defrog: (45 frog)
And so 2016 gets one more boot in with George Michael.

I have to confess, I’m one of the few people on the planet who wasn’t a big fan. Which is not to say I don’t think he was talented. He was a fine singer and a showman, and I can prove that with this video of him performing with Queen for a Freddie Mercury tribute/AIDS awareness fundraiser.



Sure, he’s no Freddie Mercury, but c’mon, no one was except Freddie. And in many respects Freddie was no George Michael.

That said, I was never really into Wham!, who I found to be a bit silly and pretty to be taken seriously. I’ll admit too that by the time I became aware of them, my musical tastes were more solidly in classic/heavy rock territory. And by the time George went solo, I was firmly in Punkville and turned off by Michael’s ubiquity. So … you know.

Now that I’m older and wiser (okay, older), I still can’t say I’m a fan, but it’s easier to see why Wham! were as big as they were, and why George ended up an even bigger pop star on his own. One thing I didn’t realize in the 80s was that Michael wasn’t just a pretty face being handed pro pop songs to sing – he wrote most of his own songs (both in Wham! and solo), and 30+ years later, his hits are still in circulation – one of them now being a staple Christmas song, albeit one that’s now going to have some extra emotional heft, seeing as how he passed on Christmas Day.

Anyway, here in HK he had his share of fans. And inevitably, one of the classic stories making the rounds here is the time that Wham! became the first Western pop group to play in mainland China.

It’s actually a fascinating story in terms of how they managed to land the gig (to include their manager screwing Queen out of the gig by portraying Freddie Mercury as kinda gay – hmmmm yes …) and how the audience had to be careful not to be seen having an unacceptably good time, etc.

Respect.

Guilty feet have got no rhythm,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
I was out traveling the world last week, so I didn’t have time to comment on the news that D. Trump managed to create at least two diplomatic incidents with nuclear powers in one week – one with India and the other with China – and he’s not even actually POTUS yet.

I have time now. So:

I’ve been mildly amused by comments from people – even people who hate Trump – who don’t get what the big deal is over Trump phoning up Taiwan as though they were an independent sovereign country and not a part of China.

I’ve been hearing this one for years from Americans who don’t understand the One China Policy primarily because, for all intents and appearances, Taiwan is functionally separate from China – it has its own govt, its own economic system, its own army. It’s a separate damn country, why not just say so? Why are we appeasing a Damn Commie dictatorship by pretending something is real when it’s clearly not? Call a spade a spade! GIMME THE STRAIGHT TALK! POLITICAL CORRECTNESS SUCKS! AND BY THE WAY I’LL CALL ANYONE I DAMN WELL WANNA CALL AND WHO THE FUCK IS CHINA TO TELL ME WHO I CAN AND CAN’T TALK ON THE PHONE WITH WHENEVER I WANT THIS IS A FREE FUCKING COUNTRY AND CHINA CAN GO FUCK ITSELF IF IT DOESN’T LIKE IT AND WANTS TO LIVE IN ITS LITTLE PRETEND WORLD – 

I’m paraphrasing. More or less. But that’s the general gist.

And of course, all of this is technically true. The extent to which it matters depends on to the extent you think that diplomacy is an important component of international relations.  

You can argue that China lives in a little fantasy world where Taiwan never actually left China. One could also argue that the people who think we should call China openly on its bullshit live in their own fantasy world where there are no consequences for breaching established diplomatic protocols in a global economy – especially when dealing with countries who own nukes and who you owe $1.1 trillion.

For those of us who live in the real world, yes, diplomacy does matter in foreign relations – at least if you want to get anywhere near a negotiating table. Trump can talk all he wants about using the One China policy as a bargaining chip for a better trade deal – it won't do him much good if China refuses to talk to him out of sheer spite. 

This is not to say that the One China policy is sustainable, by the way. Foreign policy experts have been saying for awhile now that while the One China policy made diplomatic sense in 1979 (at which time the pro-China KMT party – which has always supported the idea that Taiwan is still technically part of China – had a solid and consistent grip on power), the democratic situation in Taiwan has shifted significantly enough that it’s becoming more and more difficult for everyone – even China – to maintain that particular fiction.

Foreign Policy has a good write-up on this. I recommend reading it. It was written before Trump was a nominee, but it illustrates the problem clearly. It’s a long-term play that will take creative diplomacy and finesse to pull off so that everyone benefits without losing face.

And that’s the problem, of course: Trump does not do finesse. He’s demonstrated repeatedly that the word arguably does not exist in his emotional vocabulary. He evidently plans to run America the way he runs his companies on TV – like a flamboyant tough-talking businessman. It’s possible he made/took the call with President Tsai without understanding the diplomatic brouhaha it would cause. It’s possible he didn’t care. Either way, he’s managed to antagonize the one country that rivals America as a superpower through sheer thoughtlessness and/or idiocy.  

