Well – you can’t say CY’s boring

October 21st, 2014

Fresh from accusing un-nameable foreign forces of masterminding unrest, Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung declares that open elections based purely on numbers of votes are unacceptable because the poor will gain more political power. Brought up to assume this issue had been sorted out around 1789, the overseas media he was briefing were suitably intrigued. More here, here, and elsewhere.

He was justifying the Basic Law’s concept of voting via rigged ‘broadly representative’ bodies (as opposed to directly by individuals). This is how we get corporatist-style quasi-electorates of interest groups like Functional Constituencies, the CE Election Committee and the proposed Nominating Committee. In the New York Times Quartz-HKPoorpiece he cited his need to pander to the sports lobby (taxpayer-funded parasite cyclists) as an example of the superiority of this system.

As with the ‘foreign influences’ thing, CY is simply parroting the Chinese Communist Party’s official line on the need to protect Hong Kong’s ‘capitalist’ class of cartel-owning landlords. It is stunning and grotesque to see a Marxist sovereign power declare that its mission is to shield a small, mainly hereditary, landed oligarchy of hyper-wealthy from the poor (not to mention a large chunk of the in-between middle class). How do we get our heads around this?

We can attribute Beijing’s 1980s-90s co-option of Hong Kong tycoons to simple United Front-building. There are two possible – and overlapping – reasons why this unholy relationship has subsequently grown stronger.

One is that the post-Deng Xiaoping Communist Party has metamorphosed into a crony-capitalist kleptocracy, a la mid-20th Century Latin America. Asset-stripping, land-grabs, nepotism, pocketing of infrastructure funds, Bo Xilai-style confiscations and all the other horrors have turned the one-party state into a pyramid of corruption into which Hong Kong’s developer-dynasties have been absorbed. In other words, it’s all about money.

The other is that Beijing under Mao-messianic Xi Jinping and other princelings supposedly above such grubby crassness see the Hong Kong plutocracy as a shield Atla-HKLeaderagainst the spread of the democratization disease into the Mainland. By ensuring that the tycoons and cronies fear and oppose universal suffrage here, the Communist Party can feel that bit more secure up in Zhongnanhai. Seen this way, it’s all about power.

To the extent that it’s more about power than money, Beijing would be prepared to drop the tycoons if their unpopularity in Hong Kong became more trouble than it was worth. It would be great if the students meeting government officials later today grilled CY’s top officials on this subject. ‘Do you believe people earning HK$14,000 a month [CY’s benchmark] are a danger to governance if given the vote?’ There’s a dozen questions about the tycoons’ economic dominance that students could utterly skewer the officials with. (They could also ask if the officials believe foreign forces are manipulating the pro-democracy movement, and if so, to name them.)

Sadly, we can be pretty sure they will let the government off the hook and zero in on the mind-numbing subject of nomination systems.

Meanwhile, an excellent opportunity to dig this out – by an unknown genius amateur cartoonist…


Foreign forces, govt, everyone spin out of control

October 20th, 2014

SCMP-Spinning‘Spinning out of control?’ asks the South China Morning Post about the protests in Mongkok. Demonstrators repeatedly block intersections with barriers and the police repeatedly try to remove them, creating a cycle of anger and violence with no end – either in the sense of a purpose or a conclusion. So the answer is obviously ‘yes’.

The question should be: who has lost control? Another way to put it is to ask: who is supposed to be in control in the first place? Someone, after all, is supposed to be steering the ship – or as the ancient Greeks said, ‘kubernao’.


Chief Executive CY Leung went on TV last night and blamed ‘foreign forces’ for influencing the pro-democracy movement, though he also said the movement had become ‘out of control’. So the mysterious foreign forces aren’t in charge, but nor is he. The Hong Kong administration admits that it is not exercising power (in parts of Mongkok, at least), which sounds like a serious admission of failure. But the good news is that foreigners aren’t running things there either now. Which sort of makes it OK.

CY has to blame external malevolence because Beijing officials have already done so, and they would lose face if he fails to agree. The Chinese Communist Party is perfect, so if anything goes wrong it must be the fault of hostile forces, which are invariably based overseas. CY has a simple choice: point the finger at big bad foreign forces, or be openly disloyal to the Party; if the Communist leadership said the world was flat, he and Hong Kong’s other devout followers of this quasi-religion would repeat it as a fact. From his and Beijing’s point of view, Hong Kong people’s refusal to convert to this faith is the problem. From Hong Kong’s point of view, the leadership’s inability even to begin accepting responsibility is the problem. You can see how wonderfully productive tomorrow’s government-student talks are going to be.

