Getting pissed off

April 25th, 2014

The overseas press is rarely as interested in Hong Kong as when a Mainland baby goes viral doing a pee-pee in the street. The angle of the reports is usually broadly sympathetic to the Big Lychee, an international city inundated with backward peasants from over the border who don’t know how to behave in polite and decent society. It’s essentially a light, even funny, story to take readers’ minds of all the gloomy stuff happening in the world.

But this misses the point. There is nothing amusing going on. Any fair-minded person should feel sorry for the couple whose toddler had to relieve itself and whose dispute with passers-by ended up all over the media; any fair-minded person should criticize those passers-by for taunting them and filming it. The story is that, to many people in Hong Kong, this bullying of a young couple and traumatization of their child were – however unpleasant – sadly necessary.

It sounds like a ludicrous exaggeration to say Hong Kong is under siege, being invaded and undermined. Except if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, like much of the Central-CWB-TST triangle most days, or at Admiralty MTR station, or lining up for a kindergarten admission form. Or you notice that corruption cases involving Mainland businessmen, assaults on journalists, interventions by Beijing officials in local matters and numerous other horrors have become regular events. Through no fault of its own, the poor little mite peeing in the gutter represents these things.

The Mainland media aren’t in any doubt that this is a conflict of values and a struggle for control. They rouse anger among domestic audiences with tales of arrogant Hong Kong people’s cruelty, and then satisfy them with assurances that the colonial running dogs feel humiliated by their dependence on and irrelevance to the glorious motherland. Mainlanders plot mass poo-ins in Hong Kong to teach the city a lesson, of the sort also due the Taiwanese, not to mention Japanese, Filipinos, Americans and all the rest.

Experience has shown Hong Kong people that unless you are a major landlord, property developer or New Territories mafia boss, there is only one way to confront and persuade those in power. It happened with Article 23, and it happened with National Education; the only thing that works is physical presence and means.

We declare the weekend open with the message to the overseas press that this is the real, intriguing story: people are being forced to choose between tormenting innocent children and losing their values and their city. Meanwhile, officials are studying a possible cap on Mainland visitors.

Disgustingly sweaty-looking theatrics

April 24th, 2014

Inspired by the visit to Hong Kong of the disgustingly sweaty-looking heart-throb Korean alien-on-Earth star Kim Soo-hyun, I’ve naturally been watching early Mork and Mindy, which has even more naturally prompted thoughts about the way strange planetary alignments portend startling confluences of events.

For example, (arguably) disgustingly sweaty-looking (former) heart-throb Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada comes to the Big Lychee (with apparently alien-on-Earth offspring), sees Chief Executive CY Leung, and voila – the Great Bus Massacre Victims Apology Sanctions Mega-fuss is suddenly resolved and everyone’s instantly buddies again. And at the same time, US President Barack Obama is due in the Philippines soon, and might just conceivably be a tiny bit less determined to gang up against poor innocent peace-loving China if we make a few gestures, like switching off the infantile beat-up-brown-riffraff bus tantrum.

Then we have the slowly mounting standoff between the forces of good and evil over Hong Kong’s political reform.

Financial and banking ‘high-fliers’ come out and join academics, students, radicals, priests and legislator-bores in calling for real universal suffrage. Although worth noting, this is not that amazing. If it were the financial sector’s top dogs – the (more or less) household names among bank and other bosses who would never normally break out of kowtowing/shoe-shining mode – this would be stunning. One minute they would have been loyally reciting Beijing officials’ wacko scaremongering about the threat of the Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign, the next minute they’d be in outright rebellion and joining it.

But that’s not what’s happening. These hedge-fund guys and retired stock-exchange people are comparatively plain upper-middle-class folks with a conscience and a vested interest in a level playing field; they are not part of the co-opted, establishment, elite, insider caste who will sell their grandma for the chance to hire a Mainland princeling. Their emergence on the scene alongside Occupy Central is nicely timed and well-executed, and if it gives the right people a jolt – great. The smell of things going wrong in Hong Kong is unmistakable and getting worse. It will be interesting to see who else might openly sign up to Benny Tai’s pro-dem ‘united front’ as the crescendo draws nearer.

