Sixth Tone, ice cream and dogs

Too busy playing Pokemon Go to waste time on writing things, so just a few random bits and pieces…


Sixth Tone does look good, indeed glossy and hip. Launched earlier this year, it is the Chinese propaganda machine’s best attempt yet to do English-language media/culture CD-Separatism‘soft power’. This is compared with, say, creepy Confucius Institutes infiltrating overseas schools, the psychopathic Global Times, China Daily’s absurd ‘experts’ and Beijing’s recent high-profile contributions to the Hong Kong book publishing and retail sector.

Sixth Tone actually produces some interesting stories. Most are light reads, such as recent ones about the weird put-everyone-on-drips thing in Mainland hospitals, and a planned reality TV show about ‘leftover women’. Some are depressing, covering the plight of migrant workers’ kids, flood victims or the mentally ill. Like the South China Morning Post’s op-ed page – daily columns about human trafficking, climate change, and other something-must-be-done issues – it’s not a question of what’s there as what is not. There is essentially no politics; the Communist one-party state with its paranoia and obsessive control is mysteriously missing. Or, in a way, in plain view.

‘Soft power’ is a by-product of vibrant civil society and free markets working successfully. Government policy can’t create it to order.

On the subject of things not being there… Imagine an ice-cream store with several dozen flavours, ranging from dull plain vanilla, to more-interesting mango, to fun rum-and-raisin, to edgy sesame. And then imagine if they introduced a new choice with absolutely no flavor at all – devoid of any sweetness, sourness, fruitiness, and even of colour or texture. That is what Hong Kong voters are being offered in Ronny Tong’s hyper-moderate Path of Democracy


This being Hong Kong, there has to be not one, but (at the time of writing) two meek-and-mild Beijing-friendly pro-democracy-up-to-a-point parties – the other being the Third Side. The signs so far are that voters are underwhelmed by these groups and their insipid positioning. Meanwhile, we wait to see whether the far spicier localists will even be allowed to be candidates.

Stan-CY-BackersAt the other end of the political-flavours scale, we have a rancid, bitter and nauseating offering in the form of Leticia Lee. Beijing’s United Front apparatchiks have asked her not to run; they calculate, maybe with reason, that pro-government voters might prefer the rabid she-wolf to the loyalist dullards spouting the official line.

HKFP-DogRescueWhich brings us rather neatly to this – the woman who somehow accommodates 100 canines on Lamma.

There is a stage at which dog-worshipping goes from a fetish to a neurological disorder, and this must be it. The noise and – at the height of a Hong Kong summer – smell…

And yet we are still not at peak insanity. Behold the Shenzhen property market…


(Full-scale chart here.) These are monthly year-on-year increases, so prices in March and April were 60% higher than a year earlier. People have been crowd-funding property purchases – say, 20 people each chip in 5% of the cost, with the hope of flipping it for a profit maybe six months later. This is not going to end well.

And yes, Pokemon monsters are real…


Mid-Levels, yesterday: Regina Ip’s pet 300-lb muscle-bound gorilla-hulk/plaything persuading citizens to vote for her

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CCP loses HK youth (but you knew that already)

Academics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong have followed Hong Kong U in conducting politically sensitive public-opinion surveys. Newspapers report that the latest shows that Hong Kong people do not want independence, or that they do – depending on taste, editorial judgment and selective use of the data…


The poll results are pretty much what you would expect. Most Hong Kong people are realistic/resigned enough to accept the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ relationship between the city and the PRC. At the same time they oppose direct control by Beijing.

