Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Patriot Game

"Patriots don't go to Russia."
--US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking of Edward Snowden

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Next to a Landfill - the Best Place to Buy Property

Nobody in Hong Kong wants to live near a landfill, as we've seen in the recent spate of nimbyism over the government's expansion proposals.  Yet paradoxically, there are great advantages to buying property right next to one.

True, while the landfill is in operation, you will suffer from the smell, filthy dusty air, and infestations of flies.  But once it is decommissioned, you will have something few Hong Kong property owners can enjoy - at least a ten-year guarantee of an unimpeded green view.  While others watch despairingly as reclamation or new buildings block the open views they paid dearly for, you will relish the sight of a verdant forest gradually spreading over the former garbage dump as it settles down and decomposes.  Nothing can be built on it until this process finishes.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Undisputed Nonsense

undisputed (adjective):not challenged or called into question; accepted. 

From last night's ATV News: [Chinese] Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang "said the Vietnamese boat capsized after smashing into the drilling platform, which he emphasised is in undisputed Chinese territory."

This story differs from China's original account of the incident, which claimed that the sunken Vietnamese vessel collided with a Chinese fishing boat (which just happened to be in the vicinity of the contentious oil rig by chance, presumably, like the other 40-odd boats hanging around the area).  That aside, unless Qin's statement has been badly translated, what are we to make of that word "undisputed"?  The Chinese government knows very well that its claim to the area of sea in which this occurred is hotly disputed by Vietnam; and, indeed, that large parts of its other maritime claims in the South China Sea are fiercely challenged by half a dozen other nations on whose coastal waters they intrude.

Given this, Beijing is clearly well aware that the area of water in question is far from being undisputed Chinese territory.  One wonders, therefore, why its spokesman is allowed to make statements that are obviously bare-faced lies.  In what way does it strengthen China's case to talk undisputed bollocks?

Try this: ask a European to name half a dozen great European sailors and navigators from history.  He or she is likely to reel off without much difficulty such names as Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Drake, Cook, Bligh, Cabot, and so forth.  Now ask a Chinese person the same question.  Their immediate answer will be Zheng He (who was in fact more of a diplomat than the admiral he is often described as).  After that will probably come a long uncomfortable pause...

The reality is that, despite its "claims from history" to vast areas of ocean, China has never been much of a maritime power.  And while Chinese fishermen certainly roamed the South China Sea from ancient times, so did fishing folk from the other lands around it.  In an age when fish were abundant and the idea of undersea mineral extraction had not yet been conceived, it is very unlikely that any of them thought of the vast ocean as the exclusive property of any single country.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What kind of fakery is this?

The grand arrival of the "Buddha's parietal bone relic" in Hong Kong last night, to be displayed at the "China-backed" World Buddhist Forum in the Coliseum, was certainly a colourful spectacle, but the whole event reeks of fakery.

Leaving aside the irony of an avowedly atheist regime sponsoring a religious event, the relic itself is of dubious provenance.  Claimed to be part of the Buddha's skull, it was apparently only unearthed in Nanjing, China, in 2010 (or 2008 - China's propaganda organ, the China Daily, does not even seem sure of the date).   I have seen no clear explanation of how a fragment of bone dug up in Nanjing can be positively identified as coming from a body cremated 2,000 miles away 2,500 years ago.  In fact the whole business of religious relics has historically been mostly about persuading the gullible faithful to part with their money - it has often been jokingly said that there was enough "wood of the true cross" in Europe to build a battleship.

Even if the relic is genuine, why are believers being invited to worship it?  This is surely contrary to the teachings of the Buddha that suffering is caused by excessive attachment to the material world.  Whatever remains significant about Sakyamuni, it is not his physical body.