To regain a shred of credibility, the government needs to find evidence of malicious foreign influence over the protests. Where to start? Part of the government complex at Tamar has been covered with messages about peace, love and freedom, and named the ‘John Lennon wall’ after a native of Liverpool, England. A senior PaddingtonBearpolice officer spoke to the press a few days ago wearing a colonial-era badge on her cap; to compound the crime, she called the item a ‘souvenir’. A poster at Admiralty promoting non-violence features Paddington Bear, who is known to be from Peru. And – the elephant in the room – have you noticed that in Hong Kong the vehicles drive on the left, just as they do in the UK?

As for specific details of foreign interference, we will have to make some educated guesses. If I were in charge of the international Western plot to prevent China from rising, I would create civil unrest in Hong Kong like this…

First, get the CIA to infiltrate the bureaucracy and property developers to undermine the land and housing system in such a way that people have no choice but to live in 165-sq-ft apartments that cost some seven times median household income. If that doesn’t get people rioting, what will?

Then I would use Vatican-Kuomintang-Dalai Lama splittist elements to organize mass-scale movement of Mainland shopper-tourists into Hong Kong to swamp the public transport, drive rents up and shut down locally oriented retailing. Streets full of gold shops and nowhere to buy noodles – guaranteed to piss off the populace.

As a cunning extra touch, I would get MI6 to recruit double agents in Hong Kong law enforcement and prosecutors departments, and persuade them to implement the law selectively, so 17-year-old student activists and a guy writing stuff on the Internet get arrested, but police who kick a handcuffed prisoner don’t, and decisions to chase and prosecute computer hackers depend on the political views of the victims. You’d be surprised how sensitive the public get when the law is applied unfairly like that.

This is just scratching the surface. Look around you. These evil foreign plotters are everywhere, and their plans are working.


Better late than never (or probably not)

October 17th, 2014

In a reversal from an unwise and counterproductive decision a week ago, the Hong Kong government announces a willingness to hold talks with pro-democracy STan-WereReadystudents. The two sides still need to solve massive problems like where to get together, for which they need the services of an intermediary – possibly a university head, or maybe the United Nations or Jimmy Carter.

Students claim it is impossible for the government to plan talks and dismantle Occupy Central protest sites simultaneously, though the re-opening of some roads in Mongkok suggests that this is not so. The government warns that it is impossible for the discussions (or anything) to change Beijing’s position on electoral arrangements for 2016-17, which is probably true but raises the question of what the gathering is for. The only thing they agree on is the need for complete intransigence. Perhaps the CY Leung administration will seek hints from the group of 17-year-olds on image management and in particular how to match the kids’ air of legitimacy, authority and confidence.

It seems fairly safe to predict that the meeting will either a) ultimately not take place or b) finish in seconds when someone storms out in a huff. In fact, that will be the rule of the game: first one to walk out in a huff loses. Handled badly enough, it could rejuvenate the Occupy Central sit-ins for another week.

I declare the weekend open with historic proof that Hong Kong is not the first place in the world where umbrellas played a key role in the fight for universal suffrage (women demanding the vote in the UK circa 1910) …


(OK, so they’re not umbrellas.)


Ken Tsang beating leaves government clueless as ever

October 16th, 2014

As Hong Kong’s Occupy Central/Umbrella movement staggers on against all the odds for a third week, and the city’s police manage to disgrace themselves, Chief Executive CY Leung cancels plans to take questions in the Legislative Council today on the grounds that it is not an appropriate time. More-than-obvious question: if not this, what time would be appropriate?

On top of countless blunders and miscalculations by the authorities, we now have the blurry-video, or ‘alleged’, beating by cops of the Civic Party’s Ken Tsang. A colleague of the suspected police could be speaking of the administration – or the whole city – when he says “…They are in deep s*** but there’s nothing we can do about it.” The last few weeks have brought us the surprising, the bizarre and the surreal, but it gets stranger still when you see international media describe how the “incessant, unintelligible screech of a female officer’s voice filled the air” in a report from sleepy old Hong Kong. And then the US State Department expresses ‘deep concern’ and calls for a full investigation. (This isn’t the US where cops killed some 110 people in August alone – it’s a different one.)