Meanwhile, the day after the pro-Beijing DAB releases its highly conservative proposal for the rubber-stamping of an official list of Chief Executive candidates by a bloc-voting nominating committee, Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Secretary apparently rejects it – as unacceptable to the pro-democrats, no less.

Bear in mind that both the DAB and constitutional affairs boss Raymond Tam are following orders from Beijing officials here. You are supposed to enjoy the DAB’s slight humiliation (which by loyal patriots’ selfless standards was nothing); you are invited to admire the Hong Kong minister’s even-handedness and independence; and you are expected to swoon with gratitude, joy and relief when the less idiotically obvious screening mechanism is unveiled.

More than Robin Williams at his manic best, it is all gloriously theatrical.

One week of consultation to go…

April 23rd, 2014

Hong Kong’s veteran pro-democrat, Martin Lee, produces his proposal for a nomination system for Chief Executive candidates in 2017. It could be a parody of the pro-dems’ preference for abstract structures rather than the practicalities of real life. Indeed, his complex model is unworkable: in an attempt to square the pro-dems’ principled idealism with Beijing’s Leninist need for control, it pretty much allows for the possibility that no ballot would ever be agreed.

The pro-Beijing DAB meanwhile come up with a ruthlessly cynical Communist-style suggestion in the form of ‘collective’ nomination: all candidates on the ballot must be endorsed by the majority of the (packed, of course) Nominating Committee. Needless to say, they are conveying this idea on behalf of the Chinese government. Rather than having a rigged Election Committee as seen since 1996, we will have a rigged nomination process; Beijing will discreetly disseminate a list of (say) three candidates, and these are the ones that will be rubber-stamped onto the ballot. This proposal probably allows room for a little symbolic ‘concession’ later, but this is basically the bottom line.

The gap between the two sides is unbridgeable because no-one will be honest about the reality of Hong Kong’s status within the PRC. Although the city has a high degree of autonomy over its internal affairs, it cannot be beyond the ultimate control of the one-party system. If Beijing cannot rig the election, it must rig the selection of candidates. Rather than state this openly, Chinese officials and pro-Beijing forces insist that the limits are set by the Basic Law (with some asides about national security); the lawyerly pro-dems take this at face value and quibble accordingly.

What we need is some lateral thinking.

HK University’s Professor Richard Wong delivers some in his latest essay on political development (which should probably be read along with the previous one). Rather than fixate on what Beijing forbids Hong Kong, he focuses on the wonders of what could be possible. Cue fanfare:

“Hong Kong has an exceptional opportunity to choose how to develop its democracy to fit its role as an international economic city…” It could lead to “a new working model of democracy in the modern world,” hitherto stuck with political structures “inherited from the pre- or early industrial era.”

Wong – an economist – turns the debate on its head. Rather than try to replicate a little USA or UK or Switzerland or whatever democracy, he looks at the big picture and asks what sort of representative government best suits a 21st Century business-oriented city-state. Rather than dwell on the Chief Executive poll, he highlights the scope for reforming the broader concept of representation, notably in the legislature. Most daringly of all, rather than look for ways to eliminate (economic) functional constituencies in favour of geographical ones, he proposes a massive enhancement of them.

Not, of course, as they are currently constituted – small-circle, gerrymandered rotten boroughs dominated by a small selection of producer interests. He foresees every elector having a vote in a constituency related to the ‘work’ side of their life. While the geographical constituency representatives would fuss about neighbourhood issues, the functional ones would see things on a Hong Kong-wide scale. The interests of the majority as consumers would come first, and relations with the executive branch would be smoother.

He doesn’t mention the role of today’s functional constituencies in providing Beijing with its ultimate Leninist control – via the ‘split voting’ veto – in the Legislative Council. In theory, his model could be compatible with that: a rubber-stamp nomination system would keep ‘unacceptable’ candidates off the ballots.

