Showing posts with label Hong Kong. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hong Kong. Show all posts

Saturday, June 6, 2020

US and HK, a study of two protest movements

First posted in Asia Times.

Last summer when the peaceful protest in Hong Kong morphed into violence and protesters turned into rioters setting metro and police stations on fire, the U.S. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi gushed that it was a beautiful landscape, a fight for democracy and freedom.

Now the beautiful sight has been exported to America so that Ms. Pelosi can enjoy watching police precinct buildings set on fire closer to home. Of course, America is the home of democracy and freedom, so the looting and burning can’t be for that. 

And, the Republican Party will need to revise their campaign handbook and find a creative way to add race riots in American cities to the compilation of grievances to blame China.

"The riots in America are nothing like Hong Kong and comparing the two is bloody disgraceful.” Said Jimmy Lai in his Donald Trump inspired tweet. Indeed, he should know, since he was one of the leaders and prime movers of the protest movement in Hong Kong.

Perhaps in response to Mr. Lai’s observation, it would be timely and appropriate to compare the two protest movements while the images and disturbances are still relatively fresh and to find where if there were any commonalities and where the differences lie.

When the Hong Kong government attempted to rectify a missing part of its internal security by enacting an extradition regulation to prevent criminals from escaping justice by jumping jurisdiction, it became a cause for the protest. 

HK government withdraws, protesters advance

The protest began ostensibly peacefully. When the government agreed to review the statue, which they subsequently withdrew, the protestors rather than subsiding felt that they had gained the upper hand and turned violent to increasing their list of demands.

In America, a horrified nationwide audience watched as a burly white policeman in Minneapolis slowly squeezed the life out of George Floyd, a black man lying on the street with his neck under the pressing knee of the cop. Three other cops watched and became accessory to murder.

Spontaneous protests took place in America’s major cities under the banner of “Black Lives Matter” and the victim’s last words, “I can’t breathe” became a marching slogan. Looting and arson quickly ensued.

By and large, America’s finest upheld its duty to protect law and order with clubs, tear gas and rubber bullets. In three days of peaceful marches and not so peaceful riots, more were arrested than the total arrested in Hong Kong after more than three months of disturbances and mayhem. By the end of the week, thirteen people had been killed.

Members of the media in the U.S. cities covering the protests became deliberate targets of police harassment with tear gas and rubber bullets. One female photojournalist lost her left eye to a direct hit by a rubber bullet. She expressed being “thankful” that it was not her camera shooting eye, which would have been career ending.

In Hong Kong, the western media were free to roam, run interference for and select the protest scenes that met their needs to report on police brutality while ignoring the rioters and arsonists doing the destruction.

While looters in American cities were indiscriminate and included the random destruction of shops owned by ethnic minorities, the looters in Hong Kong were careful and selective and targeted stores with mainland owners. 

The rioters in Hong Kong seem to have been professionally trained. They know how to make Molotov cocktails to deadly effect and use the umbrella to fend off tear gas.

The rioters in Hong Kong were led by experienced advisors that knew how to create mass disturbances. The protests that led to riots in the U.S. were spontaneous and driven by rage.

Since Hong Kong was handed to China in 1997 and the formal name became Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, there was a strong undercurrent of discontent and agitation undergirded by a smug white superiority that presume that Hong Kong can only go downhill after becoming part of China.

To their chagrin, Hong Kong did not collapse but found economic synergy with the mainland by becoming a real property and service economy.  Thus, a movement began to undermine the Hong Kong story. 

When a young couple from Hong Kong visited Taiwan and the young man murdered his girlfriend and returned to Hong Kong free as a bird, that ironically became the seed to sow discontent.

Extradition to prevent cross border crime

To prevent future criminal acts, the Hong Kong SAR government responded to a popular petition for justice by proposing a carefully crafted, duly vetted, safeguard loaded extradition provision. The anti-government and anti-China faction saw the proposal as the opportunity to histrionically allege a threat to their freedom and an excuse to restart a movement calling for “democracy.”

The anti-government forces were helped by a Hong Kong government that has not been particularly effective or ruthless, by the residual influence of colonial mindsets in Hong Kong, and by the generous financial support from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.

