Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
"Even the unqualified may sometimes have quick success, but even the most clever must fail in a protracted war. Prolonged warfare is never beneficial."
History tells us that leader-less movements fail. That is the dominant thinking amongst strategists, military planners and social scientists.
But, some doubts are developing in my mind, given the success of the current Hong Kong 'anti-extradition' movement.
Students and others are operating with a leader-less model while using social media to coordinate their actions. It's difficult to gainsay their success to date.
Let's get one thing out of the way; the extradition bill is no longer the core issue. While it remains a pretext, broader issues get drawn in. Democratic representation, social mobility and a government beholden to a few are some of the problems.
And in all fairness, the people are right to express their displeasure. The government has failed to address these matters.
Getting back to the thrust of my article. Throughout human history, our societies needed differentiation of functions to coordinate our efforts. While some people reject the idea of a hierarchy, groups and cultures of any size or complexity have such structures.
Even our near evolutionary animal-relatives have ‘alphas’. We see that leaders emerge to coordinate and then dominate groups. In human society, these 'alphas' either appear by default, seize power or get appointed by formal or informal processes.
The utility of authentic and effective leadership is well-recognised. That's unquestioned. In assessing the current movement, I've used my old friend 'Sun Tze' as an anchor. He provides helpful insights, although he never had to deal with social media.
Sun Tze identified five principles for success in a campaign.
Spirit of the mission. Sun Tze recognised that you need a 'firestorm' of commitment to keep going because you believe your purpose is morally sound. No one can doubt the protesters believe in their cause. You have to give them 100% on that front.
Climate and weather. Sun Tze observed that climate and weather impact morale, plus the ability to sustain operations. In response to the hot weather, protesters are setting up feeding and water stations to maintain their people.
Terrain. Sun Tze asserts you need to select your area of operations with care. The protesters, for the most part, have chosen wisely, avoiding blocking roads for a protracted period. This tactic caused a loss of support during Occupy. They’ve also moved around the SAR.
Command. Sun Tze cites examples of the importance of capable commanders. In essence, he asserts that without a single or unified control, you give up a crucial pillar to success. We've already seen signs of this deficiency in the ‘anti-extradition’ movement. Random, unfocused actions, such as disrupting the lifts at Immigration Tower, discredited the campaign.
Organisation and discipline. Sun Tze says this flow from leadership, although the protesters have sought to achieve this without a leader. To date, they've had mixed results. The 'doctrine' of the campaign is part of this element. The protesters have a stated adherence to 'civil disobedience' principles.
They purport to be a non-violent movement. Unfortunately, without tight discipline, violent elements asserted themselves. The attacks on police and trashing of LegCo garnered the headlines, and with that public support waned.
Sun Tze has sage advice on strategy and tactics. He emphasises that to act in unison requires strict discipline. We've seen some examples of group discipline illustrated in this Reuters article.
Protesters are achieving high levels of coordination and cooperation, even using simple hand-signals. They've also deployed encrypted messaging, helping overcome some of the disadvantages of a leader-less movement.
On the other hand, some exercised poor control in protecting sensitive information. Thus material leaked to open social media platforms. Then in a gradual process, their discussions and planning moved onto public channels.
The leader-less model has the advantage of giving the protesters the flexibility to mount sudden actions. Yet Sun Tze noted that 'there are places you should not attack or besiege'. The storming and wreaking of LegCo come to mind.
Sun Tze and many other strategists recognise the import of choosing your battles. 'When to fight, and when not to fight' is a crucial tenet of any endeavour. Without a leader to decide such matters, sub-groups can choose to engage in actions that weaken the broader movement.
Finally, Sun Tze states there is a hierarchy of methods for success. At the top is defeating your enemy by strategy without actual fighting. Next is beating them by an alliance, third is a battle and last is besieging. He views the latter as a waste of human resources, time and effort. In Sun Tze's thinking, it can lead to the eventual collapse of the army.
In consideration of these factors, the protester's strategy is imprecise beyond the five demands. Moreover, the alliances they've formed are tenuous. Overseas support remains mixed.
Some countries have expressed backing, although economic interests trump everything, as few wish to cut-off from China. Beyond words of encouragement, it's unlikely foreign countries will commit overt acts of assistance.