The traditional reading of ‘1C2S’ was that these were compatible, indeed much the same thing. However, Chinese officials have changed their stance in recent years, stressing that Hong Kong’s autonomy is limited and conditional. This is a reaction to/cause of the emergence of a loose localist/independence movement among the young. Which brings us to the angle: the younger generation are heavily more pro-independence than anti-…


The professor running the survey is coy about the possible reasons why, 20 years after the handover, young people oppose Chinese sovereignty. Perhaps he thought it provocative to list the ways Beijing has mishandled Hong Kong since 1997 – appointing administrations that primarily serve property tycoons and make housing unaffordable, breaking promises of democratization, flooding the place with Mainland visitors, clumsily trying to impose SCMP-ButLau‘patriotic’ education, undermining public institutions and the media, threatening rights and freedoms, intimidating and smearing critics, abducting book-sellers, etc, etc.*

A recent addition to this list would be the imposition of the entertainingly desperate requirement that Legislative Council election candidates sign a ‘loyalty test’. Even pro-Beijing think-tank guy Lau Siu-kai thinks it’s stupid, pointing out that it could backfire by concentrating voter support for a smaller range of radical candidates. In other words, the test will do what the pan-dem camp cannot manage by itself – trim the current bewildering array of opposition parties cannibalizing each other’s votes.

Lau patriotically explains that the geniuses behind this policy have no doubt considered this and concluded that it is worth the risk for the sake of national security. He also says it will win Hong Kong’s government brownie points in Beijing. The poor guy has always struggled to sound convincing. The fact that he is speaking about it at all suggests that he can see what is already obvious to those of us less attached to Leninist tyranny – that Beijing’s local Liaison Office is, idiotically, actually nurturing Hong Kong’s once unthinkable pro-independence sentiment.

*For anyone who missed it: a markets-related aspect of the Communist Party’s growing influence in Hong Kong here, with background here.


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Another fine mess

The boy Joshua is found guilty. Amnesty International says the prosecution of the three student leaders for public order offences at the beginning of the 2014 Occupy/Umbrella protests SCMP-StudentsJaillooks like political intimidation. Law professor Benny Tai, who conceived the pro-democracy sit-ins, is more laid-back; the three were involved in civil disobedience, he said on the radio this morning, which by definition means breaking the law.

These two views are not mutually exclusive. Hong Kong authorities are under pressure from Beijing’s Liaison Office to use more Mainland-style, strike-hard, kill-chickens approaches to dealing with opponents and critics. Selective application of vague ordinances is a suitably ‘rule by law’ method.

We will now see how well the Communist Party’s tactics play out in a pluralistic society with a free press. If Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow get prison sentences, the angel-faced pro-democracy martyrs will be all over Time and the BBC, the city’s reputation falls yet further, and liberal-minded citizens will have an extra reason to vote against pro-government candidates in September’s Legislative Council election. If the kids get a small fine or community service, the charges and the prosecution look stupid. The government ‘loses’ either way. That’s how well this Leninist stuff works in a free society.

But the Liaison Office can’t help itself. Another of its brainwaves – the ‘loyalty test’ for candidates running in September – continues its descent into farce.

In a brave attempt to make the thing seem logical, pro-Beijing lawmaker Tsang Yok-sing argues that if you don’t want to recognize Hong Kong as part of China, you shouldn’t want to be elected to the city’s legislature…


It sounds convincing to the South China Morning Post’s editorial writers, who include it in their (nonetheless skeptical) leader on the subject…


It’s a lame argument: if you don’t like the system, don’t take part in it. It’s not like there’s a choice of Legislative Councils you can run for.

The pan-democrats publicly refuse to sign the suddenly-introduced declaration required of candidates. Typically, no official will (or can?) say what will happen. If the government Stan-PanDemsdoes not allow them onto the ballot, Hong Kong gets more martyrs – namely politicians screened out for their beliefs. A pro-dem voters’ boycott of the election could follow. All in Time and the BBC, of course. If the government does let them run, it makes itself a laughing stock. Thanks, Liaison Office.

But wait! There’s more! While the mainstream pan-dems are being principled, their wackier fringe comrades are getting mischievous. Localist group Civic Passion members are signing the declaration apparently in order to subsequently disown and contradict it, thus risking arrest for Grand Fibbing – or whatever hilarious response the Hong Kong authorities decide for their next exercise in self-mutilation.

I declare the weekend open with a quandary. Do I give in to months and months of on-line hectoring and pop-up boxes and countdowns, and update my PC to Bill Gates’s latest Giant Hairball Windows 10 operating system with totally-different-user-interface-for-no-good-reason in the last few days before the Free!!! offer runs out? Or do I stick with what I know works and suits me fine?