The NED was spun off from U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to bring down governments that displease Washington. Having “democracy” in its organizational name was a cover for regime change. However, it’s by no means certain that NED would succeed in Hong Kong.

The roots of racial unrest in America go back centuries, not just decades as is the case with Hong Kong, derived as they were from the violent assertion of supremacy by whites over the blacks and all other ethnic minorities of color.

A long history of random lynching, Jim Crow and being brutalized for the slightest provocation were supposedly rectified by civil rights and hate crime laws enacted by Congress. Nevertheless, even today blacks continue to be much more likely to be arrested and killed by police. 

A NED like organization in America would not have helped. Police brutality against persons of color is deeply ingrained. The most recent incident in Minneapolis is just the latest of a long series of atrocities that Americans can expect. There is no need for outside agitators. 

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s current Chief Executive, like all her predecessors is not made of the stuff of “when looting starts, shooting starts.” Her failure to implement an extradition statute reflects the flaw in her leadership.

Hong Kong needed legal framework for national security

One of key missing elements of the Basic Law, in effect Hong Kong’s constitution, hammered out by Beijing and London was to deal with national security. In the end, both parties agreed to leave writing the provisions for national security to the SAR government. 

Henry Litton, a retired judge of the SAR Court of Final Appeal, described various attempts to write the laws subsequent to 1997 that were stymied by a series of circumstances and obstructions. Now, he observed that the disruption has reached the point where no laws can be passed in Hong Kong.

“In the meanwhile, internal security has worsened, with increasing evidence of terrorist activities aimed at bringing the HK police to its knees and overthrowing the government. The anti-government movement seems well-funded and this raises the question as to the source of funds,” he said.

Thus, it was by default that the draft of the national security laws was submitted to the National People’s Congress for enactment. As Greenville Cross, former Director of Public Prosecution for the SAR government, pointed out a full set of laws in place is needed to prosecute sedition and agitator for secession.

The negotiated handover in 1997 was to return Hong Kong as a rightful part of China. Nothing in the “one country, two systems,” implicitly or explicitly commits a right to autonomy or independence for the people of Hong Kong. State Secretary Mike Pompeo by withdrawing Hong Kong’s special status will facilitate enforcement of Hong Kong’s security and ejection of the likes of NED by the SAR government.

Hong Kong has been consistently ranked among the top three freest places in the world. The 2020 ranking by World Population Review places HK number 3 while UK came in no. 8 and the US no. 17. If Jimmy Lai and his fellow protesters in Hong Kong would rather enjoy the peace and quiet of London or Washington, they should be allowed, nay encouraged, to move there. 

Boris Johnson supposedly commit to welcoming 3 million Hong Kong people to live and work in the U.K. He can’t be serious. Johnson needs to find a way to give the depressed UK economy a real boost. Playing host to young professional protesters with no real employable skills would add to his problems. Those thinking of taking advantage of generous Boris, better read the fine print carefully before flying to the U.K.

At least Johnson can look back to the negotiations between Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping as a basis for his butting in. The United States has no such justification to claim a say on the future of Hong Kong. 

As of June 1, more than 50% of eligible voters in Hong Kong have signed the petition in support of the national security legislation. Anyone hoping to invite in the U.S. Marines to “liberate” Hong Kong is smoking a pipe dream and faces the reality that Hong Kong will no longer tolerate traitors or acts of treason.

Friday, November 22, 2019

An American's view of the Hong Kong protest

An American residing in Hong Kong wrote three letters, two to US Senators and one to CBS 60 minutes. His is a valuable point of view presenting a more balanced perspective on this tragic event.

🇱🇷 An American living in HK 🇭🇰🇨🇳submitted the below email to websites of US Senator Hawley, Senator Cruz and 60 minutes (for their biased piece
on the HK protests)

So well written. Must Read.
Senator Hawley

Your willingness to sacrifice an entire city, its way of life, its civility, the future of its youth, its freedoms unmatched anywhere else in the world, and its high degree of autonomy in a historically unique circumstance, is in my opinion a crime against humanity.

Your sole punitive objective of giving China a black eye, demonstrates not only a childish approach to the needs of the world, but also demonstrates a depravity of moral value, unbecoming of any religious institution whether Christian, Muslim, Judaism or Buddhism.