And he’s not even actually POTUS yet.

FUN FACT: For the record, Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, is chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party (which also took control of parliament in the election that she won). That’s the opposition party to the KMT that – very much unlike the KMT – has typically advocated stronger independence for Taiwan. Beijing, as you can imagine, HATES the DPP with a vengeance. So you can imagine how they felt about Trump having a friendly phoner with Tsai, regardless of who called who.

Hold the line,

This is dF 

defrog: (sars)
As some of you may know, I fly a lot. And one of things I do to kill time waiting for my flight is check out the airport bookstores. It’s rare I actually buy a book, since I usually carry one with me wherever I go. But I have been in situations where I needed one. So I like to visit the bookstores just so I can see what book I’d end up buying if I truly needed one.

I was in Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport last week for a flight to Jakarta, and I couldn't help noticing a lot of the bookshops seemed to be gone. There used to be two big ones and a bunch of smaller ones. From the check-in counter to the gate, I only saw one small kiosk, and I started to wonder, am I imagining things or did they really close down most of the bookshops?

They really did.

There are – or were – two main bookstore chains in Chek Lap Kok: Page One and Relay. According to the South China Morning Post, Page One is out, and Relay has been cut down to five small kiosks.

The official reason from the Airport Authority is “change in reading habit and advancement in technology” – in other words, most flyers read Kindles or watch videos or play games on their smartphones. (I don't, but then I'm not "most people".)

The unofficial reason (i.e. the unsubstantiated rumor) is that Page One was carrying some of the books that were connected to those disappearing booksellers – i.e. the books saying not so nice things about Xi Jinpeng. So Beijing wants HK to police its airport bookstores. Maybe.

There’s no proof, of course, and personally I doubt that was the reason. The leases did expire this month, and all bookstore chains are going through similar pain points when it comes to book sales. Page One said they bailed for business reasons, and given that they’ve closed other shops (even in their home base of Singapore, they closed their last bookstore a few years ago), it’s not hard to believe they’ve decided to give up on their airport stores.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that a new bookstore chain has been granted a contract to take over some of the vacated bookshop space – Chung Hwa, which is based in mainland China.

See what they did there?

Read all about it,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
I am on my way to a conference somewhere. I get off the plane and I find myself in a driverless car on a muddy road. The BBC World Service is playing on the radio.

The ride is a bit nerve-wracking because there seems to be no hard rule about which side of the road to drive on, so oncoming traffic is a constant concern. The car is supposed to be smart enough to figure out the intentions of the other drivers, but it seems to me we're having a lot of close calls.

I eventually get to the hotel in one piece. Up to this point I haven't been sure about what country I'm in exactly, but upon arrival at the hotel, I find that I’m in mainland China somewhere. The hosts who meet me in the lobby claim we’re in Shenzhen, but I feel like I’ve traveled too far for that. Also, I can see that it has started snowing outside, which doesn’t happen in Shenzhen.

I am led through the lobby to the reception desk, but I get sidetracked and go out the back of the hotel to look around. The surrounding town is a mishmash of old and new buildings, the latter of which seem to be the usual tourist-trap places. The older buildings are more interesting – lots of square marble pillars with Chinese characters on them, as though someone carved them out of marble and glued them to the pillars.

After a lot of back and forth I get to my room, which is actually a series of interlocked rooms connected by a common anteroom. The doorways keep changing so you have to know a secret code to find the room you want.

And then I woke up.

Big trouble in little China,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Previously on Senseless Acts Of Bloggery:

ITEM: Hong Kong bookstore employees are disappearing.

Or at least five of them have. Four went missing in October last year. The fifth disappeared last week.

All five worked with the same bookstore – Causeway Bay Bookstore, which just happens to specialize in books that are banned in mainland China (but not HK) because they’re critical of the central govt, especially President Xi Jinping.

That was as of January 8, by which time one of them – Lee Bo – was said to be in China (but without his travel document) helping the police with “an investigation”.

Here’s what’s happened since then:

1. Lee Bo has met with his wife and written a couple of open letters telling HK to stop investigating his disappearance, he really is helping with an investigation and it’s not really a big deal anyway.

This week, Lee appeared on Chinese TV explaining how he got into China without his travel document:

"I was worried that upon reaching the mainland and taking part in the lawful investigation, and testifying against others, it would lead to them and their families getting angry with me and this would not be good for me and my family, so to guarantee our safety, I chose to be smuggled in," he said.

Lee also took the trouble to publicly renounce his UK citizenship – which may or may not have something to do with the fact that the UK government has expressed grave concerns over one its passport holders being abducted into China, which would be a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong that defines the current “One Party, Two Systems” arrangement. By sheer coincidence, Beijing does not appreciate this insinuation. So it’s nice of Lee to voluntarily settle the issue for them with no coaching whatsoever.

