Thursday, 31 March 2016

The War on Books at the Airport

Page One bookstore is quitting the airport after its lease was up in April
From tomorrow there will be fewer reading material for sale at Hong Kong International Airport.

There were two bookstore chains, Relay, and Page One, and the latter has lost all six of its airport bookshops with its leases up in April.

Both bookstores' biggest shops near gates 20 and 21 will be replaced with luxury brands MCM and Hermes. Relay's other stores will be relocated to smaller spaces near departure gates.

But that's not all -- there will be five bookshops at the airport that will be run by mainland publisher and bookstore chain Chung Hwa. One wonders what kind of reading material will be for sale there.

It is believed the change in the bookshop vendors may have something to do with pressure being put on the Airport Authority to shut down bookshops selling politically sensitive books, in relation to the saga of the missing booksellers.

There will be fewer Relay stores in the airport
However, an Airport Authority spokeswoman said the decision was made to reduce bookstore space because of a "change in reading habits and advancement in technology", following regular customer surveys on travellers' needs.

When asked to comment, a spokeswoman for Page One said the proposed units up for tender by the authority were not appropriate for the chain to continue its presence in the airport, and cited the economic downturn as another reason.

Lisa Leung Yuk-ming, associate professor in the department of cultural studies at Lingnan University, said Chung Hwa had "quite a strong mainland Chinese background" and people might come to the conclusion that there were political reasons behind the change in book vendors.

"Airport book shops became a haven for all these controversial books about Beijing government officials and their sex lives and how they made their way [to power] through corruption," she said.

"They were a haven not only for books but for magazines publishing gossip tabloid stories about the mainland government. This might be a reprisal for bookshops selling these kinds of things or it might be self-censorship by the airport itself to try to weed out these problematic bookshop labels.

Pro-China Chung Hwa bookstore chain will be moving in
"It might be a more proactive strategy to let more pro-Beijing commercial presses have more space at the airport as a way to toe the official line -- [and say] these are the books you should be reading rather than the problem [ones]."

The Airport Authority spokeswoman declined to address concerns over a political motive for the reduction in bookshop space. "The selection of books to be offered in the shops is decided by bookstore operators," she said.

It sounds like the airport is taking a cue to be more politically correct and ensure it doesn't rile up Beijing. But really, those bookstores did make a lot of money from selling these books that are banned on the mainland.

So instead of confiscating the books when travelers enter China, why not stop them from even coming in in the first place, by cutting the number of bookstores in the airport and putting in a pro-China shop?

Talk about waging a soft power war on culture.

In the meantime I, like everyone else will have to buy our reading materials before we head to the airport. It sounds like this new reality is only the beginning of the new normal...

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Party Calls for HK's Independence

Chan Ho-tin announces the establishment of the Hong Kong National Party
Hong Kong may have another political party, though there are questions if it can legally exist.

In a one-man press conference in Tuen Mun on Sunday, former Occupy activist Chan Ho-tin announced the formation of the Hong Kong National Party.

He said the group would not recognize the Basic Law, the city's mini constitution, and that it would use "whatever means" available to push for independence, including fielding candidates in the Legislative Council elections in September and coordinate with other pro-independence localist groups.

"Staging marches or shouting slogans is obviously useless now. Regarding using violence, we would support it if it is effective to make us heard," he said. Chan claimed the party was entirely funded by donations from its 50-plus members, mostly university students and young activists.

However, the Department of Justice weighed in on the Hong Kong National Party, citing the Basic Law and that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China.

Ho says wanting Hong Kong to be independent is not illegal
"Any suggestion that Hong Kong should be independent or any movement to advocate such independence would not be consistent with the legal status of Hong Kong... or the Basic Law. Nor would such suggestion or movement be conducive to the overall interests of [Hong Kong]."

But barrister and former lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah said talking about independence without taking any action was protected by freedom of speech.

Democratic Party lawmaker and solicitor Albert Ho Chun-yan added that merely advocating for independence was not a criminal offense.

"Seditious intention has to include a tendency to incite violence or an intention to create public disorder," Ho said.

Chan has said that he is not afraid of the consequences, but also said calling for independence was not illegal. "It is not that we advocate independence, it is Hong Kong people who want to break from China."

It's very curious that yet another political party as formed, and if it is made official, it will further splinter the vote in September. What is the point of that? While it is understandable the party could appeal to a group of people, most know the wish for Hong Kong to be independent is just that -- a wish.