And you call yourself a Christian. Should I not be surprised that the most brutal inhuman treatment of other humans beings I have ever witnessed is being committed by your Christian-led organisation?

The world is NOT seeing the truth of HK. And you are only perpetuating that lie. It is seeing a facade of half truths created by one nation with the sole intent of undermining another nation hoping to curtail the continued emergence of that nation on the world stage. The world is seeing a singular view of HK events from the lenses of those who wish to destroy its parent, where the only possible outcome is to completely sacrifice the child.

I’m not going to excuse China’s past behaviour. But to choose HK as the sacrificial lamb for that reckoning is not only morally wrong, it is tactically and strategically wrong - if your objective is to bring China to its knees. You will not achieve your objective by bringing anarchy to HK.

You are choosing the ways of the past to solve problems of the future. HK may need change but don’t revert to a page in the history of China (the cultural revolution) to destroy a society and attempt to build a new one on its ashes when no one in the protest movement, nor their American benefactors, are presenting a better option to what was one of the freest societies on earth protected by one of the best, most restrained and least corrupt police forces on the planet.
Senator Cruz

If you don’t understand something don’t weigh in. Your incomplete view can destroy lives. Your being a sideline US enabler of violent protesters will have no positive outcome for the protesters you are supporting...or the city stuck in between your real target (China) and your country. So quit using HK and its students as a pawn in your clear objective to curtail what you fear - Chinese hegemony in the region. You are only perpetuating that outcome.

I am an American living in HK and for you to come to this city, claim you see no violence in your short limited time here, and give unquestioned support to those who are destroying this city is an affront to all intelligent law abiding peaceful people who live here.

These protesters you are supporting are violating and undermining all rules of law of this great city. They are clearing a path to anarchy. They are lynching innocent bystanders (who are in fact voicing their freedom of speech in the most basic ways), they are destroying anything and everything of a contrary view (and in the most violent way). They are destroying public property everyone in this city depends on. They are committing the most horrendous acts of violence against fellow human beings - Yet you support them.

You are an evangelical Christian but there is nothing Christian like in the protesters behavior. It is ironic isn’t it - that the most inhuman and brutal treatment of fellow human beings I have ever witnessed in my life comes at the hands of your Christian led movement. Shame on you Mr Cruz for perpetuating a lie - you see no violence!

There is nothing peaceful about these protests. There is nothing Christian about their murderous and destructive ways. There is nothing democratic about their wholesale rejection of anyone who speaks a contrary opinion or offers any solution different from theirs (and they don’t offer any solutions)

For you to claim you see no evidence of violence by the protesters you are supporting shows you are nothing but an unmitigated liar or a complete idiot. Such a statement from a foreign government official unmasks your true intentions.

I have seen a lot in my worldy travels but I have never seen a peaceful, law abiding free and open society descend into such chaos, over such a short period of time. Where mob justice underpinned by mob violence is the new law in the streets, where those you are supporting are demonstrating a complete lack of humanity to fellow human beings - and propagandising everything in their wake.

Perhaps you would like the same violence inflicted on your city? your transport system destroyed, the business in your neighbourhoods set to fire, your friends beaten to an inch of their lives, your young children brainwashed and becoming modern day red guards, only to lose their futures consumed by their hatred and violence which has no possible positive outcome? Then have representatives of foreign governments come to your city vocally supporting those who are destroying the city.

Your misguided sense of righteousness is going to lead to ruination for those you are supporting. And you will shoulder that blame, and those in this society will never forget that. Accountability will fall on your shoulders.

You can take your false Christian values and take them straight to hell with you Mr. Cruz.

60 minutes

I love your show. Always have for the last 30+ years. But I am incredibly dismayed by your single sided view of the HK protest movement. A completely unbalanced view of a Christian led movement that is committing unspeakable acts of violence and showing a lack of humanity I never thought possible. All against the citizens in HK who, if you had done your research, might find them to be a majority.