2. Gui Minhai – who was in Thailand when he disappeared – later popped up on CCTV (China’s state broadcaster) making a tearful confession that he turned himself in to Chinese police after he killed someone in China while drunk-driving – 12 years ago. While a friend of Gui’s confirmed the drunk-driving incident really happened, a lot of people are finding it hard to believe he just decided to go turn himself in – and just two days after two of his associates had also vanished.

3. The other three – Lui Por, Cheung Chi-ping and Lam Wing-kee – turned up in jail in China. They’ve also appeared on TV confessing crimes of “illegal book-trading” – i.e. selling their books critical of Xi Jingpeng on the mainland. Also, Lam took the trouble to point out that, by the way, the allegations in the books were all completely untrue:

"They were downloaded from the Internet, and were pieced together from magazines. They have generated lots of rumours in society and brought a bad influence."

The three were set to be be released on bail sometime this week.

So.

As you might expect, few people outside of the Chinese govt are taking the TV confessions seriously, as China has a long history of making examples of critics via public confessions that seem strikingly tailored to back whatever specific points Beijing wants to make by arresting them.

In any case, unofficially (i.e. this is according to other sources, not the official police line), a narrative is starting to unfold: Gui Minhai allegedly set up a distribution outlet in Shenzhen to sell banned books in China. The other three in jail were allegedly involved somehow, and Lee Bo – who allegedly had no knowledge of any of this – was allegedly recruited to allegedly help investigate the case.

Allegedly.

There’s still plenty we don’t know yet, and what we do know seems dubious. And we may never know the whole story. There are three things we do know for sure:

1. Two of the four people who ended up in jail were not in mainland China when they disappeared. And we know Lee Bo somehow got into mainland China despite not having his travel document with him – possibly even volunteering to be abducted (which seems like an odd thing to agree to after working for a publishing company and bookstore highly critical of Beijing – to say nothing of giving up his British passport).

Which again raises the central question of the whole affair: how did the three of them who were outside of China suddenly end up there?

Because there’s only a few possible options there, and one of them is this: the Chinese police are kidnapping people who are not Chinese nationals that they want to put in jail.

Which is, needless to say, alarming.

2. The HK government is very unlikely to pursue the matter. The HK Police Commissioner has met with Lee Bo, and has said he doesn’t believe that Lee is telling the whole story, but with Lee unwilling to press charges or make any accusations and basically telling them that there is no case, the police don’t have any choice but to drop it.

So, as usual, it’s a case of two governments – both of which have gone out of their way to undermine HK public trust in them – saying, “Trust us, there’s nothing wrong here.”

3. Local delivery companies are a lot more nervous about shipping banned books to mainland China than they used to be. Which I'm sure is one of the desired results of all this, as far as Beijing is concerned.

Developing …

Would I lie to you,

This is dF
defrog: (sars)
ITEM: Hong Kong bookstore employees are disappearing.

Or at least five of them have. Four went missing in October last year. The fifth disappeared last week.

All five worked with the same bookstore – Causeway Bay Bookstore, which just happens to specialize in books that are banned in mainland China (but not HK) because they’re critical of the central govt, especially President Xi Jinping. In fact, the bookstore – which publishes its own books as well as carrying others – was about to publish a new book about Xi’s private life.

As you can imagine, the case has raised all kinds of eyebrows in HK. The idea that Beijing is enforcing mainland Chinese censorship laws (where criticizing the govt is no different from actively plotting to overthrow it) in Hong Kong, where they technically don’t apply, is not exactly a comforting one.

Of course, we don’t know for sure where the five have gone. The fifth one, Lee Bo, supposedly phoned his wife to say he’s in Shenzhen across the border “helping with an investigation”. But the permit card he needs to get into China is still at home, so it’s doubtful he went there voluntarily. And in any case, I doubt it’s a coincidence that all five are associated with the same company that just happens to be publishing books critical of Beijing – that also just happened to be popular with mainland tourists visiting HK. It’s unlikely that Chinese authorities are unaware of this.

That said, books like this have been around for ages. So the other question is: if this is some kind of quiet crackdown, why now? Possibly the Umbrella events and resulting political fallout – in which everyone found out that HK democracy will always be rigged in Beijing’s favor because that’s how it's supposed to be, kid – is a factor.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that local bookstore chain Page One – which also carried some of the same books – apparently pulled them from the shelves after the first four people disappeared.

Which I’m sure is just fine with Beijing authorities. In fact, it’s probably the reaction they were banking on.

Developing …

Book ‘em Danno,

This is dF

==============================

EDITED TO ADD [8 Jan]: Pro-Beijing HK legislator Ng Leung-sing has a theory: the five missing guys all went to China to hire some prostitutes for fun and got busted. 

