Reds under the PTA

Pro-democrat Lee Wing-tat says 40 Communist Party members are among the 150 immigrants per day Hong Kong must must must accept  from China. Everyone assumes as much. In her 2010 book Underground Front – The Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong, Christine Loh mentioned that many of those selected (by Mainland authorities) for one-way permits are CCP loyalists.

One-way permit holders are supposedly coming here for family reunion after being on a waiting list for years, and are presumably not especially educated or skilled. It is unlikely that Party members among them would be on high-powered ‘missions’. Beijing can send whatever academics, businessmen or officials it wants here to work as serious intel-gathering or other agents.

Lee suggests that this influx of Mainlanders is partly intended to boost the local pro-Beijing electorate. Now Beijing has clearly ruled out representative government in Hong Kong and rigs ballots, this sounds quaint. But his point that the migrants join United Front grassroots activities makes perfect sense. They will speak Mandarin rather than Cantonese. The loyalist newcomers will have ‘neighbourhood committee’ and similar backgrounds. And of course they will bring up their kids to be oh-so patriotic (barring mishaps). This is Mainlandization at its most obvious and basic.

One-way permits would be more a reward for loyalty to the Party than handed out as cover for an official assignment. Bribery and other favoritism probably also come into it – choice of these migrants is all out of Hong Kong’s hands.

So, it’s nothing weird or sinister – just a policy to gradually dilute the native population and culture until they go the way of the Manchu.

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Some rays of sunshine

As befits a day of dank, swirling mists, the markets open with a fall. Everyone suddenly notices that the global economy is running out of steam. Policymakers, after straining for years to raise interest rates from zero to slightly above zero, talk about easing. Displaying similarly dazzling and profound originality, the usual herd piles back (allegedly) into the world’s one gravity-free investment-asset class: little concrete boxes in To Kwa Wan.

To put a little brightness into the gloomy scene, top business writer Shirley Yam joins the HK Free Press – starting with a look at how Hong Kong regulators go easy on investment banks that fail to do due diligence when bringing cruddy Chinese companies to market (an activity in which Mainland banks are increasingly dominant, well gosh fancy that).

And we enjoy another ray of sunshine, as the last remaining functioning business writer at the South China Morning Post takes the Hong Kong government’s trillion-dollar Lantau reclamation absurdity and brutally tears it to shreds. Ouch.

Finally, someone has a stab at answering one of the great mysteries of life: why do tourists go to Stanley? And, essentially, it seems they increasingly don’t.

When relatively intelligent- and curious-looking visitors (the ‘vacationing academic’ types) in Central ask me for directions to the dismal destination, I occasionally take pity and tell them it’s a dump. I advise them to board a cross-harbour bus at random, just see where they end up – and explore the place (probably a New Territories estate with cheap-and-cheerful noodles, gory wet market and mountain views).

According to the article, one possible solution for Stanley’s retailers is to stop selling ridiculous crap no-one in their right mind could possibly want. How on earth do people get these dangerously wacky and radical ideas?

 

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It’s Friday

I declare the weekend open with a selection of just five links, four of which will statistically be of no interest to the average reader, while the other will fascinate.

For fans of the worthy but dry, a rebuttal of the ‘Zhong Lun declaration’ on Huawei’s obligations under Chinese law (click to get pdf). (The original declaration, to the US government last year, is here.)

For archaeologists, an obituary of historian Li Xueqin, including a description of the problems that arise when the Communist Party wants to rewrite ancient myth as politically potent fact.

For architects, how old-style ‘big hat’ roofs ended up on even modern Chinese buildings, resulting in much ugliness in such places as Beijing.

For the antique car types, how an Austin 7 came from the UK to Hong Kong and then the US before finally returning home.

And for everyone else, the Hong Kong Mexican Bun – how a little remembered returned Chinese-Central American tribe lives on at your local bakery.

 

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Carrie impresses

Impressive Contortions of the Week Award goes to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam as she twists and turns in trying to push through a revamped Mainland extradition system.

Her officials are still using an alleged murder by a Hongkonger in Taiwan as a pretext for this measure, complete with distasteful crocodile tears for the victim’s family, etc. If sending the suspect to face justice in Taipei was so important, they could in theory use existing case-by-case arrangements to extradite him – but that can’t/won’t happen because we must conform to Beijing’s fiction that Taiwan is not a separate country.

The irony is that Taiwan says it wouldn’t go along with the proposed new system anyway, precisely because it would formally treat the country as part of the PRC.