The Occupy protests in 2014 failed to get democracy in HK
Legally Hong Kong is a part of China -- there is not much more ordinary people can do about this. It is how we work around these parameters is what matters.

Despite the failure of the Occupy Movement in 2014, they are still looking for other avenues to raise their voices which is admirable. Many of us are jaded and don't think there is much more we can do.

However these young people are very idealistic without taking into account the reality of the situation. No one has a perfect answer, but calling for outright independence is not the solution.

In the meantime we will have to see if the Hong Kong National Party does get formal approval to register, and if so, how many votes can it realistically get? That's how to make their voices heard, not by being radical to the point of possibly being illegal...

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A Public Resignation

Xi Jinping visited CCTV in February and headlined the news that evening
An editor at Southern Metropolis Daily has quit in a very public fashion. He took a picture of his resignation letter and posted it on his Weibo account.

Needless to say it was taken down soon afterwards, thought it was cached by other websites.

Yu Shaolei had worked at the Guangzhou-based newspaper since 2000 and was editor of the culture department.

However, he apparently had enough.

He explained in the resignation form that he could no longer "follow your surname", a reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping's directive that the state and party media must "be surnamed party" -- or answer to the Party first.
Yu Shaolei's resignation that he posted on Weibo

It follows Xi's visit to major state media outlets in February, saying staff -- oops -- media workers -- must follow directions from the Party first and foremost.

Yu's explanation for his decision to quit was translated by China Digital Times:

This spring, let's make a clean break. I'm getting old; after bowing for so long, I can't stand it anymore. I want to see if I can adopt a new posture. To the person responsible for monitoring my Weibo and notifying his superiors about what I should be made to delete: You can heave a sigh of relief. Sorry for the stress I've caused you these last few years, and I sincerely hope your career can take a new direction. And to those friends who care about me, I won't even say goodbye, Southern Media Group.

Xi gets applause after visiting another state media outlet
Southern Media Group is one of the more liberal media outlets mostly because it is located in southern China, near Hong Kong. However in recent years, there have been attempts to muzzle it and other Guangdong-based media outlets, despite their attempts to cover sensitive topics like deaths in police custody and the SARS outbreak.

In 2013, journalists at Southern Weekend, a sister publication to Southern Metropolis Daily, protested after a local official rewrote the editorial. Originally the paper called for proper implementation of the constitution, but instead at the last minute it was pulled and in its place was a piece praising the Communist Party of China.

Poor Yu couldn't take the censorship anymore and can anyone blame him?

And he's in the culture department! What indignities did he suffer through to announce his resignation so publicly with the creative flourish of a pen?

Monday, 28 March 2016

Finally Counting Those Left Behind

Many left-behind children are raised by their grandparents
After more than 30 years of "opening up", when paramount leader Deng Xiaoping named Shenzhen a special economic zone where migrant workers left their families to work in factories, the Chinese government has finally decided to look into how many children they left behind since then.

The issue has resulted in children, some now adults, who don't have a proper education and have estranged relationships with their parents, as they only saw them once a year.

Researchers estimate there are more than 60 million of these left-behind children, but the government will try to find out the exact number so that each of the kids can get some kind of assistance, according to China Youth Daily.

The government ministries will also include migrant juveniles, those who followed their parents from the countryside to the city, which could be as many as 36 million.

Some children have to fend for themselves in rural areas
Ni Chunxia, deputy head of the Ministry of Civil Affairs' social affairs department, said there was no authoritative data on the issue, even though it has long been a major social problem.

A number of these children have led lives of juvenile delinquency, or have committed suicide. Last year a boy and three girls, aged between five and 13, who lived in poverty near Bijie, Guizhou, killed themselves by drinking pesticide.

In the same place in 2012, five left-behind boys living on the streets were found dead in a large garbage bin after having inhaled carbon monoxide while burning charcoal to keep warm.

Last month a directive from the State Council ordered local governments to build a database of these children. The authorities must have one file per child, and each updated on a regular basis.

Lawyer Li Ying, director of the Beijing Yuangzhong Gender Development Centre and an activist in helping left-behind children, said having the database was essential in providing better care and support.

Left-behind children don't get much of an education
"After many years of services, I really think that we can't replace parents after all," she said. "We saw many tragedies and learned that the absence of parents not only means  a lack of caring for their daily life, but also a lack of fundamental education, about telling them what's right and what's wrong.

"The authorities should focus more on luring the parents back home, such as creating jobs and improving their social insurance," Li said. "That way their children can enjoy normal family love."

It's shocking three decades later the government is finally taking some interest in this major group of people, and when it comes to security, one would have thought the government would want to pay more attention to them.