Ng has no actual proof of this, but says he read it online, so he thought he'd share it. You know, to be helpful. 

He's since apologized. Lee Bo's wife has not accepted it. Meanwhile, local broadcaster TVB is in hot water for broadcasting Ng's remarks without bothering to verify them. 

Also, while Page One removed the books in question, other shops are still carrying them
defrog: (sars)
We’ve had an embarrassment of riches in terms of public holidays here in Hong Kong this week. Monday was the Mid-Autumn Festival (with special guest star Hugh Jackman!). And tomorrow is National Day, in which we celebrate the 66th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic Of China.

Salute!

Unofficially, there’s another anniversary this week: the first anniversary of the start of the Umbrella Kids/Occupy HK protest. The Umbrella Kids did some speechifying, but there’s been no further occupying – at least not yet. You never know. This time last year no one expected them to block traffic in three districts for 79 days. And really, anything is possible when you develop a taste for the heady combination of righteousness and cheap theatrics.

On the other hand, turnouts ain’t what they used to be. The word is there were more cops than protesters at the rally. One of the People Power radicals wanted to occupy Harcourt Road for 87 minutes (one minute for each of the 87 tear gas canisters fired by police). No one else volunteered.

Naturally, there has been a lot of the discussion about Occupy HK’s accomplishments – or lack thereof. The Umbrella Kids still praise themselves and thump their chests with the kind of self-important grandeur that ensures them a future in politics. For the non-believers, it’s hard to put a positive spin on the fact that the Umbrella Kids made numerous demands regarding the HK Govt’s political reform package, and the HKG did not cave in to a single one of them.

Even the fact that the political reform package ultimately failed can’t reasonably credited to the Umbrella Kids – that was largely an own goal by the pro-govt DAB. And even if that hadn’t happened, the package didn’t have a big enough majority to pass anyway – and that likely would have been the case regardless of whether the Umbrella Kids occupied the streets or not.

Still, politics is the art of never admitting that you lost fair and square, so everyone will believe what they want to believe. So the Occupy HK crowd will keep speechifying from Hell to breakfast as though it matters.

That said, if we’re going to talk about “accomplishments”, I will say the Umbrella Kids did manage to accomplish two things:

1. They helped to polarize the city into angry, non-compromising “us vs them” factions that will define Hong Kong’s political landscape for the next 30 years.

2. They made it 100% clear to everyone in Hong Kong and the world that Beijing runs HK, has always run HK since July 1, 1997, and will continue to run it for the rest of the century. The “full-on democracy” game has been rigged from Day 1, and it was never going to be any other way. China wants HK to develop in a certain way so that once our SAR status expires in 2047, we will slot in more or less seamlessly with the rest of China, which by then will likely be a federation of democracies where you can vote for any candidate you want, as long as they swear loyalty to Beijing, with HK serving as one of the country’s key economic engines. And it is leaving nothing to chance. If you didn’t know that in 1997 (and you should have, really, if you were paying the slightest bit of attention or at least noticed the expiration date on our SAR status), you know it now.

So, thanks, Umbrella Kids.

By the way, I made up that “2047 federation of democracies” bit. I don’t know if that’s what China is planning. But I do know that ever since the first economic reforms in the 1980s, Beijing has always been about the long game. And HK was part of that as soon as Thatcher signed the handover agreement. Maybe she and her team knew that. Maybe not. Either way, I think Beijing knew, and I suspect they have always seen post-handover HK as an experiment in controlled democracy. “Hypothesis: can we establish ‘democracy’ in a way that appeals to trade partners and makes us look less like a dictatorship to the West whilst ensuring that the Party stays firmly in control?”

Why not? Lee Kwan Yu did it for Singapore.

Whatever their plans, it’s clear that Beijing never intended for HK to be “one country two systems” forever. But it’s also clear that they’d hoped to downplay that while HK’s democratic evolution was ongoing, at least until it was way too late to do anything about it. Thanks to the Umbrella Kids, Beijing was forced to show their hand early.

Still, it’s fair to ask: does it really matter to know the game is rigged? Maybe. There’s a lot of dithering right now about what to do next, and whatever does happen next will be shaped by the knowledge that our autonomy will always be limited.

Chief Umbrella Kid Joshua Wong has said whatever the movement does next, it will do with 2047 in mind. That’s actually a good idea. If China is playing the long game, it only makes sense to do the same.

Boss Leung, meanwhile, is making speeches about bringing “illegal” protests to justice. 

There will probably be the usual protests tomorrow. They will probably achieve the usual results.

Interesting times.

Unoccupied,

This is dF


defrog: (sars)
Yr Chinese Rocks lede of the day:

That’s what happens when you give love a bad name.