In fact, Taiwan is irrelevant to the whole thing.

As vividly evidenced by the Hong Kong administration’s uncharacteristic brisk urgency in all this, the proposal is an order from Beijing. The Chinese Communist Party wants easier extradition arrangements worldwide. The aim is not simply to catch and punish perpetrators of corruption and other offences, but to use criminal charges (real or trumped-up) to purge, silence or deter political enemies – which could mean anyone who crosses the wrong person or faction. To Beijing’s Leninist-minded leadership, it is absurd that it cannot use this intimidatory tool even in its own Hong Kong sovereign territory.

Since Xi Jinping took power, Chinese agents have (allegedly blah blah) abducted several people across the border through extra-legal means. These individuals probably had ultra-sensitive personal dirt on top leaders. Beijing would naturally like more formal ways to transfer other suspects, fugitives or anyone else, and apparently has a list of 300 already.

The extradition proposal was bound to meet with opposition from lawyers and human-rights folk – now increasingly sidelined along with the rest of the city’s civil society. But it has also hit resistance from Hong Kong’s local and international business communities. These upstanding captains of industry, who normally grovel and kowtow instantly to government, suddenly have a bad case of the jitters.

Their reasons probably vary. Some may have a guilty conscience about actual Mainland business misdeeds like tax-dodging or bribery. Maybe some have messy personal lives – bigamy or whoring – over the border. All must know that the CCP has files on, and hooks in, everyone. It’s not a question of whether you have committed a crime, but whether the CCP wants to use one against you.

So the business community wants white-collar crimes exempted from the new extradition deal. The Hong Kong government – trying to leverage a gory murder in Taiwan, and eager to defend the city’s reputation as business-friendly (not to say a haven) – might be tempted to leave commercial crimes out of the deal. But to Beijing, white-collar crimes are probably the whole point.

If Beijing is in the mood to be pragmatic, it can leave the main white-collar offences out of the arrangements for a year or so, then come back and plug the gap. If the CCP is anxious to come after foes in Hong Kong, officials will just ram all or most of the plan through.

This is not a dummy run for Article 23 national security laws, but it is a taste of what’s coming as the CCP extends its capricious rule-of-law system of control into Hong Kong.

 

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What you could do with HK$624 billion

The government announces its official estimated cost for the Lantau Tomorrow Mega-Vision Reclamation Concept. The sum is absurdly precise – why 624 billion, as opposed to 625, 620 or 630? Or 600-700?

The South China Morning Post calculates that you could buy two-and-a-half Li Ka-shings or 160 hospitals for this money. Such redundant alternatives risk making the reclamation look like a relatively attractive use of wealth. Better to say ‘we could build one Hong Kong-class hospital for every half million people in the Greater Bay Area’. (Of which more in a minute.)

The government claims that the extra space will accommodate lots of affordable housing – yet at the same time the reclamation will pay for itself through the traditional overpriced land-sale scam.

This is sort of contradictory, though the numbers probably look better when you see the reclamation as an area into which riffraff can be ‘decanted’ (the official term), leaving the old urban neighbourhoods of Kowloon to be flattened and sold off to developers to build luxury apartments.

But this all assumes that 20 years down the road, Hong Kong will still be a relatively desirable place to live in, or launder wealth through. That assumes that: a) the CCP regime will still be in power with comparable economic and political systems to today’s; and b) this regime will not have largely merged Hong Kong by then, so local land values will still be much higher here than across the border.

Indeed, the whole reclamation ‘vision’ looks arguably anti-Bay Area. Cunning opponents could point out that, rather than create extra land at vast expense on this side of the border (colonial-era, ‘little Hongkonger’, anti-motherland thinking), we should be patriotic and forward-looking, and be expanding into groovy trendy Zhuhai, Zhongshan, etc.

Perhaps it is ultimately an excuse to build an entirely new transport network – a serious boondoggle in its own right, and of course not necessary if you manage population growth and use existing New Territories land properly.

Which brings us to ex-lawmaker Edward Yiu, who reminds us that talk of the project sort-of profiting from land sales overlooks the obvious fact that brownfield and other NT sites represent similar value – which sits unlocked.

We have yet to hear Beijing’s thoughts on this plan.

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Digital news media time-efficiency breakthrough

Working [sic] from home today, so perusing the online rather than print version of the South China Morning Post. The recent website redesign is cleaner and less cluttered-looking – but most of all, it is a major time-saver.