You made no attempt to seek a view of the other side. And by the other side I do not mean China. I mean the majority of people living in this city, now living under a cloud of fear - fearful of speaking any contrary opinion to those who are ironically seeking a democratic platform - those very people you are supporting who have not shown an iota of tolerance for other opinion, but rather have shown an incredible lack of humanity in the violent mob justice they are committing against so many in this city - including a very large number of single elderly individuals who happen to be unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Not Jimmy Lai, nor Joshua Wong, nor their violent protesters running amuck destroying the fabric of life in what once was the most open, free, law abiding place on Earth, are appropriate representatives of HK. But they are in fact the only reason the people of this city are losing their freedoms and their gold standard legal system. Not China.

Next time do your research before becoming an unwitting (or perhaps witting) enabler of the violence being inflicted on a city, and the majority of people living here - living now in fear - not because of anything China has done, but what the protesters, and those of you who are enabling them -are doing.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Houston Rockets’ Faux Pas with China

Under a different title, it was first posted in Asia Times.

The latest bruhaha between the NBA and China once again proves that money rules over words and politics trumps economics. Many commentators and politicians, as usual, missed some of the finer points of a matter that should not have been enlarged into another thorn in the US China bilateral relations.

Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, is fully within his rights to tweet: “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Whether it was the wise thing to do is another matter.

Although it was quickly deleted from cyberspace, the tweet did not escape the notice of the millions of Internet users in China and immediately prompted a firestorm of criticism and objections from the Chinese, many professed to be die-hard fans of the Rockets.

Basically, their message to Morey was that you don’t understand the complexity of Hong Kong and you should keep your opinion to yourself. Obviously, the Chinese are not empathetic to the American idea of freedom of speech.

The management of NBA and Rockets have seen how indiscretions by name brands can cost them business in China, in one case leading to a full withdraw from the China market. They understood that unpopular reaction of the Chinese can quickly bite into the bottom line for American pro basketball. 

Thus, they quickly made Morey’s tweet go away. So far so good. Making money overrules Morey’s freedom of speech.

Then the US politicians from both parties jumped into the fray with their two cents worth. These fine leaders of democracy can’t tell the difference between the voice of the Chinese people and the national policy of China.

Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro’s tweet is representative of the bias in the American leadership. He said, “China is using its economic power to silence critics—even those in the U.S.” 

Note in his tweet, Castro said China not the Chinese people in China. Suddenly, the visceral reaction of the people has been become the repressive policy from Zhongnanhai. (Zhongnanhai is where the Chinese leaders go to work, Mr. Castro.)

Many Chinese businesses have begun to distance themselves from the Houston Rockets and even the NBA. The Chinese Basketball Association, led by Yao Ming, the Hall of Famer that played for the Rockets, has announced that they are suspending their relationship with the team.

The businesses in China and the CBA are responding to the freedom of speech of the millions of Chinese people. Just as NBA is trying to repair the economic damage to their presence in China, the Chinese establishment is safeguarding their relationship with their fan base by distancing from the NBA.

However, basketball is too big and important with the Chinese people and we can expect that the tempest will soon blow over and fans back to being fans.

For the US politicians to take cheap shots at China show a failure to understand China and the Chinese people, in the process making a molehill bigger and the bilateral divide wider.

It’s time to realize and accept that China will never be like America. In their own way they have their own values and own sense of personal freedom. So far as much as 90% of the populationapprove of the direction their government is moving as opposed to a mere 35% in the US.

The sooner America can accept China for what they are and not what the US would like them to be, the sooner both parties can begin to focus on where mutual ground and common interest exist and find ways to maximize benefits for both sides.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

George Galloway Talk Show from London

Billed as the Mother of all Talk Shows, see episode 16 for a two hour discussion

A special panel dedicated on the HK protest

Thursday, October 3, 2019

An Alternative View of HK Protest

This was first posted in Asia Times.

In reporting the Hong Kong protest movement, the western media has represented hoodlums as heroes and hooliganism as a movement for democracy. The rioters beat up on innocent by-standers, attacked police with gasoline bombs and sharpened metal rods, destroyed government buildings and metro stations, and interrupted the international airport operations.

The Hong Kong economy has been grounded to a halt. Yet the media praised the rioters as freedom fighters. In fact, the ringleaders of the riots demanded that the disturbances be not called riots but as protests.

