Tuesday, 31 May 2016

China's Flip Flop on Smoking Ban

Enough cigarettes for you? A shop selling almost every local brand you'd want
Whenever China says it's going to be more stringent on smoking regulations, it's pretty much a joke.

The government is too vested in the tobacco industry to really want to help its citizens wean themselves off those cancer sticks.

The latest is that Beijing has back-pedaled on a proposed national smoke-free law, that would have banned smoking in all indoor and some outdoor public spaces.

Now the latest version of the Ordinance on Smoking Control in Public Spaces would allow restaurants, bars, hotels and airports to set aside smoking areas.

Bars, restaurants, hotels and airports will have smoking areas
Bernhard Schwartlander, the World Health Organization representative in China was concerned about the changes.

"You see again and again in the world such exceptions built in the law and it doesn't do much to protect the health of the people from second-hand smoke. A law that has so many exceptions can't be enforced. We have learned the best law is one that is 100 percent smoke free," he said.

There are about 315 million smokers in the mainland, and China is also the world's biggest producer and consumer of tobacco products. Around 700 million people are routinely exposed to second-hand smoke, according to the WHO.

It's hard to control because the tobacco industry is state-owned and generates more than 1.09 billion yuan in profit and tax revenue last year.

Even though the proposed national law is weak, 18 mainland cities have passed their own municipal smoking bans since 2008, of which Beijing's is the most stringent.

Smoker with a "no smoking" sign behind him in a restaurant
The law in the Chinese capital, which was passed last June, fully complies with the WHO's call for complete bans on smoking in all indoor workplaces, public transport areas and other public places.

A year after the ban was implemented, smoking in indoor areas dropped from 23.1 percent to 6.7 percent, while smoking in restaurants fell from 40.3 percent to 14.8 percent, according to the Beijing Health and Family Planning Commission.

Nevertheless, one would think such drops in numbers would be solid proof that these bans are effective, but old habits die hard.

It's practically impossible to get the numbers to zero because there are many who flout the municipal ban and think it doesn't apply to them, or restaurants don't want to be too heavy handed when it comes to enforcing the ban because it will make their diners angry.

Surely President Xi Jinping would insist on smoking bans -- if he did it would have happened already.

Or maybe the tobacco industry is too big of a fish to fry, or further down on his priority list.

But the impact of China's healthcare system having to deal with an explosion of cancer cases is something that worries him... or not?

Monday, 30 May 2016

Ken Tsang's Days in Court

Ken Tsang speaks outside the court following his sentencing today
Today one of the Occupy protesters who spilled a foul-smelling liquid on police officers in October 2014 was sentenced to five weeks in prison.

Ken Tsang Kin-chiu was convicted of one charge of police assault and two counts for resisting arrest.

Interestingly during the trial the main bone of contention was his identification, as police video showed a man in a black T-shirt, goggles and a mask splashing liquid, and his defense team claimed it was not him.

Footage showing Tsang spilling unknown liquid on police
Tsang, 40, didn't take the stand, nor did he have any witnesses in his defense.

But Principal Magistrate Peter Law Tak-chuen said last Thursday he was convinced beyond reasonable doubt that Tsang was the one who spilled the urine-like liquid on 11 police officers, and that the act of doing that amounted to assault.

Today Tsang accepted the sentence, saying outside the court: "Even though I am disappointed and sad about the judgment, I still respect the legal system in Hong Kong."

While he agrees with the length of the sentence, the social worker with no previous criminal record plans to appeal.

Later that evening he was arrested and allegedly beaten
The sentencing comes a day before another trial begins -- that of Tsang allegedly beaten by seven police officers after he had spilled the liquid on their colleagues.

We will have to see what defense the police have -- as many saw the video of them dragging Tsang into a dark corner and apparently beat him.

This is the case everyone will be watching, and how it plays out could affect the next steps of activists and localists...

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Divergent Tiananmen Goals

The head of the procession that marched from Wan Chai to Western today
This afternoon, several hundred people marched ahead of the June 4 anniversary, calling for Beijing to admit its wrongdoings in Tiananmen Square 27 years ago.

Young and old walked from Wan Chai to the Beijing Liaison office in Western carrying banners and shouting slogans.

The turnout was also an indication of support for organizers of the annual June 4 candlelight vigil in Victoria Park, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.

Earlier this week Hong Kong Shue Yan University's student-run editorial board likened the organizers to "pimps and bawds in a brothel".

Thousands of students fighting for democracy 27 years ago
Last year, post Occupy, students at the University of Hong Kong decided to hold their own vigil for the victims of the June 4 massacre, saying there was no point in trying to push for democracy in China, when we should be fighting for democracy in Hong Kong.

