Archive for the ‘Hong Kong’ Category

Black-eye Fridays all round

December 19, 2014


cam gowns formalcam jumping in river examscam spies

Of all the great Cambridge traditions — wearing silly capes to dinner, jumping in the river, spying for the Soviets — Black-Eye Friday is surely the finest spectacle. On the last Friday before Christmas (today!) the good townspeople of the city remind us of their presence by getting as drunk as possible and fighting in St Andrew’s street, between Downing and Emmanuel colleges.

cam street booze 5 cam street booze 4 cam street booze 3 cam street booze 2 cam street booze 1

So seriously is this tradition observed that a special medical team from the 254 Medical Regiment Army Reserves is called in to attend to the wounded. A legion of Black-Eye Friday ‘street pastors’ roams the city through the night, sweeping up broken glass, offering flip-flops to inebriated women in high heels, and ‘reasoning’ with those who just want to get on with a good fight. Police gobble up precious overtime and get to tell people to ‘spread ’em’ against the railings of Emmanuel college (through which those detained can conveniently vomit while awaiting their fate).

cam emmanuel

So far the build-up to the most violent day of the year has been auspicious. Sub-editors at the Cambridge News were gifted the most prized headline in journalism before dawn on Monday when a man involved in a violent altercation allegedly bit a dog before dying of a heart attack.

In mid-week, the News sent its crime reporter to test the waters of St. Andrew’s street and he was pleased to report on a large-scale drunken brawl between a group of men dressed in Christmas jumpers. In a separate incident, a pastor offered a blanket to a young, insensible woman whose lower half was clad only in a pair of black lace knickers; she told him to go away, explaining that she had ‘come out like this’. Sadly, the News declined to publish photos of these interesting incidents.

Global link with Chinese food reference

thomas kwok

But it is not only in Cambridge that people are getting black eyes today. Over in Hong Kong, spooky-looking mega-billionaire Thomas Kwok, of Sun Hung Kai fame, has been found guilty of bribing the man who was about to become the second-most powerful politician in the territory (FT sub needed). Tommy might well be sent for a bit of prison congee when sentencing happens next week.

It is all rather shocking. The judge apparently failed to understand the Asian culture of gift giving, in which a consultancy retainer while holding public office, a couple of rent-free flats and an interest-free loan are simply ways of saying: ‘Hello, how are you?’ The sort of treatment that has been meted out to church-going born-again Christian Tommy suggests that almost any act of friendship can be called into question — as, for instance, when uber-billionaire Li Ka-shing gave retiring HSBC chief executive Michael Sandberg a metre-high, solid gold statue of the HSBC headquarters building. Thank god that black-eye Friday is only one day a year.

More from Hong Kong

Bloomberg details testimony from the trial about money, mistresses and paranoia. The ransom paid to Big Spender, who kidnapped elder brother Walter, was also stated in the trial, as HK$600 million. (Big Spender later kidnapped Li Ka-shing’s eldest son, Victor. It is all in Asian Godfathers…)

 

Targeted consumer boycotts

October 8, 2014

Here is a very interesting article from Foreign Policy about possible future strategies in the Hong Kong protests. It is written by academic researchers of successful non-violent protest movements around the world.

Following my FT oped, the idea of targeted consumer boycotts is what jumps out…

In addition… there were lots of comments on the FT article. As with this blog, I don’t think that comments which do not add substance, or challenge substance, in what is being said are useful. But several people did say things on the FT site that seem to me interesting enough to re-post. I was struck by the comparison with Singapore. Is it possible the Harry and the PAP are more responsive on the question of social equity and competition than the Hong Kong government? I think the full answer would be more nuanced than the commenter suggests, but it is an interesting idea.

Great article.  So true.  We Chinese generally don’t take to the streets unless our bellies are empty.  Usually too busy working and making money!

Singapore has a supermarket chain run by the National Trade Union Congress, which was put in place to keep prices competitive.  Its produce is often superior to the so-called upmarket chains.  I remember as a child the beginning of this chain and how it put the lid on the supermarket chains left behind by the British.  In fact, one of those chains, Fitzpatrick ended up going out of business!