Because the People’s Republic of China prefers wholesome, patriotic music. Like Bikini Kill.



[NOTE: Humor] 

As usual, the Culture Ministry won’t give any specific reason, mainly because they don’t have to. Rumor has it the reason has something to do with Bon Jovi once showing a photo of the Dalai Lama during a show five years ago. Which could be it, since the Chinese govt tends to equate the Dalai Lama with the likes of Osama bin Laden, Hitler and Vlad The Impaler – so much so that if you ever said anything about him anytime in yr life that was less than 100% furious condemnation, you could be arrested for trying to overthrow the govt.

Personally, I prefer to believe the reason Bon Jovi was banned was because he covered a Teresa Teng classic. In very bad Mandarin.

(Teng is highly revered round these parts, not least because she died young.)

Either way, I’m not that surprised. Culture Ministry censorship tends to veer between hardline ideology and sheer whimsy. Like when the Stones played Shanghai last year – the Ministry said no to “Honky Tonk Women”, but allowed “Street Fighting Man”.

Still, China has certainly come a long way since Wham!. I mean, it’s not like they’re only booking bands like Laibach.

Never say goodbye,

This is dF

 
defrog: (sars)
Unexpectedly, it’s a holiday in HK today.

The purpose: to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Japan in WW2 (or as it’s known locally, the Second Sino-Japanese War).

The probable actual purpose: to give Japanese PM Shinzo Abe the finger for not apologizing sufficiently for WW2 atrocities, and for trying to make Japan a major military power by making Constitutional changes no one wants except him and the right-wing nationalists who equate military prowess with manliness.

I might be exaggerating there. I’m not sure. The Chinese govt isn’t exactly above using its power to settle personal scores. And state media regularly describes Abe as a dangerous warmongering fascist.

Also, it’s not like we have a holiday to commemorate the surrender of Japan every year – indeed, this one has been officially described as a one-off.

Anyway, the HK Govt decided we would observe it as well, because you know, One Country Two Systems™ and all. So day off for me.

Interestingly, the local major TV station, TVB Jade – which has been airing some historical docs about WW2 and the defeat of Japan – has stirred some controversy for accidentally using the wrong flag to depict the Chinese army:

In a documentary about the 70th anniversary of the war against Japanese invasion of China, TVB used the flag of the People’s Republic of China, also known as “Five-Star Red Flag,” to represent the Chinese army in the Battle of Taierzhuang in an animation.

The “Five-Star Red Flag” did not exist then. Instead, the flag of the Republic of China was in use. The flag had Kuomintang affiliations.


Oops! (Perhaps.)

Hoist the colors,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)

I was in Shanghai last week. I hadn’t been there since 2006, and I hadn’t been to mainland China at all since 2010, so it took some readjustment on my part.

I didn’t see much of Shanghai this time, though I did have a decent view of Century Park.



Otherwise, most of my time was spent either in the hotel, the convention center or the metro between the two of them. But I do have some bullet points to pass along:

1. None of my flights were on time. This is normal for Shanghai and not unexpected.

2. The Shanghai taxi I took to my hotel had no A/C so we drove on the expressway with all the windows down. Which was invigorating.

3. I got mild food poisoning from room service beef.

4. I bought a prepaid SIM card with a 1GB data plan – which was about 980MB more than I needed since most of the apps I use (Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and Flipboard) are illegal in China. I can verify that WhatsApp, Google Maps, and Yahoo Mail work fine.

5. Century Park is pretty festive at night, judging from the traditional Chinese music blaring from the pavilion across the street from my hotel. Luckily, they shut it down by 9pm.

6. The Shanghai Metro didn’t exist last time I was in town. It’s actually pretty good once you figure out the ticketing machine, and as long as you do a little prelim research on which lines you’ll need and which stops you plan to use.

7. I got unsuccessfully hustled twice – once from a guy pretending to have lost his money under complicated circumstances, and once from another guy who wanted to sell me his iPhone.

8. When I went back to the airport, the road leading to the departure hall in Terminal 2 was blocked off for no apparent reason. So the taxi driver dropped me off in the short-term parking area.

9. I saw my first 3D food printer.





I didn’t try one, no.

10. This song was running through my head for most of the trip.



11. Thanks to this trip, I now have a ten-year visa for China. That’s because US passport holders can now only apply for ten-year visas (as opposed to single entry, double entry, multiple entry for six months, one year, etc). No idea why.

Anyway, you may be seeing future posts about me being in China, is what I’m saying.

Over the borderline,

This is dF


defrog: (sars)
Re: My previous post predicting that HKSAR Establishment Day would be uglier this year:

Never mind.

Turnout for the protests this year was around 48,000 – which is not only the lowest it’s been since 2008, but around 450,000 short of last year’s turnout.

