Tag Archives: SAR

Justin Bieber in Hong Kong? Nope it’s a tubby Tory in a suit.

21 Mar

Hong Kong colonial flagI was in Beijing last week (gratuitous photo-porn post coming soon) and had the strangest experience. Everyone was actually pretty friendly. I mean, not bend-over-backwards have-a-nice-day friendly but, you know, civil. I was not shouted at, hockled on or barged out of a queue. It was a thoroughly relaxing weekend.

All of which made me think how parochial and moany Hong Kongers can be, especially on the thorny issue of mainland tourist “locusts”. I’m not saying the big city types of Beijing are representative of the entire Middle Kingdom, certainly they’re not of the tourists who swarm the streets of Tsim Tsa Chui. But Hong Kong’s NIMBY shrillness is increasingly getting on my wick.

Or at least it was, until a couple of days ago when this little rocky outcrop of 7 million people outdid itself. The occasion? Last British governor of the former colony and current BBC Trust boss Chris Patten was in town to open an exhibition at the Maritime Museum. Now we all know colonial era Hong Kong flags are increasingly being waved about by protesters a) to get on the nerves of the Communist Party b) to protest against what many see as an erosion of civil liberties, press freedom and rule of law here and c) because the Union flag is, quite frankly, a design classic. But the bizarre scenes which greeted Patten’s appearance outside the museum last night took the colonial love-in to a whole new level.

I’m pretty sure portly Patten has never received quite so rapturous a reception. He didn’t really know what to do with himself as God Save the Queen started blaring from a nearby loudspeaker and fans holding banners such as “Dear Governor Patten, we miss you so much” and shouting “we love you” jostled to get a view of the tubby Tory. Some had even waited over 3 hours to catch a glimpse of their silver haired hero, who by now presumably thinks he’s some kind of grey-suited rock star.

The irony, of course, as we’ve mentioned many times on the Noodle, is that Britain never made much of an effort while it was in charge here to transition to a system of government democratically elected by universal suffrage. On the other hand, what it did manage was to uphold those precious civil liberties pretty well. Following the recent knife attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau, two execs from the soon-to-be-launched Hong Kong Morning News were attacked in broad daylight this week by four men armed with iron bars. Hong Kong is an increasingly dangerous place to be a newspaperman.

The saddest sight during the Patten-love in for a definite article pedant like me, however, was one of the banners held up by his adoring fans. “Save us from the hell!” it read. Hmmm. I imagine another might have added: “Look what’s happened since you left us Chris. All our grammar are wrong now!”

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.

Hong Kong’s press freedom knifed in the back

27 Feb

It’s a rather sombre Noodle entry this week after the shocking news that former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to is in critical condition after being attacked near his home by a knife wielding motorcycle “hitman”.

For those not familiar, Lau was recently removed from his role as chief editor of the independent Chinese language daily and replaced by a pro-Beijinger in a move widely seen as yet another attempt to muzzle Hong Kong’s press freedom.

Just last weekend 6,000 protestors gathered in the wake of Lau’s demotion and a growing sense that Beijing is increasingly interfering in their SAR’s affairs in a way which is undermining the “one country, two systems” ideal HK was founded on post-97.

Ming Pao has apparently put up a HK$1m reward for info leading to the arrest of Lau’s attackers, who struck around 10.30am on Wednesday as he was walking from a breakfast eatery in Sai Wan Ho Street, Shau Kei Wan.

The 49-year-old was apparently slashed three times by the motorbike passenger, once on each leg and another cut exposing his chest cavity and lungs.

Police “sources” told the SCMP “it was a classic Triad hit”, intended to “warn him”, and presumably any other outspoken journalists in Hong Kong.

So is it really a Triad hit? And in that case, are the Triads now carrying out the will of the Communist Party?

Getting local gangsters to do their dirty work would certainly enable a canny bit of plausible deniability on the part of the latter. Just as it manages to keep arms length from any cyber incursions on foreign targets, so using the HK underworld as a proxy would keep Xi and co’s hands nice and clean, whilst scaring the crap out of outspoken local editors (if there are any left).