These migrant workers are the ones who sacrificed so much to help build the country economically to the world's second-largest economy, and yet the government only now thinks to focus more attention on their left-behind children.

If there are over 60 million of them, imagine how many aren't properly educated, don't have the necessary social skills let alone life skills to become fully-functioning members of society?

Some NGOs have tried to help this group of people, but were previously thwarted by the government through accusing them of not having proper licenses to run schools for children of migrant workers or making it hard for people to donate to charities that want to help them.

Perhaps now the government see the disparity is too great to ignore?

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Gritty Street Art = Fine Art

One of the posters that Vhils carved to reveal a face
I didn't have enough of an art fix at Art Basel, and after dim sum today at Lei Garden in IFC, I headed out to the ferry pier and noticed there was an art exhibition on the roof of Pier 4, where the ferry goes to Lamma Island.

The artist is Portuguese Alexandre Farto, best known as Vhils, who splits his time between here and Lisbon. "Debris" is his first solo exhibition in Hong Kong and it was presented by Hong Kong Contemporary Art (HKCA).

Striking portraits carved from styrofoam
The roof is an interesting space, and a temporary shelter was created for the show. It's not so large that the artist feel pressure to fill the space, but also large enough to hang big pieces, even multimedia work.

Vhils is a street artist who creatively uses discarded materials to make his art, mostly carving portraits into them to reveal layers that create depth and texture.

The first few pieces are of posters that have been layered on top of each other, and he paints the top with white paint before carving faces on them. The carving reveals the previous layers in colours and designs that are completely haphazard.

Fantastic multimedia piece using stencils on screens
When an artist goes with the flow, you can tell he or she is very confident to let things happen the way they do, or is curious to see what lies beneath.

He also does this with metal, using acid to eat into it to create his designs, or carving on discarded wooden doors. When I was photographing these pieces on my smartphone, the images seemed even clearer through the frame -- much like the Space Invader exhibition which was interesting.

The concept of "carving" extends to multimedia. In one large room, there are a series of TV monitors set up with shows going on in Chinese and English, and he places stencils of faces on top.

There are other impressive pieces of portraits carved out of styrofoam, but for me the more raw the material the better.

A collection of neon signs that are better seen at night!
Vhils also shows videos of portraits that are made from walls through controlled explosions which are fascinating to see, and it would be neat to see how he did that.

Exposed outside were some neon works, but obviously these were not as effective in the daytime, but the collection he assembled were an homage to Hong Kong.

And if you're lucky to catch the right tram, Vhils has decorated the outside of one, again putting layers of posters on there and then carving faces out of them.

Art doesn't have to be perfect -- but it should be executed well, and Vhils does just that. His striking images and creative use of materials will stay with me for a while.

Nothing wasted -- discarded doors are carved
A solo exhibition by Vhils
Until April 4
Central Ferry Pier 4
From noon-9pm daily

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Art Basel Wrap

One of Kyungah Ham's pieces for Chandeliers for Five Cities
This year's Art Basel seemed to be very much business oriented, though the art displayed seemed to be very colourful. Perhaps the kaleidoscope of colours was a subliminal sign to buyers that despite the gloomy economy, art can cheer you up.

A detail of one of the chandeliers embroidered on silk
The art fair had the same number of exhibitors -- 239 -- though the number of large pieces, called Encounter pieces decreased from 21 to 16. In a way this gave the galleries more room to show their work, and allow visitors more breathing space between stalls.

I didn't go through every single row and gallery this year, but some pieces were favourites.

South Korean artist Kyungah Ham's Chandeliers for Five Cities were entrancing. From a distance they look like photographs of chandeliers, some in motion. But when you look closer, the works have been embroidered.

It turns out Ham wondered how she could get in touch with people in North Korea and somehow managed to smuggle materials and her designs across the border, have them made (each in four pieces) and then smuggled back to South Korea where she put them together.

Vic Muniz's collage of the Golden Gate Bridge
The handiwork is amazing and some wonder if the workers who did the pieces were exploited or not. The work seems to make a statement about excess and wealth, but also the stark black backgrounds seem to show opulence isolated.

Nevertheless, the effect of the embroidery on silk canvas is stunning and amazing, a testament to Ham's determination (she could get into trouble for doing this), and the workers who made these five pieces.

Another favourite is Vic Muniz's Postcards from Nowhere: Golden Gate Bridge at Ben Brown Fine Arts. I prefer his earlier works, when he painstakingly made collages recreating famous works of art, or using unusual mediums like chocolate syrup to make his drawings/paintings.

