Bye bye Snowden, hello more terrible HK news

25 Jun

save snowdenSo that’s it. Panic over. Move along please. Nothing to see here. Prism snitch Edward Snowden has finally left the building. Currently en route to that bastion of free speech Ecuador, or possibly Venezuela, via the equally liberal Russia, he’s off to live out what’s left of his life. Let’s just hope he makes a better crack of it (pun intended) than John McAfee, founder of the eponymous AV software vendor, whose bizarre video set various alarm bells ringing last week. What’s that John? They’re not alarm bells, they’re police sirens? Really? OK, I’m going to suggest you ease off a bit on the meth this week, ok pal?

Snowden’s revelations have of course been a propaganda coup for China – a gift straight out of the blue that now makes the US look hugely hypocritical when it accuses Beijing of sponsoring hacking intrusions on US targets. The truth is that the NSA revelations, while deeply concerning on one level (the Verizon orders, not PRISM), are definitely not the same as the state sponsored Chinese cyber attacks which Obama and co are angry about.

Rather than snooping for traditional Cold War national security reasons, these attacks are about nicking hugely valuable IP – on military equipment, smartphone designs, high-speed trains, you name it. In China it’s pretty impossible to separate state from private enterprise as the Party runs through it all, so anything which benefits SOEs or even private firms could be seen as benefitting Team China – thus such hacks are thought to be fair game. Sadly the media globally has been poor at articulating the difference, whereas in China, of course, it just ignores there is a difference.

One major problem resulting from Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong faces local journalists, however – what the fuck do we write about now? The media here may be free, at least theoretically, but it’s not what you’d call a great exponent of the art. There’s one all-encompassing narrative – when will we get universal suffrage? – and everything else is really just a sideshow.

Standard bearer the SCMP was quick to label EXCLUSIVE over every Snowden story it got its hands on but this tired old rag of a local paper has really seen better days. I know for a fact that PRs have had their editorial “suggestions” cut and pasted wholesale into stories – I mean not just sentences but whole paragraphs of text. Even the local TV newscasters stumble and stammer over their dreadfully dull soliloquies. Vested interests have an ever-tighter grip on the media here but, despite the odd public protest, the general downward trend is accepted because, after all, it’s still better than what goes on across the border.

And what of that news in China proper? Well, state-run news service Xinhua has scoured the vast Middle Kingdom for the most important news around and found this thriller – a Beijing woman’s breast implants exploded after she lay on her front for 4 straight hours playing video games. Yup.  Hold the front page…

Another story, actually from The Telegraph’s Beijing correspondent, is worth pointing out this week. In Zhongxiang city, livid parents attacked external exam invigilators after they used metal detectors to relieve students of smartphones and secret transmitters ahead of their gaokao exams, in a major crack down on cheating.

The college entrance exams have attained huge significance in a society where the acquisition of wealth and status is everything, raising the stakes ever higher for a place at a good uni. So far so normal, you might say, after all every parent wants their child to do well in exams and cheating certainly shouldn’t be tolerated. Ah, but in China cheating is endemic in every walk of life, you see, the key is to not getting caught. The fact is that the folks in Zhongxiang weren’t very good enough at it and now they’re paying the price. The previous year, for example, examiners discovered 99 identical papers in one subject.

“We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat,” screamed the angry mob of over 2,000 parents and kids.

I don’t think there could be any more perfect a commentary on modern China that that little vignette in a small corner of Hubei.

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