Wednesday, 30 September 2015

More Falling Below Poverty Line

Hong Kong's working poor are barely making ends meet due to inflation
Oxfam Hong Kong has released a report saying the number of working poor families -- households living under the poverty line with at least one family member working -- has increased by 10 percent in five years to 190,000 families.

During this period another 18,100 families have fallen into poverty so that the total number of working poor households is 647,500, accounting for half of Hong Kong people living below the poverty line.

Meanwhile Hong Kong's richest 1 percent owned half the city's wealth last year.

Twenty-five richest people in the city amassed HK$1.513 trillion -- yes TRILLION -- which is incidentally more than the Hong Kong government's own reserves at HK$1.5 trillion.

"Since [the government] was supposedly dealing with the poverty issue in the past few years, the number should be on the decrease. To have a double-digit rise is quite a lot, and means that what we've done so far is not enough," said Oxfam program manager Wong Shek-hung.

Wong said this was because minimum wage was not high enough to meet people's basic needs as well as inflation, and that the mandatory provident fund was hardly enough, nor did it benefit employees.

From next year the government will hand out low-income family assistance to working poor families with children, but Wong said while it was welcome, it wasn't enough to adequately deal with the situation.

Associate professor of social work at Chinese University Wong Hung said the 10 percent increase was an obvious surge and evidence that Hong Kong had changed. He noted that having a job did not necessarily mean a person let alone a family could make enough to cover basic needs.

"In the past five years, our economy hasn't been bad and the unemployment rate has been low, but the jobs available do not pay well, and there is low labour protection," he said. "Most are contract or part-time jobs. This explains why there are more working poor."

Of the number of working poor, only 7.5 percent are on welfare, called Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), while 53.6 percent live on a monthly income of less than the average welfare payment.

Some people do not qualify for CSSA because their income may be a bit more than the requirement, or some are too proud to take handouts.

There are around 1.34 million Hong Kong people who live below the poverty line. While Leung Chun-ying's administration has finally tackled the issue of defining poverty line, how about actually doing something to help these people? They are going to fall further behind, especially the children when it comes to education and opportunities for them to learn.

Everyone deserves a chance at a decent education, and that also means good health so decent food to eat too. There are NGOs who are trying to fill in the gaps, but really, with a government so rich, and 1 percent of the population outrageously wealthy, how can nothing be done for those who need help the most?

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

China Slighted by Li Ka-shing's Exit

Li Ka-shing finally hits back at criticisms from Chinese state media
In the last few weeks Chinese state media have been ganging up on tycoon Li Ka-shing, criticizing him for pulling out his business interests in the mainland.

Even Communist mouthpiece People's Daily joined in with a commentary urging readers to "build a better country to make his departure today become his regret tomorrow".

To China, Li was the man to look up to, who persevered with humble beginnings making plastic flowers to now owning a conglomerate that includes shipping, telecommunications, electricity, beverages, hotels and of course property.

He was portrayed as the filial son for investing in the mainland, building schools and of course commercial deals.

But now he feels like he's made his dough -- plenty of it -- and wants to exit the China market and find other opportunities elsewhere.

However the mainland feels insulted because it believes a business decision should have nationalism in mind, when really they are two separate things.

China obviously hasn't been watching what Li has been doing in Hong Kong these last few years...

In any event, Li finally broke his silence today, blasting the mainland media for its "cultural revolution"-style attacks on him that did not represent central government views, and maintained he was still very much invested in China, despite being called "unpatriotic".

"I understand that freedom of expression is a double-edged sword so even an article with logical fallacies can stir up a heated debate," he said. "But it is with regret that the tone of the articles sent chills down people's spines with a distorted view."

However we have to keep in mind that if a chorus of mainland media have ranted at Li, particularly People's Daily, some senior officials in the propaganda department have given the green light...

In a media statement issued by the group's corporate affairs department, the tycoon stated clearly that he would not benefit from any restructuring of his empire in China, adding the claim that he withdrew mainland assets worth billions of dollars was unsubstantiated.

And in an explanation as to why it took him so long to respond, Li said he didn't want to create controversy during Chinese President Xi Jinping's trip to the United States.

"We are vigilant not to let these unfounded allegations escalate to cause investors' concerns and militate against President Xi's positive message to the business community and investors at large," the statement said.

Awww, how thoughtful. See? Li still has China's interests in mind.

It is too simplistic for Chinese state media to bash Li without understanding how an astute businessman operates in a free market. Perhaps someone high up in the propaganda department may lose his or her job for giving the green light to state media to bash the tycoon.

But at the same time Li surely understands the optics of restructuring his business and what it means, especially to mainlanders.

Can we just kiss and make up now?

Monday, 28 September 2015

Thoughts on One Year Ago

Thousands came out to watch the TV debate between the govt and students
It's hard to believe it's been a year since the Umbrella Movement erupted in Admiralty. I still distinctly remember the events like yesterday, standing next to United Centre and seeing people wearing masks and goggles armed with umbrellas (me with nothing except my gym bag). We shouted to the police to "open the door", to let us go to Civic Square to free those young people who had scaled the gates to get into the supposedly public space.

YTSL was with me when she decided she was hungry and we temporarily left the scene to grab a bite when I got the first tweets that teargas had been unleashed on the crowd.

We soon returned to see a completely surreal scene of people wandering the overpasses that were previously occupied by cars.

Umbrellas with the slogan: "I want true democracy"
That evening on the television the police released 87 canisters of teargas and thus began the occupation of the streets until mid December.

But what has happened since then?

The protesters didn't get what they wanted -- while they spoke out, neither the Hong Kong or central governments listened to what they wanted.

