Not Carrie’s idea

How do you reconcile a system where the law is designed to restrain government power over citizens with one where it does the opposite? People in Hong Kong and elsewhere who are worried about Mainland extradition suspect that you can’t. Moderates keen not to upset Beijing resort to desperate suggestions – can they interest the Chinese Communist Party in calling Hongkongers and Taiwanese for jury duty, to put minds at ease?

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing zombies, meanwhile, just follow orders. There is a story going around that Chief Executive Carrie Lam thought up the extradition initiative all by herself, and Chinese officials have since started to lend support to maintain her (ahem) credibility. Although this is a semi-official line, some pan-dem types seem to like it – perhaps because it damages her personally.

But can you seriously imagine Carrie can’t-buy-toilet-paper Lam having an original idea? Her boldest initiatives are to ‘consider setting up a committee to examine the possibility’ of something. And you can always tell when Beijing issues instructions, because the government does something (hence frenzied activity over national anthem, localism, oath-taking, Financial Times editors and similar duties versus total inertia on housing, hospitals, schools, traffic, air, etc).

More to the point, the extradition proposal involves cross-border issues and Taiwan. There is no way the Hong Kong administration can produce policy on these without Beijing’s authority and guidance.

To Beijing, extradition is a matter of principle concerning ‘sovereignty’ – meaning the right of the CCP to operate above the law on all Chinese territory. This is why the proposed rendition process must limit Hong Kong courts’ role to checking paperwork. The system cannot allow Hong Kong judges to question the integrity of the Mainland legal system. It’s not just that China would lose face: it would put Hong Kong courts into a position where they act as a rival source of power to the CCP, which undermines the whole Leninist order.

This comes at a time when China-Western relations are unravelling in ways that potentially expose all sorts of individuals. The US is clamping down on Mainland academic ties. Beijing is contriving a list of ‘unreliable foreign entities’ – a silly replication of US business-security measures – and apparently pressuring Western companies into going against their own governments.

Maybe the CCP does not intend to immediately transfer hundreds of local dissidents up north to kangaroo courts – though it would probably like to grab some rogue Mainland business and political elites holed up here. But we can be sure that Beijing’s paranoids want the comfort of knowing that they can extend their rule by fear (of abduction, of televised confessions) onto this side of the border. Some people, mindful of how these thugs can work, really will leave or avoid Hong Kong. With good reason.

(An update: Q&A from Progressive Lawyers’ Group. And an interesting thread: “…short version of the extradition bill in Hong Kong: if you’ve pissed off China for any conceivable reason, don’t go to Hong Kong again”.)

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History not repeating itself

I’ve dug up my exhaustive account (skipping the SARS trauma) of Hong Kong’s 2003 – essentially the huge July 1 march against Article 23 and its aftermath.

Much of it reads like a description of yesterday’s epic protest: MTR station closures, the procession still going in early evening, and a turnout of young and old beyond anyone’s expectations. A magnificent display of opposition to an arrogant and heavy-handed government.

But the similarities will probably end there. In 2003, ‘One Country, Two Systems’ was largely intact. Beijing left the running of Hong Kong to the local administration. Most people believed/hoped that Beijing would, eventually, deliver on its apparent promise of representative government for the city. Things like future Legislative Council elections and pro-business politicians’ poll ratings seemed to matter. The government cowered and backed down in the face of public opinion – the National Security law was dropped.

That’s not going to happen in 2019. Beijing under Xi Jinping does not accept 1C2S as a formula that constrains the CCP’s power on this side of the border. The local government under Carrie Lam is simply an administrative layer implementing instructions from the Liaison Office. There is no pretense that Hong Kong can have democracy or real elections, or that public opinion counts for anything. The people must obey the government, not the other way around. The government will push the Mainland extradition amendments through regardless of a million people on the street.

In 2003, a huge protest march left Tung Chee-hwa facing a crisis; in 2019, it confirms to the CCP that Hong Kong must be controlled more tightly. It is ridiculous to think in terms of the huge march ‘crushing Carrie Lam’s chances of re-election’, as if the Chief Executive is relevant/an independent actor/wants her job/needs popular endorsement/faces ‘election’ of any sort. It is meaningless to ponder whether, by pushing the extradition deal through, the Hong Kong government will ‘lose some/all/any remaining legitimacy’ – proving the might of the party-state over the will of the population is the whole point.