There is just a week left of this five-month consultation on constitutional reform. The title, lest we forget, was Let’s Talk and Achieve Universal Suffrage. A more accurate one would have been Let’s Listen and Accept a Rigged-but-don’t-call-it-that Nomination System as Better than Nothing. The unavoidable truth is that Beijing can only allow a ‘universal suffrage’ election if it can screen candidates, while the pro-dems say they will not accept screening. Or at least, not too much. The pro-democrats have inevitably splintered, with members even of the same faction producing conflicting proposals. Some have virtually said that as long as one of them can just be on the ballot, that will be OK – no need for them to actually win. Against this incoherence have been the DAB, sitting obediently in their straitjackets, following the script prepared for them, and even mocking all of us by claiming that their proposal for ‘collective’ nomination is based on public opinion polls.

One side in this game of ‘chicken’ cannot lose, and its opponent cannot win – Legislative Council veto, Occupy Central, pat on head from Vice-President Joe Biden notwithstanding. It’s a question of which moderate pan-dems crumble first.

More murk

April 22nd, 2014

Is the South African guy with no legs who shot the blonde woman and cries on the radio still around, or is that over now? With distractions like the Malaysian airliner vanishing and the Korean ferry sinking, it’s hard to keep up with all the mayhem. And now some idiot announces the most Earth-like planet yet discovered, as if the universe really needs another.

Closer to home, things just seem to get murkier. We are still trying to get our heads around the Mega Events Fund, which spends money on entertainments no-one would otherwise pay for in order to attract tourists we don’t need. Its Dragon and Lion Dance Festival Preparatory Committee is suspected of hiring dance teams run by its own members, who also belong to the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment Etc of Hong Kong. To compound the sin of glaring conflict of interests, we have wretchedly bad taste – the occasion having the theme of ‘Happy Buddha’ and featuring ‘over 530 mascots of auspicious beasts’. (In fairness to the committee’s pro-Communist sleazebags, that looks like the work of civil servants.) Is there any connection between the performers who got the job and the DAB-linked Yuen Long dragon/lion dance troupe that provided (admittedly weedy-looking) triad thugs to ‘support’ Chief Executive CY Leung at his town hall meeting last year?

The Independent Commission Against Corruption is investigating. But it pauses to hurriedly airbrush one of its advisors out of the history books and carry on as if nothing had happened in the hope that no-one will notice. One minute state-owned China Resources Chairman Song Lin is an upstanding businessman heading up the anti-graft organization’s HK Ethics Advisory Committee, the next minute the Chinese Communist Party’s own investigators have terminated the guy for all-round depravity of the billion-Yuan, money-laundering-mistress variety. The ICAC’s attempts to pretend they never knew him are hilariously pathetic.

We are left with more questions. What on earth is the HK Ethics Advisory Committee? It sounds like it should have Confucian scholars, professors of philosophy or at least a former judge or two. In fact, it comprises the city’s half-dozen main shoe-shining chambers of commerce, representing all our favourite cartels, colluders and sweat-shop owners, and of course locally based Mainland enterprises. Who chose Song Lin as its figurehead and – more to the point – why? Was it to give him face, or to flatter authorities in Beijing? Or was the gesture aimed at us, to make us think that bosses of Beijing-owned companies are the pinnacle of morality and virtue? It doesn’t seem to have worked.

What do the Mega Events Fund and HK Ethics Advisory Committee have in common? They have no reason to exist. One way or other, they are costing us money. Their members are selected from the shallow pool of loyalists and yes-men – 530 mascots of auspicious beasts, indeed – as a pat on the head rather than in the expectation that they will do anything useful. And they remind us, in case we need it, that people connected with and purportedly dedicated to the Communist cause apparently can’t stop themselves from cheating and bribing.

 

This weekend’s project was home-made cheese (Indian-style paneer). Ludicrously quick and easy: bring milk just to boil, add some lemon juice, stir for a few minutes, then strain through a cloth. Fries well for dal. Hand-crafted! Artisanal! Etc!