As for food, there are many hawker centres where hawker stalls are rented out at ridiculously low rents to stallholders who “inherited” these stalls from their parents or other relatives.  As a result, you get delicious food (from secret recipes passed down generation to generation) at super-low prices.  I just had a “home-cooked” type meal of rice and dishes (1 veg, 1 meat and 1 toufu) for a total of S$3, in the Central Business District.  And it gets cheaper in the “heartlands”.

At the last General Elections, the PAP lost seven seats to the opposition.  It is now implementing even more social transfers in response to popular sentiment.

I think that’s what ordinary Hongkongers want.  Someone to listen to their woes and take action.

I came across the following stats at Bloomberg to quantify the hurt inflicted on so many living in HK as a result of money and power being in the hands of so few.

Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, rose to 0.537 in 2011 from 0.525 in 2001, the government said last June. The score, a high for the city since records began in 1971, is above the 0.4 level used by analysts as a gauge of the potential for social unrest.

The average gross household income of the poorest 10 percent of the population fell 16 percent to HK$2,170 a month in 2011, from 10 years earlier, according to a government report. The comparable income for the richest 10 percent jumped to HK$137,480 a month, a 12 percent increase.

Not good for creating social harmony.

Studwell’s refocus on economic questions is correct, and would be very good for Hong Kong, but it would never receive the kind of universal support that the Western press has given the democracy movement. In fact, the West is proposing the opposite of Studwell’s economic fairness: to break the current Chinese social structure and open the gates for multinational business, a kind of Yeltsin years for China. Every Western journalist knows that democracy without campaign finance will lead to the election of money – i.e., the election of a tycoon or someone backed by one (CY Leung was an anti-tycoon candidate compared to Henry Tang, and look where he is now).  Studwell seems concerned with actually improving Hong Kong, but that is not what the press coverage of the democracy movement is about, otherwise they would have used real facts rather than cinderella stories. Nevertheless, the FT should be commended for printing this piece, as well as for keeping comment board open.

There is no questions that HK is run by monopolies, duopoly and oligopolies and things are more expensive than it could have been.

However, the author who learn much by looking in the back yards, especially the VAT inclusive prices here..  For example, one can run a price comparision between watsons.com.hk and boots.com, Johnson baby shampoo 500ml cost £3.35/£0.67 per 100ml at boots and cost HKD56.9/£4.60 for the 800ml version -> £0.575 per 100ml.

Toyrus HK : Nerf CS18 : HKD399.9 / £32.07,  ToysrUS UK : £39.99
HK Electricty prices : Max HKD186.4 or £0.1495 per kwh
http://www.hkelectric.com/web/DomesticServices/BillingPaymentAndElectricityTariff/TariffTable/Index_en.htm

UK Electricity prices: British gas £0.1535 per kwh.

Looks like we all have our own ‘monopolies’ problem to deal with (for us, including the one at Brussels).

It is encouraging to read an FT an article which says it like it is regarding Hong Kong and much of Asia, perhaps best summarised as ‘Winner takes all, loser hard luck’. Consider the Gini coefficients of wealth inequality and you’ll find Hong Kong and Singapore, two of the ‘wealthiest’ places on the planet with the worst ‘developed nation’ Gini coefficients, these being on a par with some of the poorest African nations. It’s long been apparent that the propertly developers, Government, ‘managed land releases and sales’ operate in a manner beneficial to the few and disenfranchising the majority. Arguments that this is a hang over from the past don’t quite stack up, as the present leaders have all the powers they need to do something about it. One has to ask why not, with the answer perhaps reducing to such tolerance of vast inequalities being an inherent part of the region’s social fabric and culture. Surprising that the majority have tolerated this for so long but then this too, fortitude in the face of injustice, even from within, is a regional trait. Perhaps, with modern dissemination of information, so that it is clearer to all as to what is going on, the majority will start to exercise their influence. Without this, nothing is likely to change.

How to make enemies and alienate people…

October 6, 2014

Here is the FT op-ed I wrote over the weekend. It just went live on their online edition.