Unlike that of 2003, yesterday’s protest cannot prevent the CCP tightening its grip on Hong Kong. Perhaps it does something more important – it gives the people of Hong Kong pride in themselves and a dignity that the odious, grubby and sad shoe-shiners can never have. Even if they take your rights and freedoms away, you can die happy that you’re not Junius Ho.

A couple of other links. A speeded-up video showing march-as-unstoppable-tide, in case you missed it (and here’s another). Pics and more pics of the march, and of the cops’ freak-out thing. And the dismantling of 1C2S made easy for folk who understand ‘infinity stones’.

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Back in time for a long weekend…

The view yesterday morning leaning out of my place in Japan…

Getting back to the Hong Kong neighbourhood last night, I find…

…a store with the unlovely name ‘Feather & Bone’ has deposited a pre-opening giant pile of garbage on the sidewalk. The weird thing is there’s another ‘Feather & Bone’ kitty corner from it 20ft away. Even 7-Elevens are farther apart than that. (I think they chose the off-putting name because ‘Food for Expat Morons Who Don’t Mind Paying Treble the Usual Local Price’ doesn’t fit on the shop front.)

While I was away, the noteworthy 30th anniversary took place. A huge selection of material on it here, with my humble contribution here. Also, Foreign Affairs on the CCP’s lessons from Tiananmen 1989. And in case you missed it, a (at times stomach-churning) UK diplomatic report on the PLA action (and internal strife) in May-June 1989. (The CCP brought in regiments of country bumpkins, who hated fancy city folk, to do the dirty work.)

Fast-forward to today… If you fancy an orgy of stultifying byzantine hierarchical top-down regulation, Minxin Pei on how Xi has instilled Leninist discipline into the CCP. And a telling list of things that convince China’s leaders the West is out to destroy them. We could add this modest proposal from David Webb.

Also missing from that list: Hong Kong’s resistance to the Mainland extradition. A helpful reminder of the international legal framework Hong Kong is supposed to follow. And I declare the long weekend open with the thought: Will ‘69’ be another ‘71’?

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Sometimes it’s malice looking like stupidity

Hong Kong’s hapless excuse for a government is floundering half-entertainingly as it tries to bludgeon through the CCP’s Sovereign Right to Snatch Enemies System.

The parallels with the Article 23 mess in 2003 are too good to resist. Widespread and unexpected opposition, underpinned by deeper discontent. Feeble and unconvincing last-minute concessions (including a wonderfully embarrassing Joseph Lau statute of limitations). A (potentially ominous) big march (on June 9). Even the Liberal Party’s James Tien doing his naughty Manneken Pis routine on the government.

And then there’s the government officials’ own dismal performance in selling the thing.

Even for a dire threat to rights and freedoms, the initiative has been badly handled from the start. Beijing officials demand the outcome, but don’t care about the methods. Officials could have packaged and introduced it in a less hurried, less panic-stirring way. Instead, they dumped it on the table and allowed 20 days in February for (presumably straight-in-the-bin) public comments, with a stated aim to get it through the legislature pronto.

It was almost as if someone in the local power structure wanted to undermine it by not exactly trying hard to avoid a possibly alarming manner of presentation.

Yes – we usually associate the Hong Kong bureaucrat-leaders with stupidity that just looks like malice. But this isn’t the first time the local administration has treated a CCP edict with unusual clumsiness. Article 23 aside, the attempt at introducing National Education late in Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s term was a joke.

I declare the weekend open with some illuminating reading material…

It’s not just Hong Kong’s freedom going down the tubes – the quality of life is plummeting too. Did you know a single liner berthed at the cruise terminal emits as much sulphur dioxide as 25,000 diesel buses? And the government wants to dig up parks in order to cram more car parks and shopping palaces for tourists into the city. Meanwhile, Taiwan legalizes gay marriage and works out – with little apparent fuss – how to do recycling of garbage. (Not bad for a country that doesn’t even exist.)