That’s a big drop.

There’s plenty of speculation as to why the numbers were so low, but the two main reasons being given the most credence are: (1) after the Occupy protest last year, lots of people are just burned out with protests, and (2) there was no central theme to come out and support. July 1 protests tend to attract just about every group with a particular grievance or issue to promote, but there’s usually one core message, and traditionally it’s been related to universal suffrage. But the political reform package is done and dead and it’s not going to be revisited until at least 2017 (if ever), and the pro-demos have no clear strategy as to what their next move will be, so why spend the day in the baking sun beating a dead horse?

Of course, another way of looking at it is this: all of the pro-democracy protests held over the last couple of years accomplished pretty much nothing in the end. The govt didn’t listen and refused to compromise even a little, so what’s the point in screaming at a brick wall?

The die-hards who did turn up rolled out the usual “CY Leung step down” demands, and tried a new tack on the democracy debate – “If yr excuse is that the Basic Law doesn’t allow civil nominations, then let’s change the Basic Law!” Which is technically possible, but seeing as how that requires the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) agreeing with any proposed changes in the Basic Law, I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

Interestingly, one theme that didn’t generate a lot of support was HK independence from China. The localist movement brought that one into the mix, and the march organizers were quick to point out that they don’t support that particular meme. They’re still very much about “one country, two systems” and aren’t interested in creating a separate country.

The localists probably failed to notice the irony that “one country, two systems” enabled them to openly demand independence in the first place. If they tried that anywhere else in China, they’d all be in a basement jail getting whipped with rubber hoses and we wouldn’t know about it because none of the TV stations covering the protests would be allowed to air footage of them – or if they did, the newscasters would be denouncing them as terrorists (and the newscasts would be used as "evidence" in their trial).

Anyway, no fights broke out, even with pro-Beijing groups holding counter-protests along the route. So all in all, I was wrong about the ugliness. And I’m happy to be wrong about such things.

Still, the organizers are right about one thing – the big drop in attendance isn't a vote of confidence for the HK Govt or an admission that they were right all along. On the other hand, here’s hoping the pro-demo groups listen to some of the reasons people have given for staying away – they perceive the pan-demos as an anti-everything group who resort to extreme cheap theatrics that don’t actually accomplish anything.

Fair call, at least for the more radical groups. If the pan-demos want to achieve anything in the next few years – and get the public behind them – they need a change of tactics. We have empirical evidence that occupying the streets and throwing fruit in LegCo won’t work. It’s time to try something else.

Staying home,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
As you may know, for the last couple of years Hong Kong has been arguing ad nauseum over political reform in order to establish full-on democracy here – with “full-on” meaning “everyone gets to elect the Chief Executive, and you can vote for anyone you want as long as they’re all pre-approved by Beijing”.

Which is why Occupy HK and the Umbrella Kids happened last year, because the students said “Fuck that.”

Anyway, the govt’s reform package went up for a final vote yesterday, with both sides making a final pitch by basically repeating everything they said before.

Pro-govt: “This is a big step forward, everyone finally gets to vote like you always wanted and you can always fix what you don’t like later.”

Pan-democrats: “Fuck you and yr fake democracy.”

The pan-demos won. By a large margin: 28-8.

But that margin is misleading, because there are 70 members of Legco. Just before the vote, some 30 legislators – all of them from the pro-govt camp – got up and walked out.

Apparently they were attempting to halt the vote by not having enough legislators present to form a quorum (allegedly to buy time for one of their colleagues who was stuck in traffic and running late). Turns out their math is terrible – after the walkout, LegCo still had a quorum with the remaining legislators. The vote went ahead, and the pan-demos pwned it.

Which they were expected to do anyway, by the way – not because they had enough votes, but because the pro-govt parties didn’t have a big enough majority (two thirds) to pass the reform package.

Still. What a way to lose.

The lesson: maths is important.

Also, it pays to pay attention during the LegCo debate instead of watching sexy billiards videos on yr iPhone. (Kidding.)

Needless to say, Beijing is not amused.

But then they have a nerve to be surprised. I’ve been critical about the way the pan-demos and the Umbrella Kids have conducted their side of the debate, but the pro-govt parties, the current admin and Beijing itself have all been just as idiotic. President Xi Jinping decided to play the hard line with HK on political reform, letting us know in no uncertain terms that Beijing gives the orders here and has every legal right to give them and if you don’t like it, that sucks for you. The pro-govt camp went right along with that, and the CY Leung admin has collectively gone out of its way to alienate the pan-demos and the Umbrella Kids instead of handling the situation in a way so that everyone got what they wanted, or felt better about what they were getting.

But no.

What happens now? We’ll see. Certainly the pan-demos will start again and angle for a better deal, but Beijing’s official response to the vote has suggested that the only deal they’ll consider is the same one they offered the first time.