Another strong image was the students debating government officials. But what happened in the end? There was lack of trust on the side of the students who piled on the criticism, which led to the government freaking out and determining to take a tougher stand.

The demands from both sides became so polarized that you were either yellow or blue. You couldn't be green. This affected everyone in the city -- family members got into heated arguments about the Umbrella Movement and it was mostly a generational divide.

Messages to Hong Kong on what was Lennon Wall
The protests exposed out in the open Hong Kong's socio-economic problems, and how the government has done nothing to help young people get a leg-up in society despite the next generation being highly educated.

It also revealed how the Hong Kong government was definitely taking orders from Beijing through the Hong Kong Liaison Office in Western...

Being in the protest site was amazing. As soon as you walked onto the street the area had a chill vibe. It was quite relaxing to be there, everyone was so friendly and generous with food, water, handing out stickers and flyers. It was, as cinematographer Christopher Doyle says, a community that Hong Kong people wanted and had lost.

The outpouring of creativity there was also very impressive. People just made art, political art, satirical art, beautiful drawings of umbrellas, or mockery of 689. Lennon Wall was covered in wishes, hopes and dreams for Hong Kong, and artists came out in droves to document this unprecedented event.

The protest inspired lots of artwork that was gladly shared
It was bizarre to sit on the streets and then when it was all over to see cars driving over where we had sat for hours in the evenings and weekends.

Sadly the momentum has dissipated and who knows when the next call for democracy will begin again.

Beijing has been making strong pronouncements in the last few weeks to try to drill it into our heads about who is in charge. In our minds we are not taking this standing down, but who is daring enough to lead the next battle?

Peng Liyuan the next Soong Mei-ling?

Peng Liyuan sitting with poise at the United Nations in New York
China's First Lady Peng Liyuan is fast proving herself to be President Xi Jinping's secret weapon in charming the world with her soft power.

This was evident in Peng's speech at the Global Education First Initiative event at the United Nations where she spoke in English. There is debate about how fluent her English was, as she spoke slowly to ensure she enunciated each word clearly, but it's not often we hear senior officials -- let alone a senior leader's wife -- speak in English.

Peng's soft touch has resonated with people in the West...
Is it because as a professional singer she is used to being in front of a large audience? Or is it all a performance to her, wearing makeup and dressing in stylish clothes?

We'd like to take this opportunity to compare her to Soong Mei-ling, who was the wife of Chiang Kai-shek.

She was the Wesleyan College-educated daughter of a businessman, who made his money printing Chinese-language bibles, and married in 1927. the Generalissimo's spokesperson, visiting the United States many times to lobby for the Nationalist's war effort.

... much like Madame Chiang Kai-shek with General Stilwell
Madam Chiang is also best known for being the first Chinese national and second woman to address both houses of the US Congress.

Meanwhile Peng, who is UNESCO's Special Envoy for the Advancement of Girls' and Women's Education, talked about growing up in a small village and how her father took it upon himself to teach villagers how to read newspapers and write their names.

"As his daughter, I know what education means to the people, especially those without it," said Peng, who said being a beneficiary of China's progress in education had enabled her to become a soprano and professor of music.

Madame Chiang with Eleanor Roosevelt
While they are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, both are achieving the same ends, trying to influence the West.

Right now Peng is doing a pretty good job showing the world that China isn't just about a rising superpower, but that it's got some class and pizzazz.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Picture of the Day: Mid-Autumn Festival

Several white rabbits around a bouquet of flowers and Chang-e on the right
Two days ago we had blue skies and it was very hot. I took a fantastic picture of the sunset while waiting for the Star Ferry to take me across to Central from Tsim Sha Tsui.

Then on Saturday we had thunder and rain, though not the Amber rainstorm warning the Hong Kong Observatory had put up but had to cancel soon after.

There was a festive atmosphere at Belcher Bay Park
So today the hopes of having clear skies to see the full moon for Mid-Autumn Festival today were dashed with overcast skies, though no rain.

I had hopes of going for a swim this evening under a full moon at the Kennedy Town Swimming Pool didn't happen, but for once it was wonderful to have the pool practically empty because most people were out having dinner or too full to swim.

Next door at Belcher Bay Park, it was festively decorated with coloured lanterns strung along and even spot lights shining on certain areas that practically made it like daylight.

A good number of the neighbourhood residents were hanging out on the grass picnic style, and kids carrying lanterns ranging from traditional paper ones to plastic blown up ones of minions and cartoon characters, or even neon lit coloured bands. Other families wandered around the park as if taking an evening stroll after a big family dinner complete with mooncakes.

Children brought their lanterns to play with in the park
There was also a large lantern display featuring several white rabbits prancing around a basket of flowers and Chang-e standing by the side.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

Saturday, 26 September 2015

State Dinner's Asian Twist

The two couples say cheese before dinner at the White House
Yesterday US President Barack Obama hosted a state dinner for visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan at the White House.

Mark Zuckerberg with Priscilla Chan
The guest list included Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and his pregnant wife Priscilla (in a ravishing red lace dress might we add). First Lady Michelle Obama wasn't afraid to show off some cleavage in an off the shoulder Vera Wang black ball gown, though Xi's wife Peng was more demure in a peacock blue dress.

Xi wore his mandarin jacket probably in an attempt to hide his large frame, but really, he already wears ties, so why not a bow tie? The jacket just looks too plain... maybe Peng can work on that...

Anyway my sister-in-law pointed out that the chef who cooked that evening was Anita Lo, chef and owner of Annisa restaurant in New York. We actually ate there two years ago, and I remember it being curious flavour combinations and ingredients.