It’s not a given though. The criminal underground gangs of Hong Kong have historically been fiercely pro-China (ie anti-British/Russian/American etc) but not necessarily pro CPC. Is it simply that, like most local businessmen, Triad leaders don’t want to see the press rile their Beijing-allied business interests?

Or is this all just a massive bit of misdirection? A third party using the MO of the Triads to confuse the cops….

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club had the following statement:

The Club reiterates its view that the growing number of attacks against members of the press in Hong Kong needs to be taken seriously by the local administration. Hong Kong’s reputation as a free and international city will suffer if such crimes go unsolved and unpunished.

No shit. There were 18 attacks on HK hacks in 2012, compared with one or two assaults in previous years, according to the HK Journalists’ Association. It’s still low compared to some repressive regimes, but then, Hong Kong is nominally a rule of law kinda place.

Either way there’s about as much chance of the perp being caught as charismatic CY Leung hosting his own prime-time BBC1 chat show. No-one really wants them caught, despite the tough words of the SAR government. Imagine the face-loss involved in HK and Beijing if they were? The police are clueless and incapable, even if they wanted to. Whoever did it probably slipped over the border many hours ago.

So where does that leave Hong Kong and its rapidly diminishing press freedom? Well, it’ll certainly be a few more positions down on RWB’s Press Freedom Index this time next year, that’s for sure.

I said last week that self censorship was the most insidious type of censorship because it’s virtually impossible for the public to find out how or why a story has been altered or spiked to suit the political leanings of its editors. Well, with the added incentive of “not getting knifed”, I’m pretty sure from now on there’ll be more journalistic punch-pulling going on in Hong Kong.

The brilliant thing about creating a climate of fear is that you only have to sanction something like this once and human nature will do the rest.

Hacked off in Hong Kong: the slow painful death of a free press

14 Feb

hackDo you hear that? That’s the sound of 1,000 Old Etonians shouting “I told you so!!” at the top of their over-privileged lungs. Why? Because of what’s happening to Hong Kong’s much cherished press freedom.

This week two reports were published and the verdict was in – this former colony can no longer be said to have a free press. There were always suspicions and concerns that Beijing would come to influence the media here post-97, but it only influences in the way that George Best drove under the ‘influence’ of alcohol – let’s be honest, it’s pretty much rolled up the white flag.

The first report, Reporters Without Borders’ annual Press Freedom Index, now puts Hong Kong in 61st out of 180, three points down from last year, below those democratic bulwarks of Burkina Faso, Moldova and Chile. To put this in perspective Hong Kong was 34th in 2010 and 18th in 2002. So what went wrong?

It’s certainly not the fault of the hacks. Well, not most of them. Many still maintain the proud tradition of holding the authorities to account and speaking the truth – which was to be fair  a hangover of the colonial days – or at least they try. Local radio host Li Wei-Ling, who has been described as “critical” of the local SAR government, was sacked this week after nine years in her role in what she claims was a deliberate attempt to muzzle her.

No, the problem lies with vested interests. Reporters Without Borders had this to say:

The Chinese Communist Party’s growing subjugation of the Hong Kong executive and its pressure on the Hong Kong media through its “Liaison Office” is increasingly compromising media pluralism there.

The problem is that Hong Kong media is owned now almost entirely by businessmen with vested interests in China. In fact, more than 50 per cent have been given seats on major political assemblies, the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Add this to the fact no-one wants to piss off the big bucks advertisers from the mainland and you’ve got a recipe for a fourth estate not fit for purpose.

It’s not that the media is always Beijing’s lapdog – the SCMP today reported, for example, that the Town Planning Board is about to give the Chinese PLA a piece of prime harbour front land on which to build a “military berth”. However, the issue is that as readers we don’t know how much self-censorship goes on. This is the most insidious form of censorship, not like the blatant stuff that goes on the mainland, where this week the Ministry of Truth issued an order for all websites to censor the Reporters Without Borders story. This Register headline neatly sums up the irony: the censors effectively censoring a report about censorship.