It was a rhetorical question.

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Invasion of the pink zombie-ghouls with mad staring eyes


The neighbourhood is awash in pink this morning. Team Regina – as in lawmaker and ex-Secretary for Security Ip – has turned up. The lady herself, resplendent in tight jeans and tight hairdo, leaps on bleary-eyed commuters as they glide down the Mid-Levels Escalator towards Central. Her legions of eager and smiling assistants hand out leaflets, which people actually read.


Down the hill above Queen’s Road, a couple of young women in pale-blue quasi-nurses uniforms are trying to drum up business for a nail salon/foot-massage emporium. I successfully avoid eye contact. Then I look back. Whoops – no, that’s Starry Lee of the pro-Beijing DAB. Sorry.

Team Regina is officially the New People’s Party, but they seem to downplay the name – perhaps because of its eerie Singaporean feel. The rose-coloured jackets are a similar attempt to wrap a soft, warm and feminine aura around the cold-hearted, iron-fisted monster within (or something).

Even the individuals featured in the leaflet seem to have been carefully selected by some sort of image-management specialists. They are young wholesome types, Judy and Gigi in pastel peach blouses, and Joey, Larry and Marcus in light blue shirts. Marcus, through no fault of his own, bears an unfortunate resemblance to Li Ka-shing’s number-two son Richard.


They are portrayed in a row, all gazing meaningfully in the same direction, as if transfixed by a glowing vision of future glory. It’s a pose and composition I’ve seen somewhere before, though I can’t quite put my finger on it…


The key phrase is ‘Win Back Hong Kong’ though she doesn’t say who from. As for the substance, Regina summarizes Hong Kong’s problems neatly…


But she says nothing about how the city ended up in its current state. More to the point, she offers no ideas about how to even start fixing any of it, which we would expect someone with an intense, burning, planet-size ambition to be Chief Executive to do. Then again, her chances are zilch, so it probably doesn’t matter. In fairness, she spares us the usual faux-patriotic, faux-enthusiastic blather about ‘One Belt One Road’ – another sign, perhaps, that the image consultants paid a visit.

However, makeovers and spin can only do so much to disguise or hide reality. The photo of her with arms crossed, attempting to relax and smile, is genuinely nightmarish…


…from encroaching Communist Party tyranny?


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Political test goes from creepy to hilarious


One thing we know for certain about the ‘loyalty declaration’ newly required (or not) of Legislative Council candidates is that it was not plagiarized from something Michelle Obama once did. Apart from that, it’s a confused jumble of indecipherable vagueness that keeps getting more bewildering.

It was sudden – being announced just days before nomination of candidates began. It was carefully considered and thought-through, though you didn’t notice.

It was in response to public concerns – ‘confusion to electors’ – that candidates don’t understand the Basic Law, ‘particularly Article 1, Article 12 and Article 159 (4)’. It appeared as if from nowhere, and no-one recalls being confused, having asked for something like this, or indeed giving it a moment’s thought, ever.

It was legally binding and candidates couldn’t run without signing the declaration. It was just an administrative measure and you could be on the ballot even if you didn’t sign it.  (Or it would be up to your friendly neighbourhood Returning Officer. Or it wouldn’t be. Would you like to draft your own declaration?)

If you signed it, thus acknowledging Hong Kong as an inalienable part of China, and then publicly stated an opposing view, you would face the wrath of some unspecified part of criminal law as a dirty lying pants-on-fire fibber. Or, it went without saying, signing the declaration was purely symbolic and couldn’t affect your rights to freedom of speech.

It was just duplicating the existing declaration candidates have always signed before running for election. Or it was just duplicating the oath new lawmakers make when taking office. Or it’s something brand new and freaky.

It’s a total and utter mess. And on this we have widespread agreement. Even contrary columnist Michael Chugani can’t find anything good to say about it.


What’s going on?

The whole episode has left Judge Barnabas Fung and his Electoral Affairs Commission looking even more absurd than when they try to ban people from commenting on candidates on Facebook. They said it could not be done! But this is about malevolence, not ineptness. We must look elsewhere.