The main course featured one of her signature items, garlic fried milk, a crunchy smooth  garnish for the grilled Colorado lamb.

Anita Lo of Annisa cooked the state dinner that evening
What an honour for Lo, and her dinner must have shaken up the palates of the Chinese delegation to see a new interpretation of Chinese and Western food!

Friday, 25 September 2015

Finally Gao Appears and Speaks

Gao spoke to AP sometime earlier this year about what happened to him
We were so relieved to read Associated Press had an exclusive face-to-face interview with leading Chinese rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng.

He dropped out of sight in April 2010 and although he was released over a year ago, we wondered what had happened to him in that time.

Turns out he told AP he was tortured with an electric baton to his face and spent three years in solitary confinement during his latest period of detention since 2010.

Despite the harsh treatment, Gao refuses to leave China even though he is separated from his wife and two children who are living in the United States.

When he was released from prison in 2014, the formerly outspoken lawyer could barely walk or speak full, intelligible sentences, which raised concerns that Gao had been permanently broken physically and mentally.

But a year later he seems to be himself...

His wife Geng He is living in exile in the US with the children
"Every time we emerge from the prison alive, it is a defeat for our opponents," he told AP.

Gao now lives in a dug-out cave on a cliff in Shaanxi province with his older brother, though he is constantly under surveillance. He apparently managed to finish manuscripts for two books that were secretly sent out of China for publication.

In the interview and in one of his books, Gao said he spent three years in solitary confinement that he survived thanks to his faith in God and his unwavering hope for China.

"I thought about giving up and giving my time to my family, but it's the mission God has given me" to stay in China, Gao, a Christian, said.

His wife Geng He said from Cupertino, California, that she didn't understand why her husband was imprisoned and why he continued to be under house arrest.

"I don't understand why the government has to imprison him. He is just a lawyer. His legal profession requires him to help and serve others. Why is he being treated like this? He is standing up for greater freedom in China."

She later posted on her Twitter account a letter from her husband urging her to decline an invitation to meet a US deputy secretary of state before the summit between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

He told her such a meeting would be futile. Since the administration of President Bill Clinton, "the American political class has disregarded the basic humanitarian principles and muddied itself by getting close to the sinister Communist Party," Gao wrote, according to his wife.

In one of Gao's books -- that has yet to be published -- he predicts the authoritarian rule under China's Communist Party will end in 2017 -- a revelation he says he received from God. He also outlines a plan to build up a democratic, modern China after the party's collapse. The book also details his inhumane treatment in prison.

The other book is addressed to his son and tells of his family's story.

Jerome Cohen, a New York University law professor and expert on China's legal system, says Gao has become a symbol of the repression of rights lawyers in the country, and that it was heartening to hear he had given an interview.

"I had worried that Gao had become a forgotten man," Cohen said. "He was the leading human rights lawyer in China. He was a bold, courageous, outspoken person, and they broke him, they broke him in the cruelest way."

In Gao's book, he said he endured more torture, including with an electric baton to his face -- a moment he remembers as a near out-of-body experience when he heard his own voice.

"Undoubtedly, it was from me. I don't know how to describe it," Gao wrote. "That sound was almost like a dog howling when its tail is forcibly stepped on by its master. Sometimes it sounded like what a puppy makes when it's hung upside by its tail."

During these years of detention, Gao says he was able to build a mental barrier against the physical perception of pain. "This is a special ability I have acquired to allow me to survive difficult times," he said in the interview.

He says he was secretly tried in December 2011, and it was only then that the government acknowledged it was holding him by sending him to prison.

This was the first time he was taken outside -- albeit hooded -- for the first time in 21 months. "It was the first time I heard a dog bark and that I could breathe fresh air," he said.

Then he was moved to a prison in Xinjiang and while he was no longer beaten, he had to stay in a room of 8 square metres (86 sq ft) without windows or ventilation for three years.

As a result he could not cope with being in large spaces after his release. "I found I could not walk at the airport, but i could walk inside the locked-up room," he said.

Gao said at one point during his three-year period in prison, the authorities installed a loudspeaker in his cell that spouted propaganda on socialist values for 68 weeks straight. "You cannot imagine the mental harassment they inflicted on me," he said.

Now out of prison (but constantly being watched), Gao is able to speak to his wife and children daily, but feels he cannot leave China to be reunited with them.

"My wife is suffering, but I can do nothing," he said. "I understand those persecuted souls who have left China and I am glad for them, but I cannot be among them. I cannot go," Gao said.

If what Gao says is true, the Chinese authorities have no shame in torturing a human being to the point of physical and mental breakdown. A government that prides itself on being on a "peaceful rise" is far from the truth.

Does China think we on the outside cannot see this? We understand that people like Gao and Liu Xiaobo need to do their work from the inside, but we need them to know we are on their side cheering them on, to tell them they are not alone.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Beijing Water Usage Doesn't Add Up

Ski resorts like this one near Beijing have to prove they are recycling water
Beijing will be hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, but will it have enough snow when the Games begin?

Perhaps that's why the government is further clamping down on golf courses and ski resorts. State-run Beijing Youth Daily reported this week that city officials would assign business quotas for water use based on location and annual rainfall.

Water usage will also determine whether construction projects get the green light or not. As of July 31, only 295 out of 456 construction projects in the Chinese capital were approved because of the lack of adequate water usage plans.

Either golf courses and ski resorts "spend a lot of money to buy water, or they adopt water-saving measures including using water-saving equipment or improve waste-water recycling to decrease water consumption," the Beijing Water Authority told the newspaper.