Further evidence that the Forum is more of a propaganda event than a religious one comes from the presence of the so-called Panchen Lama.  In fact no one knows the whereabouts of the real Panchen Lama - or even whether he is still alive - other than the Chinese authorities who abducted him and engineered his disappearance after his recognition by the Dalai Lama.  The person attending the Hong Kong event is the fake Panchen Lama chosen by the Chinese government, who have no more authority to appoint the Panchen Lama than they do to select the next Pope. - which they would probably like to do if they thought they could get away with it!

Bun There, Thrown That

A relatively trivial gesture in LegCo - one that falls within a time-honoured tradition - has all sorts of people fulminating about legislators run wild and how they should be punished, with LegCo president Tsang Yok-sing one of the few voices of calm reason.  Here's a suggestion - let democracy do its job.  If the Hong Kong people are really as upset over such antics (nicely captured in the SCMP's photo above) as the CE and his acolytes claim, the lawmakers responsible will be thrown out of their seats at the next election.  If they are not, then CY Leung would do well to reflect on why so many members of the Hong Kong public apparently want to see things thrown at him.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Doublespeak to the max

An early contender for the Orwell Award 2014: proving yet again that every child should be given a copy of George Orwell's Politics and the English Language as an essential tool of life, Beijing mouthpiece the Global Times says this:
“The South China Sea disputes should be settled in a peaceful manner, but that doesn’t mean China can’t resort to non-peaceful measures in the face of provocation from Vietnam and the Philippines. Many people believe that a forced war would convince some countries of China’s sincerely peaceful intentions."
or in plain English, "if you don't believe in my sincerely peaceful intentions, I will use violent means to convince you that I am not violent."  More stuff you can't make up.

I Told You So

Private Beach on the high speed rail delay, 16 April: "Expect the usual response: a round of hand-wringing, at the end of which nobody will be held responsible."
One month later: the pro-China Morning Post reports that Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said
"the panel’s main objective was to identify what went wrong in the process, and not to look for who was personally responsible in order that they be penalised."

Heaven forbid that anyone should actually be held accountable for their screw-ups!.  That would not be the Hong Kong way.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Have We Got News For You

Watching the news in Hong Kong, it is often hard to shake off the feeling that the whole broadcast is one elaborate - and not even very funny - satire.  Take the first half of last night's ATV news for example:
  • Beijing expresses concern over the anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam - which are remarkably reminiscent of the anti-Japanese riots that break out in China from time to time over similar perceived insults to national sovereignty.  Of course the PRC government could stop the whole problem in seconds by announcing that China would remove its oil rig from the disputed waters off Vietnam, but...
  • Hong Kong's Financial Secretary announces that in the face of the LegCo budget filibuster, he will withdraw funding from the Hospital Authority and higher education - presumably so the money can be spent on more important social needs, like the White Elephant Bridge to Macau or the inflated salaries of overpaid but underskilled government ministers.
  • He also announces that he will not talk with the radical legislators leading the filibuster because he is opposed to their demands.   Isn't that why they need to talk?  If they already agreed on everything, they would have no need to discuss their differences in the hope of reaching a compromise.
  • By the way, who was the marionette-like figure lurking behind John Tsang's right shoulder and nodding sympathetically on cue at the FS's words of supposed wisdom?
  • The government announces that it will not include demands for civic nomination in the next round of consultation on the 2017 CE elections, thereby making it clear that the first round - the results of which have not even been released yet - was a meaningless exercise which will, as we feared, be ignored in favour of whatever the government has been told to do already by its puppet-masters in Beijing.  They could at least be smart enough to pretend to be listening to the people, but that would require some degree of intelligence.
  • To add insult to insult, Carrie Lam asks those planning to vote in Occupy Central's coming referendum to "consider whether it provides them with a genuine choice".  Er, would that be by comparison with the fake choices offered by the government, or what? If no genuinely democratic candidate is permitted to run in 2017, I suggest a write-in vote for Mr. Bean - we certainly need a leader with more substance than the present crowd.
  • The Consumer Council warns that energy drinks contain high levels of sugar and caffeine.  Hello?  Isn't that why people drink them?
"You couldn't make this stuff up" may be a cliché, but no other response seems appropriate to the farce that passes for news in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

All languages are equal, but some are more equal than others

Transcript of part of last night's ATV News (starting at 7:46 on the YouTube video):

ATV News:
The Law Society unveiled its proposals for democratic reform today, but we won't be reporting it [sic] because of the attitude on display during the press conference. Instead, we want to make a point here, and show you how increasingly difficult it is these days for English news gathering in Hong Kong, our so-called world city.

