowtowing eunuchs viewing an extradition request from Beijing with the same impartial or skeptical eye Europeans might have. Officials trump that with their Ace: Hong Kong’s courts will also act as a safeguard.

As the HK Bar Association and others point out, the extradition proposal actually limits judicial oversight (assuming, as a commenter here mentioned, you can afford it). But more generally in recent years, critics accuse Beijing and its local administration of weakening judicial independence. This has clearly happened through ‘interpretation’ of the Basic Law. There are also suspicions that magistrates and judges are under growing pressure to deliver the ‘correct’ rulings.

In an effort to nip this sensitive suggestion in the bud, Carrie and Co draw on a half-way clever line, accusing its proponents of bad-mouthing or disrespecting our fine upstanding judiciary. The word yesterday was ‘defame’. How dare you nasty rude pro-democrats throw horrible insults at these wonderful and noble, highly trained, utterly Independent judges, many of whom are whiter-than-white (for want of a better phrase) foreigners, and who are so crucial to maintaining Hong Kong as a global world-city business hub-zone?

Officials have resorted to this angle before (when critics accused the courts of bending the government’s way in chasing Umbrella Movement activists). A similar line is that, by suggesting the judges are biased, you are yourself damaging our rule of law, you vile beast. It’s lame, but, combined with faux-outrage, superficially convincing enough for a busy audience with no time for nuances.

Another example of this mendacity is the mantra that ‘Hong Kong independence goes against the Basic Law’. It would indeed infringe the Basic Law. But you are supposed to hear ‘even mere discussion of Hong Kong independence is forbidden by the Basic Law and thus criminal’ – which is completely untrue, up to now. Officials spout this all the time, and hardly anyone has the energy to split hairs by questioning it.

I declare this long (Ching Ming) weekend open with a few worthwhile links. From Vanity Fair (really), the disappearance of pale-skinned, doe-eyed, almond-faced (OK, mutant) tax-dodging actress Fan Bingbing. The News Lens examines how the Kuomintang transformed itself from the sworn eternal enemy of ‘Communist bandits’ to Taiwan’s pro-Beijing shoe-shiners. (‘The party has apparently reached the conclusion that the “one China” objective matters more than opposition to the CCP.’) And to bring a ray of sunshine into our lives, an updated lovingly curated collection on loan from the Hermitage of Hong Kong shutter art – which is taking over where the old neon left off.

I will be on an official inspection-visit duties in Malaysia until Thursday.

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From our learned friends

The Hong Kong Bar Association has issued a couple of (fairly concise) papers on ongoing legal threats to the city’s freedoms.

The first is on the Mainland extraditions proposal (news reports here and here). One key point is that the proposed amendments are not necessary to ‘plug a loophole’ as officials claim; indeed, the ‘loophole’ is a deliberate omission by the Legislative Council years ago as a safeguard against China’s dismal legal system. The proposal also weakens safeguards by reducing legislative or judicial oversight and checks while giving more discretion to the Chief Executive.

The HKBA also points out that it is illogical for the government to exclude nine white-collar crimes from the proposal (to mollify the business community) while leaving other categories of offense in place – either the framework as a whole is unsafe or it isn’t.

The HKBA’s other paper is on the proposed national anthem law (report here). It says that the bill conflicts with (ie Mainlandizes) Hong Kong’s common law by including provisions that are ‘social or ideological’ or ‘aspirational and directional’ and do not entail punishment, and by being vague.

These two proposals – clearly orders from Beijing – have several things in common.

First, they bring Hong Kong closer into the Mainland system in terms of Beijing’s physical reach (extradition) and ideological control (the anthem).

Second, in both cases, Hong Kong officials assure us that everything will be fine because our wonderful local courts and independent judiciary will be there watching over everything all the time, so how can anything nasty possibly happen?

And third, although the extradition thing clearly rattles international business, there’s little or nothing anyone can do to stop them – as officials will demonstrate as they wave away the two HKBA papers.

 

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