Hmmm lots of water being used in this Beijing golf club...
This year more than 60 golf courses were shut down, mostly due to Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive.

However even more needs to be done to clamp down on water usage. Annual levels of water consumption in Beijing reached 3.75 billion cubic metres last year, beyond the entire water supply available in Beijing of 2.025 billion cubic metres.

How the city made up for that whopping difference is a puzzling question... Does this mean 1.725 billion cubic metres of water were trucked in somehow? Or do have some people secretly dug some wells or somehow diverted water for their own use?

How do you use more water than is available?

Now that's a magic trick anti-corruption czar Wang Qishan needs to know...

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Quote of the Day: Fanny Law

Fanny Law's metaphor to encourage young people to love China was ridiculed
Politicians are such quirky characters. They love the limelight so they think of interesting soundbites to say to be captured by the media thus ensuring their spot in the history books.

Executive councillor Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun has probably made her mark with her latest comments on how young Hong Kong people should view their relationship with the mainland.

In an interview published in pro-Beijing Wen Wei Pao and Ta Kung Pao, Law encouraged young people to love and identify with China from the start.

"It's like dating and getting married. Before falling in love, there should be preliminary and in-depth understanding and then a search for common ground," she said.

Basically the close aide to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is assuming Hong Kong people would like to love China, which is a fundamentally wrong assumption to make.

Needless to say social media had a field day with Law's comments, with TV Most creating a satirical dialogue between a country vowing its love 'would not change for 50 years' despite the fact its lover, presumably Hong Kong, had 'lost its shape' in the years after the handover.

Other have commented that one would not want to even date China in the first place -- that Hong Kong was coerced into the relationship, or that while a relationship with China is fine, that with the Communist Party of China is a deal breaker.

Perhaps Law wants to go back to the drawing board and think of another, better metaphor...

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

(Muddled) Quote of the Day: Leung Chun-ying

CY Leung and Zhang Xiaoming two weeks ago at the start of this muddle
After the former deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Chen Zuo'er spoke about how Hong Kong was not properly "de-colonized", and that it was still conducting "de-sinofication", Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying added his two cents' worth.

"Hong Kong, as a special administrative region, has a high degree of autonomy but, at the same time, it also has responsibilities to the country as a whole," he said.

"Similarly, Hong Kong people have basic rights and duties. So, it is a question of following the Basic Law and striking a balance between rights and duties, and also our high degree of autonomy and our responsibilities to the country."

What is Leung talking about?

Chen Zuo'er accuses Hong Kong people of "de-sinofication"
First of all what are our "duties"? We have to pay taxes, obey laws, be civilized human beings to each other, and so on. Why should we have to balance our rights and duties with our high degree of autonomy? We are given all these things in the Basic Law. There is no need to give and take.

When he says "our responsibilities to the country", what does that mean? Do we have to attend the flag raising ceremony every morning? Do we have to sign up for PLA duty? Do we have to know the Chinese anthem by heart? Adopt Chinese babies?

Leung is stepping up the rhetoric and yet he makes no sense at all!

Is Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung going to speak out and interpret what Leung said, or is Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor going to do that? Speaking of which, we haven't heard from her in ages. Maybe she has demanded a sabbatical after the disastrous campaign to push for political reform fell on its face a few months ago.

In any event, can Leung please clarify what he means? We're all waiting with baited breath to know what our duties are to the country...

Monday, 21 September 2015

Corruption Begets Salacious Tale

The party's over for Ding Qingping who was extradited back to China
A trickle of Chinese fugitives are being repatriated back to the motherland as part of Operation Skynet, part of Chinese President Xi Jinping's crackdown on corruption.

This tale you're about to read reeks of gobs of money, sex and blackmail.

Ding Qingping started out as a small contractor, but became a big player in the property sector after starting Zhonggang Group in 2003. The company developed real estate projects in several cities in Zhejiang, including Hangzhou, Ningbo, Yiwu and Jinhua.

In order to raise money for a project in Jinhua, Ding secured bank loans worth as much as 200 million yuan and took another 90 million yuan from individual borrowers, according to the Qianjiang Evening News.

However, Ding was not able to pay the high interest.

On September 28, 2008, he sent all his employees on a holiday in Hainan province, took the company's money and boarded a flight from Shanghai to Canada with his wife, leaving behind his huge debts and an unfinished high-rise in Zhejiang province.

In Canada he obtained residency through an immigration investment scheme. But then he ran out of money and then got vindictive.

He began contacting his mistresses -- note more than one -- back in China, asking to meet him in hotels in Hong Kong and elsewhere, where he secretly taped their sexual encounters and the blackmailed them for money, the report said.

In 2011, mainland police issued a red notice to Interpol requesting member countries to locate and arrest Ding.

He was finally caught in Spain in December, and then earlier this month, a Spanish court agreed to the Chinese authorities' extradition request and was just sent back to China recently.

Jackie Collins (left) would have loved this tale, right?
While it's game over for Ding, we have to admit extorting money from his several mistresses is surely creative. One wonders what his wife thought of his scheme.

In light of this incident, we mourn the passing of Jackie Collins, who made a name for herself writing titillating tales of sex, money and power.

Surely she would have found stories like this perfect for novel fodder... and they're apparently real!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Beijing's Misunderstanding of Hong Kong

Chen Zuo'er claims Hong Kong wasn't "de-colonized" after the handover
Beijing still doesn't understand why Hong Kong isn't becoming "mainlandized" as fast and as well as it think it should be.

The latest to make this comment is Chen Zuo'er, former deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

He claimed that Hong Kong did not "implement de-colonization" after the 1997 handover.