When the Hong Kong police pushed back on the protesters, the cameras always found them, much less so when the violence were perpetrated by the rioters. In fact, police brutality was frequently bandied about as the provocation for the ensuing violence.

In the months from early June to early August, the HK police had to face protesters numbered in the millions, at least that was the media report. The police with great restraint made 420 arrests.

By contrast, the New York finest arrested 700 on the one-day Occupy Wall Street protest on October 1, 2011 and the size of the crowd was in the thousands and not millions. If the mayhem that happened in Hong Kong took place in New York, rivers of blood would have covered the pavement and city jail and hospitals would have overflowed with victims.

So, what was the original cause for mass unrest?

It was precipitated by the HK government proposing to enact an amendment to the existing Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. 

The necessity of the amendment became obvious when a young man took his pregnant girlfriend from HK to Taiwan, murdered and buried her dismembered remains there and came back knowing that he couldn’t be extradited to Taiwan to face justice.

Safe haven for fugitives

I asked my friend, a long-time resident of Hong Kong and a senior advisor to both HK governments before and after handover, for an explanation. He said, “There are currently hundreds of known fugitives using Hong Kong as a safe haven because Hong Kong only has agreements with certain countries but have so far not included Macao, Taiwan and mainland China.

“The proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance are designed to promote criminal justice and to redress a situation whereby certain criminals can use our city as a safe haven.”

Agitators seized the opportunity to convert a government intent to close a loophole into a cause célèbre by claiming that the added statute would give Beijing arbitrary power to arrest and extradite anyone, even those merely passing through HK, into China for incarceration or worse.

The Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, assumed that correcting the omission was straightforward and failed to anticipate the storm that followed. Even as Lam officially suspended and then subsequently withdrew the bill to amend the extradition provisions, the fury of the protests continued.

Forcing Lam to backpedal, the protesters pressed forward with more demands, including exoneration of those arrested, resignation of the Chief Executive and universal suffrage for selection of members of the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive.

By the end of August, my friend shared this observation with me: “Whatever organization is behind supportingand promoting this unrest is apparently well funded and highly organized
with weekly schedules on what and where the disturbances will take place

Bankrolled by New Endowment for Democracy 

As reported by various sources, a main source of funding support is the National Endowment of Democracy. NED is in turn funded by the US Congress to finance organizations around the world that advocate democracy and human rights. Some 18 organizations identified as active in China have received funds from NED. Six of the 18 are known to operate in Hong Kong.

Lest anyone think that NED involvement with Hong Kong is the first time, it’s not. NED also bankrolled the Occupy Central movement that took place in Hong Kong in 2014. Fomenting unrest in the name of struggling for democracy and freedom is consistent with NED’s mission.

This time the ringleaders took the protest to a new level, not only in terms of duration and level of violence of the disturbances, but also took their case to Washington. These supposed representatives of Hong Kong asked the US Congress to grant them freedom and democracy.

That the U.S. had nothing to do with the handover between Britain and China seemed immaterial to these young aspiring freedom fighters. It was also equally a no-brainer for the bipartisan members of Congress to propose “The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019,” which is likely to be enacted by the full body.

“No brainer” because it doesn’t take any brains by Congress to take this action and also no cost because any reaction to such a legislative action won’t be consequential to their constituents. But the cost to all the people of Hong Kong, not just the handful of activists, can be major.

With the Hong Kong act in hand, the US government can then feel empowered to tell the Hong Kong government how they should govern, which the HK government would reject, and Beijing would vigorously object on the grounds that the US has no right to interfere..

Then the US would feel that they have grounds to remove the recognition of Hong Kong as a special administrative region and with it, the removal of the most favored nation status. 
That’s a move the Trump administration would implement as part of their goal to decouple China and the US.

If that were to come to pass, the people of Hong Kong would be the losers. Without the special status, the city would be just one of many and not even as valuable to Beijing as the neighboring Shenzhen. Any economic advantages Hong Kong enjoys now would disappear.

About five years ago, I had the occasion to conduct a video interview of Joshua Wong, one of the young dissident leaders who testified before Congress. My impression of Wong at the time, still a high school student, was that he was articulate and energetic and had seized the mantle of being a democracy advocate as a career.

