Beijing’s weak spot: the HK crony-economy

September 1st, 2014

Hong Kong wakens to cruelly dashed hopes and dreams this morning, as Occupy Central doesn’t materialize and thus give us the day off – or force us to ‘work from home’, as the Human Resources people quaintly put it. Some other time, no doubt. If Hong Kong’s pro-democrats are engaged in a cunning war of attrition, they are going the right way about it: thousands of cops are being deployed in case the Big Sit-In erupts, and it can only be a few weeks before the Police overtime budget runs out.

Beijing’s official announcement yesterday of Hong Kong’s election method for 2017 confirmed what we already knew. Up to now, the Chinese Communist Party has selected Hong Kong’s Chief Executive behind closed doors and had a local rubber-stamp ‘Election Committee’ hold a make-believe vote to make it look supposedly semi-democratic. In a big step for a Leninist one-party regime, Beijing is now willing to select a shortlist of candidates behind closed doors, have the rubber-stamp (renamed) ‘Nominating Committee’ hold a make-believe vote on the list, and then allow the three million or so voters to choose one via universal suffrage.

This is obviously not real democracy. The Civic Party’s Ronnie Tong cried on hearing the announcement, and the Democratic Party’s Emily Lau was so desolated that she couldn’t bring herself to go ballistic with a frenzy of brain-exploding ranting and fury. Were the pro-dems sincerely expecting real universal suffrage within China’s one-party framework? This is a genuinely intriguing question. Have years – decades – of struggle for the abstract principle of democracy blinded them to the post-1997 reality that a totalitarian government will not permit a rival to run against it in an open poll? Or are they well aware of that, and are just pretending to be outraged for effect or to feel good? Either way, it does not reflect well on them.

Nonetheless, they have a serious fight on their hands. Beijing has all but declared war on reformists in Hong Kong. From smears, to computer hacking, to contrived mass mobilization, to hijacking once-respected law-enforcement agencies, to threats of bloodshed, to trundling military vehicles through the streets, we are witnessing a campaign of unprecedented severity. That such an approach is probably counterproductive in Hong Kong suggests that it is not specifically about this city: it is about this city in the overall context of Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, the South China Sea, multinational companies in the domestic market, the Internet, independent churches, the ‘anti-corruption’ purges, immeasurable economic imbalances and all the other demons haunting China’s paranoid leadership. Hong Kong is an example and must be tamed.

Free and open elections are not attainable. But many in Hong Kong would prefer something more prosaic, anyway: lower rents, cheaper necessities, better jobs, less crowding on transport, fairer allocation of education and health services and hope for a better future. Conveniently, a Mainland legal academic came to Hong Kong last week to link the political and economic spheres and say – in effect – that democracy cannot be allowed because Beijing wants to protect and maintain the economic system that forces everyone to toil in order to enrich a small clutch of family-owned cartels. The Beijing-loves-tycoons thing goes back to the 80s, but what a time to blurt it out. As Bloomberg neatly put it: To Save the Rich, China Ruins Hong Kong. (A South China Morning Post column today also addresses the issue, as does MarketWatch.)

The pro-democrats have never been able to unite on down-to-earth issues. The fancy lawyers at one end of the spectrum work for property developers, own nice apartments and send the kids to college overseas; the ‘grassroots’ labour-types at the other end demand welfare, basic pensions and capped working hours. A third grouping, emerging only within recent years, are the young – and they perhaps have more of a clue about the links between cronyism, Beijing and their own lives. If the pro-dems want to arouse the people and take the fight to the Chinese government, this is the way to go when the civil disobedience gets going: shut up about nominating committees and start talking rents, schools, cartels, tycoons, ripoffs, inequality and unfairness.

No, not PhotoShopped – they really did look this miserable as CY announced ‘this historic moment … citizens would cherish’ on the road to ‘universal suffrage’.

United Front absorbs ICAC, and other stupidity

August 29th, 2014

For several years, the Hong Kong Police have increasingly imposed annoying, if not vindictive, crowd-control measures during pro-democracy – but not other – gatherings. Now it seems Hong Kong Post and the Independent Commission Against Corruption are also being brought under the Chinese Communist Party’s local United Front.

The politicization of supposedly impartial institutions is disturbing for the obvious reason that it damages public trust in these services and ultimately undermines the rule of law. (The poor ICAC even pleads with us to accept it is acting impartially in raiding Jimmy Lai.) It is also shocking because it seems almost designed to heighten suspicion and hostility towards Beijing among even moderate Hong Kong people. Coming alongside Beijing’s plans for the most symbolically as well as practically ‘conservative’ nomination system for the 2017 election, it’s as if someone is deliberately trying to provoke radicalism and maximize support for Occupy Central.