Your tax dollars at work, again

April 17th, 2014

Scandal of the Week – High-Speed-Rail-Rainstorm-Delay-Gate – gets juicy. We were intrigued to learn yesterday that the MTR’s HK$67 billion Mega-Hole-to-Shenzhen project would be delayed for a couple of years because of flooding during the extreme downpours late last March. A document has now surfaced apparently showing that the MTR realized the white elephant was going to be seriously behind schedule as early as last January.

Perhaps the other problems mentioned yesterday are in fact responsible, but the engineers were too embarrassed to admit that an unexpected golf driving range and the surprise discovery of hard, solid rock under the ground had thwarted them.

“Blame that really heavy rain,” one suggests. “After all, it swept Festival Walk away, never to be seen again.”

“Brilliant!” another replies. “If those suckers are dumb enough to spend HK$67 billion on this boondoggle, they’ll believe anything.”

And now our valiant Legislative Council members smell blood. They do have their uses, sometimes.

Meanwhile, more humiliation is coming the way of officials thanks to the latest Director of Audit’s Report.

The Highways Department’s mission to cover Hong Kong with six-lane freeways ran into some sort of goof-up with the Tsing Yi section of Route 8. OK, it’s a bit ho-hum. Only another of those ‘whoops we just flushed HK$429.5 million of taxpayers’ money down the toilet ha ha’ things. Hard to get worked up about, really; it can come out of petty cash.

Of more interest is the fiscal and policy obscenity known as the Mega Events Fund, which is guilty of ‘reckless spending without achieving its ends’. It could have done ‘reckless spending while superbly succeeding in its aims’ or ‘keeping spending well under-budget but failing miserably in its aims’, but oh no.

Its true crime is to exist in the first place. This body of civil servants is tasked with funding such excruciatingly tiresome spectacles as men in shorts running around a field chasing a ball, or a man walking round a field hitting a ball with a stick, and thereby, somehow, attracting visitors to Hong Kong, thus creating some sort of employment opportunities. As the Director of Audit confirms, the Mega Events Fiends have subsidized shysters and lied about things like the number of jobs created, for which they should indeed have their fingernails pulled out. But let’s step back a minute.

We have too many tourists in this city, and we have full employment. We do not need more visitors or more low-level jobs. Indeed, by stimulating visitor arrivals and short-term menial vacancies, the Mega Events Fund lunatics are damaging the quality of life for all of us and probably causing unnecessary disruption in the labour market. They are spending tax dollars to actively make Hong Kong a worse place. We might as well have a Dog Poo-Poo on Sidewalks Fund, to give HK$100 Park N Shop coupons to pet-owners every time their canines deposit excrement in public areas, or a Vehicle Congestion and Air Pollution Fund to give free fuel to car drivers who park illegally in crowded streets. Our lives would be better if these bureaucrats committed suicide just took the cash and burnt it.

I declare the four-day weekend open with the thought that the Director of Audit might want to find out what the entire Tourism Commission does all day long. My hunch is this delusional mass of fermenting dregs is secretly funded by Shanghai or Singapore.

Click to hear ‘Delusionalism’ by Mass of the Fermenting Dregs!

HK rejoices at giant hole delay

April 16th, 2014

Hong Kong bursts into a frenzy of applause, dance and all-purpose sing-along to celebrate the latest ‘through-train’ news: the Giant Hole to Shenzhen – the planet’s most expensive rail line in per-kilometre terms – is to be delayed.

The official explanation is that the MTR’s Mega Round Thing that drills tunnels through rock suffered serious damage from flooding during last month’s extreme rainstorm. The experts are also muttering something about ‘complicated geological features’ posing ‘unforeseeable challenges’. Malevolent, low-life cynics wonder if the downpour is being used as an excuse for technical screw-ups arising from the Pointless Infrastructure Lobby’s obsessive-compulsive haste when ramming the project through in 2009-10.

As with the Huge Bridge to Zhuhai, no-one really knows what the HK$67 billion Express Rail Link is for. We were told that it would make life easier and better by replacing the current over-ground train to central Guangzhou with an underground one to a distant suburb no-one wants to go to. When this inexplicably failed to generate widespread enthusiasm, we were offered a vision of transferring onto China’s nationwide high-speed rail network (yes – the one with the terrible crash where they tried burying the wreckage before all the bodies had been found). What used to be a long, drawn-out two-hour flight to Shanghai would miraculously become a zippy, blink-and-you-miss-it 10-hour train ride! Still, amazingly, the public failed to be impressed.