And this year the HKU students will be doing their own thing, along with the Federation of Students, and Chinese University is doing something separately.

I had never heard of Hong Kong Shue Yan University before and had to look it up. It's a private liberal arts college near Fortress Hill with under 3,000 students. Making statements equating people to "pimps and bawds" will definitely get attention and illustrate the students' outrageous thought process.

"The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China has become pimps and bawds in a brothel after they themselves were raped," wrote Ng Kwai-lung head of Hong Kong Shue Yan's student editorial board.

Remembering the victims of June 4 at Victoria Park
One of the student leaders in the 1989 protests in Beijing, Wang Dan, who now lives in Taiwan, said the students' sentiment was similar to the standard of the wumao, or "50-cent gang", the army of internet commentators who supposedly get 50 cents for every comment they make that support the Chinese government and attack its critics.

The students have a really bizarre sense of thinking. Do they think anyone will take them seriously?

It will be interesting to see how many people show up on Saturday at Victoria Park. I just hope there won't be torrential rain....!!!!

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Moving Art Installation

Our tram for the next 25 minutes or so, with the upstairs covered up
This afternoon I had a chance to see some art on a tram.

Called Twenty five Minutes Older, not much is told ahead of time, except that visitors can either take the tram from Sheung Wan to Causeway Bay or from Causeway Bay to Sheung Wan, a ride that takes approximately 25 minutes.

Although almost all the free tickets were snapped up, the artist, Kingsley Ng let me ride at one of the times with fewer people, which happened to be today at 4.20pm.

Kingsley Ng explaining the proceedings
However, when I got there, the tram was experiencing delays thanks to the rainy weather and so I and about 10 other people waited patiently under cover.

From the outside, the tram looks like any other, but the upstairs is covered up. We entered the ground floor, and Ng was there explaining the situation: When we went upstairs, it would be very dark, and no photography, mobile phones or flash were allowed at all. The actual piece would be about 15 minutes long and we would arrive at Wan Chai or Causeway Bay.

Then we were each handed a pair of headphones, that at first had sounds of ocean waves. Then we went upstairs and saw the windows were covered up and almost all the seats were taken out; there were some cushions on the floor so I sat down on one of them. When we settled in, the lights went out and a series of phrases were projected in Chinese and English, while music played in the background.

We then started to see a view of Central and I recognized the shops as we went by, but they were upside down and in black and white. What was going on?

Periodically we'd hear a woman's voice speaking poetic phrases that didn't seem to add up to much, but I was more entranced by the images we were seeing in front of us.

Looking through the pinhole camera on the tram
When the lights finally went up, Ng explained the images we saw were in real time, projected from a camera obscura that was actually right next to me. He wanted to show that things we see are fleeting -- that we cannot record them because they are gone.

Perhaps it was a message to tell us to stop and metaphorically smell the roses, to not always focus on capturing things for posterity, but to remember the moment.

Our trip ended in Wan Chai and the rain was coming down in buckets.

Twenty five Minutes Older is running until June 2, as part of "The 5th Large-Scale Public Media Art Exhibition: Human Vibration", presented by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.

Another work that was part of this show was the large light installation on ICC that got yanked after the ADC claimed the two artists changed the title of the work without consulting it or the curator.

One of the panels adding context to Ng's tram installation
But many believe it was turned off because the pair explained after the work was launched, that the large number on the ICC was actually the number of seconds counting down to July 1, 2047, when "one country, two systems" ends.

While watching the seconds countdown was daunting, being in the tram with a few people and experiencing the same thing was a memorable and intimate way to experience art -- moving art -- that also made you think about how we spend our time, and that it that will never come back.

Twenty five Minutes Older by Kingsley Ng

Friday, 27 May 2016

Quote of the Day: Smog is a Meteorological Disaster

Intense smog days in Beijing may now be called "meteorological disasters"
This news item should be filed under "absurdity of the day": Beijing authorities are considering classifying severe smog days as "meteorological disasters", along with torrential rain, blizzards and drought, according to draft regulations on natural disaster mitigation submitted yesterday.

Director of the municipal government's legal affairs office, Liu Zhengang, said smog was "a combined result of man-made pollution and natural weather conditions", so it was appropriate to call the phenomenon a meteorological disaster," reported the Beijing News.

Tianjin and Hebei, Beijing's neighbours, have already classified smog as weather disasters, so the authorities in the Chinese capital felt it was "necessary" to do the same for "regional cooperation on tackling smog", the report said.