SCMP-OutrageA statesman-like leader could use the Ken Tsang kicking as an opportunity. The incident is almost universally (if not perhaps 100% accurately) seen as something unimaginable and freakish here. It could warrant a call to everyone to step back and calm down. To have any credibility, such a call would have to include an acceptance of responsibility: what has happened is ultimately a failure of government, and the police, protestors and public should not be blaming each other. Those of us in charge of policymaking must mend our ways radically, and here’s how we start…

The idea that CY would stand before the legislature and say something like this is 10 times more mind-warping than the most surreal and bizarre things that have happened so far. The Hong Kong government is chosen and installed by the Chinese Communist Party, which can do no wrong; any ‘deep shit’ is by definition caused by hostile, probably foreign, forces. CY and his fellow officials, when they recite their fatuous or plain false one-liners, can’t bring themselves to mention the students or other detractors as people or citizens who might have a point – just as an enemy to be vanquished, or at least (improbable as it may seem) outwitted.

So Ken Tsang’s beating joins the whole litany of screw-ups that burden the government. Officials think they have to appear unmoved and aloof; that way they differentiate themselves from all the rabble out there, heckling. One perfectly valid criticism of our pro-democracy politicians over the years is that they automatically oppose whatever stance the government takes, on principle, to the point where they would insist the world is flat if CY said it’s round. Now the government itself is doing it. Critics say it’s wrong for cops to beat a handcuffed prisoner, so officials essentially refuse to acknowledge that something serious and damaging to the community might have happened. That’s supposed to impress us. You can see why this could drag on for ages.

Police to protestors: boss is getting impatient

October 15th, 2014

After being repelled by protestors the first time round, police last night took control of Lung Wo Road – the strip linking Central and Admiralty that starts with the much-photographed skateboarders’ tunnel…


…now sadly returned to vehicular traffic. This follows firm action yesterday to remove barricades and reclaim road space from the pro-democracy Occupy Central crowds. The cops didn’t spare the pepper spray – liberally smothering reporters and activists alike with the stuff – and were filmed taking a guy in handcuffs round the corner for a kicking. (Police report being poked in the eyes with umbrellas among other things.) Though hardly Rodney King, this is shocking by Hong Kong standards, and highlights the way Beijing’s disastrous handling of local affairs is tearing the community apart.

The immediate mess still has some way to go. There was talk of some sort of anti-Occupy delivery drivers/United Front /‘logistics’ procession of trucks taking place today – not sure if it’s going ahead. The protestors still blocking streets, notably in Mongkok, may prove particularly unwilling to leave peacefully. Beijing is making it clear that the reform package (remember the reform package?) is the only one on offer, thus tying the Hong Kong administration’s hands. As an almost inane sideshow, the latest (presumably leaked) details about Chief Executive CY Leung’s DTZ business deal could be interpreted as suggesting that he shafted other stakeholders in no uncertain terms, not that there’s necessarily any law against it.

CY, his Chief Secretary Carrie Lam and a few other officials are taking an inordinate amount of heat right now. That’s partly because of their incompetence and because SCMP-OC-SkyHighPropertyit’s their hapless lot to do the bidding of a Chinese government that – reading between the lines – seems to treat them as contemptuously as it treats the other 7 million of us. But it’s also because many of their fellow members of Hong Kong’s establishment are mysteriously, all of a sudden, nowhere to be seen.

Keeping their heads down at this time is smart. Not one but two op-ed articles in today’s South China Morning Post address the role of the Big Lychee’s tycoon-‘elite’ in creating and prolonging the social ills now apparently coming to a head. Ever-quotable economist Andy Xie pins the blame squarely on the parasitical pyramid-scheme scam that passes for the city’s private residential property market. Another writer looks at Beijing’s unfortunate strategy of favouring a few families of landlords and inherited wealth over the interests of the aforementioned 7 million; it’s pretty scanty, but hey – it’s in a newspaper owned by one of the tycoons.

Our plutocrat-bureaucrat ruling caste may console themselves with the thought that when the protestors have finally gone home, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp will be at least as divided as it has ever been. It will therefore fail to take the opportunity to turn its sights on the feudal nature of the system and launch Occupy Park N Shop to skewer the rent-seekers and the rulers here and in Beijing who feel this curious need to protect them.