The inescapable conclusion: the thing was a scam to transfer a vast quantity of public wealth into the pockets of tycoon-linked construction interests and to expand bureaucrats’ empires. Perceptive observers also couldn’t help noticing that the Hong Kong end of the Giant Hole was in West Kowloon, a neighbourhood of which we know little and care even less. The ‘interchange’ arrangements (calculated by Professional Commons) suggested lousy connectivity – as in it’s-not-for-you – with existing rail routes:

However, the terminus is right next to a big Sun Hung Kai Property development, including Elements shopping mall.

Would someone fix things so the Hong Kong taxpayer spends an astronomical sum (it works out at over US$4,700 per inch) just to deliver Mainlanders to a tacky retail hub full of the usual overpriced garbage, merely to enrich SHKP’s owners, the Kwok family? It sounds preposterous. For that money, you could build an Elements Mall in every village in Guangdong Province. Sounds ridiculous. All parties would benefit more – a genuine win-win – if you split the planned outlay and gave half to the Kwoks in cash as a gift and reserved the other half for the public purse. If something sounds that idiotically insane, Hong Kong logic tells us, it must be true!

The money has vanished down the hole in the ground, and we will never see it again. But we can at least rejoice at the thought that the parasites of the tourism-infrastructure complex will have to sweat a bit, get by without a few million extra shoppers, and – only a matter of time – come begging for more public money.

This just in: the ‘complex geology’ was at the cross-border section beneath a protected wetland (don’t you hate it when that happens?), and a pesky golf-driving range got in the way, as did ‘busy traffic’ of all things, and – surprise out-of-the-blue shock – ‘many underground cables’. Plus, the dog ate the blueprints.

An apology on behalf of the SCMP

April 15th, 2014

South China Morning Post readers may have gained the impression in recent days that the ‘through train’ link between the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchanges is an earth-shattering step forward in opening up China’s capital markets, a humungous ‘Win-Win’, and a sure-fire guarantee that the US Dollar will be wiped out by the mighty Yuan any day now…

It has now come to the editors’ attention that the arrangement is in fact so absurdly small in scope as to be basically irrelevant and just plain stupid

…and the previous few days’ frenzied excitement was misplaced and indeed misleading; they are pleased to clarify this and apologize for any confusion.

Seriously: what were they thinking? Back on Friday when the news came out, anyone with half a brain could see that this was yet another non-story about a non-liberalization of an economy that has to be tightly rigged so the Chinese Communist Party elders can maintain their paranoiac grip while the kleptomaniac kids carry on pillaging. The country’s leaders probably have little or no clue about which bits of the economy could possibly be opened up without the whole thing collapsing; they’re certainly not about to find out the hard way. Yet our media join in with the stock exchange officials and politicians raving about the emperor’s latest dazzling costume.

The stock exchange and government people have their own needs and agendas. They are mostly bureaucrats, mostly appointed for their political reliability, and they run organizations insulated in their respective ways from competition; shoe-shining and not questioning things are key parts of the skill-set. The net result, as we are all so frequently and vividly reminded, is that they live in a different world with its own reality. In a parallel universe where 100 million Mainland shoppers coming to Hong Kong seems do-able, cool and no big deal, the idea that Beijing would give its common people meaningful access to offshore investment markets might not raise eyebrows.

The media should, in theory, be apart. And as today’s deluge of skepticism shows, most of the journalists are indeed capable of cutting through the BS and getting down to truth and facts. (And at length. For the lazy or just jaded, the Standard offers an incomplete but brief debunking of the ‘through-train’ phooey.) So what was going on from Friday to Monday with all the cheerleading about capital controls disappearing, the Yuan trade mega-hub blooming, tons of commissions rolling in and all the rest?