These days he blows up pictures of postcards to give a representation of a place. Last year it was China -- Beijing and Shanghai, and this piece done last year is of San Francisco.

The SCMP was used to make a political statement!
His works are colourful and creative, sure to liven up anyone's day and one could spend hours examining his works closely.

Then at neugerrieum-schneider, Thai-American artist Rirkrit Tiravanija has an untitled work, but on it in bold letters it says, "Freedom Cannot Be Simulated". The slogan is painted on copies of the South China Morning Post dated between September 26-30, 2014, when the Umbrella Movement began and later resulted in the 79-day occupation of parts of Hong Kong.

Tiravanija has done similar works on other newspapers before too, so he is known for making strong statements. Here he is paying tribute to the students and young people who initiated the movement.

Tatsuo Miyajima (right) with HK artist Samson Young
When you put all these pieces of information together, it makes the work even more poignant. Early on there were extra large white T-shirts with the slogan "Freedom Cannot Be Simulated" on it that were left on two large piles by the piece.

Now there are many people with these T-shirts -- the perfect top for the July 1 protest march...

Finally I had a chance to listen to Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima who created a light installation on ICC building. Entitled Time Waterfall, one could see numbers falling on the facade of the skyscraper, digital numbers changing from nine to one.

He explained that it was counting down to death, with zero being death, but that number is not shown. Miyajima wanted viewers to contemplate life and death, and living in the now.

Time Waterfall last night from the ferry pier
In the past few days I've been watching the installation, and am mesmerized as I see the numbers fall. Some drop slowly like leaves, slowly winding their way down, others plunge down; some are very large numbers, others much smaller. It really does make you think about the cycle of life, how life is short and how we should live with meaning.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Keeping the Force Happy?

Traffic copy firing shots in the air will receive a lanyard with four colours
Some 250 frontline police at the Mongkok riots on February 8-9 are being recommended for internal awards, including the officer who fired two warning shots into the air.

The list is for commendations to reward officers for their "devotion to duty" during the violent clashes overnight.

It is believed top honours will go to Sergeant Wong Lok-on, who suffered skull and cheekbone fractures in clashes with protesters on the first night of Chinese New Year. He has been recommended to receive the "red lanyard" by Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

Four other officers will be recommended for a "lanyard with four colours", for going "beyond the call of duty". One of them is the traffic policeman who fired two shots into the air to protect his colleagues who were being attacked.

Over 100 police were wounded in the Mongkok riots
Another is one who was on the ground while protesters threw bricks, glass bottles and wooden boards at him.

"Top management does not object to the idea of awarding the traffic cop with the lanyard. After all, his shots had been justified," a source said. "His decision showed extraordinary courage, as he was to save his colleagues whose lives were under threat."

Critics have questioned why the officer had to fire the warning shots, but the police insist he had no choice. Over 100 police were wounded during the riot.

But the source adds that recommending so many police officers seems to be an attempt to appease them, as they were not pleased with how superiors had directed them during the incident.

"Some of them deserve the merits. But we also notice an increasing number of commendations in recent years," the source added. "Commendation adds an advantage in future promotions. If everyone has it, what's the value?"

More than 1,300 officers commended after Occupy protests
This is what happened after the 79-day Occupy protests, where more than 1,300 officers received merits, and 50 were awarded a lanyard in four colours.

It's interesting how this source has hinted upper management is desperate to keep morale up for frontline officers and this is its way of keeping them happy.

Is this the only way it knows to support its officers?

They had complained they were not given effective commands, and that Chief Superintendent Crusade Yau Siu-kei, acting Mongkok district commander that night, had underestimated the situation.

He will be moved to another position -- is that the right way to punish people for making the wrong call?

Also recruitment is difficult -- the police force has had to lower the requirements for physical fitness in order to get more recruits... not exactly reassuring.

It seems the Hong Kong government is using any means to justify the need for more security which has led to greater tensions that could spark into full-blown incidents.

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy which the Leung administration seems to favour.

In the meantime, do 250 officers really deserve those awards that the taxpayers are shelling out for?

We'd rather more resources go into effective policing, such as enhancing negotiation and communication training, and conflict resolution.

That might be a step in the right direction for the police to regain the public's trust.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Crime in Hong Kong, Trial in Shenzhen

Bossini heiress Queenie Rosita Law spoke to the media after her ordeal
Nine men are on trial related to the kidnapping of Bossini heiress Queenie Rosita Law.

