Tag Archives: democracy

You dirty Ho! HK lawmaker gives democracy a kick in the teeth

7 Mar

Those of you (both of you?) that regularly read this blog may detect a certain implicit distrust of the establishment and tendency to side with the underdog in many of my posts.

albert hoWell, in the interests of balance, I’ve decided to focus this week’s rant on former Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho, who decided to do something rather silly during last Wednesday’s budget speech.

Having resigned his chairmanship of one of the SAR’s numerous “pan-democrat” (ie anti-Beijing/establishment) parties following poor performance in the 2012 elections, Ho is now the secretary general of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.

More importantly, he’s the rather portly and well-tanned member of Legco who helped Edward Snowden escape to victory, or er, to Moscow, during the time the sysadmin was holed up here following his high profile dash from the evil US empire (ie Hawaii, where he lived in relative affluence with his pole dancing girlfriend).

62-year-old Ho, who’s an outspoken pro-democracy and universal suffrage advocate, was photographed in the chamber last week browsing through pictures of bikini-clad hotties on his tablet. All of this as finance minister John Tsang gave arguably one of the most important policy speeches of the year.

Now I’m all for lawmakers browsing the interwebs to buy gifts for their loved ones and I’m sure that all Ho was doing was looking for a nice swimsuit for his niece, or daughter, or … wife’s birthday? Or perhaps his secretary’s.

Anyway, you’ve got to play the game Albert. You can’t be on your iPad when you should be taking notes on an, albeit dreadfully dull 90 minute-long, important budget speech.

It’s what you were elected to do matey. Fannying around, almost literally, when you should be at work is the preserve not of elected politicians but those employed by social media and digital marketing companies.

Your campaigning for greater democratic accountability among Hong Kong’s leaders, including support for the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement which is pushing for true universal suffrage, has been rather undermined by the fact you couldn’t wait 90 minutes to look at some fanny.

What Ho should have been doing was taking apart Tsang and his “fiscal advisors” dire warnings that Hong Kong could face a structural deficit of HK$1.54 trillion (£115bn) by 2041, miring the place in Greek-style levels of debt.

Now Hong Kong is, I believe, the only country/state/call-it-what-you-will which actually runs a budget surplus. Yup a surplus. Every year it gravely predicts a deficit – the last fiscal year a HK$3.5bn one (£269m) – but each year lo and behold a surplus appears. This past fiscal year it was a whopping HK$64.9bn (£500m).

The reason? It makes the US seem positively generous with welfare and social spending. Yes the SAR is starting to increase spending on the poor and ageing but it’s still a pittance.

For years the government has relied on good old Confucianism to ensure families look after their elderly members and it still allows a fifth of its population, over one million people, to struggle below the poverty line – with tens of thousands ‘living’ in cage homes little bigger than a coffin.

So should we believe the dire financial warnings from the government? Nope, I smell vested interests trying to scare the populous and justify continually, shockingly, low welfare spending.

I’d love to think the pan-democrats could effect some serious change in this regard, so come on guys, do it for the Noodle. It’s my way or the Ho-way.

Southern Weekly saga: porridge, censorship and hacked off hacks in Xi’s China

10 Jan

chinaflagIt’s been a rather depressing, or optimistic, week in China depending on how you view the Party’s latest not-so-subtle attempts to strangle free speech and the unusually vocal reaction to it.

It all began when propaganda chief of the southern Guandong province, Tuo Zhen, decided he didn’t like an already edited-for-his-pleasure New Year’s message in the liberal-leaning Southern Weekly and decided to re-write it, removing the bits calling for reform and adding his own anodyne intro.

Considering China’s hacks already conform to imposing censorship requirements, the editorial team got rather peeved at this blatant hatchet job and went on strike.

Messages of support from scholars, students – and maybe more importantly, bloggers and celebs with tens of millions of followers on weibo – followed as the stand-off between the hacks and the Party-influenced paper management continued.

An editorial in state-run rag Global Times playing down the dispute was ordered by the Party to be published in papers across the country, forcing the principled Dai Zigeng, editor-in-chief of the Beijing News, to resign after he refused to do so.

Undeterred, the BJ Daily, as it’s called by no-one, ran a fascinating article about porridge in defiance of the Party. Yes. Porridge. Read CMP here for the reason why porridge is now politically dissident (hint: It involves homophones and metaphors).

All of this can be set against the backdrop of incoming Party and national leader Xi Jinping’s crusade for reform and transparency. Xi has made it his mission to root out corruption in the Party and sent some pretty strong signals so far that this isn’t just an attempt to cement his popularity and power base.

So is this a particularly sad day for freedom of speech in China’s admittedly pretty sad history? It depends what you believe is going on here.