Clearly, the original intention of this patriotism test was to intimidate people with incorrect ‘pro-independence’ political views. Clearly, it backfired – being greeted with derision and defiance as even moderate pro-dem candidates vowed not to sign.

The only people in Hong Kong who are this obsessive and paranoid about the ‘pro-independence’ thing are Beijing’s officials in the Liaison Office. They are also the only people in town who think forcing someone to make a public statement against their will – as a book-seller confesses on CCTV – is cool and effective.

It’s possible that the Liaison Office’s obedient attendant Chief Executive CY Leung acted on his own initiative and ordered the loyalty declaration as a pre-emptive kowtow to his Communist Party minders. But if it was his own idea he would probably have listened to the inevitable doubts of advisers and civil servants. The fact that the government pushed ahead with such a stupid plan suggests that it was fresh from the Liaison Office and not to be questioned.

Within days of its announcement, the loyalty declaration went from being a sinister example of creeping totalitarianism to an incomprehensible mess and laughable fiasco. This can’t be an accident. It takes effort, or at least determined omission, to implement a measure this badly. It looks as if someone, somewhere within the bureaucratic system was perfectly happy to let it fail.

Up in Hollywood Road, good news for everyone who wants their coffee made from plant matter rather than, say, pork…


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Inevitable? Unstoppable?

Ten years ago, Hong Kong’s then-Secretary for Justice delivered a ‘keynote speech’ to a conference. Attendees probably dozed through the standard cut-and-paste phrases about taken-for-granted rights and freedoms – government officials always recited them on such occasions. Those paying attention would have heard Wong Yan Lung list ‘minimum rights of those suspected or accused in criminal cases’…

protection from unreasonable search and seizure

protection from arbitrary arrest or detention

protection from unfair interrogation

protection from irregular trial.

Speaking at the symposium organized by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Wong went on to say…

…corruption erodes basic public functions.  Places exist where the national wealth … ha[s] been embezzled by the corrupt, and the people in consequence have been left to fend for themselves in often appalling circumstances.  People are clearly deprived of basic rights if corrupt acts diminish the quality of that which is provided to them, or if the pool of available resources is improperly diminished, or if one person enjoys an unfair advantage over another.

People snored through such pleasantries in 2006. But today’s Justice Secretary, Rimsky Yuen, or a colleague like Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, would probably shy away from standing up in public and being this specific. In 2016, such pointed comments would awkwardly suggest criticism of the Chinese government’s assaults on the city’s rule of law.

Read that list of suspect’s rights to Lee Bo, snatched (there is no other explanation) from the streets, taken illegally over the border by Chinese security agents and – as with the other book-sellers – deprived of those exact same rights.

Read the description of the evils of corruption to millions of Mainland Chinese victimized by unaccountable power-holders, and to the lawyers and activists persecuted for trying to defend them. Or read it out to Hongkongers wondering what is happening to the ICAC.

The apparent ejection of the ICAC’s top investigator is part of a pattern in which China’s EJ-AnotherBastionCommunist one-party state is taking control of Hong Kong’s supposedly independent institutions. This includes: the politicization of government functions like the police, prosecution services and (now) electoral governance; the appointment of stooges onto governing bodies of universities, the police complaints authority and the ICAC; and informal intimidation and smearing of government opponents, and increasingly blatant media bias.

One commentator writes ‘none of this is inevitable, nor is it unstoppable’. However, he gives no evidence.

It probably is inevitable. Before the handover, there was a nagging fear that the Chinese Communist Party would not be able to resist clamping down on Hong Kong’s pluralism. But the biggest worriers emigrated, and the opinion-formers assured everyone left behind that China would become more like free Hong Kong over time, so the need to resolve the contradiction would ease.

Clearly, under its present leadership, the Communist Party is digging in. Survival of the one-party regime is all that matters. In order to retain absolute control, economic reform will slow, stop or be reversed, and the media, the Internet, NGOs, academia, religions, lawyers and any other possible source of opposition must be shackled. The ruling elite are paranoid about enemies and plots, and Hong Kong, with its tradition of ‘impartial’ public institutions, is riddled with hiding places for hostile forces. Turning the city’s police, universities and media into tools of the government is a matter of basic state security. In a Leninist system, you can’t not do it.