For a quick laugh: a not very flattering profile of China’s ambassador to Canada (and an alternative view, that the guy is perhaps helping Canada out).

There are a lot of these around right now, but here’s an especially good and succinct reflection on June 4. (My own contribution is in HK Free Press soon.) In a similar lest-we-forget (or barely ever realized) vein, the role of anti-African sentiment in the run-up to Tiananmen.

And some good news: Badiucao is back, and there’s even a movie.

This site’s relocation to its new host is going nicely – they’re loading up all the stuff from years back into trucks and moving it over to a better-run neighbourhood. Just the throne left, now. Before exciting re-launch, however, a few days in Japan.  

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Good news and bad news

The Good News is that this site is moving from one (lousy) host to another (hopefully much better) one. There will be a few days of probably/possibly not much happening.

The Bad News is that the dreaded Oh-God-no ‘comments’ will in all likelihood, at some stage, against all common sense, be back up (subject to anti-spam and relentless, virulent new proprietary AI-bot/blockchain Anti-Bore® filters).

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MOFA tames barbarian reporters

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Hong Kong office summons foreign correspondents for a ‘lecture’ on putting positive energy into their coverage of the city’s Mainland extradition amendment.

The ineptness of the invitation confirms that the Ministry has little clue how overseas media work. (A more charitable theory would be that its staff are hip and aware – but are under pressure to use clunky CCP-style press-relations methods to impress dull-witted bosses back in Beijing.) Either way, it suggests that Chinese officials know Hong Kong’s extradition amendment has an image problem.

Why would they give a damn? Perhaps the Huawei/trade dispute trauma is getting to them, and they think they need to tell their story better, as best they can.

(Note the division of responsibilities here: if the local press needs prodding, the Liaison Office arranges it; the Foreign Ministry does barbarian-handling.)

On the subject of image, Michael Chugani at EJ asks whether Hong Kong is going from semi-democracy to semi-dictatorship. He also passes on a desperate-sounding line about how the extradition thing is basically Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s (inexplicable) idea – and Beijing’s people are now helping to ram it through in order to save her face and ‘ability to govern’. Since they can’t admit the amendment is a clear CCP initiative, this is presumably the best government spin-doctors can do.

Foreign Policy carried this more realistic analysis a couple of weeks ago…

…suggesting that the extradition issue represents the point at which the West starts to withdraw from recognizing Hong Kong as separate from the Mainland.

Germany’s granting of asylum to two Hongkongers – a slap in the face to the local administration – is a symbol of this. Another will be if Western countries revise their extradition arrangements with Hong Kong when the fugitive-transfer system with the Mainland goes through. Hong Kong would move from one side of a barrier to the other.

I declare the weekend open with some quick but worthy links.

The 30th anniversary of 6-4: Louisa Lim and Ilaria Maria Sala in the Guardian on how the CCP is rewriting history, and a thread with some interesting Tiananmen links. The Asia Society in New York is marking the anniversary – will the Hong Kong chapter do the same? (Answer: seems not.)

Esteemed Professor Victor Shih (to his own slight surprise) gets a full interview at New Yorker on the trade dispute, similarities between Trump and Xi (guess which is less economically illiterate?), and how likely Chinese elites are to rebel against their current leadership.

For hardcore Mainland corporate nightmare fans, Deep Throat listens to Alibaba’s earnings call so the rest of us don’t have to.

From the Jamestown Foundation, the under-reported (not easily reported, not-supposed-to-be-reported) reorganization of the United Front Work Dept.

And – better than it sounds – what Chinese millennials think.

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Unfortunate events

Hong Kong has entered the ‘confluence of unfortunate occurrences’ zone.

Long drawn-out prosecutions of Benny Tai and other peaceful protest organizers on desperate ‘public nuisance incitement’ charges came to a conclusion, with the court blandly accepting questionable government points. The result is that we now have academics in prison for their political beliefs.