To take the pessimistic view one could see the message coming loud and clear from the new administration that no relaxing of the country’s tough censorship laws will be allowed, despite initial hope that the country’s new leaders would be a tad more liberal.

A leaked directive sent to all editors from the Propaganda Department would seem to confirm this depressing take on things, blaming as it did the usual mythical “external hostile forces” for the development of the Southern Weekly situation and stating unequivocally: “Party control of the media is an unwavering basic principle”.

Coming from another angle, however, there are signs of encouragement.

One couldn’t expect Xi to stamp his personal mark too quickly on the presidency and the Party, in fact, he’s not even sworn in as pres until March and Party-wise the incoming leader is usually hidebound for many months and even years before they can really take control.

This whole affair could rather be seen, as Beijing-based scholar Russell Leigh Moses argues, as the result of heavy-handed actions – perhaps even designed to deliberately disrupt Xi’s reformist push – of the old guard of the Party.

In addition, pro-democracy protesters were allowed to gather freely outside the Southern Weeklybuildings – although police took pictures of many in that rather sinister “we’ll be in touch later” way police sometimes do – for several days.

And in defiance of the Party, hugely popular internet portals such as that run by Sina published theGlobal Times editorial with the crucial caveat that it did not represent their views. Acrostics in unrelated headlines were also used ingeniously to spell out messages of support for Southern Weekly.

In short, I’ve absolutely no idea what’s going on in China, as usual, but there are signs, albeit hugely caveated ones, that some things may be changing across the border.

It’s erection time in Hong Kong – get your poll face on

8 Sep

If you’ve tutted yourself to sleep over the past few days bemoaning the woeful state of British politics, and then woken up again screaming at the thought of failed bell-ringer Jeremy Hunt in charge of the life or death of the NHS, spare a thought for Hong Kong.

It’s erection, sorry, election time here and the streets are filled with sinister looking people smiling, waving, handing out leaflets and leaning out of curb-crawling cars bawling into loudspeakers. They could be politicians but they look more like members of a particularly unforgiving cult.

Now, Hong Kongers are particularly passionate about their democractic voting rights – well you would be after having basically been denied them under colonial rule and with the one-party shadow of the motherland China casting an imposing darkness over all. People turn out here in embarrassingly large numbers, putting established democracies like good old Blighty to their eternal shame, although the problem is the elections aren’t really democractic.

The boss of HK, CEO CY Leung, for example, wasn’t directly elected by the people but chosen by a mainly pro-Beijing bunch of businessmen selected for the job. Then there are this week’s elections for legislative councillors. The LegCo, as the ‘parliament’ is known, has been expanded from 60 to 70 seats but only half are directly elected, the rest being divided into functional constituencies representing various professional sectors. Not everyone gets to vote for the latter, with professional bodies granted block votes which kind of distort any sort of democratic accountability said seats would have. Also, the voting system is quite frankly baffling and no amount of even more confusing TV ads mouthed in cheery voices – which have been running almost non-stop in the past fortnight – will change that.

Anti-Beijing sentiment has been rising in Hong Kong, and if enough pro-democracy legislators are elected on Sunday then universal suffrage could be introduced as slated in 2017 – if not then pro-China parties could block such a decision. If there’s one thing the folks here don’t like, it’s being told what to do, even if it’s for the greater good of a unified Han empire.

That anti-Beijing sentiment has bubbled up most recently in the form of protests at the planned introduction of national education classes in schools. It has been on the cards for years, but that shit is only now getting real, with the fear that, if introduced, these “patriotism classes” will indoctrinate young’uns in the ways of the Dark Side, sorry, teach them to love communist China and all it stands for. Several people are already on hunger strike…it’s all getting rather tense. Although schools ultimately have the final say on what they teach, no-one knows how rigorously these ‘suggested’ guidelines will actually be implemented. One school has even forbidden parents from seeing the curriculum, which doesn’t inspire much confidence.

These people aren’t paranoid, well they might be a little, but as the old saying goes: “Just cos you’re paranoid don’t mean China’s not watching you.” The insidious pro-Beijing bias is seen no-where more blatantly than in this TV news piece, on Hong Kong TV mind you, which rather obtusely tries to lay the blame of the national education protesters on foreign interference. Crazy.

Hong Kong turns 15, hacks revolt

3 Jul

Hong Kong colonial flagHong Kong. It’s easy to forget sometimes staring goggle-eyed at the splendorous neon-skyscrapered waterfront or ambling through the whore-infested byways of Wan Chai that this is part of China.

The special administrative region (SAR) turned 15 on Sunday. Well, its new life as an autonomous part of the People’s Republic turned 15 – and like all teenagers it’s getting increasingly riled with its parents.

