Category Archives: Our View

In Hong Kong, how much is too little?

It is a depressing day today in Hong Kong. The incessant September rains have been dampening moods and hampering travel, but they are not dousing the flames of the protest movement. Judging from widespread reaction to CE Carrie Lam’s speech yesterday, and her press conference today, it seems most protesters are unlikely to respond in a constructive way to the government’s decision to accede to the first of their five demands by withdrawing the Extradition Bill. 

Rather, despite much media focus on the demand for an independent police enquiry, it looks increasingly like the only way the protests might end is if Hong Kong has an electoral system that allows a candidate to be elected on a platform of de facto independence, or “free elections”, as one young, charismatic student leader calls them. That isn’t likely to happen before 2047, unless China undergoes a societal change that is unimaginable at present. And so, even though some kind of road to reconciliation is starting to be laid by the government, it is likely to be a long walk to social harmony in Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong is not another Ukraine

The Greater Bay Area’s third-biggest city is increasingly seen by the central government’s propaganda organs as being in the throes of a “Colour Revolution”. This might turn out to be a  strategic mistake, as the nametag could motivate protesters to behave more radically. Those protests in Europe, which became known by the color of the protesters’ symbols – Ukraine got it going with the Orange Revolution – were focused, committed and widely seen as being on the right side of history: popular uprisings against corrupt dictators masquerading as democrats. And, most important, they largely succeeded. Is this what Beijing wants Hong Kong’s youth to look up to?

The situation in Hong Kong is not the same. This is a city within a country. Here, the protesters’ aims are set against the vast majority of the rest of China, their demands are incongruent, and the ranks of the extremists are dwindling as they engage in senselessly violent acts that turn off the mainstream. By comparing them to a movement that toppled unpopular leaders – often fleeing by helicopter in the middle of the night – Xinhua is, perhaps unwittingly, painting the protesters as revolutionary heroes and emboldening them.

In any case, investors fretting about what comes next for China’s dominant international hub (still) should not pay these official commentaries much notice. They are aimed at a mass audience. Better to consider the potential scenarios of what lies ahead now that the protests appear to have passed into a more radical stage.

It is possible that these protests continue to become more violent. As efficient as the Hong Kong police may be, this is a tough city to keep orderly against protesters adopting guerrilla tactics. The lack of firearms available here is a godsend, but there are many other ways that small, well-funded groups could wage a campaign of extreme violence against the government. In other words, brace for things to get worse. Declining numbers among these hard-core protesters are reassuring; but intensity levels are rising. 

Moreover, as was seen this week at the start of two days of strike action, schoolkids and office workers are joining peaceful protests, which are showing little sign of flagging. This is not likely to run out of steam as classes resume and summer holidays end, which is what had previously been hoped for by the authorities. In other words, brace for further disruptions to daily life.

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Hong KONG and Shenzhen: better together

Shenzhen has been tapped to be a pioneer of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. Which basically means it will be allowed to experiment with reforms while the rest of the country watches from a safe distance before deciding to follow suit. Commentators have seized on this announcement to foresee Hong Kong’s doom – finally – as its neighbour erodes its remaining competitive advantages. Parent-child metaphors are all the rage again, as commentators with little grasp of history or experience of policymaking portray Beijing’s decision as having been driven purely by exasperation at the audacity of Hong Kong’s youthful protesters. Others say that Hong Kong, “as we know it”, is over.  

Perhaps perversely, such commentary is helping to achieve what Hong Kong’s bureaucrats have been unable to. It is necessarily dampening investor sentiment. This is reining in housing prices and releasing air from the stock market. So thank you, doomsayers. Much appreciated. Expectations for never-ending growth in asset prices had gotten out of whack. Now, Hong Kong stock valuations are among the cheapest in the region, and absurdly high property prices are wobbling. Some see this as cause for gloom, because IPOs are being delayed. It’s not. It’s a health check.  Continue reading Hong KONG and Shenzhen: better together

Macau’s new chief has a plan: don’t mess up

Farah Master pays more attention to Macau than any other Hong Kong-based journalist, SCMP included, and so we were pleased to see today that she has a thoughtful piece out on the “other SAR”. 

The timing is great. Hands up any reader that knew Macau was anointing a new Chief Executive this weekend? Didn’t think so.

Ho appears to be stepping into the job with gusto. Although initially reluctant to take a high-profile approach to his “campaign,” he has recently been a daily fixture on the front page of Macau Daily, constantly visiting local communities, pressing the flesh with leaders of grassroots associations and their rank-and-file alike. He has been able to do this, unlike his counterpart in Hong Kong, because he need not fear being petrol-bombed in public. Macau is a relative oasis of calm, even though it is a short hop across the bridge from the tinderbox of Hong Kong.

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Anthony Neoh parts the waters in HK

When the person overseeing the police on behalf of the public says that a political solution is needed to the city’s unrest crisis, it’s best to take notice. Anthony Neoh, former head of the SFC and a widely respected barrister, is currently head of the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC). The IPCC has been given the unenviable task of looking into police conduct during the protests. Thankfully, it has someone like Neoh at the helm.