Six of them are charged with kidnapping, three others -- including a Hong Kong resident -- are charged for handling stolen property.

Law was kidnapped last April from her luxury home in Sai Kung, and the kidnappers demanded a ransom of HK$48 million, but the amount was later negotiated down to HK$28 million.

Mainland police hold up some evidence that was recovered
After three days she was freed when the ransom was paid and then the nine were eventually caught.

The strange thing about this case is that it is being heard in Shenzhen Intermediate Court and not in Hong Kong.

Even lawyers on both sides of the border have questioned the arrangement for the mainland courts to handle the case as the principal acts took place in Hong Kong.

But the mainland authorities insist they have jurisdiction over the case, arguing the gang had plotted the crime in Shenzhen.

While the suspects were caught in Guangdong and Guizhou provinces, Hong Kong police arrested alleged kidnapper Zheng Xingwang at the city's immigration control point in May last year. He is the only suspect in the case who will be tried in Hong Kong.

Law Society vice-president Thomas So agreed that the mainland authorities had jurisdiction over the case, which is of a "cross-border" nature.

"While the kidnapping took place in Hong Kong, some of the plotting was done on the mainland, he said. "If either of the jurisdictions makes the arrests, the trial can take place there."

One of the suspects was brought to one of the crime scenes
But University of Hong Kong principal law lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming said the case showed the lack of mechanisms under which Hong Kong could prove itself to be a more suitable venue than the mainland to hear certain cases.

One such example is the trial of "Big Spender" Cheung Tsz-keung by Guangdong courts in the 1990s. Cheung was sentenced to death and executed.

A mainland lawyer working on the Bossini kidnapping case, who refused to be named, agreed that Hong Kong's judicial independence would be eroded in this case.

It is understood Hong Kong police provided their counterparts across the border with related documents and photographs of the HK$4 million worth of jewellery stolen from Law's home. Practically all the cash was finally recovered.

This is an indictment on Hong Kong's pride of having the value of rule of law -- but can't even do that in this particular case.

The crime took place in Hong Kong so why can it not be tried in the city? To say that the trial should be in Shenzhen because the kidnapping was planned there seems like a weak argument, though it is true there aren't mechanisms to deal with situations like this.

Why were these scenarios not sorted out when the Basic Law was being hammered out? How could something like this be overlooked?

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Overly Sensitive HK Bureaucracy

Lau Kong-wah says Hong Kong welcomes cultural exchanges
The Hong Kong government bureaucracy has become so sensitive about language that it needs a good slap in the face to fall back to reality.

A Hong Kong artist, Suie Lo Shuk-yin, was the executive producer for a play called Three Novels: The Third Lie, that was staged at Tsuen Wan Town Hall last Friday to Sunday by local drama group The Nonsensemakers.

For the program, she had provided a brief biography of herself and she mentioned her alma mater, Taipei National University of the Arts.

Taipei National University of the Arts campus
However the Leisure and Cultural Services Department verbally told Lo that she could not use the word "national" in the program in either English or Chinese.

Excuse me? How can you demand someone to take that word out of their biography, when it's part of the university's name?

In the end Lo cleverly rewrote her bio, taking out the mention of her alma mater and instead added a photograph of her holding a graduation certificate that showed the full name of the university.

As soon as this was reported in the media, a tsunami of outrage flooded the government, and it was forced to explain itself with a very red face.

Yesterday Home Affairs Secretary Lau Kong-wah read a two-minute statement -- in both Chinese and English -- that Hong Kong welcomed good relations with other countries, particularly through cultural exchanges. He did not specifically mention the controversy.

Tsuen Wan Town Hall where the drama was staged
But apparently this is not the first time this kind of incident has happened. In 2014, the word "national" for the same university was taken out of text of a program regarding some 20 dancers who studied there.

Cheung Siu-wing, chairman of the Leisure Services Staff General Union said the department's guideline stated only that cultural events at its venues should not involve politics.

But the guideline did not specify that the word "national" in the context of Taiwan universities was not allowed.

"I believe that our colleagues might have been oversensitive in this case," Cheung said.

You don't say!

He suggested that perhaps the issue only came to the attention of senior officials after it was reported to the media.

A cultural expert at Chinese University, Oscar Ho Hing-kay, described Lau's statement as an "empty response".

"If the government respected the arts group, why did the LCSD prohibit that word in the first place? Those were such rubbish comments coming out of his mouth," he said.