I don’t know if he had gone on to college; I suspect that he found being a dissident an easier living and facing the media limelight more rewarding than pursuing higher education. He showed appalling ignorance of Chinese history and culture.

A generation disconnected with China

Wong represents the generation born after the handover. This generation of young people have no sense of what British colonial rule was like but has somehow acquired a romantic idea that being a British subject was golden.

In reality, Chinese subjects under the colonial rule had no say in the selection of their rulers and no right to cast ballots for any official posts. Whereas the Basic Law, negotiated between China and Britain, provides for selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage in gradual steps leading to full vote by the populace before the end of the 50-year transition.

Mark Pinkstone, an Australian journalist with 50 years of experience in Hong Kong said, “The Basic Law, the constitutional document that supports one country, two systems, provides freedoms of expression, speech and religion. Not one of them has been eroded since the handover in 1997. The current demonstrations are living proof of that.”

Pinkstone’s point of view, of course, contradicts the protesters claim that the loss of freedom as the reason for the demonstrations. Perhaps a legitimate adjudicator of the two conflicting points of view is The Human Freedom Index monitored by Cato Institute, based in Washington.

According to the latest index, Hong Kong is ranked 3 trailing only New Zealand and Switzerland. The index ranks 162 countries and autonomous regions based on 79 measures of personal and economic freedom. The US is ranked 17 as measured by the same indicators. It would appear that the young Hong Kongers don’t appreciate how well off they are.

Failing of the Hong Kong government

Of course, the HK government must bear responsibility for the build-up leading to this summer of discontent. After the handover, the Hong Kong government did not introduce a curriculum that would teach the children what it meant to be Chinese and their affiliation with the Chinese culture. Instead of identifying and being proud of their Chinese heritage, they grew up estranged and feeling that it would have been better to be faux British.

The succession of post-handover governments also saw the need to generate affordable housing but did nothing about it; or, could not because the real estate tycoons that control the Hong Kong property market opposed it. The frustration of wages not keeping up with rising cost of cramp housing led to the boil over in 2014 and again five years later.

The World Economic Forum published a surveyof the people from 25 nations asking them if they thought their own government was heading in the right direction or not. The survey was conducted between October and November of 2016.

China emerged leading the pack with 90% of their citizens thought their government was on the right track and only 10% thought not. The US was squarely in the middle, ranked at 13 with 35% of their citizens thought their government was going in the right direction and 65% thought not.

Too bad, Hong Kong was not separately polled, but if I have to guess, I would suspect that the sentiment of Hong Kongers toward their government would be closer to the US than to China. 

Sadly, if the young people of Hong Kong decide to cast their lot with the US, they will become disillusioned by a dysfunctional democracy that they’ll get to see up close. And they will miss the opportunity of hitching their future to a China going in the right direction.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Nathan Rich lambasts NYT coverage of Hong Kong

See for his critique of the NYT slanted and bias coverage of the HK protest.

In contrast, see how CGTN's review of timeline of incidents leading to the protests, The program has also carefully document the work of National Endowment for Democracy.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

BBC called HK bomb makers "pro Democracy" protesters

Nathan Rich, an American living in China, regularly post his comments on YouTube. He just commented on BBC's report on the HK protesters.

BBC reported that HK protesters were found to possess a cache of Molotov cocktails. BBC continue to call the protesters as "pro Democracy." Shouldn't they be called terrorists, Rich asked?

See Nathan Rich at

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Nathan Rich Tore New York Times Apart

Nathan Rich, an American living in China, takes a strong exception to the video presentation produced by New York Times. The NYT "exposè" is supposed to be on China's health care systems.

His issues with this piece include not understanding China, deliberate distortions by calculated omissions and failure to provide balance by comparing health care in China with the US.

Please go on the YouTube link and see what Rich is saying. Please circulate this until we get a response from the New York Times. This is the kind of nonsense that gives verification to Trump's accusation of fake news.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review: The Dragon and the Crown

This review is posted on Amazon.

In telling the story of his life with understated modesty, the author, with the help of his niece, successfully subsumed his ego into a broad epic, a narrative of the transformation of Hong Kong. From the time Stanley Kwan was born to when he emigrated to Toronto, the population in Hong Kong grew roughly ten fold. The transformation from being a British colony to a modern megapolis was fascinating as seen from his eyes. It’s safe to say that most of the people in today’s Hong Kong do not know much of the story of the city, much less the rest of us that are mere third party witnesses.