Apparently meteorological disasters caused 111 deaths in Beijing from 2001 to 2014, and caused direct financial losses of 22.5 billion yuan.

Heavy smog deters many from venturing outside
The regulations call for the capital city to set up "wind corridors", where the heights of buildings will be regulated to harness natural breezes to channel smog from urban areas.

How can the government regulate this when there are so many tall buildings up already?

And really? Smog is a meteorological disaster?

Sounds like the government wants to avoid having to take responsibility for the air pollution in the city, and blame it on Mother Nature.

Before the Beijing Olympics -- almost eight years ago -- the city prided itself on being able to control the weather by shooting silver iodide cloud seeding into the air to make it rain.

However it seems unable to control the amount of air pollution spewing into the atmosphere

Beijing's annual PM2.5 levels still stood at 80.6 micrograms per cubic metre last year, eight times the safety limit recommended by the World Health Organization.

Perhaps the government is shirking from its responsibility because the task of tackling air pollution is so overwhelming that it doesn't know where to begin?

The so-called "wind corridors" are a cop out. Reminds me of when the Hong Kong government wanted to reclaim land from Victoria Harbour, saying it would be a good thing to make the speed of the water flowing through the area move faster, so it could flush out contaminants.

However, the water is rushing so fast now that hardly any sea life can be detected below.

If Hong Kong was a true democracy -- and China too -- would these inept officials still be in power?

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Bye Bye Brother Cream!

My first encounter with Brother Cream in June 2014
Sad to see Brother Cream and his owner's convenience store in Tsim Sha Tsui East to go due to rising rents.

I managed to see the chubby British shorthair cat a few times in the last two years or so, and yesterday, the last day of the shop's operation, a number of fans came by to say goodbye.

However Brother Cream didn't seem to care about all the fuss, with so many visitors and media around that he lounged around napping for most of the day.

His owner sold Brother Cream merchandise as well as books
The demise of the shop is also a sign of the times, as the owner, Bee Ko Chee-shing said that even if he moved to another location, business would be difficult because fewer people are buying magazines and newspapers.

He tried to capitalize on the fame of the cat by producing two books, Brother Cream in East TST, and Cream Chicken Soup, along with public appearances and even an advertising contract with department store Wing On, and a statue of him at Times Square for Chinese New Year.

However these were not enough to keep the money rolling in, though Ko admits if it wasn't for those gigs, he would have closed shop two years ago.

Brother Cream shot to fame in 2012 when he was allegedly stolen and fans posted notices of him around the area. The media picked it up and the cat made front page news. He was apparently returned about 20 days later and by then had garnered lots of fans and even a Facebook page.

He even made a special appearance for Chinese New Year
In the meantime Ko will give Brother Cream a break and hopefully fans will be able to see the fluffy feline somewhere again soon.

Thanks Brother Cream, for hanging around. You brightened up many people's day, just for being you.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Tsai Bashing Backfires

Taiwan's Tsai Ing-wen (centre) on inauguration day last Friday
The mainland really has problems accepting Tsai Ing-wen as the new president of Taiwan.

Less than a week after she took office, Wang Weixing, a member of the Association of Relations across the Taiwan Straits (Arats), were published in the International Herald Leader, a paper under Xinhua news agency.

"From the human point of view, as a single woman politician, [Tsai] does not have the emotional burden of love, of 'family', of children, [so her] political style and executive strategy tends to be emotional, personal and extreme," Wang said, who is also a senior military officer and director of foreign studies with the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Sciences.

He also added her "erratic behaviour" influenced her political style.

Tsai's office had no comment on the article.

The new Taiwanese president has a penchant for felines
The opinion is so baseless that one wonders how Wang could even be qualified to write something as sexist and misogynist as this.

She won a clear victory at the polls, so there must be a reason why the Taiwanese chose her over other candidates.

And having a leader who is single is a good thing.

That shows he or she is focused on his or her job, that family issues will not be getting in the way or a distraction from leading Taiwan.

Wouldn't you want a leader who was mostly focused on the best interests of your country/state/city/province?

If anything, Wang's opinion is so inane and ridiculous that his own countrymen bashed him on social media for his ignorance.

One Weibo user in Beijing wrote: "This was the stupidest and most offensive thing I have read in ages. Many women abroad admire Ms Tsai's tenacity and drive, especially the fact she is strong and independent and does not need a man to rule."

"If the tables were turned and Ms Tsai was a man, she would be celebrated for being single," said another. "This is typical discriminatory behaviour but it still disgusts me."

Perhaps the best response was from Su Mei Cho, a teacher from Shanghai: "If Xinhua wanted to criticize Tsai Ing-wen, do it on fair grounds and look at her ability to lead Taiwan and revitalize areas like defense and the economy.