It just shows the staff working at the LCSD are not passionate about the arts, otherwise they would respect other people's backgrounds, wherever they came from.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Joshua Wong's Political Evolution

Joshua Wong announced the suspension of Scholarism on Sunday
Joshua Wong Chi-fung has suspended Scholarism for now to form a new political party next month ahead of the Legislative Council elections in September.

The yet to be named party will have at least two candidates run for the elections, and it also plans to hold a referendum in 10 years' time for Hong Kong people to decide their own future beyond 2047, when the "one country, two systems" formula expires.

The new group will have candidates in the Legco elections
Wong explained the group he formed five years ago had become too politicized following the 79-day Occupy movement, making it hard for them to reach students in schools.

"I managed to conduct seminars in some 30 schools after I finished the public exams, but after the umbrella movement, I was invited by only one or two schools, with one being beseiged by pro-Beijing protesters, the other cancelled the session after the incident," he said.

He said it was a tough decision to break up Scholarism, but it was a way to reposition the group with a new student body to be formed in six months, focusing on student issues and civic education, while the party concentrated more on elections and greater democracy.

Scholarism was formed in 2012, forcing the government to shelve its national education curriculum. The group then later focused on political reform.

Wong set up Scholarism to protest against national education
While it sounds like a smart move to set up a new group, whatever Wong does will have some kind of political slant to it, which still perpetuates his divisive image of appealing to the youth, and repelling elders.

In the meantime, watching Wong come of age in the political arena is fascinating, as before then, no one had ever seen anyone in Hong Kong so young passionate about local issues and be able to mobilize so many people through social media.

That is power that cannot be laughed at.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Continuing to Woo China

Zuckerberg met with propaganda chief Liu Yunshan in Beijing
In the last few days Mark Zuckerberg has been in Beijing, continuing his quest to get Facebook unblocked in China.

He's in the Chinese capital to take part in the China Development Forum, along with Alibaba chief Jack Ma Yun, and International Monetary Fund's managing director Christine Lagarde.

On Saturday Zuckerberg managed to snag an appointment with propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, where Liu said the social media platform could share its experience with Chinese companies to help "internet development better benefit the people of all countries," Xinhua said.


Zuckerberg running along Tiananmen Square sans mask
Basically reveal Facebook's success secrets to China so that they can beat him at his own game?

One wonders what his response was...

Some critics chastise Zuckerberg for bending over backwards in his attempt to court China.

A few days ago he posted a picture of him and an entourage running by Tiananmen Square on Chang'an Avenue -- without a mask when pollution levels were pretty high.

There were some who felt he was trying to prove himself by not wearing a mask, and that what he was doing was dangerous.

Others felt it was time to give him a new meme for how far he'd go to win the approval of Zhongnanhai.

On Zuckerberg's desk (right) is a copy of Xi Jinping's book
But in the meantime many are using the #suckerberg hashtag to sum up their feelings towards the Facebook founder, who speaks horribly pronounced Putonghua, reads books by Xi Jinping and now runs around Beijing without taking his health into consideration.

If that isn't an attempt to placate Beijing for some leeway into the China market, I don't know what is...

Sunday, 20 March 2016

China Lacks More Voices on Global Stage

Not many Chinese are employed at the various UN agencies
It's interesting that even though China has expanded its presence around the world economically, politically, and through emigration (legally or not), the mainland hasn't been able to flex its muscles when it comes to diplomacy.

When one looks at the numbers of Chinese working in international institutions like the United Nations and World Bank, it's at less than 3 percent according to Chinese officials.

For example, only about 200 of the 10,000 people who work at the World Bank's headquarters and country offices are Chinese.

One would think this was strange considering so many mainlanders study abroad.

Niu Dun says Chinese candidates lack professional knowledge
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization employs, 3,200 people around the world, but only about 50 are Chinese, says Niu Dun, China's permanent representative at the agency.

"Over the past three decades, we've never been so deeply engaged in so many global issues as we are now, neither have we been so close to the centre of the world stage," says Niu, a former deputy agriculture minister.

"But no matter how good a policy we have, above all, we need a team to realize our goal... It's an urgent issue and also a long-term task."

He said the main issue was that Chinese candidates lacked professional knowledge.

"Even though someone has some diplomatic experience and speaks a foreign language well, it's very difficult if he is incapable of discussing professional problems," Niu said.

One wonders what he means by "professional". It's a word that's bandied about often in Chinese circles in an attempt to explain the difference between someone qualified and an amateur.

There's also the political factor, as it is highly likely only those with really good guanxi would be allowed to rise in the ranks, and not necessarily well qualified.