One explanation is that the Chinese government’s paranoia about Hong Kong pro-democrats and the universe in general has overridden any sense of proportion. Everyone in the chain of command from the capital to the local Liaison Office and administration is under strict orders to go Maximum Apeshit over the pro-democrats. Too petrified to point out it might backfire, the functionaries go to work, and things get broken. Whatever happens, no-one will be liable to accusations that they didn’t try hard enough to Crush the Pan-Dem Enemy Without Mercy as per Zhongnanhai’s instructions.

Another explanation is that the Chinese government really wants Hong Kong people out on the streets and the pro-dem lawmakers to veto the political reform, just to plunge the city into chaos and provide an excuse to send the tanks in, or whatever the Xi-Jinping-as-Mandela equivalent is. The problem with this is that it means plunging financial markets and other inconveniences. (It’s also hard to imagine some local officials, for all their pitifulness at times, going along with overt and harsh direct rule.)

In the past, Hong Kong has usually had moderate politicians, reasonable media voices and neutral bureaucrats and business people with the wisdom and good humour to maintain some basic cohesion. Even after the Article 23 uproar, or Donald Tsang’s anti-democrat tantrums, some sort of civility returned. This time feels different. In its attempts to assert control, Beijing has polarized the city, and it looks permanent. If they’re going to use law enforcement agencies for political persecution stunts, what’s the point of being moderate and constructive?

Maybe Beijing will realize its tactics are overkill and counterproductive. Otherwise, the city is going to end up more alienated, more disgruntled, and less governable than ever.



Busy today…

August 28th, 2014

…like the Macau Judicial Police, the HK Post Office and the ICAC. And Hugo ‘pork jowl’ Leung

More choreographed BS

August 27th, 2014

Just as you thought the barrage of bullshit couldn’t get any louder, up go the decibels. Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung says that Hong Kong can’t have elections in line with international norms because the city allows non-citizens to vote, which the rest of the world doesn’t. Actually, some countries do, but leaving facts aside, you would have thought he would at least try to present an argument with some logic. (Hint to CY: how about ‘Beijing can’t trust us with full democracy because it doesn’t trust foreign voters not to elect CIA-backed splittists’? That at least has an element of reason to it.)

Detractors point out that the Basic Law’s Article 39 binds Hong Kong to the UN’s covenant on political rights. The government seems reluctant to mention this, though again I have the perfect, watertight riposte: ‘the Chinese Communist Party isn’t bound by law, you dummy’.

Everyone is being dragged in to give the Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign a major kicking. Even the South China Morning Post’s usually insipid ‘My Take’ column follows the senseless official Lines to Take. The pro-democrat protestors will ‘undermine Hong Kong’s stability and reputation’, and the city can’t have top-notch elections because it’s not a country. Bizarrely, Occupy Central’s leader Benny Tai has himself been taken in by the propaganda, anticipating a major standstill, tear gas and general mayhem.

To refresh our memories: Occupy Central will be a bunch of people sitting in the street for a while. The movement was fading into an embarrassing flop until Beijing and its United Front machine started this absurd full-volume orchestrated freak-out, thus bolstering the campaign’s popular support and credibility. Its main achievement has been to discover, accidentally, Beijing’s hypersensitivity to academic-sounding, structured and methodical approaches to protest, presumably out of paranoia about some Mainland Gandhi or Martin Luther King bringing down the Communist regime through deliberation days and non-violent sit-ins.

If you think that sounds unlikely, this patch of mud (‘not much to see’, as the SCMP puts it) is going to be the world’s third-largest private equity hub…


Beijing unleashes latest weapon: crotchety and grumpy

August 26th, 2014

The Standard uses the phrase ‘sad and angry’. The less diplomatic among us might say ‘even more crotchety and grumpy than usual’. Either way, National People’s Congress Standing Committee member Rita Fan declares that it is futile for Hong Kong’s pro-democrats to confront Beijing over political reform, and that the planned Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign can only stiffen the Communist regime’s determination. As the South China Morning Post puts it: ‘The more you protest, the less Beijing will bend’.

So if Occupy Central promises to sit down, shut up and be good from now on, the Chinese government will be nice and give Hong Kong a more truly democratic system? Sure. The fact is that, on the matter of the 2017 election, Beijing made its mind up long ago. But it also a fact, borne out by the struggles over Article 23 and National Education, that protesting on the streets is the only thing that Beijing notices.