At just this time, the administration introduced the Mainland extradition amendment to the Legislative Council. Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her colleagues seriously underestimated not only the resistance from local opponents, but the alarm in local and international business and other circles. Spotting a humiliating backdown looming, Beijing officials have impatiently nudged their local puppets to one side and taken charge of the lobbying effort to ram the measure through.

And now it transpires that a couple of localist activists who jumped bail following the Mongkok fishball riot have been given political asylum in staid, respectable, moderate and thoroughly democratic Germany. Political asylum is for torture victims from Third World dictatorships. And Germany, unlike the wacko evil US or nasty UK, is unimpeachable – a byword for integrity. This is not so much embarrassing as Does Not Compute.

If the West and China are indeed parting ways over economic and other differences, it might be best to recognize that our own post-1997 arrangement is over. The Chinese Communist Party has never willingly accepted constraints on its power. It has had to grit its teeth over the years as Hong Kong mocked its rule implicitly or explicitly. Under Xi Jinping, it has decided that ‘One Country Two Systems’ is an intolerable affront to its sovereignty.

Carrie’s task now is to remove barriers that hinder CCP control on this side of the border. It is a delicate job, as she has to claim the barriers weren’t there in the first place. Look at the government’s tortuous attempts to avoid acknowledging that drafters deliberately omitted China from existing extradition arrangements on account of the Mainland’s joke justice system. That omission was once a much-valued shield to protect us; now it is a ‘loophole’ that exposes us.

Just as the Sino-Western Split of 2019 is causing torment to fence-sitters and extreme optimists, this is going to test some centrist Beijing loyalists, who have assumed that the CCP would deep down be a decent bunch of folks who cared about their and Hong Kong’s image. Slight Hissy Fit of the Day Award goes to Regina Ip, trying to get her head around Germany giving Hongkongers refugee status.  

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Mainlandization coming along nicely

In this week’s episode of How to Turn Asia’s World City into a Banana Republic, Carrie Lam finds ways to discard the government’s old free-and-pluralist look, and build up a new global image as illiberal, intolerant and vindictive.

Hong Kong Immigration hold a 78-year-old retired Philippine senior judge and Ombudsman for questioning. Some media report that Conchita Carpio-Morales was refused entry, others that she decided to cancel her visit (in Filipino, it was ‘nixed’). All agree that she made a complaint to an international court about Chinese leader Xi Jinping several months ago, and that Hong Kong looks pathetic.

Turning undesirables away at the airport is kid’s stuff. Other examples in the last couple of years (presumably/obviously) at the behest of Beijing include Falun Gong adherents, exiled Mainland dissidents, Taiwanese politicians and activists, campaigner Benedict Rogers and FT editor (expelled) Victor Mallet.  

If you really want to be taken seriously as a Third-World dictatorship, you need citizens qualifying for political asylum in the free world. In a significant breakthrough, Germany has given refugee status to two Hong Kong localist activists on the run from Mongkok fishball-riot charges. The fact that it is Germany – boring, straight-laced, mildly inclined to Panda-hugging – makes the blow to Hong Kong’s reputation even more cringe-making.

As a Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong must submit to Beijing’s rule more openly than a mere doormat-vassal state (like, say, Cambodia). Chief Executive Carrie Lam spares no effort in defending Chinese officials’ hands-on management of the formerly autonomous city’s new extradition measures. In case you need reminding, Beijing has to intervene because foreign governments are recklessly criticizing Mainland judicial and human rights systems. (Just a thought: what happened to Carrie’s all-ready-to-move-in retirement home in England? Empty? Sold? Rented out?)

Is there anything we’ve missed? Of course – the media. Carrie pops up along with Huang Kunming, Politburo member and the head of the Communist Party’s propaganda department, to tell the press to talk up the Greater Bay Area (Opportunities!!!) Themed Concept Hub-Zone Vision to absorb Hong Kong physically and mentally into the glorious motherland. The Party is your middle name.

At some point, Carrie and her zombie-puppet colleagues must have to appear, with ridiculously solemn we-are-taking-this-so-seriously looks on their faces, at a Xi Jinping Thought study function. I would say within 12 months.

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A big question

Here’s a good rundown of what the US’s apparent banishment of Huawei could mean. Some techie background.