As Neoh told the SCMP over the weekend, the police cannot be expected to put this protest down. It is political in nature; it needs political solutions. Demanding that the protests end before discussions or reviews can begin is not pragmatic, he points out. As long as the violence subsides, and the trend toward calmer demonstrations is evident, the initiative needs to be seized. This should start with properly acknowledging the spark that set the prairie on fire, the extradition bill, and properly put it out by formally withdrawing it from the Legislative Council.

Read more of his level-headed, common-sensical advice on scmp.com.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Chief Executive Carrie Lam is up to the task at hand. She does appear to have better support now, as the pro-establishment camp has been whipped into line by the HKMAO. But there is still a lot of hard work ahead. Neoh has parted the waters; but will she lead her people to the promised land?

Pardon the exaggerated metaphor, dear readers. But to continue it, to get through the turbulent waters in which Hong Kong finds itself will require more than the right direction. Lam is going to have to come up with some bold initiatives if she wants to show that she really is sincere in addressing the protesters’ grievances.

Here, too, she has had some good guidance from commentators recently. One is by the SCMP’s former editor, Wang Xiangwei. Wang argues that any attempt to address the underlying causes of the protests is going to have to result in taking action against the property barons and other vested-interest groups.

As he says, Lam needs to unveil a bold vision to tackle the “grey rhino” risks long associated with Hong Kong – sky-high property prices, worsening inequality, lack of social mobility for youth, and woefully underfunded social security. Previous chief executives have all talked about it. None has acted.

To do this, Lam must “bite the bullet”, says Wang, and seek the full support of the central government to take on vested interest groups, including property tycoons, the Heung Yee Kuk, and even environmental groups.

If Wang is writing this, it is highly likely that this is, in fact, what Beijing is already thinking. All she has to do is ask.

Read more on scmp.com

HK heading toward a violent climax?

The past weekend’s protests in Hong Kong marked the tenth since they began. There are seven more to go until China celebrates the 70thanniversary of its modern era. The question on many minds at the moment is whether the protests will fizzle out gradually once university classes get under way, or whether National Day will be spent cleaning blood off the city’s streets.

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Rising hope for HK as Beijing gets hands-on

It may be hard for many young, idealistic protesters to see it, but Beijing’s tried and trusted carrot-and-stick approach to managing unrest is being deployed with greater determination in Hong Kong. Zhang Xiaoming’s visit to Shenzhen on Wednesday is clearly the start of a more hands-on approach by the central government. This gives hope, in our view, for a solution to the crisis gripping the city.

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Is HK descending into its own Cultural Revolution?

Hong Kong is being brought to a standstill today, as promised, as shops close and staff either stay at home or don black T-shirts to go out marching in scorching heat. Protesters, police and journalists are just about the only ones carrying on with business as usual. Flights are being delayed or rerouted as airport staff join the citywide strike; buses and MTR services are being severely disrupted; and increasingly violent clashes between protesters and police seem all but inevitable as the hours pass.

The video footage is getting more worrisome. Scenes of a driver ramming through a road barricade are going viral (it is amazing nobody was hurt). Crowds are swelling in shopping malls and streets, and protests are no longer confined to a few places. They are breaking out all over the city, and police forces are thinly stretched. It is all but impossible for established news media to keep on top of everything that is happening.

This is not the Cultural Revolution of 1965-76. That was sheer lawlessness, encouraged and at times directed from the top. But it is starting to feel like it. Communities are splintering. Facebook groups are breaking up. People that went to college or high school together have stopped talking. Parents are losing touch with their kids. It is no longer only an anti-government movement. It is increasingly becoming a counter-cultural movement. Society is being split sharply into Blue and Yellow, with the Yellows standing for radical change and the Blues standing against. No one is talking about principles anymore – only chanting slogans. There is no hope for negotiation. There is no one that can negotiate.

The government is paralyzed. The hapless Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, can do nothing but read out wooden statements at press conferences that no one bothers to watch anymore. One meme trending on Facebook shows TV viewers ticking Bingo cards with her favorite clichés in the blocks instead of numbers.

The police are mostly just running around, chasing the flame, trying not to go nuts, following procedure when they can and cracking heads – sometimes the wrong ones – when they can’t. There are hotheads, and likely worse, among them, but their fear is understandable. Bricks and bars are being upgraded to petrol bombs. Police stations are being attacked. Police families’ living compounds are being pelted by neighbors.

The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, meanwhile, has set the speculation fires burning by announcing it will say “something new” at a press conference tomorrow: Could it be the imposition of a State of Emergency? Are reports of riot police massing at the Shenzhen border, arrayed like stormtroopers from Star Wars, to be believed this time?

There is a palpable sense in the air here that there is no going back. Hong Kong is not just blowing off steam. This all appears to be heading inexorably toward a violent, probably bloody, climax that will surely go into the world’s history books. We hope and pray for a change, but at this stage, a calamitous showdown is starting to look unavoidable.

Shenzhen takes the lead from HK?

Guangdong leads the country: In the first half, the province’s GDP broke the RMB5 trillion mark, ahead of Jiangsu (RMB4.86 billion) and Shandong (RMB4.18 billion).

Shenzhen leads Guangdong: Its economy is not only the province largest, RMB1.213 trillion over six months, but the fastest-growing, up 7.4% YoY.

Who leads the Greater Bay Area?

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