"What does her private life have to do with the way she governs Taiwan? Taiwanese celebrate her and her strong achievements and I doubt they will care as much about who she decides to date, such trivial writing and opinions expressed in this report."

We expect Wang to metaphorically have egg on his face and he should better rethink his strategy on how to better bash Tsai on more weightier issues than her sex.

It is, after all, 2016.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Written Loyalty to the Party?

A newlywed couple began their new life together copying the constitution...
The Communist Party of China is demanding its 88 million members show their loyalty by copying out the 15,000-character constitution -- by hand.

In an article published by PLA Daily, it warned members against just mindlessly copying the text, that they should use the opportunity to fully understand the meaning before they published their final product on social media.

"If copying out is just about moving the pen and is not done wholeheartedly... if it fails to touch the thoughts and the soul, the well-intended campaign will lose its meaning and be reduced to a form of delicate formalism," said the PLA Daily article.

Did they spark a trend endorsed by Beijing or was it staged?
"The purpose of transcribing is to study and to be awakened, to remind yourself of your original intention [of joining the party] by engaging full-heartedly," it added.

The campaign first got attention after a newlywed couple was photographed writing paragraphs on their wedding night.

Didn't they have more important things to do on their wedding night than copy of several hundred words of the constitution? Many thought the photos were staged.

Chen Daoyin, an associate professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said the campaign was eerily similar to people studying quotations from Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution.

"This reflects a societal turn to the left since Xi rose to power," Chen said. "But society is progressing, and the new generation is under an age of rapid development of the media and information, is no longer the same. These campaigns nowadays often end up as a target for sarcasm by society, as the propaganda apparatus is always falling behind social development."

He added the campaign had already been abused, saying there were 20 migrant workers in Jiangxi province who were hired by a company to hand copy out the constitution in front of a high court to protest the court's handling of a case involving the company.

Some sections of the constitution copied by others
It does seem kind of Cultural Revolutionary to have to copy out the constitution -- does that prove one is "more red" than the next person?

Or is it evidence the person is more of an obedient sheep?

Does anyone in the United States have to write out the Declaration of Independence to prove their patriotism to the country?

Are China's leaders doing it too? Or just laobaixing (ordinary folk)?

Surely there are other ways to prove one's love for their homeland -- unless they really want to practice writing Chinese characters by hand...

Monday, 23 May 2016

Lights Out for Multilayered Art Installation

The large number on ICC counts down the seconds to July 1, 2047
I saw it last week, albeit briefly, and was hoping to see it again.

But alas, it's gone for good.

I'm talking about a curious light installation on the ICC or International Commerce Centre at Kowloon station.

For a few days it had a countdown clock, not like the one Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima did.

Two Hong Kong artists, Sampson Wong Yu-hin and Jason Lam Chi-fai created a work originally called Our 60-Second Friendship Begins Now, where, following a series of messages, like "I will remember this minute", and "You can't change this fact", and a bunch of graphics, it finally shows a large number counting down.

The installation was launched on May 17, the start of Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People's Congress' visit to the city. Did he see those messages from his presidential suite?

It turns out, explain Wong and Lam, that the big number is the number of seconds to July 1, 2047, when "one country, two systems", or 50 years of supposedly no change ends and Hong Kong becomes... what? Another Chinese city? In no-man's land?

What was amazing was that Lam and Wong were able to pull this off, if only for a few days.

But now it's been revealed that the pair made the installation, that was supposed to run until June 22, thanks to a commission by the Hong Kong Development Council. But the government-run arts body is very angry about the true meaning behind the work, claiming it was duped into thinking the light show was politically correct.

In a statement, Ellen Pau of the HKADC and Caroline Ha Thuc, curator of the "Fifth Large-Scale Public Media Art Exhibition: Human Vibrations", said:

"The disrespect demonstrated by Mr. Sampson Wong and Mr. Jason Lam against the original agreement and understanding made with the curator and HKADC is jeopardizing our profession and put at risk any future possibility to work further in the public space."

The statement said the artists had made changes to the work and had publicized these "without consulting the curator nor HKADC." On May 18 after after the exhibition's opening ceremony, the pair changed the name to Countdown Machine.

It also added, "We do believe in the freedom of artistic expression and do support our artists."

Err, those last two statements contradict each other. If you support artists and their right to artistic expression, then what is wrong with their installation?

The HKADC isn't without controversy -- local artists have told me that it picks and chooses artists it likes -- in other words, those it deems to be politically correct. This body has the power to promote artists to a global audience, and so some artists make compromises for the chance at recognition.