ATV reporter at the press conference: What's the Law Society's opinion on the 'love your country, love Hong Kong' requirement for the CE candidates?

Law Society President Ambrose Lam: I already explained it in Cantonese, sorry about that.

ATV: Yeah, we would like it in English please.

Lam: Sorry?

ATV: We would like it in English please.

Lam: I already provide[d] the answer.  Thank you.  [Pause]  You can translate into English.

The above gives the words, but you need to watch the video to observe the coldly dismissive tone in which they were delivered. What I wonder here is, if a CCTV reporter had asked for the answer in Putonghua, would Lam have told them he already gave it in Cantonese, or rushed to oblige?  Is it only the speakers of Hong Kong''s second official language that he shows contempt for?  Or ATV, perhaps?

In case you're wondering what he did say in Cantonese, the SCM Post reports:
Yesterday, Lam admitted the notion of "love the country, love Hong Kong" - cited by Beijing as a criterion for chief executive - was "literally absent" from the constitutional text and there was no clear mechanism to judge patriotism. "It is arguable whether patriotism constitutes a reasonable restriction on candidacy," Lam said. "But it is difficult to judge who complies with the notion. What is the mechanism to determine if an individual loves the country and Hong Kong?"

Monday, May 05, 2014

Stairway to Predictability

It seems that the South China Morning Post is not the only publication asking its readers silly questions.  This month's Mojo music magazine is asking its readers:
Vote For The Greatest Led Zeppelin Track Of All Time! What are the rock behemoth’s most awesome songs?
To which I would add my own question: is there any chance at all that anything other than Stairway to Heaven will come out on top?  I think we all know what Eliza Doolittle would reply.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Conspiracy of Amateurs

Telephone conversation, November 2013:
  • Transport Secretary: It says here that the high speed rail project may be delayed by 2 years - shouldn't I inform LegCo?
  • MTR Chairman: No worries, we can catch up.
  • Transport Secretary: Oh, that's all right then.

Telephone conversation, April 2014:
  • Someone in the MTR: I'm afraid the high speed rail project will definitely be delayed by 2 years.
  • Transport Secretary: Oh my God, what a surprise!  How could this happen?  Why didn't someone tell me earlier?  I'd better inform LegCo.
Telephone conversation, April 2014:
  • Transport Secretary: Would you be willing to chair the independent inquiry into the high speed rail project delay?
  • Professor Lee: Sure, no problem.

Telephone conversation, two hours later:
  • Professor Lee: By the way, will it be any problem that I'm on the board of one of the project's main contractors?
  • Transport Secretary: [Expletive deleted]
Until we get genuine democracy, if ever, there's very little we can do about the fact that our government's principal government officials are mostly a bunch of Beijing bootlickers.  But do they also have to be a gaggle of incompetent amateurs who've apparently never heard of due diligence?

Friday, May 02, 2014

Last Chance to Have Your Say!

For what it's worth, the following is my submission to the government consultation on methods for selecting the next CE.  The closing date for submissions is tomnorrow, so it's not too late to express your views if you haven't done so already.  Whether they will be listened to is of course another matter entirely...