Presumably, we are talking about proprietors’ pre-emptive cringes, again. However sympathetic or restrained, an objective analysis of the ‘through-train’ announcement would obviously be at variance with the official ecstatic excitement. To be at variance is to ‘not support’ the Beijing-appointed government. The tycoon newspaper owners acquired their local news empires in order to be able to show support. The secret police are probably not monitoring every column inch of the local press’s output, but you can never be sure. So weird garbage has to appear, just in case the proprietor needs to pull a sheaf of stories out to prove his loyalty to the Vice-Premier or someone and thus, hopefully, ensure that his Mainland real estate or retail investments do not suffer any mishaps.

The problem with this is clear. Let’s say a Basic Law expert we’ve never heard of, Professor Zhang from the Liaoning Academy of Advanced Hong Kong and Macau Studies, mumbles something about how the world is flat. Our own Chief Executive CY Leung jumps up to express his gratitude to the Professor for guiding us on the correct path on this important subject. So far, so good – nothing untoward. But then what happens at, for example, the SCMP? Columnist George Chen writes about how his old friends in Shanghai always used to say the world was flat, and Enoch Yiu interviews Ronald Arculli in-depth about the complete non-curvature of our planet, and so on. The interests of readers do not come into this equation.

A rather elegant solution, perhaps, would be to have some special secret sign next to fantasy-ravings masquerading as serious news and analysis, so readers can just flick past them. A little star in the top left corner above the headline, for example. It would spare everyone time and embarrassment.

Another week begins…

April 14th, 2014

Hong Kong’s pro-democrats find themselves stuck in a game of futile theatrics during meetings with Beijing officials over non-negotiable technicalities of universal suffrage with Chinese characteristics. Whether they play along politely, act sullen, or just get themselves kicked out, they are struggling for relevance, as a drowning man fights for air.

Back home, more down-to-earth malcontents focus on concerns of their own.

Inspired by Taiwan’s Sunflower movement against growing trade links with China, younger Hong Kong skeptics take a long overdue look at the post-SARS PR extravaganza that was the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, or CEPA. Originally, it was a lengthy but pointless list of small cuts in tariffs on things like scrap-metal exports to the Mainland. Later, officials decided to give the CEPA brand some substance by applying it also to the increase in Mainland visitors allowed into Hong Kong; more recently they seem to have downplayed the linkage as the burden of visitor-numbers has become so obvious.

For years, shoe-shiners and officials at conferences and on trade delegations have bleated about the wonders of CEPA and all the rest of the cross-border partnership/cooperation hoohah thing. Few questioned it – until now. Behold: CEPA as a waste of space, if not a rip-off. Is that the Liberal Studies critical-thinking stuff kicking in?

Up in Tin Shui Wai, panicky officials rush to put out the latest fire: Topkids, the kindergarten ousted by rising rents. This is mid-2010s Hong Kong in microcosm. It’s about the insane cut-throat fight to give your one-year-old kid any hope of survival in the modern jungle of life. A fight, needless to say, in which the financially fittest have all the advantages. It’s about real estate, kept in artificially short supply by zombie bureaucrats and subject to artificially high demand thanks to the aforementioned influx of Mainland shoppers (and Mainland parents of kindergarten-age children). And it’s about property tycoon Li Ka-shing, number-one among the Big Lychee’s cartel-running plutocracy.

Except alarm bells went off at Cheung Kong Holdings, Li’s main property conglomerate. Like most of us, billionaire-developers basically just want to be loved, and they don’t want Tin Shui Wai parents naming them in protests about livelihood issues. CKH emailed and phoned newspapers like the South China Morning Post with urgent reminders that it simply owns 28% of the Fortune REIT (the kindergarten’s ultimate landlord), which is managed by a Singaporean company.