I have a nasty feeling that they are right. But then, this whole story of political reform/Occupy Central is one of arrogant and inept holders of power repeatedly provoking citizens into doing amazing things no-one ever saw coming. The best could be yet to come.

Looking beyond barricades

October 14th, 2014

Hong Kong’s fight for democracy and good governance descends into a war of attrition between police and protestors over street barricades. To the government, removal of pro-democracy occupiers’ barriers is an important symbol of power – a reassertion of manhood after the humiliation of losing control of three major roadways to homework-wielding schoolgirls (among others). To the protestors, it seems like a last stand:  once they pack up and go, they reason, they have nothing left.

Hong Kong’s authorities, after no doubt being egged on by no-nonsense Beijing officials, have learnt the hard way that getting tough against the occupiers simply provokes a SCMP-CollisionCoursebacklash and greater resistance. But the only alternative they can think of is doing nothing – and that’s not an option. So the latest tactic is to get tough mildly, by dismantling barriers at the fringes of occupied zones and re-opening a few lanes to traffic, as if to create an air and expectation of a calm return to normal.

But a third force is seeing this as a green light to come along and join in. Hired thugs, triads and mouth-frothing angry uncles have turned up to hasten the clearances. From where the protestors are standing, it seems these belligerent and even violent intruders have the blessing of the police or government. Beijing functionaries might be giving tacit encouragement to organizers, but it’s hard to credit even this government with being so desperate and stupid as to call in – that is, to depend upon – mercenary henchmen.

The counter-protestors do not help the government or the cops. Their obnoxiousness simply provokes yet more backlash, such as yesterday’s creation by sympathetic construction workers of larger and more complex barricades. And they are not all paid stooges: an awkward truth for the youthful protestors is that there is a sub-culture of their fellow citizens who sincerely and deeply hate them. These detractors are particularly incensed by what they see as police favouritism towards the pro-dem kids, such as letting them close streets for weeks. Their logic is that they are resisting intimidation, not dishing it out.

The thugs are losers and beside the point. Both the government and the pan-democrats should be raising their sights from the streets.

Does anyone in the administration have the imagination to try to reassert control not simply of roads but of events? The government needs to shock and surprise the community with some big and positive announcements. Not just the hackneyed resignation of Chief Executive CY Leung, but attention-grabbing and radical policy – overhauled expenditure priorities, fairer access to education/healthcare and cuts in Mainland shopper arrivals are just a few possibilities. But the answer to the question is probably ‘no’, so it’s irrelevant.

Can the pro-democrats decide what to do next to keep the pressure on and – crucially – maintain and increase the public support that government is too incompetent to attract? Considering that opinion polls routinely show that few think Beijing will make concessions on political reform, the focus on universal suffrage has served surprisingly well. But they need more. Declaring war on tycoons and cartels through consumer boycotts and protests would be a great way to force the Hong Kong and Beijing leaders to openly choose between siding with privilege or the people.

This is a struggle for public opinion, not barricades.

Kids in tents – nothing else matters

October 13th, 2014

Every media outlet in Hong Kong starts the day with it: the Occupy Central protest is entering its third week. We take it for granted now, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The core business district itself remains unaffected, save for traffic diversions that have made the area less crowded, noisy and polluted. After all the branding and other plans, the actual sit-ins sprung up spontaneously elsewhere.

They have taken root. The main one surrounds the government complex at Tamar. It has become a bohemian tent city with food and water depots, shower stalls, first-aid stations, lectures, art displays, shelves of books, and – perhaps strangest of all – an open-air study room with kids doing homework at rows of well-lit desks. Over the harbour in what the overseas reporters are required to call gritty Mongkok, the Umbrella Uprising is more proletarian. Chain-smoking tattooed protestors with dyed hair and bling fight with local gangsters and copulate in the dark under flyovers (probably), while their more contemplative comrades worship at religious shrines. Then there’s a smaller settlement in Causeway Bay that I haven’t checked out.