Referring to activists who wave British colonial flags, Chen said: "Because de-colonization wasn't implemented in accordance with the law, things that should be put in the history museum ran into the streets... [At the same time], de-Sinofication, created by colonialists in the 1980s, has revived."

Uh what is de-colonization and what does that entail?

Hong Kong was handed over to the Chinese at midnight
I was here when Hong Kong was handed over to China at midnight on July 1, 1997. There was no program to "de-colonize" the city -- overnight the police changed the insignias on their police caps, mail boxes were painted green, and some royal post boxes were even removed ahead of time. The general sentiment was that many people were happy to be rid of the Brits with hopes things would be better under China.

So what is Chen talking about?

It is the central government that hasn't done a good job in presenting itself as a leadership with integrity, that listens to its people and follows the rule of law. It hasn't done a good public relations exercise nor proper accountability in proving that it is better than the Brits in administering Hong Kong.

In fact quite the opposite.

Hong Kong officials seem to have no idea how to govern the city, seemingly waiting for Beijing to tell them what to do. There is no interest in preserving Hong Kong's unique culture but more importantly there is no vision for the city's future.

Almost a year later what has changed for the better?
For example, the lead tainted water scandal has dragged on for so long and yet we don't even know where the source is. And I checked with the Consumer Council to see which water filters it recommended, only to find it has done no such research. It claims to be an independent body from the government, and yet such information would be useful at a time like now.

The government, both Beijing and Hong Kong, have done nothing to address social tensions between mainlanders and locals, nor critical issues like the wealth gap, poverty and housing.

Chen claimed that Hong Kong's economic development lagged behind Macau's -- though the former Portuguese colony is seeing a 180-degree turn on its fortunes as casino revenues plunge because the big gamblers have disappeared. What kind of comparison is that?

Hong Kong is far more developed than Macau already -- what more can Hong Kong do to bring in more revenue?

The former official is blowing a lot of hot air. These people waving colonial flags are literally a handful of people, and yet the sight of them freaks him out. Chen seems to have no idea what happened almost a year ago and why people occupied various parts of Hong Kong for 79 days.

Beijing doesn't really get it, does it?

Saturday, 19 September 2015

The Chinese Riddle

Rupert Murdoch with Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People
The Chinese like to talk in riddles, particularly their leaders.

Chinese President Xi Jinping received Rupert Murdoch in the Great Hall of the People today. The News Corp chairman probably wanted to pay his respects in the hopes that he might get a sign that the ban would be lifted on his Wall Street Journal website.

Wen Jiabao's family's wealth was unraveled by the NYT
According to Xinhua Xi said: "[We] welcome foreign media and correspondents to cover China stories, introducing China's development to the world, and helping the world grasp the opportunities (afforded by) China's development."

What did Murdoch say in return?

He apparently said to China Daily: "We are very happy, in my newspapers and different news outlets, to try and foster more understanding between our two countries (the United States and China), I think not just on a formal basis, but also with people themselves."

What Xi and Murdoch said need to be taken with huge grains of salt because Chinese state media aren't the most accurate when reporting what people, particularly foreigners say. Their words can be massaged to fit the agenda, and here it's to give the impression that China is open for reporting.

Wendi Deng on the day her divorce was finalized in New York
But what of blocking not only WSJ, but also The New York Times, Reuters and Bloomberg sites?

And not issuing journalist visas to both The New York Times and Bloomberg apparently in retaliation for them publishing stories about senior leaders' families and their web of wealth?

Meanwhile it's interesting Murdoch is making this pilgrimage after his 14-year divorce from Wendi Deng, who wasn't able to help him crack the China market... or perhaps she had other things in mind?

In any case it's no illusion that Murdoch is keen for global media domination and China is the biggest market he has yet to conquer. Apparently 21st Century Fox is looking for a Chinese partner to build theme parks around popular films and TV shows like The Simpsons.

Will we see a Simpsons' themed park in China soon?
Will China let him in?

Does Xi's statement above give any indication?

Friday, 18 September 2015

Picture of the Day: Transcending Government House

Consul General Caroline Wilson's fun tweet
British Consul General to Hong Kong Caroline Wilson has waded into the fracas over Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's supposed emperor-like status in the city.

She took two pictures from the Cheung Kong skyscraper today overlooking Government House and tweeted: "View from Cheung Kong over, or should I say transcending, Hong Kong Chief Executive residence Government House".

It's audacious, but adds humour to the otherwise highly concerning statement this week from the liaison office head Zhang Xiaoming who claimed the chief executive transcended the judiciary and legislature.

We hope Wilson's comments are the last ones on this topic that threatened to create a storm in a tea cup and in the end was a lot of hot air.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Waiting Game Begins

Potential buyers check out Upper East but many have given up down payments
You know the economy is not looking good when potential home buyers are not purchasing homes -- because they think prices will go down even further.

Some buyers have even walked away from deals even though they have put down deposits.

"Developers that require purchasers to put down a small initial down payment will be hit the hardest," said Alvin Cheung Chi-wai, an associate director at Prudential Brokerage. He added buyers would rather cut their losses by forfeiting their deposits if they believe an economic slump is coming.

The media has reported at least 30 such cases so far this month, 11 of which were at Kowloon Development's Upper East project in Hung Hom. Five cancellations were made at Cheung Kong Property Holdings' Beaumont in Tsueng Kwan O, and four at The Aspen Crest in Diamond Hill developed by Far East Consortium International.

One buyer signed an agreement for two flats at Upper East for a total of HK$11.8 million, but gave up the HK$2.55 million initial down payment.

That's a lot of dough, rich or not.