In other words, nice Mr Li has nothing to do with the dastardly rent rise. Obviously, he doesn’t personally clear every tenancy agreement, but you can understand the sensitivity. Fortune is a spin-off of some of the Li empire’s property portfolio, and CHK’s chief executive is chairman of the Singaporean company. Which is why the SCMP started a story on it a few years ago with the words: “Fortune Real Estate Investment Trust, Li Ka-shing’s Singapore-listed property fund…”

The Standard does its bit by putting the story in the context of market forces. The problem is that this is as much a case study in market distortion. Artificial shortage of land supply + artificial (Mainland) surge in demand = ordinary residents being shafted massively. The fact that anonymous ‘market forces’ deliver the actual shafting doesn’t come into it. This is especially so if we are dealing with supply and affordability of pre-school education, which the government sees fit to regulate and subsidize on the grounds that it is increasingly an essential and a right like health or police services, rather than a luxury like a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Last, and very much least in many ways, is pro-Beijing legislator Elizabeth Quat, whose academic credentials have mystified or amused many for some time. A definitive explanation of ‘Dr’ Quat’s joke qualifications appears here.

Scroll down to page 6 of the Precedence List to see how many lawmakers style themselves ‘Dr’. Some are the real deal. Kwok Ka-ki is a medic. Kenneth Chan is an assistant professor (he lists his foreign languages as Polish, Czech, Slovenian, Hungarian and Estonian, for heaven’s sake). Lo Wai-kwok is an engineer who also sometimes gives himself the ridiculous ‘Ir’ tag. The pro-Beijing ones look the most suspect. Anne Chiang Lai-wan of Vietnam cruise ship fame, for example; Lam Tai-fai seems to be using an honorary doctorate as a real one; and the idea of ‘Dr’ Lau Wong-fat, of the Heung Yee Kuk mob up in the New Territories, really stretches credibility (reciting Estonian irregular verbs, etc).

As we can see from the fact that the government’s own protocol office panders to this pretention and vanity, there’s a real squeamishness about this. The fact that the offenders tend to be from the pro-Beijing camp says more about the superficiality of patriotic shoe-shiners than about the system that covers up for them; a pro-democrat pretending to have a DPhil would be given a break as well. Preserving frauds’ faces is quietly accepted as part of the greater make-believe hypocrisy, like dancers on CCTV grinning with joy about the klepto-corporatist Chinese Communist Party, or the guys in suits proclaiming cooperation and partnership between distant cities who couldn’t – and don’t need to – give a damn about each other.

Everyone has to pretend that if everyone pretends it’s true, it is. That’s the ethos.

Massive Yuan-globalization breakthrough du jour announced

April 11th, 2014

The weekend begins with an invitation to wet ourselves with utter delight on learning that the ‘through-train’ is going to happen, allowing Mainland and overseas investors to trade Hong Kong and Shanghai-listed equities across the border.

Back in 2007, the Hang Seng Index hit 31,000 in anticipation of a similarly named arrangement. Metaphors clashed as commentators had visions of the locomotive bringing with it a ‘wall of money’. The cash would come cascading down upon us because letting Mainlanders directly buy Hong Kong stocks would effectively give them the right to move wealth out of the country as if there were no capital controls.

Why did anyone seriously think that the Chinese government would allow such a gaping, potentially economy-wrecking, loophole? Authorities in Tianjin – the dumplings-and-seaport hub up the road from Beijing – had succumbed to the ‘press button and create instant international financial zone’ delusions suffered by Shanghai, Qianhai, etc, etc, and announced that they would have sole control of the Mainland end of the loophole. OK, so looking back it doesn’t seem much of a reason, but Tianjin had this sort of vaguely-heard-of-the-place feel about it, which gave the story a kind of credibility, and people wanted to believe in this vast rent-seeking free lunch. Needless to say, it was all ultimately BS.

This time round it’s a far more modest-sounding deal, in line with the ‘feeling the stones to cross the river and taking ages about it’ approach to liberalization that makes watching paint drying so fun. The Mainland’s small retail investors won’t be allowed to join in (probably just as well), and the cross-border trading will be subject to a quota that could be exhausted after a couple of weeks. The Hang Seng Index bounced a bit yesterday, then started off this morning falling back slightly, 31,000 remaining as distant a memory as ever. The main beneficiaries seem to have been shares in Macau casinos, which the market thinks Mainland investors will want to get their hands on – money laundering by investing in money launderers? We’re supposed to get worked up about the fact that Hong Kong people will be able to buy Mainland shares directly. Don’t all rush.