So it will probably be more of the same for now.

Oh, and of course the 2017 CE elections will happen under the current rules, which means we’ll have another Beijing-appointed CE until at least 2022. There will be a lot of dithering over that, most of it overblown. Despite claims from the local ruling class that defeating the reform package would be bad for business, HK as a functional economy will probably get along just fine without democracy for the next 10 or 20 years.

The bigger problem is how badly the populace has ripped itself apart over this issue. Both sides are to blame for that, but neither will admit it, and it’s going to take years for them to get over it.

Developing …

Epic fail,

This is dF


defrog: (sars)
I usually do a June 4 post about the annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong commemorating the students who were massacred in Tiananmen Square.

It’s now June 13. I’m a little late, because I was traveling on business in Singapore during June 4 and was too swamped with actual work to do a proper post.

Anyway, the vigil did happen. As you can see.



And everything went as planned.

Almost.

This year the turnout at Victoria Park was 135,000 – impressive, but actually somewhat lower than the past few years, and far lower than the record 180k from last year. The reason?

Factional politics.

Basically, the Victoria Park event is organized every year by a group called Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China. Their aim is to force Beijing to acknowledge the massacre even happened, and to support the establishment of democracy in China.

However, many of the student unions responsible for the Umbrella Revolution have zero interest in supporting democracy in China because, basically (and I'm paraphrasing here, but this is the basic sentiment) fuck China, we’d rather establish democracy here in Hong Kong, the rest of China can go get fucked.

So they staged their own June 4 vigils instead.

The HKASPDMC has said they don’t mind if people want to have separate events, so long as it sends the basic message “Never forget 6/4”. But it does highlight the schism between the older activists and the younger ones when it comes to mainland China. The HKASPDMC wants to engage with China and instigate change for the good of all Chinese people. The Umbrella Movement wants nothing to do with China, and sees it solely as an obstacle to getting what they want. If people in mainland China want democracy, they can fucking well get it themselves.

Kids today, eh?

Admittedly, it’s probably unrealistic to expect the Umbrella Kids to have the same emotional connection with June 4, since almost all of them were born after 1989.

Still, I think they’re missing the point of the June 4 vigil. The objective is mainly to demonstrate to Beijing that we remember what happened on June 4 and we won’t forget. That message works best when everyone is unified. You can pretty much bet that Beijing would love nothing more than for the HKASPDMC to start squabbling among itself and disintegrate into splinter groups that can’t agree on a course of action.

Still, it has to be noted, the Victoria Park event was by far the bigger draw. This year. We’ll see about next year.

Splitters,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
There is trouble in Hong Kong.

The problem goes something like this:

We do not have universal suffrage when it comes to choosing a Chief Executive (CE). We have been promised by Beijing that at some point we can have universal suffrage as soon as they think we’re ready to have it. That time is theoretically 2017 (around ten years after the last time Beijing said we could have it, then decided we weren’t “ready”).

The past year has seen a lot of debate over how to implement universal suffrage in 2017, with several proposals being kicked around. This week, Beijing’s National People’s Congress (NPC) effectively picked one for us: we all get to vote for the next CE, but we don’t get to actually nominate who gets to run for CE. That will be determined by a “nominating committee” of 1,200 people who will, theoretically, represent all groups in HK, but in practice will pretty much nominate only candidates that Beijing likes.

That way, no matter who loses, Beijing wins.

The pan-democratic parties (i.e. political parties that have been pushing hard for democracy) find this unacceptable, not least because one of the criteria for nomination is being a “patriotic” person who “loves Hong Kong”. Which is as ominous as it sounds when Beijing is the one deciding who is patriotic and who isn’t.

And so now the showdown is about to begin. Possibly.

Activist groups have organized on both sides of the debate. Occupy Central opposes the NPC-approved framework and plans to shut down the Central business district with massive sit-in protests until the HK Govt approves a framework allowing the people to nominate their own candidates. Anti-Occupy groups like Alliance for Peace and Democracy argue that if we don’t take this deal, we’re not going to make any progress on universal suffrage for at least another decade, if ever.

That’s certainly how the HK Govt has been framing it with a PSA that suggest if Occupy Central goes ahead, the deal is off and we get nothing (and you can blame them gawdamn Occupy protesters for that). The HK Govt has also said that the planned Occupy Central protest would be illegal anyway, and they’re not in the business of negotiating with lawbreakers. So there.

What happens from here is a big question mark, if only because Occupy Central leader Benny Chan has already admitted support for his group has dwindled following the NPC decision (although he’s since backtracked and said the people backing out due to “pragmatism” will be replaced by unpragmatic college students pissed off about the decision, so game on).

So if Occupy Central goes ahead, it’s either going to be a poor turnout, or a bigger and much angrier turnout.