That project has the most number of defaults so far because it required potential buyers to put down payments of just 5 percent. Because of this deal, including a 14 percent discount, it sold 340 units, 40 percent of which were bought by investors this month. Down payments for the cheapest flats -- 194 square feet -- were just HK$150,000.

Kingswood Villas in Tin Shui Wai
The market for luxury and secondary flats was also slow, with sellers cutting prices to entice buyers. A 806 sq ft flat at Pacific Palisades in North Point Hill sold for HK$14.5 million, HK$1 million less than the original asking price.

"This is the first deal for North Point Hill so far this month," said Terry Chan, associate director at Centaline Property Agency.

In Tin Shui Wai, a 546 sq ft flat in Kingswood Villas, the city's most active housing estate in terms of turnover, changed hands for HK$3.92 million, the first unit to be sold for less than HK$4 million in the past few years.

Real estate agents report the secondary market has plunged to a 20-year low.

This is good news for first-time home buyers, but it's a waiting game now, trying to figure out how low prices will go... who's in?

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Legal Smackdown

Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma spoke out, telling people to read the Basic Law
Thank you Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li!

Thank you for setting the record straight once and for all about the status of Hong Kong's chief executive.

Today Ma made a legal smackdown hours after Leung Chun-ying's comments that the chief executive "is indeed transcendent", giving the impression that he has an emperor-like status.

One wonders if Leung has indeed been hanging out at Government House with a crown on his head.

While the chief justice said he was not going to comment on "things which have recently been said" or on other people's comments on what he said in the past, he did say: "But I wish to emphasize two points, both in relation to the Basic Law," Ma said. "The first point is judicial independence. This is specified in the Basic Law in three separate places and I would ask people to read articles 2, 19 and 85."

CY Leung will have to re-think his "transcendent" status
He went on: "The second point deals with equality before the law, and this is Article 25 of the Basic law, which prescribes that everybody is equal before the law, without exception. This applies to everyone."

And what does Article 25 of the Basic Law say? "... all Hong Kong residents shall be equal before the law".

So there. Leung can take off his crown now. The ermine robes have to go too.

In Article 2, Beijing's legislature authorizes Hong Kong "to exercise a high degree of autonomy and enjoy executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication".

Finally Article 19 reiterates that Hong Kong "shall be vested with independent judicial power", while Article 85 states that Hong Kong courts "shall exercise judicial power independently, free from any interference. Members of the judiciary shall be immune from legal action in the performance of their judicial functions."

Again we have to ask -- why did Zhang Xiaoming, head of the liaison office, say what he did on Saturday?

Legally his speech was completely out of line and we hope Ma's clarification will end any more speculation of the chief executive's status.

Today on Commercial Radio, James Tien Pei-chun, honorary chairman of the Liberal Party, urged Zhang to clarify what he meant five days ago.

James Tien thinks Beijing is still trying to assert authority
The last five days have been a verbal circus, because having others like Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and Leung himself trying to explain Zhang's comments is like watching a dog chase its tail.

"Zhang read his speech carefully that day," says Tien. "It seemed to me it was pre-written by Beijing and he was only responsible for reading that out. Perhaps Beijing feels the hearts of Hong Kong people are still not with the country, years since the [1997] handover. That's why they are doing this to assert 'one country'." he said.

If Tien's speculation is true, then Beijing still does not understand how Hong Kong operates and what its people are thinking. For China to think locals will automatically demonstrate unwavering patriotism -- when many of them escaped the Communists in 1949 and onwards -- is naive thinking.

And trying to assert its power over the city is just making things worse.

But in the meantime, high fives to Ma -- the smackdown was just what the doctor ordered.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

10 Chinese Cities to Watch

Of all the Chinese cities, Chengdu is considered to have a booming economy
It's interesting to discover Chengdu is considered to have the most successful economy in China, according to a US-based think tank, considering such factors as job growth, foreign investment and high value-added industries.

Shanghai and Tianjin were second and third respectively, while the Chinese capital was 13th in the Milken Institute study.

Shanghai is in second place in the Milken Institute study
Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province was praised for its "human capital, central government support, established industries in high-end aerospace and aircraft design, and a more recently developed electronics manufacturing sector".

The study said mainland cities were developing in two ways: For Shanghai and Tianjin it is about urbanization, industrial clustering and infrastructure investment bolstering larger regional economies.

The other way, due to the slowdown in economic growth, was the focus on technology, private investment and consumption.

This is the first time the institute has ranked mainland cities, assessing 266 at the prefecture level and above, and divided them into two categories -- 34 first and second-tier cities, and the rest as third-tier cities.

Tianjin comes in third with lots of potential for growth
The study didn't just look at economic growth, but also job and wage growth, gross regional production, foreign direct investment and the strength of high value-added industries.

Chengdu may have done well in the study due to having several respected universities and has lower labour costs.

Interestingly Shenzhen just made number 10 on the list, and seven of the top 10 third-tier cities were in Jiangsu province, which has a strong transportation network of airports, highways and high-speed rail links.

The top 10 cities are:

1. Chengdu
2. Shanghai
3. Tianjin
4. Dalian
5. Nanjing
6. Hefei
7. Xiamen
8. Changchun
9. Chongqing
10. Shenzhen

There should be lots of information to be gleaned from this study and potential investors and entrepreneurs should take note.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Trying to Clear the Air

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen spent the last two days clearing the air...
Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung set the record straight regarding the the status of Hong Kong's chief executive, after remarks made on Saturday by Zhang Xiaoming, head of the liaison office here.