Less than 3 percent of World Bank employees are Chinese
A finance ministry source said most of the employees from China at the World Bank were consultants, and few assumed positions at or above the level of director. "For senior positions in intergovernmental institutions we have seen more Chinese faces in recent years, but that was more a result of government intervention," he said.

On the other side of the spectrum, there were about 460,000 Chinese students who studied abroad in 2014, compared with 114,700 a decade earlier, according to data from the Ministry of Education.

However, one cannot assume that just because someone studied abroad makes them an ideal candidate for diplomacy -- and do they want to do that kind job or are they well suited for it?

Nevertheless, China needs to groom its young people -- on propaganda mode or not -- to represent the motherland on the world stage. And wouldn't they take their job seriously if they were given the opportunity to do so?

Or is the government terrified the next generation will not do a good job because they have been educated overseas and thus been polluted with other belief systems too?

It's an intriguing dilemma China is in now, but one that needs to be addressed quickly otherwise the country could be crippled by its own lack of diplomatic skills.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Picture of the Day: Homemade Dumplings

The wrapped up dumplings ready to be frozen!
Earlier this week I met some dim sum chefs who showed me how to make things like har gao (shrimp dumplings), chive dumplings, soup dumplings, steamed rice rolls with minced pork and siu mai or pork and shrimp dumplings.

They made it look so easy, but when I tried to copy them, my dumplings looked clumsy and obviously amateur!

I immediately gained a new appreciation for dim sum -- that each piece is crafted by someone by hand.

The experience of making dim sum inspired me to make dumplings today -- the northern Chinese ones that are boiled.

It reminded me of when I was in Beijing and my Chinese teacher taught me and my then boyfriend how to make them from scratch. I just remember how exhausted we were after a good part of the day was spent making the fillings and then the dough, wrapping them and then finally getting to eat them!

The first batch of cooked dumplings! Yum!
I skipped trying to make the dough and focused on the pork and chive filling. I read through a few recipes and then went to the wet market to buy ingredients -- including the wrappers.

At the wet market I didn't see any ground pork so I went to the supermarket to buy it and was shocked to find we had to scoop it up ourselves into a plastic bag -- how unhygienic is that?!

The recipe called for a teaspoon of minced ginger but I put much more than that in there, and didn't have any sugar so I put a teaspoon of honey in it!

In the end I almost wrapped one cattie of wrappers (only about five left), so it pretty much worked out. The dumplings were put on plates and then left in the freezer before transferring them to a ziploc bag to prevent them from sticking together.

For dinner I ate a dozen of them and they were delicious!! I was glad I put a lot of ginger in there to perk up the flavours, but also the fresh chives were a nice addition too. The wrappers held up and were quite thin.

Now I can have dumplings whenever I want and wrapping them didn't take too long -- about an hour and a half? There's no excuse to eat store-bought ones now...

Friday, 18 March 2016

Hong Kong Activists Advised to be Strategic

As Hong Kong seems more polarized than ever before in the political arena, with localists gaining a larger voice, a democracy expert says separatism is "suicidal".

Professor Larry Diamond, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University in the United States, says any attempt to advocate independence, or look at it as a way out of "one country, two systems" by 2047, will only push Beijing to crack down on Hong Kong, and further marginalize the already weak pro-democracy camp.

"I think it is suicidal," said Diamond who is visiting here. "It's not the way Hong Kong is going to achieve democracy and deeper or more meaningful autonomy. It is just going to play into the hands of the hardliners in China."

Hong Kong Indigenous' Edward Leung appeals to many
While localists like Edward Leung Tin-kei of Hong Kong Indigenous managed to get over 60,000 votes in a recent by-election, putting him firmly in third place, it demonstrated he clearly appealed to a demographic that wanted their voices heard. But Diamond thinks this is not the way to go.

"When you have been victimized... and been treated unjustly, as the whole Hong Kong population has been, the natural reaction is anger, frustration and resentment," he said. "But being mad as hell and resolving that you are not going to take it anymore is an emotion but not a strategy."

He suggests this is why the 79-day Occupy protests failed in large part because the protesters should have been more empathetic and get into the minds of their political adversaries in a bid to neutralize the opposition.

At the same time Diamond stresses he is not telling activists to change their aspirations, but to act strategically with an analytical mind.

Diamond says Occupy protesters should have been empathetic
Definitely food for thought for the pan-democratic camp and of course the localists when they think about their strategy, particularly in the run-up to September's Legislative Council elections.