Rita recites the familiar stuff about how Occupy Central – a bunch of people sitting in the road desperate for a pee – will wreck not only the Hong Kong economy but gullible young people’s lives. This is essentially a slur against the whole noble Gandhi/Martin Luther King non-violent disobedience thing, but it seems to put Occupy Central on the defensive, leaving them having to explain yet again the detailed, academic philosophy behind their peaceful approach. The correct, attention-grabbing response would be to defame Rita back and loudly demand that she come clean about the things you read about her Shanghainese father’s links with the criminal and infamously violent Green Gang. But of course the pro-dems are too nice for that.

A more nuanced approach by Beijing to the pro-dems would be to ask: ‘Why waste your breath?’ Essentially, the pro-democrats are demanding that the Communist Party put itself up for election against alternatives in Hong Kong. ‘You know we will not/cannot do it, so spare everyone the fuss’. But in order to ask its opponents to be reasonable, the Communist one-party system has to sound reasonable. Its vocabulary is largely limited to ‘crush opposition without mercy’.

The more moderate pro-dems, at least, insist they are not in the business of trying to topple the Communist Party; they just want an open non-rigged choice in Hong Kong’s local elections. They couch this aim in the most virtuous terms of universal human rights and values, which forces Beijing’s officials and supporters to resort to ridiculous euphemisms in which ‘national security’ or ‘patriotism’ equate to one-party dictatorship. To be even more hilariously aggravating, the pro-dems have unearthed a 1944 Xinhua news editorial demanding that the Kuomintang dictatorship of the time grant an open, non-rigged choice in elections.

There will be no meeting of minds here. In Beijing, you have one side with no moral right (except insofar as a pluralistic China today would be, as some claim, in chaos), but all the might and power of the state. In the pro-dems, you have a side with all the moral right, but with no practical or effective means of changing the status quo (except insofar as Beijing is, as some imagine, susceptible to international pressure and shame).

The outcome, this time at least: the pro-dems will score 10 out of 10 for being correct, while Beijing will score 10 out of 10 for having its way. On a brighter note, maybe Rita Fan will fade from view.



Committees pretend to do stuff, get taken seriously

August 25th, 2014

To illustrate what rule of law means in Hong Kong, take a look at Macau. A small group of pro-democracy activists, inspired by the Big Lychee’s recent ‘civil referendum’, launch a small-scale poll to gauge the public’s opinion of bumbling Chief Executive Fernando Chui. Beijing is giving Chui a second term of office via a make-believe (not to say uncontested) vote by a 400-strong rigged ‘election committee’.

As soon as the street poll started, Macau police detained activists and intimidated other participants, citing supposed ‘personal data’ infringements. Not only the
Judicial Police but the Personal Data Protection Office had to take part in this obvious abuse of state power. In Hong Kong, the courts would send the government packing – which is why Occupy Central can safely ignore pro-Beijing ranting about self-styled referendums being illegal. Macau is a banana republic in comparison; its Portuguese colonial regime represented a military dictatorship in Lisbon and lost control of the place to Communist elements by the late 1960s. It has nothing like Hong Kong’s tradition of an independent judiciary (or press, for that matter).

News reports persist in describing Beijing’s reappointment of Chui as if an election process is underway (‘standing unopposed’, ‘people … eligible to vote’). The international media do the same with Hong Kong’s own rigged non-elections for Chief Executive (‘Under the current system…‘), and they are doing it now by reporting that the National People’s Congress Standing Committee is meeting this week to debate and vote on what sort of political reforms the city can have for the 2016-17 elections.

It is true that a body called the Standing Committee of the NPC is gathering. The rest, we can safely assume, is baloney. The cautious wording of the Basic Law suggests Beijing anticipated a possible transition to a guided form of democracy decades ago; the outline of this 2017 reform package probably dates back to 2007, and the details would have been approved by top Communist leadership well before the Hong Kong government’s ‘consultation’ started late last year. Even any surprise last-minute sweeteners will have been carefully scripted in advance.

So the NPC Standing Committee is just a Leninist charade, like any Macau or Hong Kong Election Committee pretending to freely vote for a candidate when Beijing has already decided the winner. The South China Morning Post explains that Rita Fan is the only Hong Kong delegate on the committee and thus entitled to vote, and the other 12 locals will only have the right to speak. In reality, the delegates may have to listen to droning speeches, may have the opportunity to say how much they agree, and may hold their hands up (if full members like Rita) at the end. They will also be dragged to a lot of meals and have plenty of time for afternoon naps. But that’s it: the process is pure make-believe.