Yuen said the CE would never be "an emperor", as the Basic Law is "unequivocal" in stipulating he must be accountable to legislative and judicial jurisdiction, like everyone else.

He added it was not Zhang's intention to elevate the chief executive to an emperor-like position. "The chief executive is the same as any other member of the public in obeying Hong Kong's laws," Yuen said today.

Then what did Zhang mean then?

... on comments Zhang Xiaoming made on Saturday...
Or is Yuen trying to backpedal on the Chinese official's behalf?

On Saturday Zhang stated the CE was above the law and legislative council that resulted in an uproar in the pro-democracy camp.

To try to be more diplomatic, Yuen said on Sunday in an interview with Xinhua that the Basic Law had to be seen from both the mainland and Hong Kong perspectives.

"It has to be read both from Hong Kong's angle, as well as that of the central government, otherwise it is impossible to safeguard the co-existence of the 'two systems' under the 'one country' framework," he said.

It was unclear if Yuen said this before or after Zhang's remarks, but it still did not clarify anything, which is probably why the justice minister had to come out today and say outright that the CE, or in this case, Leung Chun-ying, did not have an emperor-like position.

We can only shake our heads and wonder what is really going on behind the scenes.

Again we ask - why did Zhang say what he did on Saturday? Did he purposely say this to rile up pro-democracy leaders and activists two weeks short of the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Movement? Or does he think Hong Kong people have no clue what's written in the Basic Law so he thinks he can whitewash it with his own version?

With regards to the role of the CE, it's written pretty clearly in the Basic Law -- there is no room for misinterpretation.

And so it was left to Yuen to try to clear the air, first saying that the Basic Law should be considered from both mainland and Hong Kong perspectives, which doesn't mean anything, and then today he finally put his foot down and said Leung was not like an emperor.

Sometimes the job of underlings is to clean up messes their bosses make -- if Zhang is his boss...

Hong Kong's chief executive would never be "an emperor" as the Basic Law is "unequivocal" in stipulating he falls under legislative and judicial supervision just like anyone else, the justice secretary says in the wake of controversial remarks by Beijing's top man in the city.
Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung also asked Hongkongers not to take the words of Zhang Xiaoming, director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, out of context.
He believed it was not Zhang's intention to elevate the chief executive to an emperor-like position.
"The chief executive is the same as any other member of the public in obeying Hong Kong's laws," Yuen said today.
"It is impossible for him or her to act in breach of the legal or judicial systems."
Yuen spoke after Zhang said on Saturday the chief executive possessed a power above the executive, the judiciary and the legislature – which would effectively end any notion that the separation of powers applied to the city.
The mainland official's comments – made at a symposium celebrating the 25th year of the birth of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution – sparked an outcry among local pan-democrats who feared Beijing was trying to redefine the city's constitutional model.
But Yuen said: "The Basic Law is clearly designed. The fact that the chief executive, as head of the executive and of the Hong Kong special administrative region, is subject to legislative and judicial supervision is unequivocal."
Yuen further highlighted another point Zhang made during the speech, that the chief executive did not enjoy any dominant power.
In an earlier interview with Chinese state media Xinhua, Yuen said Beijing and Hong Kong must look at the Basic Law from each other's perspective, or risk facing "negative effects" on cross-border cooperation.
He warned that without such mutual understanding, the coexistence of "two systems" under the governing principle of "one country, two systems" would be at risk.
It was unclear whether Yuen's interview took place before or after Zhang's Saturday speech.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

One Cool Pole Dancing Granny

Dai is very happy to have taken up pole dancing for fun and fitness
We love this story about a 69-year-old grandmother from Chengdu, Sichuan province, who's also a pretty damn good pole dancer.

Dai Dali has made a name for herself, performing on CCTV, and even represented China in Asia's Got Talent, where she made it to the semi-finals. In June she won an award for a pole dancing competition, and since then has had lots of media attention.

Dai attends classes regularly and even has a pole at home
After she retired from working in a bookstore, Dai liked to practice folk dancing in a gym. It was next door to a pole dance studio. She always passed by but never really thought about it. Then one day five years ago, she walked into the studio and asked the instructor if she could learn. The answer? "Of course you can."

She says she didn't know much about pole dancing -- especially its sexual connotations -- she just thought it would be a good way to exercise.

"I'd never danced on a pole before so I wanted to give it a try," Dai says. "When the instructor let me have a go I started to learn. Gradually I learned how to climb the pole and turn around on it. I was very happy to be able to do that."

When asked what her family thinks about her pole dancing, she says they are all supportive. "My husband minds his own business. He likes to play mahjong and we rarely interfere with one another's hobbies," Dai explains. "My 12-year-old grandson is a very loyal fan of mine. I'll show him the new poses I've learned and he always takes pictures of me dancing. My sister used to think it was too dangerous and asked me to stop practicing. But after seeing my performance, she was very excited and also very proud of me."

Check her out in this Asia's Got Talent clip:

Dai has seen a lot of benefits from pole dancing, reporting that the inflammation and swelling in her left wrist has gone down considerably, thus improving her health and fitness level. She loves pole dancing so much that she's even installed a pole in her home to practice every other day for about 10 minutes.

Two to three times a week Dai has pole dancing lessons that are about 90 minutes long. While the vast majority of the students are young women, she doesn't mind, saying: "I don't feel any different from them. I can learn some moves very quickly. I always forget my age."

We love Dai's attitude. She'd rather be dancing -- doing something she enjoys -- than waiting to die, she says. She'll be turning 70 in December, and one thing's for sure, Dai will continue swinging around the pole and having fun.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Attempting to Change the Goalposts

Leung Chun-ying and Zhang Xiaoming at today's Basic Law symposium
If Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying needed a morale booster, he got a big one today.