The ICAC is clearly no exception. Its independent structure, with deliberate internal separation of powers, allows it to investigate (search, arrest, detain and prosecute) Beijing’s appointed and approved Hong Kong government officials or local personnel of state-owned or -linked enterprises. In other words, it can challenge the Chinese regime’s monopoly of power – which cannot be allowed. Enough muttering about British infiltration of the ICAC: time to act and bring it into line.

Beijing already has the right to overrule our judiciary and courts, thanks to the mechanism allowing it to ‘interpret’ the Basic Law to mean anything it wants. But this veto is SCMP-HK-Justiceremoved and delayed, and in practice Hong Kong courts can, and do, override the Beijing-appointed government. Nothing can stop them from, say, releasing arrested pro-independence agitators on free-speech grounds. A paranoid Communist regime must instinctively see such bodies as a potential source of challenge to state power, and hands-on management of the judicial system (also infiltrated by the British, of course) is logically only a matter of time.

Barring a ‘Zhongnanhai Spring’ of enlightenment and liberalization, the long-awaited clampdown in Hong Kong does indeed seem ‘inevitable’. Whether it is ‘unstoppable’ is another matter. Can Hong Kong be so stubborn, uncooperative and resistant that Beijing decides it’s not worth the trouble?

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No shortage of mud to fling


Hong Kong’s pro-government politicians aren’t looking forward to September’s Legislative Council elections. Guided, cajoled or intimidated by the Chinese Communist Party’s local United Front, they must – unless told otherwise – publicly back hugely unpopular Chief Executive CY Leung. When asked for advice about how they can appeal to voters despite this liability, CY throws the problem back at them, telling them to endorse or not endorse his administration on its merits. On the one hand they have to answer to Hong Kong voters; on the other they have to reckon with Beijing’s enforcers.

Pro-democracy opposition candidates will have some powerful ammunition to use in the forthcoming campaign. CY’s much-vaunted focus on welfare issues has yet to make much noticeable difference to people. The pan-dems can attack the government’s supporters on a whole range of issues like housing, poverty and inequality, and neighbourhood anger over lead in water or management of public-housing estates’ shopping malls.

But that’s just the start. While at least some loyalists can claim to be fighting for the people on such livelihood issues, they are more exposed to accusations that they are associated with CY’s clumsy policy of Mainlandizing Hong Kong. If you dig around you’ll find that most pro-Beijing politicians have some record of supporting something unpopular, idiotic or scary. Examples could include links with patriotic-style National Education, the bizarre HK Army Cadets Association, or local ‘Belt and Road’ propagandizing.

Then there are Beijing’s most serious and shocking attacks on Hong Kong’s autonomy and values in the last few years. The heavy-handed White Paper/Standing Committee edicts of 2014 declaring Hong Kong to have no entitlement to self-rule or democracy. The abduction and forced confessions of the book-sellers. And now the apparent defenestration of the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s top graft buster, the resignation of a senior investigator, and – Hong Kong’s version of a counter-revolutionary uprising – a staff banquet boycott.


Not all pro-Beijing politicians have publicly aligned themselves with all these events. And some parts of the electorate will be more outraged than others by particular examples of encroachment of the Communist one-party system in Hong Kong’s pluralist, rules-based society. But the potential for some real negative campaigning and flinging of mud that sticks effectively on all the right villains is mouth-watering.

Meanwhile, further proof that Beijing’s henchmen at the Liaison Office are giving the orders comes with today’s news that candidates for the Legislative Council must sign what looks like a statement waiving their right to express a particular opinion. Anonymous Spokesman 1 says it is to ‘avoid confusion to voters’, while Anonymous Spokesman 2 claims that signing it and subsequently being found to have lied will result in ‘criminal sanction’. This I would love to see.