Knowing what we do of Donald Trump’s personality, it’s still sort of hard to believe that he isn’t going to fold at some point. And sure enough, here comes a 90-day reprieve to keep the oxygen flowing to the Chinese murkily-state-linked giant.

But knowing what we do of human nature, it’s hard to see how – after being mightily slapped down over trade talks and now Huawei – Beijing could laugh it all off and get back to normal with the US for some mutual lovey-dovey ‘win-win’ partnership, even if Trump did some sort of U-turn.

The traditional mainstream moderate consensus has always been that this sort of trade conflict is all about cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face, and everyone loses. But that consensus died somewhere back there. The new logic is that while the US might suffer a bit, China will suffer a whole lot more.

China’s nationalists are ranting that this won’t work with such fury that we can justifiably suspect it will.

How, realistically, does China retaliate when all that’s really happening is that it is being forced to play on a level playing field that it lacks the ability to win on? Fantasize about borderline suicidal measures like dumping US Treasuries or letting the Yuan plummet? Stop buying US pork just as half our pigs die of disease? Broadcast non-stop anti-American Korean War movies on TV? Blather on about the Long March and visit a rare earths mine? Cancel the final episode of absurdly time-wasting and unfunny Monty Python and the Holy Grail remake Game of Thrones? Send SCMP columnist Alex Lo to give the Yankee imperialists a serious smacking?

And assuming China does find a way to retaliate – in its usual subtle, charming and classy manner by burning down every Starbucks or kidnapping someone – how does that make Trump or any American learn to love the CCP?

Hard to believe that we are really heading into ‘de-linking’ and a ‘new Cold War’. But even harder to see how we’re not. But my big question: When will someone tell the stock market?

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Just a few boot-lickers to win over…

You are wrong. You misunderstand. You are stupid. You are ignorant. You have been misled. Clearly, we have not communicated in sufficiently simple terms that your childlike pea-sized minds can grasp.

The Hong Kong government has run out of talking points. Public opinion refused to buy the idea that the Mainland extradition amendment was necessary to send an alleged murderer to Taiwan. Nor will the rabble believe that the measure will fill a loophole, make us just like France, or ensure justice. So officials and supporters must retreat to their default last-ditch position: we are smart and you (and the media) are dimwits.

(While we’re at it – you’re all morons for not getting the Greater Bay Area wondrousness as well.)

To emphasize the uselessness of Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s administration, Beijing’s locally based overseers sweep them aside and start directly whipping loyalists and shoe-shiners into line. Forget the pretense about ‘One Country Two Systems’.

This is the Chinese Communist Party getting frustrated. (The US is cutting Huawei down to size, United Front meddling failed to swing the Australian election, Taiwan wins global coolness with Asia’s first gay marriage laws – it’s all too much for a hyper-whiny insecure dictatorship to take.)

From their point of view, hostile foreign forces are using the extradition issue to split Beijing’s Hong Kong support base. Ta Kung Pao compares Western countries’ concerns to the foreign intervention against the Boxer Rebellion (don’t ask) – and denounces local opponents as traitors to the Han race.

Fears (from Trump’s compatriots, no less) for Hong Kong’s competitiveness, rule of law, reputation etc are irrelevant – this is about ensuring that the paranoid CPP can exercise ‘sovereignty’ in this worryingly out-of-control territory.

The pressure is now going to be on the local business community – second-generation, spineless, groveling, entitled, cartelized rent-seekers and sweatshop owners. Their instinct is to lick the boots of the Chinese government. But they also have a curious nervousness about the way the extradition proposal includes bribery and would be retroactive.

What happens next?

A modest prediction… The CCP will ease its boot further into the slobbering business sector’s jaw and make them an offer they can’t refuse. ‘You will rubber-stamp this thing. In return, we promise (ha ha) to use the extradition system mainly to grab or silence our own corrupt/rogue/rival CCP-elites-and-their-families holed up in Hong Kong. And partly to spread some long-overdue rule-by-fear among local dissidents. But not to get at you, our obedient, obsequious, grubby little industrialists and speculators. Probably. Maybe. Until we feel like it.’

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