Submission to the Public Consultation on Methods for Selecting the Chief Executive in 2017
and for Forming the Legislative Council in 2016

I have hesitated before submitting this, because I feel that the wording of the Consultation Document and the government’s public statements on constitutional reform have already precluded many of the possible avenues to achieving genuine democracy.  Furthermore, local media reports suggest that certain companies with links to the Central People’s Government (“CPG”) have been putting pressure on their employees to submit pre-drafted submissions, thereby distorting the perceived weight of opinion in support of certain positions.

Nevertheless, as a permanent resident of Hong Kong I feel it is important that the voices of citizens be heard in shaping the SAR’s constitutional development.

Public Expectations and the Objective of Universal Suffrage
Given that the Justice Secretary has criticized some recent constitutional reform proposals for not defining their terms clearly, it is odd that such key terms as “universal suffrage” and “democratic” are not defined in the Consultation Document.  Based on general international usage, however, we can define universal suffrage as a system in which each citizen has a fair and equal vote.

Beyond this, however, universal suffrage is not an end in itself – it is a mechanism for exercising choice.  The legitimate expectation of the Hong Kong people is that the election of the Chief Executive (“CE”) through universal suffrage will be democratic, meaning that it will offer them a genuine free choice of a reasonable number of candidates representing the major streams of political opinion in the SAR – including those which the CPG may view less favourably.

Any system which fails to provide this, however closely it complies with the law, will not be seen as satisfying the spirit of universal suffrage or representing the legitimate democratic aspirations of the community.  It runs the risk that the future CE will be viewed – both at home and by overseas observers – as lacking a legitimate mandate.  It could also lead to an election boycott by disappointed voters, further weakening the legitimacy of any future CE.

The Legal Framework
As the Consultation Document sets out at length, the CE will be elected in accordance with Article 45 of the Basic Law, which provides that a “broadly representative nominating committee” be formed to nominate candidates for election.

The Basic Law does not specify how many candidates shall be put forward, but the wording “a certain number” clearly implies more than one.  While the Consultation Document makes much of Article 45, it is curiously silent on Article 26, which provides that “Permanent residents of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall have the right to vote and the right to stand for election in accordance with law”.  While there clearly has to be a practical limit on the number of election candidates, this clause suggests that the spirit of elections under the Basic Law is to open up competition to a broad cross-section of candidates, with no exclusion of any candidate able to command significant public support.

“Love China, Love Hong Kong”
Much has been said suggesting that CE candidates must “love the country and love Hong Kong”.  It is important to note that this is nowhere specified in the Basic Law as a prerequisite for election.  While this phrase may reflect the aspirations of the CPG, as the Bar Association’s submission to this consultation has rightly pointed out, it is “highly questionable as a matter of law”.  Indeed it is hard to see how such love could be measured or verified.

It is extremely unlikely that the Hong Kong electorate would vote for a candidate they did not perceive as loving Hong Kong.  As for loving the country, there may be different perceptions at work.  It is generally recognised that the CPG tends to define “patriotism” in terms of loyalty to the Communist Party of China and the communist system.  However, the concept of “One Country Two Systems” which is enshrined in the Basic Law implicitly recognizes that Hong Kong people may, while being loyal to China, take a different view.

As the Consultation Document points out, the CE “represents Hong Kong” and “is accountable to the CPG”.  The hope of Hong Kong people is that, while cooperating with the CPG, their CE would nevertheless be willing to strongly represent their needs and concerns to the CPG, particularly where these may conflict with the interests of the mainland – rather than merely acting as a conduit to convey the wishes of the CPG to the Hong Kong people.  Such two-way communication should not be misinterpreted as a failure to “love China”, and the CPG should be willing to recognize it as a legitimate desire on the part of Hong Kong people within the “Two Systems” framework.

The Representativeness of the Nominating Committee (“NC”)
The Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (“NPCSC”) in December 2007 states that “The nominating committee may be formed with reference to the current provisions regarding the Election Committee in Annex I to the Hong Kong Basic Law”.  It has been suggested by some that this means the NC must closely mirror the structure of the Election Committee.  The difficulty with this suggestion is that the Election Committee is widely recognized as grossly unrepresentative of the community as a whole, being heavily skewed towards selected sectors in its composition.  Adopting this interpretation would therefore make it impossible to meet the requirement of the Basic Law that the NC be “broadly representative”.