Another scathing report out this week, from the Committee to Protect Journalists, quotes award-winning former SCMP hack Paul Mooney on the issue of self-censorship.

“The problem is that people on the outside can’t tell what’s being censored on the inside. What outsiders can’t see is what is being ignored, spiked or rewritten in order to play down critical stories,” he said.

The CPJ continues:

Mooney built his career on investigative and human rights reporting but during the last nine months of his employment, he had only two news stories in the newspaper, and one of them was about pandas. “I don’t believe the China editors rejected all my story ideas. I think [Wang] Xiangwei told them not to take anything from me,” he said. 

Wang Xiangwei, for the record, was the SCMP’s new editor at the time, the first mainlander to be put in charge of the venerable old rag in its history, in itself an ominous statement of intent.

Hong Kong’s press freedom is enshrined under the Basic Law, the mini-constitution drawn up as part of the UK handover deal. However, it very soon won’t be worth the paper it’s written on, and thousands more former colonisers will have the self-satisfaction to know that it was they, not the current shambles, who were in charge during Hong Kong’s true glory days.

Andrea Yu: flack, hack, discuss

16 Nov

andrea yu hodgkinsonI was at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club’s 30 anniversary on Ice House Street last week. Now I do like to complain about the patchy Wi-Fi, the braying, ruddy-faced “it’s all gone downhill since ‘97” members and the lack of pork scratchings at the bar, but it’s actually pretty bloody good. Not only can you get sozzled for around a tenner – no easy feat in Hong Kong – but to be surrounded by faded images and clippings from some of the defining moments of the 20th century is pretty awe-inspiring for a hack. From the savage conflicts in Vietnam and Korean, to Nixon toasting Zhou Enlai and Mao and Chiang Kai-Shek celebrating after the Japanese surrender, the reportage scattered all over the walls of this venerable old building tell of brave journalistic deeds.

This long pre-amble is to put into context the rather depressing PR efforts of the Communist Party and the plight of one particular ‘journalist’ at the centre of the only interesting thing to happen during the Party Congress this week – Andrea ‘Yu’.

Now, Yu sprung to fame by virtue of being one of the few foreign journalists during the endless Congress press conferences to be picked by officials to ask questions. In uber-paranoid China, only hacks from the state-run press are usually called upon, because the Party would rather not open the floor to those who might asking challenging questions. However, it turns out Yu, much to the chagrin of other laowai journos at the event, was picked on four separate occasions to ask questions. Hmmm.

In her defence she told WSJ that she was chosen so frequently by virtue of sitting in the same spot at every press conference and by making direct eye contact with the moderator. Really? It’s that simple? Oh, no, there’s one other, minor reason why she kept on getting picked: her employer, Australia-based Global CAMG Media International, is actually majority owned by Chinese state-owned media, and her Chinese colleagues wrote all her questions down for her.

Thus, we were treated to gloriously incisive questions such as: “Please tell us what plans and policies the Chinese government will be implementing in co-operation with Australia.” Or how about the challenging: “After the 18th Party Congress, what policies and measures will there be to support overseas Chinese media to publicise and promote Chinese culture, to propel Australian-Chinese cultural exchanges to the next level?” Brilliant. Worthy of Paxman, that one.

If you want to hear the hapless Yu explain herself, prepare to cringe at the following interview with a real Ozzie hack.

I was undecided whether Yu was simply a naïve young hack who did her best – in fluent Mandarin and English, no less – at an intimidating event and with employers who expected a certain line of enquiry from her. And then I found out from Beijing Cream that her real name is actually Andrea Hodgkinson. How do we know? Because she is referred to thus on the cover of a Chinese magazine where she appears in a rather lovely dress. CAMG apparently tweeted a picture of that magazine cover, and then hastily deleted said tweet. Something to hide guys?