In which case this probably isn’t going to end well.

TL;DR )

I could be wrong. I have a feeling we're going to find out. 

Developing ....

The revolution starts soon,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
Circa 1959:

Chun King, 1959

Also, when you have Chun King luau parties, remember that it's bad form to point out that luaus are Hawaiian, not Chinese.

[Via Simple Dreams]

See also: This TV ad for Chun King, written by Stan Freberg. Featuring Arte Johnson as the lift operator.



FUN FACT: Chun King was actually started by an Italian guy from Minnesota – the same guy who came up with Jeno’s Pizza Rolls. (Like egg rolls, only it’s pizza!)

King of chun,

This is dF
 
defrog: (Default)
Twenty-five years ago Wednesday, Tiananmen Square happened. Every year since then, Hong Kong has held a candlelight vigil remembering the event.

Last night’s event set a new record.

HK1

HK3

HK5

HK2

HK4

There’s not much I can add that I haven’t said before. But the turnout number is notable for a couple of reasons:

1. A poll this week from Hong Kong University found that while the majority of people here think the students were right and the central govt was wrong, the number is slightly down from before, though HKU didn’t try to explain why.

2. Supposedly the boost in attendance was due to more people from mainland China attending. Which would be ironic since many HK locals have been complaining that too main mainlanders come here and buy up all our milk powder and give birth and stuff.

Common ground!

Never forget,

This is dF


defrog: (science!)
Needless to say, the lead story in Hong Kong for the past couple of days over the weekend (until the MTR broke down for five hours today) has been China’s Chang'e-3 lander arriving on the moon, and deploying the Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”) rover.

Yutu rover being transferred down from lander toward lunar surface

Chang'e 3 rover Yutu rolls onto the lunar surface

It’s easy for Americans to scoff – “Oh, moon landings? That’s so 60s.” On the other hand, the Chang'e-3/Yutu is the most high-tech thing ever to land on the moon, and its mission will score a number of firsts, to include exploration of lava tunnels that might serve as ideal locations for moon colonies.

io9 has a good write-up on why the Chang'e-3 mission is a bigger deal than some might think.

Unless, of course, it’s all a hoax.

Or a secret plot to build a secret military moon base. Or something.

Nice moon, we’ll take it,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
We went to Macau again this time last week, and happened across the historical Lou Lim Ieoc Garden. 

You can read about it here.

And you can look at it now.



  





  

It’s a very relaxing place. 

Parks and recreation,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
By now you know about the NSA interwub spying program known as PRISM

You may also know that the person responsible for leaking its existence is a former NSA contractor named Edward Snowden. And given Presidente Obama’s current policy on govt whistleblowers, you can pretty much imagine that US authorities are eager to make him Bradley Manning’s new roommate. 

Which is why Snowden is currently here in Hong Kong, in the hopes that it will complicate extradition proceedings, as HK is “a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”.

As a US citizen, a permanent resident of Hong Kong and someone with a blog, I am obligated to comment on this. And all I really have to say is: good luck with that, Ed.

This Venturebeat article explains the complications involved in the US-HK extradition process, and Beijing’s ability to step in if it sees a need to do so.

I’d also add that HK isn’t quite the bastion of free speech and dissent Snowden imagines it is. Compared to China, sure. But there are a few things you can’t openly protest about – like, say, advocating independence for Taiwan or Tibet. Granted, “the US govt spying on citizens” probably isn't on the topic blacklist. Still, the point stands that free speech only gets you so far – especially when HK and the US have signed a bunch of extradition agreements in recent years. 

Which is why a number of legal experts – as well as HK’s former security chief, Regina Ip – have said if you want to dodge US extradition, HK is one of the worst places you can pick. The only thing going for him is that the process takes a really long time. 

FUN FACT: When The Bride heard the news that Snowden was staying here, this is what she said:

“Excellent, now the US will bomb us if we don’t give him back.”

Which is comic exaggeration, of course. On the other hand, it's not like Obama has a problem with ordering a drone strike on US citizens overseas

The bombing begins in five minutes,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
Yesterday was the 24th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. And last night they had the annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong to remember it.



Turnout was said to be around 150,000 – not as high as last year’s record 180,000, but then they did cut the vigil short this year because of heavy rain. 

And in any case, it’s remarkable that the June 4 vigil has drawn six-figure attendance for the past five years. For context, when I first came to Hong Kong in 1996, a turnout of 50,000 was considered impressive.



In Beijing, meanwhile, of course there is no such thing as June 4. Even on the Internet, they’re going to serious extremes to make sure anything June 4 related gets censored.

They’re even blocking searches for “big yellow duck” in case people see this.



No punch line necessary, I think. And it wouldn’t be funny anyway.

Nothing to see here,

This is dF


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