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


Informative Video Presentation on Belt Road Initiative

Look for a balanced presentation on China's Belt and Road Initiative by PBS on 9/27/19


PBS also explained how China produced billionaires faster than anyone on 9/29/19 free of polemics


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.