I declare the weekend open with advice that anyone who wishes to complain about the collapse of taste and public morals and (they said it could not be done) the lowering of the tone of the Wyndham Street strip of tawdry bars, can complain about the seedy plan to install a branch of Hooters. The only snag: you have to travel back in time to May 21…


For an idea of what sort of Neanderthal-level sleaze and degradation we can expect, this is just in from the nation’s capital…


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SCMP explains China’s case some more

In the weeks and months leading up to the Court of Arbitration’s ruling on the South China Sea, the South China Morning Post patriotically carried numerous op-eds supporting Beijing’s extravagant territorial claims (here, here, etc). The paper’s Insight pages now go into whiny-defiant-sulk mode. In a sort of good-cop-bad-cop routine, some columnists preach diplomacy and dialogue, while others seethe and anticipate payback…


The last refuge of a defender of the Motherland is the insistence that the evil USA did the same thing, or did worse. For example: cops in Louisiana and Minnesota shoot black guys for no reason – therefore, China’s arrest and persecution of human-rights lawyers and their families is perfectly OK and understandable. Totally logical and clear. So there.

In this case, we’re talking about rejecting international court judgements, and the best we can do (at the risk of seriously showing our age) is dredge up some long-forgotten episode from a different era of weirdness, and attach the label ‘relevant’ in the hope no-one looks too closely…


Memories come flooding back of the ‘Oliver North for President’ T-shirt a mischievous aunt sent me. (Details here and here for anyone who wants them.)

It was the late Cold War, and the Americans were fighting Communism, as represented by OliverNorth-Tthe Sandinistas, who were led by Daniel Ortega, then-youthful and trendy Che Guevara-type heart-throb. Looking back it was all a bit stupid (the US never worked out that maintaining corrupt far-right dictatorships in Nicaragua, Vietnam, Philippines, etc, etc was actually encouraging Communism.)

Anyway, the ‘relevant’ thing here is that in his twilight years, President-apparently-for-Life Ortega has been working very closely with a creepy and presumably state-linked Chinese entity planning to build an economically and environmentally ruinous canal across Nicaragua to create, it would seem, a Beijing-friendly version of Panama’s. The purpose of this project is unclear, but perhaps the theory that China wants to turn the South China Sea into its own Caribbean is the wrong way round – maybe the Nicaragua waterway will allow the Nine-Dash Line to extend so far as to absorb the Caribbean into the South China Sea.

But I digress… The US laid mines outside Managua’s port in the mid-1980s – therefore it is perfectly OK and understandable for China to grab Southeast Asian countries’ waters and resources today. Totally logical and clear. So there.

Elsewhere the SCMP reports that evil and sadistic Europeans are planning to wreak a terrible revenge on expansionist and aggressive China by selling its people what must be the ugliest, most loathsome, vile-looking antique French furniture imaginable…


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It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people

The Wall Street Journal headline summarizes China’s predicament well…


The UN tribunal ruling on the South China Sea leaves the country’s leaders in an impossible situation. To bolster the regime’s legitimacy at home, they have stirred up a nationalistic public (and military) with promises of vengeance for 100 years of humiliation by evil foreigners. In order to maintain this mandate, they have no choice but to defy the ruling and be seen internationally as Official Regional Bully and law-breaker.

Maybe the WSJ errs in suggesting that the tribunal’s decision is responsible. China has painted itself into this corner. As recently as the late 2000s it was developing broadly positive and trusting relationships with most of its neighbours. See this piece for an excellent account of how it went wrong. China’s rise to regional dominance was already assured by its size and economic strength. Instead of doing it in a statesmanlike and mature way, it went for maximum arrogance and obnoxiousness, leaving it now surrounded by fearful and hostile countries, apart from a few grubby dictators whose support it can buy.

A parallel is the Communist Party’s campaign in recent years to win the hearts and minds of Hong Kong and Taiwan people, especially the young. Rather than woo the ‘compatriots’ with respect or empathy, China relied on mouth-frothing, rants, threats and co-option of unpopular elites, achieving the exact opposite of what it intended.

Bloom-ChinaFacesThe South China Sea is not Beijing’s only insurmountable quandary right now. Xi Jinping and his colleagues must also choose between economic reform through shrinking the government, and keeping themselves in power by tightening their grip. Tough one.