‘City holds its breath’, the SCMP claims. Over something decided ages ago, and we all know pretty much what it is.


Outrage as city doesn’t come to halt over dog

August 22nd, 2014

As is often the case as the end of summer starts to approach, the mentally diseased take over.

Frenzied mouth-frothing erupts in Hong Kong after a stray dog is fatally hit by a train. The facts of the case are: stray dog got on tracks near MTR station; staff halted trains for five minutes while trying in vain to get the animal; operations resumed, and the creature was later found dead.

Apparently, the correct procedure is as follows:

  • Hold up all rail services for as many hours – or days – as it takes to retrieve the precious dog. Tens of thousands of commuters and other travellers will believe it an honour to wait on sweltering platforms or in stationary trains while MTR staff comb the line.
  • When found, airlift the canine by helicopter to special doggy hospital to receive the latest high-tech veterinary acupuncture and dine on Debauve & Gallais chocolates and Bollinger champagne.
  • Any passenger impudent enough to complain about the delay or faint from thirst to be fined HK$20,000 under MTR by-laws against insensitivity to our furry friends.

Grown men and women, plus extraordinarily opportunistic People Power activists, assemble at the station to burn incense and pray for the departed. A hundred thousand or so sign an on-line petition demanding whatever people like this demand – a universal pension for dogs or something. And then, just as you think it can’t get any more grotesque, one protester compares the situation to the death a few years ago in the Mainland of a little girl who was run over by a vehicle and ignored by passers-by in the street. I didn’t use the phrase ‘mentally diseased’ lightly.

Hong Kong is hardly the only place in the world where people are becoming unhinged and incapable of fully distinguishing other species from humans. In the United States, admirers of cute fluffiness have recently been horrified to learn that rabbits can be food. British singer Morrissey thinks meat-eating is on a par with paedophilia. Here in the Big Lychee, middle-age – possibly childless – women dress poodles up in lace and push them round in buggies. It is not normal or healthy.

At least there seem to be limits. I haven’t seen the dog-mourners setting up shrines for the thousands of furry rodents poisoned every year by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. Rats, presumably, aren’t big enough, aren’t fluffy enough, don’t look at us with big round eyes enough, don’t sometimes appear to be grinning enough. And at least the child-like mawkishness over furry animals is, however misplaced, genuine – and not the sort of manipulative, cunning, cultish yuck with which I declare the weekend open: an invitation to fawn over Deng Xiaoping’s wheelchair…



Non-starter wouldn’t work anyway, otherwise great

August 21st, 2014

How’s this for an exquisite bit of policymaking inanity?

That’s right: a solution to poverty in the form of a handout that’s not enough to live on.

Hong Kong has identified a problem in the form of elderly poor. The generation that grew up around the 1940s-50s were born into a time of chaos. Many had little education and little opportunity during their working lives to save for retirement. The result is that a significant section of the over-65s struggle to get by and even end up picking through waste paper and making us feel terrible.

We have a fairly simple and practical remedy: improve the existing means-tested welfare safety-net by increasing the amount of cash it hands out and making the application system less humiliating. There is no need to raise taxes: simply stop squandering public funds on pointless infrastructure projects and excessive civil service salaries. And this would not commit us to a long-term burden, as the cost could level off and even decline in the decades ahead as the impoverished elderly die out and better-educated and wealthier generations come up for retirement.

But that would be too easy. It would also require the bureaucrats to be honest about Hong Kong’s fiscal situation. The truth is that, despite all the panic-spreading about the ‘aging society’ and future deficits, the government has far more money stuffed away in reserves than it knows what to do with. Add the billions constantly leaking out through stupid expenditure priorities, and it’s got more still. It is the last thing they want to admit.

Luckily for the bureaucrats, our politicians and activists are fixated with the idea of a universal pension. As the Western world’s social security systems show, such entitlements can become entrenched and bloated and ultimately ruinous. To be self-funded and sustainable, it would require new revenue streams. Push this button and you get instant mayhem, as everyone points fingers all over the place demanding that someone else pay for it. In practice, it all comes out of our pockets in the end, regardless of whether you call it ‘government subsidy’, ‘employer contribution’, ‘extra profits tax’ or, obviously, ‘salary deduction’. But battlers for social justice and economic sense will fight to the death over it anyway.