Those of us who felt that after a euphoric week or 10 days it would make sense for the occupiers to withdraw have learnt to shut up. Only perpetual hand-wringers and bleaters still bother to call for the kids to pack up and go home, point made. What’s the betting they will still be there, strumming guitars and offering help with English assignments, at Christmas? At most, protestors seem to be consolidating their holdings of street acreage, as if to make themselves more comfortable. The police are taking the opportunity to reopen a few roads that probably didn’t need to be closed in the first place; for a while this morning, the kids thought the Big Clear-Out was about to happen, complete with tear gas, but it seems the cops just wanted some of their metal barriers back…


As always in Hong Kong, it is essential not to step back and look at the big picture; instead we must zoom in and get obsessed with the micro-issue. What was supposed to be about freedom, social justice, good governance, political reform and a – let’s say ‘unique’ – Communist-compatible semi-universal suffrage is now about kids in tents on streets. Nothing else matters. Businessmen wanting to shoe-shine the government need only bemoan the appalling economic cost of the road closures, and the press will dutifully spread the word. Pro-dems are not naturally gifted when it comes to countering this sort of criticism (hint: if you want something that damages the economy, try the high-land-price policy). And Chief Executive CY Leung declares the protests ‘out of control’. I suppose this is basically true in the sense that the participants are totally oblivious to what he thinks or wants.

This is the first time in ages that he has emerged from his bunker for a press interview. The main result of this has been to piss off the rest of the media for gracing TVB alone with the opportunity (a basic PR blunder). To Hongkongers, he and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam abdicated their responsibility to the city by taking off for some wretched-sounding Pan-Pearl River Delta Partnership Horsecrap Blah-Blah thing in Guangzhou over the weekend. But apparently, the Mainland participants felt the same way, with someone from Jiangxi Province complaining about the Hong Kong officials’ eagerness to skip the trade waffle and get back home. (OK, I had to look it JianxiMapup – like Carrie, I bet. Apparently, it has a border with Guangdong. And to think we never even knew it was there…)

It is left to Legislative Council President Tsang Yok-sing to remind us all that this is about potentially big things, starting with electoral methods and an attempt to cram a democratic process into the space allowed by a one-party state. It might be grasping at straws, and most people blank out when the conversation turns to the Nominating Committee, but his point is that the pre-selection phase of the process offers a chance for pro-dems or other non-stooge life-forms to get into everyone’s face and opinion polls. While it won’t impress the activists, it’s the sort of argument that – if put in plain, non-technical language – could persuade the undecideds and don’t cares and conceivably save Beijing’s reform package. But few establishment figures have the wit to push the nearest thing the package has to a bright side. From grim-faced Beijing officials and CY down, it’s a fight to the death against kids in tents.


Carrie keeps Occupy going

October 10th, 2014

Carrie-RevitalizationOne minute the Hong Kong government is making a big show out of planning to sit down with pro-democracy student protestors for some sort of deep and meaningful ‘dialogue’; the next minute, officials are making a big show of cancelling the talks on the grounds that the students have threatened to bolster their ever-so illegal sit-ins if the discussions don’t lead to big concessions over political reform. Since Beijing won’t permit any serious concessions, the government was faced with a choice: meet the students, and then see more kids come out and occupy the streets, or don’t meet the students, and then see more kids come out and occupy the streets.

There was nothing to lose by giving the students a bit of face and listening to their demands. If handled cleverly (fat chance, but still…) the meeting could even have been an opportunity for the government to recover some credibility after its dismal handling of events. For example, officials could concede that past and present policy errors have created anger and need to be reversed, and they could employ refreshingly honest, less coded language to explain Beijing’s quandary in allowing part of the one-party state any form of universal suffrage. Instead, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam chose to counter childish petulance with more childish petulance.

What were officials thinking? An observer can’t even detect what their intention was. Were they looking for an excuse not to meet with the students? Did they imagine Stan-TalksOffthat high-minded principles about the legality of sit-ins and the inconvenience to the public would propel them onto the moral high ground and boost their popularity? Or were they deliberately trying to re-energize the Occupy-Umbrella movement as it loses momentum – just like the last time and the time before that?

The incoherence suggests that more than one person is in charge. Perhaps a no-nonsense Beijing cadre who specializes in crushing evil forces attempting to overthrow the state had been up in Shenzhen for a few days and returned just in time to overrule this namby-pamby be-nice-to-the-kids stuff and get Hong Kong officials back onto the correct path of bludgeoning and smiting, or at least demonizing, the protestors.