With a leader deploying a long-term strategy, the movement could have avoided some mistakes. For instance, he or she would recognise the symbolism of keeping LegCo intact to make the movement look rational and non-violent. Significantly, the one leader who did emerge during the LegCo sacking has fled overseas. He faces a life in exile.
Let's accept that a leader spends a great deal of time and energy reconciling the conflicting elements within a movement. Thus, without that leader, the movement eventually fragments.
The lack of a leader also makes it difficult for the government to negotiate. Who do you speak with, do they have enough clout to make a deal and enforce it? If not, then you are wasting effort. Although, such does ease a 'divide and conquer' approach.
Which bring us to the big question. In the end, can the leaderless model succeed? History suggests it will fail as the constituent parts jockey to have their views asserted. When they feel their status and esteem goes unrecognised, cooperation breaks down. Political movements see this time and time again.
The protesters have latched on to Bruce Lee's famous quote "Be like water". An elegant and laudable sentiment, which has some tactical utility. Beyond that, the protesters must resolve substantial matters to agree on a unified way forward. For example, are there any grounds for compromise?
Perhaps predictions of the success or otherwise of the leader-less model are exaggerated. But for now, having killed off the bill, how to move forward? More street protests, more violence and more mayhem?
I'll give Sun Tze the final say because he makes many observations that resonant today and have relevance beyond their age.
“Make time your ally”. In essence, Sun Tze asserts that long campaigns will falter as prolonged operations take their toll. If an opponent with superior resources can blunt your efforts to draw you into a protracted campaign, defeat is inevitable.
Yes, that was the approach adopted by the Hong Kong government in 2014. It worked.
"Move only when it benefits you"; this is the most critical piece of advice from Sun Tze that the protesters ignored. The sacking of LegCo was a gratuitous act of violence that did not benefit them. With that, they've fallen into a trap.
Carrie Lam has pronounced the extradition bill 'dead'. It's as dead as a Norwegian Blue administered 60,000 volts. It's not pining for Legco; it's gone. The bill is no more. It's ceased to exist and gone to meet its maker.
It's a stiff, bereft of life, and it rests in peace, it's shuffled off this mortal coil. Carrie ran down the curtain. This is an ex- bill!
Apologies to Monty Python, but only a surreal rant can capture the ludicrous situation that is before us. Why can't the woman say the word 'withdrawal'?
One wag in the SCMP comments section suggested that her Catholic upbringing precluded the use of such a term. After all 'withdrawal' was the only method of contraception, the Pope sanctioned for years.
"Oh, my god Bridgette, I'm coming, I'm coming."
"Patrick, kill it, but don't withdraw."
Of course, Carrie's announcement of the bill's death didn't appease her opponents. They want to hear the 'W' word. Plus, they have other demands fueled by the hubris of their movement.
Foremost is an independent judicial enquiry into allegations of police brutality. Furthermore, they want amnesty for all offences committed by protesters. In other words, they want a suspension of the 'rule of law' to avoid arrest and prosecution for alleged crimes.
It baffles me why they can't see that such a move sets a terrible precedent. If one group can gain amnesty from the law, down the road, another can justifiably seek the same.
This week it's alleged rioters, next week we let off arsonists because they like playing with fire. It's not their fault you know, his Mummy didn't hug him enough, so he burns down buildings. Am I missing something? Either we have the 'rule of law', or we don't.
Returning to the subject of an enquiry, I'm all for it. But, the scope must be broad enough to deal with all dimensions of this debacle. To focus on the police role would be like seeking to cure an illness without having a patient to study.
Any enquiry must cover the lead-up, including steps taken by the government, the public response, and the actions of politicians.
While I don't subscribe to the 'foreign forces' theory, it may worth looking at that to settle the matter. Those making such claims should produce evidence to support their allegations.
Besides, I'm keen to hear opinions on how the police should help the press while dealing with unrest.
For example, with the media inserted between the police and violent protesters, what is the recommended approach?
Likewise, I'd be willing to accept any recommendations on anti-riot tactics. In specific terms, how the community expects the police to deal with rioters? All these matters combined could give a comprehensive insight and address community concerns.