I am now in my 70s and the friends and classmates from Hong Kong that I knew from my college days remind me of Kwan. Their father or grandfather had multiple wives and thus were members of huge families. Dominated by Confucian values, only the first born of the first wife enjoyed privileged lives. The rest had to fight for their share of patriarchal attention and an opportunity to a better education and career. Those that succeed, like Kwan’s daughters, found their way to schools in the West and established their careers outside of Hong Kong.

Even though the invasion by Japan interrupted his higher education, the schooling under the loose controls of the British administration had already taught the author Chinese and English in addition to his native speaking Cantonese. His language proficiency gave him opportunities to work with the Nationalist Chinese government during the war years and the American Consulate in Hong Kong in post war years. Step by step as he moved from one post to another, we saw how Hong Kong was also evolving and changing.

By telling the stories of his brothers, two of whom left Hong Kong to live and work in the mainland shortly after the Communist takeover, we also learn how the tumult inside China affected his family and made his feelings of patriotism and identification with China more ambivalent. His book helped me understand the origin of the Hong Kong mindset: “Make as much money as you can, while you can.” After WWII, the feeling of uncertainty on the fate of Hong Kong hung heavily on the people of Hong Kong.

This book is a wonderful read on the history of Hong Kong. Too bad the author left for Canada in 1984. While negotiations had already begun between London and Beijing, it was quite some time before the handover on July 1, 1997. The book does not explain why or how the city has been transformed to the state it is in today.

Perhaps the story he told on the near fatal run on the Hang Seng Bank is symptomatic of the Hong Kong Chinese inherent lack of self-confidence and a western worship mindset. In April 1965 a run was made on the bank, heretofore the strongest among the Chinese owned banks in Hong Kong. Facing insolvency, the owners had to sell a controlling interest to the British owned Hong Kong Shanghai Bank. As soon as the deal was announced, the panic went away. As one of my chat buddies often likes to point out: In the minds of many Chinese, the western f*rt smells more fragrant than their own. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Looking Deeper About Occupy Central in Hong Kong

An earlier version was posted in China US Focus

 When Hong Kong reverted to China in 1997, western pundits predicted doom and gloom for the future of Hong Kong and they couldn’t be more off target. The same gaggle of pundits and analysts are now attempting to make sense of Occupy Central movement taking place in Hong Kong and their interpretations are again suspect.

There are western observers that are quick to draw the analogy of Tiananmen in 1989 to Occupy Central in Hong Kong and attribute to both movements as a cry for democracy, demand for government reform, and even overthrow of the ruling elite. These are views reflecting their western bias and not grounded in reality.

There are similarities, of course. Students led both movements and both demanded democratic reform. However, the students at Tiananmen did not really understand the meaning of democracy. They wanted to replace the authoritarian government of Zhongnanhai with one to be run by the leaders of the movement. Idealistic yes, realistic no.

The students of Hong Kong also demand democratic reform. They are too young to competently compare the relative freedom they now enjoy to no voice on how they were governed when their parents lived under the British rule. They thought they saw an opportunity to rewrite the Basic Laws and make a grab for complete universal suffrage. They are being naïve.

Since the handover in 1997, Beijing has hewed to the line of “one country, two systems” and honored every term and condition as outlined in the Basic Law. The people of Hong Kong will be able to vote for their next chief executive in the 2017 election, just not the right to nominate the candidates who will run for the highest office. The voters will choose from among the candidates vetted by a nominating committee. It’s a limited form of democracy but that is the Basic Law.

The student leaders at Tiananmen overstepped the legitimacy of their complaints when they publicly insulted the Premier of China, which then escalated tragically to bloodshed. The western media unintentionally contributed to the incendiary circumstances. They followed Gorbachev on his State visit to Beijing and noticed the ragtag bunch congregating at Tiananmen. Their attention to the students rekindled a movement running out of steam, thus leading to disastrous consequences.