Such a contradiction would almost inevitably lead to an application for a judicial review on the grounds that any system introduced on this basis fails to meet the representativeness requirement of the Basic Law.  This would be divisive and damaging to public acceptance of the election framework.  We must therefore agree with the Bar Association’s view that the NPCSC decision cannot be so strictly interpreted.

A Matter of Trust
Rather than analysing the various election procedures in great detail, I believe it is more valuable at this stage to elucidate the underlying situation.  Clearly much of the disagreement over the CE election approach stems from a lack of trust on both sides:

  •  A large proportion of the Hong Kong public (commonly described as the “pan-democratic camp”) lacks confidence that the electorate will be offered a genuine choice, and fears the “screening out” of candidates seen as undesirable by the CPG, even though they may enjoy broad public support.  Consequently they seek to circumvent the feared unrepresentativeness of the NC by calls for civic or public nomination or other methods of giving the wider public a say in the nomination process.  Some even threaten civil disobedience if an undemocratic system is foisted on the Hong Kong people.·         
  • Meanwhile, the CPG and its local allies (commonly referred to as the “pro-establishment camp”) fear that a CE candidate may be elected whom they regard as “unpatriotic” and confrontational to the CPG – a situation they have even characterized as a risk to national security.  Consequently they propose systems which will tend to, as one DAB official admitted recently, “increase the predictability of the election result” (in other words, ensure that the CPG’s favoured candidate wins) – clearly not in the spirit of democracy.

I firmly believe that the fears of the CPG in this regard are unfounded.  As I have said, the Hong Kong public wants a CE who will represent their interests, but they are also well aware that the elected candidate will need to work closely with the CPG.  I am absolutely confident that they will use their votes wisely with this in mind.  Consequently there is virtually no chance that one of what many consider the “radical fringe” would ever stand a serious chance of being elected as CE – and in this extremely unlikely event, the CPG would still have the final safeguard of being able to refuse to confirm him or her in the post.

Given this, any attempt to unduly restrict the electorate’s choice of CE can only result in greater public distrust of the CPG and worsen the already tense political situation in Hong Kong, as well as the relationship between the SAR and the mainland.

Legislative Council
The main focus of the Consultation Document is on the CE election, but since it mentions the Legislative Council election, I will touch briefly on this.  It is obvious to all reasonable people that the Functional Constituency system gives disproportionate power and influence to a few small sectors of the community.  It is therefore essential that any long-term plan for democratic development must phase out the Functional Constituencies.  However, there are various alternative election systems, and a separate, more detailed, public consultation on these should be held as soon as possible.

In this submission, I have deliberately focused on matters of general principle rather than the minutiae of nomination procedures.  What is important is not the small details, but that the CE election system should conform to certain fundamental principles:

  • The nominating committee should be genuinely “broadly representative” of the community.
  • The nomination procedure should take note of public preferences and should not arbitrarily exclude any potential candidate who enjoys substantial public support.
  • Extraneous and unverifiable criteria such as “loving the country” should not be applied.
  • The nomination system selected should ensure that the public can enjoy a genuinely free choice between a reasonable number of candidates representing an array of political viewpoints, including those the CPG may regard less favourably.
  • The CPG should refrain from attempting to influence the result, and should trust the wisdom of the Hong Kong people.  It should not confuse passionate advocacy of Hong Kong’s interests with antipathy to the country as a whole.

Conformance with these principles will, I believe, lead to the election of a Chief Executive who enjoys broad public support, is generally recognised as having a legitimate mandate, and is able to work effectively with the CPG.  It will also ensure that China is seen internationally as fulfilling its promises to the Hong Kong people, thereby enhancing the country’s reputation.