Still, it was announced by Premier Li Keqian at the Boao bore-fest in Hainan, so everyone must give him lots of face by frenziedly jumping up and down with their hands flapping wildly and eyes bulging, preferably ullulating like crazed Arab women. The South China Morning Post quotes some guy as saying this will “remove the last restrictions on the capital account” between the Mainland and Hong Kong (ie the rest of the planet). And Chief Executive CY Leung thanks the Chinese government for the initiative, as if – like face masks during SARS or 10 million shoppers a week – it’s something to be pitifully grateful for. Dance with glee we must.

The only people who aren’t acting deliriously happy are Hong Kong’s ever-miserable, sour-faced small brokers, who have to find fault with everything and fear that their slowness, inefficiency and need for kindergarten-style afternoon naps might divert the limited benefits of this small-scale free lunch to their big rivals. I declare the weekend open with the thought: how tragic.

Good name for a jazz band!

April 10th, 2014

Henry Tang and his Basement Trio are all over the papers today. The scion and failed Chief Executive candidate assumes his cheesiest grin after the courts acquit three construction professionals of involvement in the mysterious unauthorized bunker at his Kowloon Tong house. Cynics and skeptics find it hard to believe someone would build the house first, then excavate a huge subterranean chamber beneath it. Think of all those workmen dragging dirt and rock through the living room. But in fairness, everyone does it that way in London. (With permits, of course, they install “…playrooms and cinemas, bowling alleys and spas, wine cellars and gun rooms,” which – firearms apart – sounds much like the Tang cavern.)

Did some gorgeous pouting PR floozy advise Henry to choose the occasion of this exciting legal decision to submit his contribution to the public consultation on electoral arrangements for 2017? By airing his political reform proposal at this time, he would distract attention from the basement/wife’s fault scandal. Or maybe it’s the other way round, and he chose the day of the court judgment in the hope that his embarrassing views on the voting system would slip under the radar.

Henry’s suggestions are, by his own admission, conservative. He proposes a Nominating Committee based on the current Election Committee, but slightly less egregiously rigged, with corporate votes replaced by human ones. And this body would put candidates forward as a group, all endorsed by a majority of the committee members; allowing someone onto the ballot with the support of just a minority would not be ‘representative’, he reasons. (Before someone goes round and hits him, we should point out that Henry was born into great wealth and comfort, and it’s a wonder he can do his own shoelaces up.)

This ‘organizational’ or ‘collective’ nomination idea is at the extreme end of the scale, because it abandons any pretense that the process is not completely rigged. Essentially, Beijing would draw up a slate of (say) three candidates, and the rubber-stamp Nominating Committee would go through a make-believe vote to make that list the ballot; the token pro-democrats comprising a 10-20% minority of the committee would look on helplessly.

It’s the joke selection process of Leninism or North Korea, or for that matter of Hong Kong’s National People’s Congress delegates. And it’s hard to believe that Beijing will impose such a heavy-handed device on Hong Kong for 2017, for three reasons.

First, unless they found a capable and popular contender to include in the list/ballot (which they never have before) such a ridiculous system would backfire. The minority pro-dems on the Nominating Committee would denounce the entire ballot, and large numbers of Hong Kong voters would boycott the ‘universal suffrage’ election, leaving the new Chief Executive with even less legitimacy than his predecessors.

Second, the eyes of Taiwan and the rest of the world will be watching, and such a farce would invite mockery and humiliation.

Third, they can rig the system well enough without stooping to such depths.

Henry has probably agreed to put this plan forward as part of Beijing’s ever-so subtle expectations-management efforts. All part of the shoe-shining and cringing. No-one makes noblesse oblige more demeaning than Communists. The rest of us don’t realize how lucky we are to have been born into our obscure pauperism.

The great man also obliquely shares with us the benefit of his opinion of the Standard/Sing Tao’s favourite contender for 2017, former Financial Secretary Antony Leung, and of the incumbent, CY Leung, who taught Henry all he knows about rigged quasi-elections.