So, once again, just as it’s looking best for the last activists on the streets to pack up and go home before it gets embarrassing, the government manages to find a way to inject a bit of new life into the movement, assuming a few thousand more turn up at Admiralty tonight. And our obsessive-compulsive leaders, egged on by paranoid Beijing minders, will get even more fixated on the Great Battle of the Barriers and Intersections – The Government versus The 17-Year-Olds – as the most important challenge in the universe today, while issues like political reform or a society more unequal than Rwanda just sit unnoticed and gathering dust.

When we look back at all this one day and laugh (OK, if…), we might see this not so much as a clash between government and protesters, but between Mainland and Hong Kong styles of political and civil authority. From the fake consultation on reform, to the White Paper, to the United Front intimidation, to heavy handed police action, this whole mess is an example of what happens when Communist approaches to control and the crushing of opposition are tried in a free and pluralistic society: it doesn’t work, and it’s counterproductive.

I declare the weekend open…


Deus ex machina – this is getting silly

October 9th, 2014

With ludicrously unsubtle timing, some sort of scandal – ‘Secret-payments-gate’ – comes out of nowhere and lands in Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung’s lap. He is now irreparably and terminally toxic. Unless, of course, he isn’t.

It was no secret that CY separated from property services company DTZ in late 2011, and it went without saying that he would have benefited financially; obviously the details were confidential and no concern of ours. The big deal now is whether he should have included the deal in his declaration of interests on becoming CE in mid-2012.

The defence says ‘no’ because he was being paid for past services; because agreement to serve in an advisory capacity in the future assumed that he would not become CE; and because he was not holding public office at the time. The prosecution says ‘yes’ because he was being paid to refrain from competing with the company in the future; because some of the payment came after he took office; and because we should have learnt by now in Hong Kong that you declare everything, right down to your grandmother’s nail clippers. To add the feel of more scumminess to the affair, we can note that while CY got a HK$50 million payout, the company left creditors unpaid.

Stan-LeungDefendsHong Kong’s pro-democrats, with so much else to rant about right now, are muttering about impeachment and insinuating bribery. The pro-establishment press, as if uncertain which way the wind is blowing on this, are giving the story factual and temperate coverage on not-too-prominent, not-too-obscure page 2.

Assuming we don’t – can’t – believe the timing is coincidental, the obvious question is: who leaked this and why? The Central People’s Government keeps dirt on everyone, and Chairman Xi Jinping is shaping up as an above-averagely ruthless tyrant, so our immediate suspicion might be that this is Beijing’s charming way of easing CY out. But why do it so messily when the guy could just resign because of leg (or family) problems? Why do it so swiftly when (so far as we can see) there is no obvious replacement to hand? Most of all, why do something that primarily benefits the pro-democrats, if only by diverting attention away from the growing disunity over Occupy Central and other tactics?

Seen this way, it seems more likely that this is the work of dastardly CIA-backed traitors and splittists attempting to overthrow one-party rule and bring Hong Kong under foreign control to prevent the motherland from its destiny as leading global power. In that case, Beijing will do all it can to support him.

An alternative explanation (to almost any Chinese puzzle you can think of) is that this is a factional thing – part of the internal struggle between Jiang Zemin’s old guard and Xi’s neo-Maoist-or-whatever usurpers. Revenge for the fatal revelation of Henry Tang’s basement!

Conspiracy theorists might like the idea that Hong Kong’s tycoons are behind it, choosing their moment with characteristically avaricious haste to oust the hated outsider. However, this would be just weeks after lining up on their knees to kiss Xi Jinping’s toes in the Great Hall of the People in a grand display of fealty, including pledges of loyalty to CY.

Personally, I think the evil wacko daughter did it.

Whatever is going on, common sense tells us that CY has to go. And, given how much space common sense gets around here these days, that probably means he’s still on course to complete his term right through to June 30, 2017.

Zuni Icosahedron announce their next incomprehensible dance thing, entitled 0 I 2. It’s not about the clashes between yellow-ribbon Occupy Central and blue-ribbon anti-Occupy forces – it just looks like it…


Chaos worsens as crowds diminish (somehow)

October 8th, 2014


Signs that things are getting back to some sort of ‘normal’: the South China Morning Post carries an op-ed piece from a minister in the State Council Information Office SCMP-Xi-Lavannouncing the first publication in English of the Thoughts of Chairman Xi Jinping. At first glance, the fawning description of the collection of speeches is embarrassing. Xi acknowledges the existence of Belgians, we learn, and is therefore of unsurpassed worldliness and wisdom. Reading between the lines, however, it becomes clear that the writer is in fact issuing an urgent warning to the international community of the emergence of an egomaniacal personality cult in Beijing.