Although the content seems to be divided into predictable categories (Hong Kong, China, Business, Comment, etc), it is hard to find much current ‘new’ news. Maybe the stories are buried further down in sub-categories (politics, health, education, etc), but these are too numerous and laborious to click into and back out again, so we will never know for sure.

Scroll down any page, and you’re back to repetitive links to (often days-old) material from other sections, anyway. Meanwhile, whatever section you click on, one side of the page is occupied by links to the paper’s opinion columns – including the rancid pro-Beijing hacks and the (allegedly) stomach-churning one about women’s feelings and relationships.

I guess the idea is to steer readers to the trashy and glitzy stuff that is supposed to generate clicks and thus ad revenue. In practice, that means actively preventing readers from getting at the plain old-fashioned daily local and Mainland news reporting that is (was, should be) the SCMP’s core usable feature.

Anyway, you zip through it in 20% of the time you would spend on the paper product.

Update: weirdly, searching ‘Hong Kong’ on Google News reveals SCMP items not visible on the paper’s website.

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‘Being obnoxious makes you unpopular’ shock claim

We last heard of Professor Zhang Qianfan a month ago, after Mainland censors ‘disappeared’ his textbook on constitutional law as Western Threat of the Week. He now appears in Hong Kong, suggesting that Beijing’s tightening control over the city is a cause of the separatism and other discontent it is supposed to crush.

This is not exactly news to most of us. It is pretty obvious that if Beijing had allowed Hong Kong more representative or at least responsive government since 1997, the local population would today be happier and, quite possibly, have far more respect for the central authorities.

But Leninists do not do ‘hearts and minds’. If they knew how to be popular they would, after all, be democrats. They assume everyone hates them, and so their toolkit consists solely of co-option, coercion, intimidation and brute force. Hence Beijing’s Hong Kong strategy of cronyism, increasing authoritarianism, population displacement and cultural absorption, and an administration of inept but totally obedient bureaucrats.

Professor Zhang seems to share with our local mainstream pro-democrats a sunny and optimistic view that the Chinese Communist Party can come round to realizing the advantages of a system where government power is limited and subject to the law and ultimately the will of the people. This supposes that China’s princeling and state-capitalist elites will perceive the benefits and joy of giving up their vast and tightly held privileges and monopolies.

In the spirit of sunny optimism, maybe the fact that the Professor is here and saying this – they only disappeared his book, after all – is a glimmer of hope. No doubt Hong Kong officials, businessmen, pro-establishment academics and Beijing-friendly shoe-shiners of all sorts will now come forward to agree with his modest point that the CCP’s heavy handed tactics are a turn-off to local people, and thus counterproductive. Stand aside for the rush.

 

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Riddle of the Trillion-Dollar Sands

So many excitements still to come: Mainland extradition (the denouement), the imprisonment of Benny Tai and friends (or not), National Anthem compulsory-adoration laws, the ever-toxic Article 23 (risen from the grave) – and of course the Lantau Trillion Dollar Reclamation.

A letter to the editor today brings this one back to mind: What will they fill the sea in with, where will they get it, and how much will it cost?

Yet again, I get this nagging feeling that this absurd idea isn’t going to happen and isn’t really intended to happen. The sheer misallocation of resources – half a trillion bucks-plus for land, thousands of square miles of which already exists around and about. Otherwise known as opportunity cost (think what else you can do with the money). We could buy half of Zhuhai for that, and not have to plunder half the sand in south China. And as with all the Excitements-still-to-come, Beijing makes the final decisions. Surely, the Communist Party is too devious to blow so much cash (which is ultimately at its disposal) on something so pointless. So why does everyone have to go through this long-drawn-out Let’s Pretend this is Real drama?

I declare the damp-looking weekend open with some mainly-dry reading.

If you want to stay awake worrying about the global economy, here’s the extended gloom-and-doom outlook. (Sample: “To be blunt, the idea that a propped currency which Chinese citizens feel compelled to stuff in their underwear as they board a plane, just so they can convert it to anything but RMB, might somehow become a ‘reserve currency’ is delusional.”)

A long look at China’s elite-capture style of economic diplomacy in Central/Eastern Europe (including lots on Patrick Ho’s friends CEFC in the Czech Republic).

And not-so-elite capture – what’s happening to Yang Hengjun, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, by someone who’s been there.

Onto language, with all you wanted to know about parallelisms – like the Three Intenselys (intensely annoying, intensely irritating, intensely wearisome) – repetitive CCP-phrases, or ‘the rhythm, music and dance of loyalty’.