Others decide to just go their own way, but most of the time end up struggling.

Wong alluded to this in his Facebook page in response to his light installation being taken down.

"The public knows clearly who is jeopardizing the [arts] sector and the profession," he said, referring to a line in the HKADC's statement that it said he and Lam were "jeopardizing our profession".

He added that Hong Kong had not yet accepted the behaviour of "calling a deer a horse" -- referring to the distortion of facts.

Lam and Wong know they have probably ruined their chances of a fruitful artistic career in Hong Kong. They've probably been labelled "subversive" and blacklisted in the mainstream art world and are probably lumped into the same category as Joshua Wong Chi-fung, who can't even open a bank account these days.

However we salute these two for not only bringing the attention of Hong Kong's relationship with the mainland, possibly getting high visibility from a senior Chinese leader, and highlighting issues with the HKADC in one piece of art.

Multilayered meanings. Isn't that what art is about?

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Hong Kong Still Isn't Buying It

Zhang encourages Hong Kong to take an active role in One Belt, One Road
Senior Chinese official Zhang Dejiang's visit to Hong Kong was his attempt to soothe anger and frustration at Beijing and the Leung Chun-ying administration.

While he probably bent over backwards more than other Chinese officials would have, for Hong Kong people it wasn't enough.

He was keen to demonstrate to the city -- and Taiwan -- that Beijing supposedly accepts the plurality of opinions in Hong Kong, and that while there are calls for independence, they are only a small -- make that very small -- group.

Opposition to Communist rule still simmers in Hong Kong
With that, and meeting with four pan-democrats, Zhang was hoping turn the tide of opinion to his side, but did he manage to do it?

Opinions are still entrenched depending on which side you're on; there is no middle ground.

This past Monday was the 50th anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution. For those who were alive at the time, those memories are still vivid, particularly those whose families were persecuted, physically attacked or worse killed.

Those who managed to escape the madness went to Hong Kong to rebuild their lives. But it wasn't only then -- they did it during the Great Leap Forward and before that when the Communists came to power.

They have told their haunting stories to their children and grandchildren so that no one will forget what Mao and the Party did to them.

And then 1997 happened, with Hong Kong people thrilled to see the backs of the British, but really it was just trading one master for another without any proper resolution.

Memories of the Cultural Revolution are still fresh
And it's even harder to accept our new master, who hasn't really had a good track record when it comes to looking after its people and its hypocritical political ideology.

Come July 1 it will be 19 years since the mainland reclaimed Hong Kong and Beijing still doesn't understand many Hong Kong people's skepticism.

Then there's the One Belt, One Road strategy.

China is keen for Hong Kong to take part, and Leung has been touting it constantly as something the city should be rallying behind.

Hong Kong has no experience in eastern Europe and western China, and if some entrepreneurs have tried to set up businesses they were dismal failures because they were not familiar with business practices there.

But with Zhang bringing up the topic again in a summit here, the media noted tycoons and bureaucrats looked glum. They probably knew that Beijing was expecting Hong Kong to pitch in with money. Lots of it.

One business columnist summed it up succinctly:

Because it's all about the money. Hong Kong's paramount value to Beijing is to act as a world-class financier to fund China's ambitions. Anything else that citizens consider essential for social stability -- democracy, self-determination, independence, a high degree of autonomy, property prices -- are trivial banquet conversation.

Then he ominously ends by saying, "Hong Kong, this is your life. Welcome to it."

Not exactly optimistic...

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Post-Mortem on Zhang Visit

Zhang Dejiang (left) gave a conciliatory stance  -- or was it an act?
For once, a student activist and a pro-Beijing veteran agreed on something -- that the four pan-democratic lawmakers who met with Chairman of the National People's Congress Zhang Dejiang on Wednesday evening before a banquet -- should not have asked for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to be removed from office.

Joshua Wong Chi-fung, secretary general of Demosisto, said he felt uncomfortable about asking for Leung to be removed.

Four pan-democratic lawmakers saw Zhang on Wednesday
"It seems they ignored the electoral system in Hong Kong," he said on RTHK this morning. "I think pan-democrats should have focused on Hong Kong people's demand for universal suffrage and self-determination... because it's the political system's fault, not just a person's."

Meanwhile, Cheng Yiu-tong said on TVB that he heard the pan-democrats "telling Zhang to stop Leung from seeking re-election" next March.

"They should not say that because they are popularly elected lawmakers... Re-election is also Leung's personal choice," said the local deputy to the NPC.

They both have a point.