So after a year-long study, a group of academics and other geniuses under Professor Nelson Chow propose several variants of a HK$3,000 a month universal pension funded by some form of payroll tax. As the paragraph at the top makes clear, it won’t be enough for the truly impoverished to live on. For many of the rest, it will essentially be a form of forced savings; bizarrely, it would co-exist with the Mandatory Provident Fund, which the group seems to propose maintaining separately, maybe for heritage preservation reasons. In a perhaps insulting attempt to sell the idea to the middle class who don’t need it, Chow assures the better off that they won’t be subsidizing poorer people.

You wouldn’t have thought that so many experts could devise a system that hasn’t a chance of being implemented and which wouldn’t solve the problem if it were. But they pulled it off.

Worth a Silver Bauhinia Star, surely.


CY: a committee is a unit, not a group

August 20th, 2014

Never let it be said that China Daily doesn’t let you know what’s coming. (Story not online, but also buried away here.) Chief Executive CY Leung instructs us in Basic Law semantics. The Nomination Committee that will in theory select candidates for Hong Kong’s 2017 Chief Executive election will act ‘collectively’. In plain words: a committee is a rubber stamp. Just as the current Election Committee simply ‘elects’ the Chief Executive Beijing has previously decided will win, so the core bloc on the nominating body (essentially the same thing) will merely pretend to select the central government’s pre-determined participants. The rest of us will then be able to vote for one of these candidates.

We can be fairly certain that most public figures who identify as part of the pro-democracy camp will not get onto an initial shortlist, let alone Beijing’s finalized ballot. While this is obviously a travesty of democratic principles, from a governance and public-policy point of view it will be no great loss.

Many, many years ago – probably the early 90s – I recall a government attempt to get the Legislative Council to raise the Cross-Harbour Tunnel toll. Then as now, low pricing distorted traffic flows and created congestion and pollution, and thus led to economic costs and damage to people’s health. The Democratic Party lawmakers, under then-leader Martin Lee, joined vested interests in voting the measure down, citing some sort of unfair-to-drivers garbage. Beijing’s essential claim that a pro-dem Chief Executive could be a CIA-backed threat to one-party rule and national security looks like (and is) absurd Communist paranoia. But screening pan-dems out on grounds of their incompetence might strike much of the public as prudent.

Not that prominent members of the pro-Beijing camp look like dazzling leadership material. Various names get tossed around, such as natural-born patriot Tsang Yok-sing, slick-and-smug financier Antony Leung, this or that senior civil servant, or even a new-look, warm-and-cuddly CY Leung. But imagine having to finalize a ballot of, say, three candidates.

Any attempt to fix the final stage of a so-far totally-rigged process will invite a voter boycott, and the ‘winner’ will fail before even taking office, leaving even more of a crisis than we have now. So at least two of the candidates have to be serious and electable and fit to claim a popular mandate. They will need to go beyond the traditional quasi-election charade of throwaway policy platforms and endorsements from fawning tycoons and Emperor Group pop stars. They’ll need halfway credible teams to back them and look capable of subsequently occupying government posts. If it was happening on a planet being visited by the Starship Enterprise they’d say: “It’s an election, Jim, but not as we know it.”

Beijing presumably believes it can identify a few candidates that it can both live with and present to the electorate for approval, and indeed to complete the selection, one-man one-vote. Out of a population of 7 million, suitable people obviously exist, right? Even so, good luck with that.

A couple of links for prospective CEs: obviously, overseas domestic workers come way down the list, but don’t miss Time Out HK’s new angle on the story. Also, when you see sense and ban the selfie stick, consider exempting these guys.



An ‘end in sight’ scenario while the struggle continues

August 19th, 2014

It is unlikely that many people went through the Hong Kong government’s report on the public consultation exercise on 2016-17 political reforms. If my own 0.03-second perusal of the documents is anything to go by, it largely comprised identical statements from hundreds of United Front groups like the Federation of Hong Kong Shenzhen Associations. A South China Morning Post study (which they wisely dumped on academics) confirms that it’s a mass of ‘orchestrated bloc submissions favouring a conservative stance’.

Only the naïve would expect it any other way. Most Hong Kong government consultation exercises are designed in some way to reach the bureaucrats’ preferred conclusion. Those on political reform have to conform to the wishes of the sovereign power, and have a long record, dating back to the 1980s, of ‘finding’ that the population is far less enthusiastic about democracy than public opinion polls indicate.