Where the economy is concerned, Beijing’s main response is to ramp up property prices yet again. The reaction to the South China Sea ruling is to lapse into uncontrolled freaking-out tantrums and sheer fantasy, as seen in China Daily’s front-page map, showing nearly every nation in the world solidly behind the Motherland…


To paraphrase Oscar: one impossible dilemma is a misfortune, but two looks like carelessness. Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the China Model? A tiny group of men wielding total power while being accountable to no-one, isolated from reality and believing their own concocted version of the truth seems to work fine, until along comes realities that they cannot control or refute – and then the old brains start exploding.


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Annual inspection of PMQ

Is PMQ turning into a mall full of big-brand fashion outlets and rich kids’ trendy restaurants? Yes it is, partly. But under the circumstances this is hardly surprising, and it could have been a lot worse.

The former Police Married Quarters on Hollywood Road could have been sold to a developer, demolished and used to build a luxury high-rise for sale to money-laundering HKFP-PMQMainlanders. Or it could have been handed over to a tycoon to mutilate beyond recognition as a luxury retail concept heritage theme historic zone hub. Instead, in a stunning fit of vaguely decent taste, the Hong Kong government decided it should be preserved and adaptively re-used as a local creative concept start-up design incubator hub heritage zone. In keeping with the bureaucracy’s obsession with not spending money on things that might make life nicer, the project would have to be self-financing, in that free-multi-billion-dollar-patch-of-real-estate-thrown-in sort of way.

Bids were invited. Callow, naïve, Kowloon-dwelling, financially illiterate, not-to-the-manor-born applicants who would be out of their depth were politely turned away, leaving a group of pro-establishment philanthropic businessmen called the Musketeers Foundation and design-school partners as the winners.

The ground-level premises at the complex are occupied with biggish brands that nonetheless fit in with the ‘local design’ ethos and remit of the place – Vivienne Tam and Goods Of Desire, for example.

The upper floors house various creative and arty start-ups and obscure/minor brands. A few overtly commercial-type operations sneak through; on a visit last weekend, I spotted a nail salon and a photographic studio – though both of a heavily bohemian/artisanal/hipster sort. Also, an art-jamming joint. Most of the units accommodate mildly weird and offbeat arty-crafty clothing, stationery, household-ware and the inevitable jewellery (those who can, do; those who can’t create home-made bangles). The one thing they all have in common is that they offer stuff you either don’t want or wouldn’t pay such prices for.

On the top floors are some mysterious top-secret ‘skunk works’ of the Hong Kong creative start-up world.

Outlets come and go, and you never know what will be there. This weekend I saw these eyes in leather, which were interesting although their purpose was unclear…


Indeed, it is hard to determine exactly what many of these operations are producing. That wasn’t the case with the cardboard furniture place, which even offered a charming child’s coffin…


…and to hell with the feng shui.

One thing that has changed since my last visit is that the northern block now has a gleaming glass-clad new rooftop floor, which would put the most audacious New Territories illegal structure to shame…


This is Isono, home of 100% Bellota acorn-fed tapas, in which property tycoon Raymond Kwok’s son reportedly has an interest. I am guessing that the place has far more space than most pretentious and overpriced Soho restaurants could ever dream of, and at less rent per square foot. How open and fair was the bidding for the lease? A juicy scandal would be great, but no-one seems to be running with this. Governance comes under the usual great and good with a dash of creative-industry (amazingly, no Allen Zeman).

Essentially, the big chains on the ground floor and the fancy restaurants are subsidizing the small start-up tenants, whose cardboard hand-crafted kids’ caskets and bizarro organic leather accessories would never otherwise have a physical retail presence, leaving Hong Kong a drabber and more humdrum town.

Obviously, the space could have been used for something better – the mostly unused open atrium area between the two blocks could still be a great park/play area/street-food court if the managers were to exercise a little of the creativity they are supposed to promote.

As an oasis of semi-uncommercial, avant-garde anarchic zaniness and fun, PMQ is crap – but in Hong Kong it’s surprising that it’s there at all.



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