 Wong says the four shoul have pushed for universal suffrage
However, Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan clarified on Commercial Radio what they talked about with Zhang.

"What we said was that Leung caused social divisions and it would be inappropriate for him to seek another term," she said. "We also mentioned that the problematic electoral system should be reformed."

Democratic Party's Emily Lau Wai-hing said she told Zhang it was inappropriate for Leung to govern Hong Kong.

Was this a constructive conversation? Or was Zhang just paying lip service to these lawmakers?

Knowing Zhang and how he handled the 2003 SARS crisis and had the gall to suggest that Guangdong (when he was governor) and Hong Kong cooperated closely on dealing with the outbreak.

Cheng says the four shouldn't have said Leung should go
That was hardly true, with China not even acknowledging at first there was a problem, resulting in 1,755 people infected, and 299 who died.

So do you trust Zhang with sincerely listening to people and willing to take action in the best interests of Hong Kong than the Party?

Friday, 20 May 2016

Taiwan's New Chapter

Tsai Ing-wen is Taiwan's first female president who was inagurated today
Today is a historic day with the inauguration of Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's first female president.

She wore a straight-forward white jacket and black slacks, which reflected her speech that aimed to get Taiwan back on track and become less reliant on the mainland, much to the ire of Beijing.

Tsai campaigned on this platform which won her and the Democratic Progressive Party a decisive victory, and so she was keen to continue on this theme. She said Taiwan would pursue a new economic model of sustainable development based on the core values of innovation, employment and equitable distribution.

She also stressed the importance to building ties regionally and globally.

Former president Ma Ying-jeou looking sombre with Tsai
However what everyone was listening for was how Tsai would deal with relations with Beijing.

While she acknowledged discussion between the two sides, she stopped short of endorsing the so-called 1992 consensus, where at the time, China and Taiwan agreed they were part of "one China", with each side having its own interpretation of what that meant.

Agreed upon by the previous Kuomintang government, it was the basis on which the two sides began having warming relations, resulting in the start of direct flights, more tourism and investment.

However in the last few years, many Taiwanese felt that former President Ma Ying-jeou sold out and they were fed up with being overwhelmed with mainland tourists, a similar refrain with Hong Kong.

As a result, the Taiwanese wanted someone who would take a stand against the mainland and Tsai was the chosen one.

Nevertheless, the point of contention is that Tsai doesn't endorse the so-called 1992 consensus, instead recognizes it as a "historic fact", which annoyed Beijing immensely.

Paraphernalia featuring Tsai's face on inauguration day
"The two governing parties across the strait must set aside the baggage of history and engage in positive dialogue, for the benefit of the people on both sides," she said.

This led to Beijing issuing a statement via Xinhua, saying Tsai did not go far enough in acknowledging the so-called 1992 consensus, calling her remarks "an incomplete examination paper", as if she were a petulant student.

Since her election, Beijing has taken a more aggressive stance on Tsai and her administration, and renew challenges to the island's recognition by 22 states including the Vatican.

Tsai seems ready to deal with Beijing's combative style with her own way of doing things. The former law professor and trade negotiator knows exactly what she's up against and it remains to be seen how deftly she deals with the hisses and criticisms across the Taiwan Strait.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Waiting for One Man

Zhang Dejiang (top right) waves goodbye before embarking the plane
I'm so glad Zhang Dejiang has left Hong Kong.

Let me tell you my commute to work today.

My company shuttle has to make several stops on Hong Kong Island before going to the New Territories, and this includes Sheung Wan, Central and Wan Chai.

Everything was fine in Sheung Wan, but when we got to the start of the ferry pier where the ferries go to the outlying islands, the one road was a parking lot.

The Central ferry pier was a parking lot for over an hour
We were at a complete standstill, or inched along. We were stuck on this short stretch of road, a few hundred metres -- for over an hour.


Because Zhang, the third-highest ranking official in China, chairman of the National People's Congress, was on his way from his hotel, the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong to Tseung Kwan O, and so Connaught Road Central, Gloucester Road and Kwung Tong bypass were closed.

And he had a motorcade 45 vehicles long. And detailed security who even carried stun grenades, smoke grenades, firearms and even briefcases with machine guns in them.

All for one man.

We first hit the jam at 9.17am and didn't leave the Star Ferry pier area until 10.30am. Needless to say we were super late for work and fuming.

Traffic was jammed in Wan Chai where Zhang was staying
In China, this is normal -- blocking traffic for officials, closing airspace for them to fly.

But for Hong Kong, this was too much.