As new CEO CY Leung was sworn in by Chinese president Hu Jintao hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest the appointment of their new leader – done far away from the troubling spotlight of democratic elections – whom they view as an agent of Beijing, despite his claims to the contrary.

Several protestors even carried proudly aloft the old colonial Hong Kong flag – a symbol of “all we have lost”, they said – while another was bundled into a police van after rudely heckling Hu’s speech.

Back in pre-’97 times democratic rights were similarly limited, but personal freedoms, human rights and the rule of law were more securely anchored. Many feel, rightly or wrongly, that Beijing has gradually chipped away at these things which Hong Kongers had come to take for granted.

One thing they could also be more sure of back then was a free press unfettered by direct or indirect pressure from Beijing.

Looking at some of the anodyne stories in the South China Morning Post these days – most notably the reporting of Chinese dissident Li Wangyang – it’s not hard to see why most Hong Kong dwellers now think the press is actively engaged in self-censorship.

The SCMP faced angry protestor at its gates and a petition signed by staff after it downplayed news of the suspicious death of Li a few weeks ago.

In addition, almost 90 per cent of HK journos think press freedom has “deteriorated significantly” under the outgoing administration, with the government accused of tightening its grip on information by restricting the number of events accessible to reporters and increasing off-the-record briefings.

President Hu did nothing to quell any such fears in his speech at Leung’s swearing in ceremony, as the China Media Project blog picked up:

[We must] adhere to and implement a fully accurate ‘one country two systems’ policy, acting in strict accord with [Hong Kong’s] Basic Law, combining the priorities of upholding ‘one country’ while respecting differences in the ‘two systems,’ preserving the authority of the central Party and ensuring a high-level of autonomy in the Special Administrative Region, preserving overall national interests and ensuring various interests within Hong Kong society, supporting Hong Kong in actively developing international exchanges and opposing interference in Hong Kong affairs by outside forces . . .

These ‘outside forces’, according to the Hong Kong Uni-based project, are journalists, web-based loud mouths and any others who say things in public that powerful people don’t like the sound of.

Stuff like this, then, probably.

I’ll get my coat…

June 4 – why they’ll never forget

9 Jun

victoria park candelight

(Pic: Associated Press)

There are some things in Hong Kong which, every so often, take your breath away. A clear day from the Peak, sunset over Wu Kai Sha, a dog wearing booties and sunglasses. Even for a cynical old bastard like me, last Monday’s June 4 memorial gathering in Victoria Park for the fallen of Tiananmen was pretty special.

It took us about 30 minutes to get the few hundred yards from Causeway Bay MTR to the park. The route was loud and boisterous, campaigners shook banners with angry zeal, rattled collection boxes and pressed pamphlets into our hands. I concentrated mainly on not having my sandaled feet stomped on in the crush and shielding my ears from the incessant barrage of the loud speakers.

By the time we got to the park, it was already full to bursting as dusk descended on another hot, sticky Hong Kong night, just as it had done 23 years previously. Then, of course, the troops had already entered Tiananmen Square, on the orders of leader Deng Xiaoping, who told them to clear the area of student democracy protestors at all costs. The army was told the students were trying to destroy China, and in a way they were, for the ideas they promoted could never co-exist with the Communist Party in its current form. The state-sanctioned killings continued well beyond the square, though, as dissidents all over the capital and the country were arrested and purged – maybe thousands in all.

All Hong Kongers could do was sit and watch on in horror, helpless. And the same is true today.

We didn’t understand much of what was being said, but words weren’t really necessary to explain the sea of 180,000 candles flickering defiantly under the full moon.  Names of the dead were read out; there were chants of, “June 4. Never Forget!”; and survivors of 1989 spoke in cracked voices – most notably wheelchair-bound Fang Zheng, whose legs were crushed by a PLA tank.

“Seeing this sea of light I’m so shocked, I don’t know what to say – anyway, saying anything is unnecessary – because your actions have already said everything,” he said.

“You haven’t forgotten what happened 23 years ago.”

We take democracy for granted in the West. Not even more than a third of Londoners could be bothered to turn out to directly elect their mayor a month ago. Here in Hong Kong, where we all live in such prosperity and comfort, where human rights are protected and we are free to come and go as we please, only half of the legislature is directly elected by the people and, crucially, the CEO is not. Democracy is still in its infancy here, and people are passionate about it.

That’s why Monday’s vigil was not just about remembering June 4 and those that died in trying to turn China into a better place; and not just about campaigning for the Party to loosen its censorship of the event and finally acknowledge what happened. It was more than that. It was about 100,000 ordinary people showing that once democracy has taken root it is impossible to supress. It’s not ideal, but what goes on across the border is far worse.