You may ask, with the entire weight of its state media to ask soft questions, why did the Party effectively get a foreigner on board to do exactly the same? Well, it’s all about cache, and seeing a white-face-round-eye serving up the kind of embarrassingly banal questions that make Charlotte Church look like David Dimbleby was all part of China’s ongoing attempts to legitimise its one party system and soften its image in the eyes of international onlookers. In its insulated, culturally homogenous cocoon the Party obviously believed it could get away with it – that no-one would notice or mind that it had hired an attractive young bilingual laowai to basically do its own PR.

At the FCC event last Friday, chief secretary of the Hong Kong government, Carrie Lam, spoke eloquently and passionately about the Club, about Hong Kong and about the importance the new administration attaches to press freedom. Seeing what happened across the border this week makes those words even more telling. If ‘Yu-gate’ was to be the first salvo in the new Party leadership’s soft power media efforts, then let’s hope this initiative at least has been well and truly raped in a ditch.

Beijing and Hong Kong – a week of storms

30 Jul

typhoonYou might have seen there’s been a spot of rain in China over the past week or so. I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say it was absolutely twatting it down. The most interesting thing about Bejing’s deadly floods and Hong Kong’s rather camp typhoon, however, is the damage each did and how the authorities handled the aftermath.

I’m not going to launch into another China-slagging post here because the facts pretty much speak for themselves. The ‘worst floods in six decades’ hit Beijing. Apartment ceilings caved in, inadequate sewers and drainage systems collapsed, 70+ people died. How can 70 people die in 6.7 inches of rain? Well, that’s what millions of angry social media users wanted to know, and let their anger at local government be known via the usual weibo channels. Until the posts began, sadly and predictably, to be deleted. Almost a year to the day after the deadly high speed train crash which sparked a weibo backlash over government incompetence, the authorities’ response is still to censor first, think later.

In what seemed like an unusually speedy response to public opinion, Beijing’s major and deputy resigned. However, read between the lines, and Communist Party politics, and the deadly floods were more likely being used to justify a decision which had already taken place in a closed door Party meeting. many moons previously. No-body’s sure exactly why they went so quickly, they just know that it wasn’t an honourable mea culpa.

Cut to Hong Kong a few days later. I looked out of my window at 3pm and saw sideways rain. At about 5pm office workers were told to go home as typhoon Vicente was coming to play, and a no. 8 signal hoisted. Later that night, as the wind grew, a no. 10 signal was raised, forewarning 100mph winds, a near direct hit and the worst storm since ’99. So what happened? Death and destruction? Organisational chaos and government turmoil? Nope. A bit of flooding. About 100 injuries from flying debris. Delayed trains. All was back to normal by about midday the next day.

Oh yeah, and we were all allowed to tweet and weibo about it. Not that there were many complaints – a few people got stranded on MTRs, but nothing too extreme.

Now I know it’s not really fair to compare the two extreme weather conditions, or the two cities. And I know that it’s perhaps unfair to judge Beijing’s local government based on this incident, given they endured a spectacular drenching for a city normally more used to sandstorms and smog. But I’m gonna anyway. Beijing’s big play at the 2008 Olympics was “I’m here, I’m queer”…no, hang on.  It was more: “I’m a modern, global capital. I have the money, the infrastructure and the balls to shake things up around here. Gaze on me with envy London, New York, Berlin. I’m the shit. Yeah.”

Except it was bluffing. As with China as a whole, it grew at such a pace of knots that a lot of the important stuff was forgotten: human rights, environmental protection, the rule of law … proper drainage. We can sit back all smug in the West, and especially in London, as it hosts this year’s Olympics. We’ve had our industrial revolution. Hong Kong too has come through its steep learning curve and thanks to international finance, British know-how and Chinese industry is now one of the best places to live in the world.

The Chinese govt will surely throw billions at Beijing in response to what happened last week, but whether on purpose or not, vital stuff will still get missed off that list.

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…