While Zhang claims there is no campaign to mainlandize Hong Kong, what he did during this trip certainly was proof that actions speak louder than words.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Vaguely Addressing the Cultural Revolution

China claims it says "bye-bye" to the Cultural Revolution, but has it?
Yesterday the Communist Party of China's main mouthpiece, the People's Daily, broke the media silence over the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution.

In an editorial it offered assurances the party would not allow such a revolution to happen again, though it warned against allowing discussions of turmoil to be used to weaken the party's legitimacy.

"History has spoken that the Cultural Revolution was wrongfully started by the leadership and used by counter-revolutionary clans. It was a serious catastrophe to the party, the country, and people," the editorial said, quoting the party's official verdict on the event issued in 1981.

Global Times, Caixin and People's Daily wrote editorials
"The revolution is not, and could not, possibly be a revolution or social progress in any sense," it said. "The mistakes of the Cultural Revolution will not be allowed again."

Other media outlets, like the nationalistic Global Times and financial journal Caixin also chimed in yesterday.

The Global Times editorial said Chinese people had developed an "antibody" for the revolution, and thus it surely would not happen again. "We said bye-bye to the Cultural Revolution long ago," the editorial said. "Today we can say one more time that the Cultural Revolution cannot and will not reoccur."

Meanwhile Caixin republished an excerpt of the 1981 document on the 10-year political campaign. "Building a socialist political system with a high degree of democracy is one of the key missions of a socialist revolution," it said, quoting the document.

"The fact that the mission was not attached with importance became an important condition under which the Cultural Revolution broke out. It is a bitter lesson."

People's Daily said the nation must "firmly remember the historic lessons from the revolution, insist on the party's verdict and resist interference from the left and the right over the topic."

Can China promise revolutions like this won't happen again?
All these editorials are just skirting around the issue and not dealing with it head on. And for those who weren't even born during that period would not even know what these editorials are hinting at.

This just shows the insecurity the government has about dealing with such a horrific event that impacted millions of people, and yet it still wants to ensure its legitimacy in ruling the country.

It definitely wants it cake and wants to eat it too.

This skimming over of the Cultural Revolution seems more aimed at everyone outside of China to prove it is not completely silent on the half-century anniversary. While no one expected the party to own up to its mistakes, trying to assure people it will never happen again may be words it will come to regret.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Colourful Start to Zhang's Visit

Zhang Dejiang all smiles as well as Leung Chun-ying at the airport
The big moment came just before noon today -- the highly-anticipated arrival of Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People's Congress and head of the party's leading group on Hong Kong and Macau affairs.

Police have been on high alert for anything suspicious, and even camped out on top of Lion Rock to prevent protesters from displaying banners from there.

Yellow banner on Beacon Hill demanding universal suffrage
However, the authorities were unable to stop those from the League of Social Democrats from unfurling a large yellow banner on Beacon Hill, in Lion Rock Country Park that read, "I want genuine universal suffrage", echoing the Umbrella Movement of 2014.

The police were ordered to take down the banner as soon as possible.

This shows the authorities don't have enough intelligence on activists who are planning these attention-getting incidents. How difficult can it be? They are not spies...

The LSD also hung another banner on a highway overpass along North Lantau Highway near the airport that read: "End Chinese Communist Party dictatorship".

Another calls for the end of the Communist Party dictatorship
Wonder if Zhang got to see that on his way into town...

Security is so tight around Wan Chai that it's best to avoid that area in the next few days -- ie take the MTR to bypass it.

Protests are going to be very passionate because Zhang was the top legislator in charge of the NPC's decision on Hong Kong's political reform two years ago. That was when it was decided Hong Kong voters could only choose between two to three candidates running for chief executive who had been vetted by a 1,200-strong Beijing loyalist committee.

And we all know that led to the 79-day Umbrella protests around Hong Kong...

Around 6pm this evening on Garden Road, several people holding yellow umbrellas were escorted by police. They had walked up from the HSBC headquarters to get to the former Central Government Offices. Some minor scuffles broke out, but in general the protest was peaceful.

Barriers make it near impossible to try to get near Zhang
A more sombre protest was held at Tamar, joined by half a dozen Neo Democrats, lawmaker Gary Fan Kwok-wai placed 100 paper graves in Tamar Park to remember those who died from SARS in 2003.

The group accuses Zhang, who was governor of Guangdong at the time, of deliberately withholding information about the SARS outbreak, thus not giving Hong Kong enough time to prepare and prevent the severe acute respiratory syndrome from spreading; 299 lives were lost.

We don't know if Zhang managed to see all these protests, as he claims his visit here is to "see, listen, speak". He will probably be doing a lot of the last one, and not many of the first two...