The students of Hong Kong are demanding the immediate resignation of chief executive C.Y. Leung, an ultimatum impossible to be met. The Hong Kong police have shown professional restraint and keeping a delicate balance between maintaining order and minimizing violence. They have been doing their utmost to keep the disturbance civil and, unlike Occupy Wall Street in New York City, have not resorted to cracking heads with swinging batons.

If anything, there are now loud demands for law and order from ordinary citizens weary of the blockage by protestors and a desire to resume their daily lives. Such confrontations between civilians and students have potential tragic consequences. So do continue disruption of traffic and normal daily business activity.

Fortunately, the situation seems to be calming down. Office workers are being allowed to go back to work. Protesters and government representatives are having a conversation. Hopefully, this is the beginning of negotiations that will lead to a mutually acceptable resolution.

I have been a regular visitor to Hong Kong since 1978 and I believe there are genuine issues to consider that might lead to accommodations both sides can live with.

Until recently, people of Hong Kong have not been overly concerned about their freedom to vote and much more concerned over the freedom to make money. That was true under British rule and carried over after the handover. China’s own economic success, especially after Tiananmen and then after the handover, created enormous opportunities for the folks in Hong Kong that wanted to achieve financial success.

After China began their reform under Deng Xiaoping’s exhortation that “to get rich is glorious,” Hong Kong business people became wealthy by moving their factories into China and transferring their management and business knowhow to the mainland. Then Hong Kong real estate magnates moved into Chinese cities and showed China how to make money in property development.

Entrepreneurs inside China were quick learners. As they became wealthy, they in turn invested in Hong Kong property, raised money via the Hong Kong stock exchange and used Hong Kong as their business conduit to the rest of the world. It has been a symbiotic relationship. Instead of the “preordained” gloom and doom, Hong Kong prospered like never before. As some wise observers have counseled the protesters, Hong Kong’s future rides on coattails of China’s future.

The young protesters need to think about the heavy cost if the symbiosis with the mainland is damaged or destroyed. If they think having a truly democratic form of government will be ample compensation for an estranged relationship with Beijing, they need to think again.

They need to ask themselves, “What form of democracy is likely to provide them with a future superior to riding on the coattails of China’s economy?” Certainly not the U.K., former masters of Hong Kong. Theirs is a deficit economy tittering on the brink of insolvency and desperate for China investments and fees from renminbi-based transactions to keep the country afloat.

What about the United States, the paragon of all democracies? Which part of this democracy would the Hong Kong protesters like to emulate? The grid-locked dysfunction of Washington as a model of good governance? The right to vote completely quashed by the politics of money where deeper the pockets, louder the voices behind the checkbook? May be they would like to help pay the mounting national debt, currently close to $60,000 per person?

I respectfully suggest to the young people of Hong Kong that they value the qualities of Hong Kong that make the city special. Rather than tearing it down, they need to work with the government on improving the conditions for all the people. And, there are some significant issues that need the urgent attention of the SAR government headed by CY Leung.

The most obvious has been the tension created by the flood of mainland visitors to Hong Kong. Their lack of civil behavior such as spitting or urinating in public places are visible irritants and generators of ill will. Even worse when the visitors game the system in order to give birth in Hong Kong and then clean the store shelves of baby formula when they go home leaving the local consumers to deal with shortages.

How to deal with the tourists from China, obviously a two-edged issue, is a matter the SAR government needs to take up with Beijing. The solution has to somehow discourage the abusers that take advantage of Hong Kong but encourage those genuinely interested in Hong Kong as an interesting place to visit.

The internal issues are perhaps more serious but well within the purview of the SAR government. One is to continue to upgrade the quality of education so that young graduates would qualify for well paying jobs and embark on their own paths to prosperity. Give them hope of upwardly mobile careers and they are less likely to barricade the streets.

Second issue has been the lack of reasonable and affordable housing for the large pool of population that have not fully participated in the per capita income growth that Hong Kong has enjoyed. Given that Hong Kong has the world’s highest per capita of billionaires and most of them derive at least in part their wealth from real estate, it would seem that this is an easy matter to resolve by the public and private sector working together.

As is frequently the case, public unrest hints at underlying causes. The student protest at Tiananmen began because of resentment of official corruption and favoritism that ballooned out of control. So it is pertinent to look at causes that lie beneath Occupy Central.