Former Chief Secretary Anson Chan’s pro-democracy group has just commissioned a poll, showing that people want a low nomination threshold and object to screening for Chief Executive candidates in 2017. Dame Conscience’s survey also finds that the majority of Hongkongers would want their elected lawmakers to veto a proposed political reform that doesn’t meet these requirements.

By chance, Beijing’s local Liaison Office has been holding discussions with pan-democrats, and telling them that the Central Government has not yet finalized its proposals for reform, and could therefore still be persuaded to be flexible on details. But ‘details’ here means ‘symbolic or ornamental stuff that does not change anything in practice’.

In theory, they could give way on the anticipated conservative requirement of a 50% nomination threshold for candidates and accept a one-eighth threshold – if it makes the pro-dems happy. Just be aware that the size and composition of the Nomination Committee will have to be adjusted accordingly, so only a one-eighth bloc of ‘votes’ controlled by Beijing can put names onto the ballot, while a lesser bloc of pro-dems stands by uselessly.

The idea that the Communist Party will not screen candidates is absurd and reflects a complete lack of understanding of the nature of a one-party state. Yes, we all know that they can trust the Hong Kong people not to elect a traitor. But they don’t do ‘trust’. (Xi, Li and the other half dozen Politburo members almost certainly don’t even trust each other.) Such a regime divides the world into two categories: things they control, and enemies.

Thus, internally, the Party must ultimately control everything including the legislature, the courts, the army, the police, the media, the currency, interest rates, religion, charities, provincial/county/city administrations, Special Administrative Regions and so on. If it isn’t directly controlled (like foreign or private companies or Hong Kong SAR judges) it can be, thanks to laws that mean whatever we say they mean, courts or Standing Committees that do whatever we tell them, and ultimately firepower. Or it’s an enemy (like the Falun Gong or Nobel-winning essayists) to be crushed. None of that separation of powers, checks-and-balances stuff. Overseas, of course, it’s basically wall-to-wall enemies.

The pan-dems will decry the rigging of the 2017 ballot as no better than the 1997-2012 system, or the Mainland, or North Korea, or whatever. This isn’t true. Beijing wouldn’t be putting itself and the rest of us through this tortuous process if it didn’t see its guided version of universal suffrage as a Big Scary Brave Step into the unknown. In terms of Western or international norms, it may be ‘fake’, but to a Leninist totalitarian structure, letting the masses decide, in a way that can’t be controlled, among three candidates is downright freaky.

Whatever happens, there can be only two options:

1.  The status quo, in which Beijing decides the ‘winner’, a pro-democrat can get on the ballot and pretend to be a candidate, and a 1,200-strong Election Committee will pretend to elect Beijing’s choice; or

2.  Fake/guided/freaky democracy, in which Beijing decides two or three candidates, a 1,200-strong Nomination Committee will pretend to choose them for the ballot, and the electorate gets to genuinely choose one in a contested race.

The question is whether option 2 holds any hope of an improvement in governance over option 1. In forming your answer, you may wish to consider that option 1 is currently producing unresponsive administrations of possibly unsurpassable crappiness.

Other possible courses of action are simply not there, however much tactical sense it might make for pro-dems to insist otherwise, unless you include the end of one-party rule in the equation.

Anson Chan’s poll finding – that people want lawmakers to veto anything but full democracy – contradicts another recent survey suggesting people will accept the fake version as better than nothing. Pro-dems who find this offensive and unacceptable are no doubt right to dismiss the poll for being commissioned by pro-establishment stooges and carried out by a crummy quasi-university. But it is likely that a lot depends on how you word the question. It is also likely that while people feel one way in their hearts, their brains tell them something else. While of little relevance to Hong Kong, opinion polls on next month’s referendum on Scottish independence come to mind. Many respondents in Scotland clearly gain some emotional satisfaction from saying they will vote to leave the UK; common sense says they’re not stupid enough to actually do it.

The British can actually place bets on the outcome. If the Jockey Club were so flexible, I would put money on the following. After Beijing issues its proposal, the pro-democracy camp makes its last stand in the form of Occupy Central. The dust settles, and the stark choice between options 1 and 2 is all that’s left. Seeing nothing to be gained from vetoing the reform, public opinion will come down in favour of it, if grudgingly. Unless an ill-judged and venomous United Front propaganda campaign provokes a backlash of the sort that rescued Occupy Central from obscurity, enough pro-dem lawmakers take the hint and the package passes. Prozac prescriptions leap.