Central People's Government liaison office chief Zhang Xiaoming said that the chief executive is above the executive, legislature and judiciary.

He made the remarks during a Basic Law symposium on Saturday, thus effectively ending any notion that the separation of powers concept was applicable to Hong Kong.

This naturally sparked fears over whether Beijing is redefining the function and status of the chief executive of Hong Kong, who is already selected by a 1,200-pro-Beijing committee.

Leong asks if Leung should be treated "like an emperor"
"The chief executive's dual responsibility [to both Hong Kong and Beijing] means he has a special legal position which is above the executive, legislative and judicial institutions," Zhang said during a 26-minute speech.

He also said Hong Kong is directly under the jurisdiction of the central government, and that the CE is not only head of the Hong Kong government but also the Hong Kong special administrative region. "He has responsibility towards both the Central People's Government and to Hong Kong," Zhang said.

He added: "Hong Kong is not a political system that exercises the separation of powers; not before the handover, not after the handover." Zhang said separation of powers "is usually established in sovereign states" and so it is "at best" only a reference for Hong Kong.

Basically Zhang is saying is that Leung and successive chief executives of Hong Kong are above the law. By the way how can he say there was no separation of powers before then handover when China did not have jurisdiction over Hong Kong?

Lee asks why interpretation of the Basic Law "keeps changing"
Civic Party leader Alan Leong Ka-kit interpreted these comments as Beijing sending a message that Leung should be put on a pedestal "like an emperor", and that legislative and judiciary systems cannot keep his power in check or keep him accountable.

Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Labour Party said, "In the long run, how would Hong Kong people have faith in the Basic Law, whose meaning keeps changing?"

Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a top pro-Beijing think tank, sought to play down Zhang's comments. "From the mainland's perspective, it is a separation of powers under the leadership of the executive. The three powers are not equally important and do not share the same status," he said.

"Under the Basic Law, the executive, legislature and judiciary have their own powers and duties. But the chief executive's position is supreme," Lau said.

Lau plays down what Zhang said... then what does he mean?
When one reads the Basic Law, the chief executive is "accountable to the Central People's Government and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law".

Article 64 states the executive branch "must abide by the law and be accountable to the Legislative Council of the region", while Article 85 says Hong Kong courts "shall exercise judicial power independently, free from any interference. Members of the judiciary shall be immune from legal action in the performance of their judicial functions".

And finally with regards to the Legislative Council, it has the power to file a motion charging the chief executive with serious breach of law or dereliction of duty in a process that can lead to impeachment after an investigation by the judiciary.

So what is Zhang talking about then?

How can he re-interpret the Basic Law when the three institutions' functions are pretty clearly spelled out?

Is this Zhang's way of giving Leung a major ego boost, or tipping his hand for 2017? Or is he making these incorrect statements to rile up the pro-democracy camp to prove who's got the upper hand?

He should really check his facts before making such potentially explosive statements...

Friday, 11 September 2015

Guo Meimei Trades Luxury for Prison Cell

Guo Meimei living the life -- back then on Weibo
Some girls just want to have fun.

That was the case of Guo Meimei, 23, who took lots of selfies or had others take pictures of her scantily clad in bikinis, or short dresses. She has a cherubic face, but Guo seems to have seduced herself into the world of luxury.

She took pictures of herself with luxury brand name bags like Hermes and Louis Vuitton, even striking poses in front of a Maserati that were uploaded onto her Weibo account, where she had almost two million followers.

She liked to pose with luxury cars and handbags
Then in 2011 netizens started digging up information about her online and found that she claimed to be a "commercial general manager" at the Red Cross Society of China, which the charity vehemently denied, but the damage was done -- donations plunged because the public was outraged at Guo and didn't trust the Red Cross anymore.

It turns out Guo's partner Wang Jun, 46, was a Shenzhen-based businessman who funded her shopping thrills. He planned to use the Red Cross brand for an advertising campaign, and Guo asked to head the new business venture.

One would have thought that fiasco would have ended the young woman's career, but she plunged headlong into higher stakes -- casinos.

Someone enjoyed money... a lot
She admitted operating an illegal gambling venue in Beijing as well as having sex with several unnamed men for money. She even fabricated a story that she had a 260 million yuan gambling debt in Macau to get herself back into the limelight.

Guo's antics were over when she and Wang were detained in July last year. Dressed in an orange prison garb, she made a tearful "confession" on state media, saying she concocted the affiliation with the Red Cross purely out of vanity.

"I like to show off," she said. "I have the vain mindset of a little girl."

Over a year after she was detained, Guo was sentenced to five years in jail and a 50,000 yuan fine yesterday in Beijing for running an illegal casino. Her associate Zhao Xiaolai pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years and fined 20,000 yuan.

While Guo admitted in court to taking part in illegal gambling and invited people to play high-stakes poker at a Beijing apartment, she denied running an illegal casino.

In court she looked plain, with no makeup on, wearing eyeglasses, a white shirt and frumpy black pants, a far cry from the sexy image she used to portray of herself.

Guo was sentenced in court yesterday for five years in jail
There are scant details of her life growing up except that she lived with her mother in Yiyang, Hunan province and then Shenzhen. Guo later studied at Beijing Film Academy in 2008.

Thus ends the fabulous life of Guo that was terribly short lived and desperate at the end. Her insatiable love of money that led her downfall. After she gets out of prison at the age of 28, what is she going to do then? And for the rest of her life?

We hope this is a lesson to all those young (pretty) girls in China who mistakenly believe life in the fast lane is fun...