In the letters on the opposite page, one Christopher Lavender writes to suggest that Beijing’s proposed nomination system for Hong Kong’s 2017 Chief Executive election is no different from that for UK parliamentary candidates, who (he says) have to be approved by their party HQs. This is obviously bilge. First, the UK has multiple parties, while Hong Kong’s nomination will involve just one. Second, in the UK independents are free to put themselves on the ballot – giving voters a choice of freaks and weirdoes – which will not happen in Hong Kong (unless you count Regina Ip).

It is quite common for the Chinese Communist Party’s faithful followers in Hong Kong to produce garbled explanations of how Western countries’ democratic systems are somehow no better than or comparable to the rigged structure proposed for this city. The US Electoral College, they insist without having a clue what it is, is basically no different from functional constituencies – or something along those lines. True-born leftists can be excused ignorance of Western structures. But the educated and cosmopolitan instant-noodle patriots and shoe-shiners just make themselves look silly by making such feeble analogies; there are more robust and indeed convincing apologetic approaches if you need to grovel to Beijing.

(This brings to mind another cliché re-hashed to death recently: “The British didn’t give Hong Kong democracy for 155 years, therefore [insert whatever point this is supposed to prove].” In fact, Britain did try. First in the late 1940s as part of London’s decolonization policy (local officials cited floods of refugees among excuses not to implement it), and then of course starting from the 1980s, by which time Beijing was in a position to veto the idea with blood-curdling threats, leaving the Brits having to play the role of Big Bad Denier of Universal Suffrage. Not that it’s of any relevance to today.)

Only a few hundred activists are still sitting on the streets as part of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Umbrella/Occupy movement. Yet to read the Standard, the mayhem-nightmare is getting even worse. It is true that bits of Chater and Queens Roads in core Central are still sealed off by multiple rows of barriers across them, giving the place a touch of Ypres, perhaps, or at least Gaza. But no protestors. Aside from lighter traffic and cleaner air, life is normal. Yet the government declares kindergartens closed and the Legislative Council – to our great distress – postpones today’s session. In short, the government is creating inconvenience to the public as a way to make Stan-TrafficMayhemthe Occupy movement look bad. Could Beijing’s locally based officials be behind this sort of ‘collective punishment’ tactic? The students may be naïve, but at least they’re not this childish.

They are certainly being a bit guileless if they think that discussions with the government will lead to any substantial change. Sitting down with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam is not my idea of boycotting lectures. Beijing has made it clear that it will not give way to demands and offer Hong Kong a less-rigged electoral system for 2017.

How different things might be if the protesters, Occupy, and the whole pro-democracy camp had focused on more earthly and practical concerns. For a hint at what they could have done, consider the news that developer Cheung Kong is producing Hong Kong’s tiniest apartments – at 165 square feet. This should cause outrage, but won’t.

Imagine if the pan-dems had obsessed less about nomination committees and more about grasping tycoons and government collusion. Imagine if they had zeroed in on the highly visible and recognizable symbol of everything that’s wrong: Li Ka-shing, billionaire owner of the aforementioned Cheung Kong. And imagine they had organized a citywide boycott of Li’s consumer businesses, which essentially means Park N Shop, Taste, Fusion, Watsons and Fortress retail outlets. A 10% drop in revenues would have caused the old man unbearable anguish (if his chains’ usual reaction to being undercut by the tiniest independent competitor is any guide). True, other cartelists would pick up market share – but this would heighten the pain for our uber-tycoon as the world’s media got interested, the stock price fell and officials clutching the latest Economic Freedom award awkwardly wondered what to do as the city’s consumers snubbed Xi Jinping’s favourite Hong Kong plutocrat.

But instead, the government can cast the students as deliverers of traffic chaos and string them along with futile discussions about the Basic Law. What could have been?

Further to yesterday’s update on the Lyndhurst Terrace retail scene: one of our city’s many critics of and sufferers from property hegemony writes in defence of Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe, pointing out that the company sources from many small independent suppliers, and mentioning the magic word ‘chocolate’. Will monitor closely.