Can’t say it is likely to get me many tycoon dinner invites, but I do think it is true:

 

 

October 6, 2014 5:14 pm

Hong Kong should focus its fight on the tycoon economy

The real target is the anti-competitive, anti-consumer economy, writes Joe Studwell
A woman holds a placard at a large pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong on October 1, 2014. Hong Kong has been plunged into the worst political crisis since its 1997 handover as pro-democracy activists take over the streets following China's refusal to grant citizens full universal suffrage. AFP PHOTO / ALEX OGLE (Photo credit should read Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images)©AFP

Hong Kong stepped back from the brink on Friday night, when chief executive CY Leung belatedly authorised a senior official to “hold talks” with protesters and those same protesters decided, for now, not to enter government buildings. It was a fortunate outcome. Beijing would characterise the occupation of official property as an attack on the Chinese state.

What Hong Kong needs is not a strategy that backs Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, into a corner, but one that resonates with his own mindset. This is why the protesters should refocus on Hong Kong’s tycoon economy, and the anti-competitive, anti-consumer arrangements that define it. You may think,like the Heritage Foundation, that Hong Kong is a free market. However, except for external trade, it is not. Instead it is what one of the richest men in the city once described to me as “a nice bowl of fish soup”. That soup is fed to the few, making ordinary people poorer, stoking resentment, and indirectly contributing to acute pollution.

Cartels are everywhere in Hong Kong. Supermarkets are a duopoly, one whose pricing power allows the chains to charge higher prices for the same products in some of Hong Kong’s most deprived areas. Drug stores are a duopoly. Buses are a cartel: high-priced, mostly cash-only, running shoddy, dirty diesel vehicles with drivers who earn a pittance. Electricity is provided by two, expensive monopolies that handle everything from generation to distribution, one on Hong Kong island and the other in Kowloon. The container ports are an oligopoly, with the world’s highest handling charges. Yet they will not supply onshore electricity to vessels, which must instead run diesel generators that pollute the city air.

The biggest stitch-up remains the lousy construction standards and sky-high costs in a residential property market dominated by the “Four Families”, which in the 1990s were estimated to be selling property for between two and four times what it cost to develop.

You may think of the territory as a free market but, except for external trade, it is not

Add in the jiggery-pokery of a Boys’ Own stock market with 1970s-style governance, and a taxation system that tycoons circumvent by taking out their money through tax-free dividends, and you begin to get the picture.

Hong Kong has had a Competition Ordinance and a Competition Commission since 2012. But so far nothing has changed. In a striking contrast with mainland China, where the Communist party after 1989 first increased transfer payments to the urban poor, and then increased transfers and cut taxes for the rural poor in the 2000s, the Hong Kong government lets a colonial rentier economy carry merrily on.

Mr Xi launched his new administration with not only a brutal anti-corruption campaign, but also an anti-monopoly drive. Unfortunately he seems unaware that Hong Kong is at least as rigged as the mainland.

So here is a plan. Speak to Mr Xi in terms he understands. Refocus the protests on the cartels. I am no protester, but it is not hard to think of peaceful tactics that would be difficult for the tycoons to ignore as they sweep into their basement car parks and ascend in private elevators to their penthouse offices. Where possible, boycott the cartels.

Would this be the end for the tycoons? Not at all. In my experience they are people of extraordinary entrepreneurial acumen. Like all of us, they enjoy a capacious free lunch. But if that is taken away they will adjust and add more value to the economy by doing so.

It is time for Hong Kong to work for the majority. If the protesters make Mr Xi understand the economic problem, it becomes easier to compromise on the politics – probably with a more open nomination process in 2022. I hold, perhaps wrongly, that Beijing’s intransigence is born of ignorance, not malice.


The writer is author of ‘How Asia Works: success and failure in the world’s most dynamic region’

 

More:

This just went up from Han Donfang. Very much worth a read. The lead explains who he is if you do not know.

And here is a nice piece from The Age about CY Leung trousering US$7m during the sale of his insolvent firm. Now that is leadership.