In the meantime, we look forward to seeing the cat-and-mouse game between the police and protesters continue...

Monday, 16 May 2016

The Cultural Revolution: 50 Years of Pain Continues

"Chairman Mao is with us forever" reads the propaganda poster
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution. And as expected China refuses to acknowledge it.

I remember my mom telling me about the Cultural Revolution when I was a child and I didn't understand what she meant by it. I just remember her just saying how terrible it was, and how people were ruined by it.

Many academics, artists were denounced
It wasn't until many years later that I started doing my own research on it, reading articles and books about it (Red China Blues, Life and Death in Shanghai), that I began to realize the depth of the catastrophe -- a man made political disaster that ruined China for at least 10 years.

To survive, people did the most horrific things to each other -- to what end? Many committed suicide, unable to deal with the upheaval, others were left for dead.

And what came of it? Those who were the youth during that time are now in power. It's so strange how things turn out.

Several years ago when then Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai started reviving revolutionary red songs, it was a frightening prospect that someone who was previously thought as liberal was actually very "red", or was it a ploy to try to get a wider base of support from party elders?

In any event, his corruption scandal brought him and his family down, but that may have inspired the current leader Xi Jinping to get people onto the revolutionary bandwagon by encouraging them to be more nationalistic, meanwhile tightening the internet to make it harder for them to access information abroad.

A recent show in Beijing seemed to glorify Mao 50 years ago
A few weeks ago there was a performance in the Great Hall of the People that was very revolutionary in nature, that seemed to hark back to the Cultural Revolution with young girls singing Maoist songs as well as projecting images of Mao that were reminiscent of propaganda posters.

Afterwards when people began criticizing the show that anyone involved in it denied being the instigator and claimed the group that put on the show was fake. It was too close to the 50th anniversary and reminded people of that time.

It is sad to know that only once a year the graveyard in Chongqing for those who died during the Cultural Revolution is open to the public; otherwise it is locked.

This inability to confront what happened 50 years ago and its lingering effects has paralyzed China from moving forward, righting wrongs and making sure something like this does not happen again.

Mao's lingering effects continue to impact people's lives
In some ways their going through the Cultural Revolution explains why mainlanders act the way they do -- aggressive in buying goods, having very little empathy for others, thinking of ways to cheat others without any sense of morality.

And like the Tiananmen Square massacre, many young people have no idea what the Cultural Revolution is and how it affected their families. It's a deep dark secret that many either choose to be ignorant of, or their parents refuse to tell them.

The pain is still there.

Until the Communist Party decides to make peace with the past, history will not be resolved properly. This event that stretched over 10 years will continue to dog the party, much like June 4, 1989, an itch that refuses to go away.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The Unmotivated HK Taxman

Hong Kong has a number of individuals and entities listed in these documents
Since the Panama Papers have revealed a number of individuals and entities from Hong Kong -- 26,000 of them or 7 percent of the total 366,000 overseas shell companies, the Hong Kong government doesn't seem to be outraged.

Development minister Paul Chan is one of them...
Some of them are even in Leung Chun-ying's own administration -- development minister Paul Chan Mo-po, and Executive Council member Bernard Chan. Others include failed chief executive contender Henry Tang Yin-yen, several lawmakers like Michael Tien Puk-sun and Paul Tse Wai-chun, the Kwok brothers, Raymond, Thomas and Walter, who run Sun Hung Kai Properties, and action star Jackie Chan.

Only accountancy lawmaker Kenneth Leung is sounding the alarm, saying the revelations are shocking and has urged the tax authorities to follow up.

But probably even more outrageous is the laid-back attitude of the Inland Revenue Department. The commissioner Wong Kuen-fai said the department would follow up, but said that not all off-shore firms are involved in tax evasion.

Would it not hurt to just check?

... so is Executive Council member Bernard Chan...
In the past five years, reports of evasion and avoidance have increased 25 percent to 1,900 cases, but the number of probes by the Inland Revenue Department fell from 1,920 to 1,800.

There are also fewer investigators working on cases, from 257 in 2001-2002 to 240 in 2014-2015, but strangely the budget for the department has jumped in the same period from HK$168.6 million to HK$213 million.

With the revelations of Hong Kong having so many off-shore companies set up by Mossack Fonseca, one would think the authorities would like to clean house and also try to get more taxes the city is entitled to.

Will Inland Revenue investigate possible cases of tax evasion?
But no, the Inland Revenue Department doesn't seem to care much, if at all... why investigate their bosses and powerful tycoons?

If one wants to find a sign of Hong Kong declining, that's one of them. Why even bother having rule of law at all if people with the means aren't enforcing them?