Intriguingly, he believes communism will be out of the picture by long before 2047, and that through painful transition, China will be governed with a federalist democracy system.

Beijing probably dismisses Diamond's theory as unthinkable, and out of spite will probably do anything it can to survive beyond 2047.

However, it's an interesting prediction he's making and China watchers will definitely try to read the tea leaves to see if that may come true...

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Li Ka-shing's Global Observations

Li Ka-shing talked to the media about his outlook on the global economy
Even Hong Kong's Superman, tycoon Li Ka-shing is feeling the pinch.

In today's press briefing following CK Hutchison's announcement of profit earnings, Li said the city is experiencing some of its harshest economic conditions in two decades amid global weakness, adding that the downturn in property and retail sales was worse than during the SARS epidemic.

"The global economy in 2015 experienced mounting deflationary pressures resulting in a collapse in commodity prices and slow global trade," he said in a filing to Hong Kong's stock exchange.

Hong Kong only makes up 6 percent of his investments
"In addition, volatility in global equity, debt, commodity and currency markets may increase against a background of continued monetary easing in Europe, increased global political uncertainty, economic and refugee issues in Europe, as well as increased geopolitical risk in the Middle East and African regions.

"I am confident that Britain will stay in the European Union. If it leaves the EU, we will be more cautious and reduce our [future] investment in Britain," he told reporters."

In Hong Kong, he said the economy is experiencing some of its toughest moments in two decades, with "property sales and retail sales [at times] worse than during the SARS epidemic [in 2003]."

But despite these challenges, CK Hutchison, the revamped conglomerate that includes Li's non-property assets, posted a better than expected net profit at HK$31.2 billion, slightly higher than the HK$31 billion estimate in a Thompson Reuters poll of 14 analysts.

Li believes Britain will not leave the EU. Is he right?
Only 6 percent of its earnings (before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) came from Hong Kong, compared to 34 percent in Britain, 19 percent from Continental Europe, 13 percent from China, 8 percent from Canada, and 18 percent from Australia and the rest of the world.

About 35 percent of CK Hutchison's investments were in infrastructure, 24 percent in telecommunications, 16 percent from retail, 13 percent from port and related services, 10 percent from energy, and 2 percent from finance and investment.

Interesting Li should comment about the challenging economic climate when his company is doing so well.

But alas we're not in the same league as the tycoon. Interesting to note he does not think Britain will leave the EU. We'll have to see if he's right or not.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

What the Premier Didn't Mention

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang addressing the media today in a press conference
Ah, the National People's Congress is over for another year.

Premier Li Keqiang held a press conference, where he was supposedly open to answering all questions from the media -- provided they were screened first.

Foreign media had to submit questions in advance, and only the ones that were approved were allowed to be asked -- if they were chosen in the huge crowd.

Hundreds of journalists were in the room listening to Li
And domestic media are typically given pieces of paper with questions on them, usually softball ones to give the premier a chance to talk about things he wanted to discuss.

But what would stop someone from asking a hard-hitting question -- other than probably being banned from the NPC forever -- at least it would get the premier to actually address an issue that everyone wants to know.

And so from reading news reports of today's press conference, it sounds like a lot of issues were not addressed, making people wonder if the government cares about their welfare, or is actually tackling the country's socio-economic challenges.

Li did not bring how China is tackling air pollution
For example in the past three years, Li answered questions about the environment and what the government was doing to curb pollution, but this year the topic was not raised, even though air quality has been so bad this past year.

This year was also the first time issues about the property market were not addressed either, as prices rise far beyond the reach of ordinary people. Perhaps Li could not think of another way to spin the story...

While he answered questions about economic form and the need to streamline bureaucracy, the massive problem of how to further streamline state-owned enterprises was not mentioned. It's probably too explosive a powder keg to even begin to delve into...

No talk of China's growing presence in the South China Sea
When it came to foreign relations, he did not talk about China's relationship with Africa or Europe, and also its growing presence in the South China Sea. What is going on with that island that China seems to be making bigger and bigger...? And didn't Beijing have good relations with African countries? What happened there?

Human rights is not a topic that is often mentioned at these press conferences, but sometimes previous premiers have talked about it on occasion. Not this time, despite blatant human rights abuses against Uighurs and Tibetans...

It sounds like an extremely tightly controlled press conference, and perhaps even Li could not say much either, which is why he ended it at exactly the two-hour mark, including translations into English. So in the end it was probably one hour's worth of questions.

Thus wraps up another year, with China watchers having to further examine their tea leaves to try to figure out where the country is going.