10 seconds of unprovoked HK police brutality

October 3, 2014

See here. HK policeman swings around a middle-aged, passive protester so he can spray pepper spray directly into his face and eyes.

Anti-protest thugs have been attacking the Occupy movement in Causeway Bay (HK island) and Mong Kok (Kowloon) today. Police not responding to/unable to cope with this. Looks like Beijing United Front / state security people up to no good. Old-fashioned Italian-style ‘Strategy of Tension’ that allows government to sell itself as the good guys riding to the rescue amid civil chaos. Except that in Italy the protesters included terrorists who were killing people. In Hong Kong it is just kids who clean up after themselves. People on the ground in Hong Kong say students so far not reacting, moving away. Student leaders have called on those in Mong Kok to leave and come to the government offices area in Admiralty where international press is concentrated and numbers are larger.

Key link:

Here is the livestream feed from HK. Not looking good UK 1330/HK 2030.

More:

This video purports to show Hong Kong police handing out blue, anti-protest ribbons to anti-protesters in a police station. Pretty appalling if true.

Hemlock is singing a similar tune to me re. the tycoons. The point he quotes from Nicholas Bequelin is brilliantly incisive.

Rubber bullets can and do kill

October 2, 2014

rubber bullets arrive

This is a picture of rubber bullets being prepared on Hong Kong island today, 2 October 2014.

It looks like protesters are ready to attempt to break into government buildings to occupy them and that police, after first using tear gas (not yet done so, but will), may be ready to shoot.

I maintain that the protesters would be better to refocus on a strategy of blockading the Tycoons’ Towers, most obviously the car parks, thereby forcing them to use the main door like everybody else when Hong Kong goes back to work. At such a point there might be an opportunity to confront KS Li, Lee Shau-kee, Robert Kuok and the rest. CY Leung won’t meet the people, so what about the tycoons? They are the ‘prefects’ of this system.

The other good target would be to stake out these guys’ homes, including on Deepwater Bay Road, the tycoon alley where many of them live. Then there is the golf club, where they play in the early morning.  But the most obvious target is the Towers.

The point is to refocus the protest on Hong Kong, the backward nature of government, the monopolies and oligopolies that lead to far higher real estate, utility, supermarket, bus fare and other costs than should be the case. This is why Hong Kong needs genuine universal suffrage.

A move on government offices will be deemed in Beijing to be an attack on the state. This may be very hard to reverse back from to a position where an accommodation can be reached, something I believe is entirely possible. Plus people are quite possibly going to get maimed or killed.

A move on the tycoons, by contrast, is something that everyone can live with. They’ll be absolutely livid, but they are big boys and can deal with it. Start with K.S. and Cheung Kong Tower. He’s the smartest of the gang. Greedy but affable and, let’s remember, the son of a teacher.

CY Leung will hold a press conference at 11.30pm tonight, Hong Kong time (very soon). More in a bit.

 

Update (midnight in Hong Kong):

CY Leung said at the presser that he has asked a senior civil servant to ‘hold talks’ with protesters.

Here is livestream that collates 4 different live TV sources in HK and contains some English notes for those of us who can’t do Cantonese. You’ll get a couple of ads before it runs.

China and the culture thing…

October 2, 2014

A major intellectual breakthrough I made in the last 10 years (one of very few) is to recognise and begin to incorporate in my thinking the dynamic nature of culture — in other words how culture both changes for reasons internal to societies and can be changed via policy intervention. I started to understand this working on Asian Godfathers, partly by spending time with ethnic Chinese, Arab, Tamil and Indian tycoons in south-east Asia, and partly because I tripped over, and then read, the extraordinary anthropological work of G. William Skinner from the 1950s*. Then I just started reading more anthropology (also known as ‘journalistic reportage for grown-ups’).

Anyhow, if you want to understand what is going on in Hong Kong and Taiwan just now, you need to fit the cultural piece of the jigsaw. As luck would have it, here is a new paper dealing with just this issue, across the three societies of mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It is free, easy to read and enlightening.