And for history fans, the CCP’s deep-rooted fear of overseas Chinese movements like Sun Yat Sen’s.

 

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Regina gets stroppy

Lawmaker and ex-Security Secretary Regina Ip writes a letter to the South China Morning Post complaining about the Hong Kong business community’s objections to proposed extradition measures.

(She claims that businessmen have no reason to worry because they could be ‘nabbed’ whenever they cross the border anyway. This overlooks the real fear that the corrupt and faction-ridden Communist system can lash out at anyone without warning, and the assurance that Hong Kong is as a haven from it.)

Mainly, the radiant-when-angry Iron Butterfly goes hurrumph at the tycoons for hypocrisy and ingratitude. Having profited from their cushy Mainland deals, these ‘supposedly trusted and loyal supporters’ of Beijing and the local administration are now ‘openly trashing China’s legal and judicial systems’ – systems, she adds, that they have never lifted a finger to improve.

Ouch.

The little missive nicely reflects tensions among the various useful idiots co-opted by the Communist Party’s United Front and its culture of obsessive-compulsive shoe-shining.

Regina (who still apparently lusts for a return to high office in Hong Kong) is a member of the Bureaucrat subcategory of the pro-Beijing camp. They are what you would expect from (British-trained) civil servants-turned-CCP-loyalists: dutiful, relatively thoughtful, and of course haughtily contemptuous of the other subcategories. These include the True Believers who worship the CCP from the heart, the gullible opportunist dimwits like tragic homophobe Holden Chow – and of course the avaricious, selfish, shallow and amoral business community.

As part of her own shoe-shining, Regina has founded a Belt and Road fan club for kids and (just recently) proposed to bar public broadcaster RTHK from news reporting. We can assume that she has had to grit her teeth at times while going along with the pro-Beijing line when she finds it illogical or repugnant. (Note how her letter asserts the integrity of China’s legal system, but also implies that it could be improved.)

The letter is essentially a snap of resentment at the spoilt entitled own-grandmother-selling rich buffoons who feel they can get away with putting their narrow and grubby interests first, while the devout, imbecilic and (her own) intellectual pro-Beijing elements discipline themselves and make sacrifices.

And she is right. But nobody said life was going to be fair. Indeed, the CCP she has been lured into supporting survives by making sure it isn’t.

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Beijing having bad hair day

So many things making China’s leaders frazzled right now.

First there’s Protestant Christianity. China’s rulers have long seen this as a Western plot – they suspected missionaries of using children’s eyes as medicine in the 19th century, and expelled the Rhenish and Elsie Elliot Tu to Hong Kong in the mid-20th. Now they want to Sinicize the faith by removing its ‘foreign characteristics’.

Where do they start… Sexual repression? Golf-playing? Putting the toaster in the cupboard? Not the famous ‘work ethic’, surely. According to the report, Reformation with Chinese characteristics will involve messing with liturgy (which is what leads to Pentecostal snake-handling), sacred music (out with Amazing Grace, in with The East is Red), church architecture (which frankly, in the Mainland, can be pastiche-European horrifying), and clerical clothing (out with dog-collars, in with something brighter). Plus, of course, a rewrite of the Bible (do they know how long that takes?)

The Communist Party thus hopes to counter subversion from foreign infiltration and ‘private meeting places’ (which sounds like some sort of Protestant hang-up). It could be worse.

The Catholics, of course, are making their own arrangements to be more CCP-friendly.

Then there’s that other terrible threat to the Glorious Motherland – dyed hair. (Obviously, not a la Jiang Zemin: as Henry Ford would have said if he were a stylist, you can have any colour you want so long as it’s Zhongnanhai Black.) TV shows are digitally enhancing broadcasts to tone down young artists’ wacky hairdos, apparently as part of a campaign against ‘strange styles and lack of aesthetic sense’.

When and how do these ideological reforms hit Hong Kong?

With Mainlandization, the scope for Hong Kong to be different from the rest of the country should be narrowing not widening. Protestants of the colonial Anglican, dull mainstream and wacko Evangelical persuasions are all active here, with adherents throughout the local pro-Beijing establishment. Can they keep their traditional Baptist and Methodist preaching and hymns when their brethren across the border are banging gongs and divining oracle bones in praise of the Party? And – truly scary – what becomes of the city if Beijing decides to rectify Hong Kong’s ‘strange styles and lack of aesthetic sense’?

 

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