 

* The core Skinner opus:

G. William Skinner, Chinese Society in Thailand: An Analytical History (Cornell University Press, 1957)

G. William Skinner, Leadership and Power in the Chinese Community of Thailand (Cornell University Press, 1958)

G. William Skinner, ‘Creolized Chinese Societies in South-east Asia’, in Anthony Reid, ed., Sojourners and Settlers: Histories of South-east Asia and the Chinese (Allen & Unwin, 1996)

Happy holiday?

September 30, 2014

Tuesday 30 September 2014 in Hong Kong. Tomorrow is China’s National Day, symbol of ‘Liberation’, symbol of the Party. What will it bring?

Central has not yet been occupied, so that is one thing.

But if I was these students and workers and housewives and children, I would occupy the space around the main tycoons’ towers. Each of the big boys works out of a penthouse in their HQ tower. Imagine if they couldn’t get in! Start with Cheung Kong Tower in Central and carry peacefully on from there.

I should say, of course, that as a gweilo I ought not to be recommending such things. But it is important to remember that this protest, at least a decade in the making, is about far more than just the electoral arrangements for 2017. It is about justice for the ordinary man and woman, about fair trade, about an end to rip-offs and the economics of the few. I have always said that I love my tycoon acquaintances, but they know as well as anyone that life moves forward and that the real tycoon is able to adjust.

 

Hong Kong, the day before 1 October

Hong Kong, the day before 1 October

Link:

Latest from Keith Bradsher in the NYT here, of interest mainly because of CY Leung’s drivel half way down the story. He really is not a good advertisement for Bristol Polytechnic. Perhaps that is why they changed their name to the University of the West of England.

Video:

From Dominic Meagher, 8.30-9pm Hong Kong time, Tuesday 30 September, wandering through the crowds in Admiralty. This is his Facebook page. This should be the specific video. Huge numbers of people, few police, no tear gas, party atmosphere (thus far)…

Cripes:

Forgot about Hemlock, whose blog is here. Just now he is writing about snowy-haired nutcase Robert Chow. But what we really want to hear is dear, politically-rather-well-connected Hemlock explain his erstwhile deep affection for CY ‘He’s going to change things’ Leung. Think I’ll send him an email…

Chinese:

Here is what Xi Jinping says about Hong Kong and Taiwan in his National Day speech. It seems accommodating inasmuch as he reasserts commitment to the Basic Law and does not (if I am reading this right) say anything about ‘Basic Law as we decide to interpret it’. But of course they have already said that, so who knows?

不断推进“一国两制”事业,是包括香港同胞、澳门同胞在内的全体中华儿女的共同愿望,符合国家根本利益和香港、澳门长远利益。中央政府将坚定不移贯彻“一国两制”方针和基本法,坚定不移维护香港、澳门长期繁荣稳定。我们坚信,在祖国大家庭中,香港同胞、澳门同胞一定能够创造更加美好的未来。

兄弟同心,其利断金。解决台湾问题、实现祖国完全统一,是海内外全体中华儿女的共同心愿。两岸同胞要继续努力,巩固和发展两岸关系和平发展良好势头,坚持一个中国原则,坚决反对“台独”分裂活动,为祖国和平统一创造更充分的条件,使两岸一家亲、共筑中国梦。

 

Update, 1 October:

All is well on 1 October. No violence around the China flag-raising ceremony by the Convention Centre in the morning, just well-earned heckling for CY Leung.

This is a very useful piece linking HK, Taiwan and Xinjiang by Michael Cole in The Diplomat. Good context for anyone who needs it, which is pretty much everyone. This is not bad by the BBC’s Carrie Gracie trying to figure what might be going through Xi Jinping’s head at this point; of course it is speculative, but Carrie has a lot of experience. In Chinese, this is today’s People’s Daily (the CPC mouthpiece) editorial on Hong Kong. It is tough-ish, but as various well-informed people have pointed out, not as tough as the infamous 26 April 1989 People’s Daily editorial that presaged the troops going in. As I said yesterday re. Xi Jingping’s national day speech (above, in Chinese), Beijing appears to be leaving a little wriggle room. But will it be a deal that wriggles through, or people with guns?


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