Forgotten in the clamour for a judicial enquiry is the fact it would take at least two years. And that's if they got a move on. Judicial hearings are painfully slow, weighed down by legal disputes and often don't provide much resolution.
However, one aspect of the government's approach that deserves serious study is its shambolic PR strategy. The lack of a single spokesperson, to give a daily press briefing, left the media space open to the most outrageous untruths.
False news travelled halfway around the world to become the dominant narrative. By the time Carrie responded, it's too late.
How many times do I have to say it, the youth of today are operating in a digital world; thus, a PR machine designed in the 1970s doesn't cut the mustard. Donald Trump recognises that fact.
He communicates direct by tweets. While many are uncomfortable with his methods, you cannot deny he asserts control of the narrative albeit until for a short time.
As the protests escalated, they have drawn upon more extensive strands of discontent. Poor housing, faltering social nobility, a failure to tackle poverty and the rip-off MPF scheme are contributing to the unrest. In the public's mind, Carrie Lam is beholden to vested interests which cause some of societies ills.
She has a track record of saying one thing and then doing another. Years ago, she made great play of tackling the illegal structure issue in the NT. But did nothing.
She promised that Queens Pier would be relocated — didn't happen. She appointed Teresa Cheung, the Secretary of Justice despite doubts about her integrity. These poor decisions all feed a narrative of Carries protecting a few against the wishes of the many.
So while Carrie stumbles around for a solution, the police are on the streets facing the anger. You could see from events in Mongkok on Sunday 7 July, that their patience is wearing thin.
Carrie's latest pronouncements have done nothing to ease the pressure. The bill is dead, not the anger. Anyway to lighten the mood, check out this.
Where do I begin? So much has unravelled over the past few days, and it's challenging to know what to start with. Nor can I begin to interpret the ramification of events. After all, the ball is still in play, and we have no idea how long this match will last.
Perhaps I should pontificate on the first surrender of a government building since the Imperial Japanese army visited in December 1941. Even at the height of the 1967 disturbances, government offices never fell to protesters.
How about the fact that Police HQ lay sieged for two nights, defaced by rioters, while officers stood idle. Granted on the second night a short-lived token sweeping action took place.
Of course, we're treated to a barrage of announcements condemning the damage and violence. These limp messages hang in the ether, ignored.
Meanwhile, it's not clear that the government has a strategy or plan to deal with this mayhem. Officials, far from being resolute, appear to be foundering and out-maneuvered at every turn.
I'd ascribed this student movement as operating with a 'fantastic fluffy idea' of no leaders. That fluffiness has evaporated to leave behind hardened thuggery that demands stern action.
The pundits are spinning the failure to defend the LegCo building as a shrewd public relations move. I get that; it exposed the inherent violence of the mob, plus it avoided a potentially nasty confrontation.
No doubt it provided a welcome bounce in support, but at what cost? After all, allowing rioters to go unchecked is a double-edged sword.
You swing public support behind the government, while at the same time demoralising already fragile police sentiment. Police officers take an oath of office to uphold the law, and while they have a degree of discretion, ignoring such criminality rips at their very essence.
Plus, let's not forget that in engagements with rioters, when allowed to act as trained, the police prevailed. In the process, the use of force was proportionate and measured.
Now only political considerations are holding back an adequate response. Restraint is admirable at times. Yet I have to say that allowing rioters to trash our parliament looks like a cynical ploy. Is 'winning by losing' the new mantra?
As I opined in the past, Carrie Lam appears hellbent on sacrificing the Police Force by making them Hong Kong's punch bag. Her failings brought about this situation, but she remains behind walls, safe from real danger.
On the streets, the ordinary cops are taking the beating. They then go home to disgruntled families, rejected for medical care by unprofessional doctors and nurses.
Is Carrie grateful? Nah. She utters empty words. Tangible action is missing. She had numerous opportunities to reach out with an olive branch to defuse the anger. Each she threw away.
It's reported that the majority of the protesters who stormed LegCo are students. I'm guessing most are still living at home funded by the bank of Mum and Dad. I'd like to know how many studied the extradition bill?
I ask because I've taken the opportunity this week to speak to young people in their mid-twenties. None had seen the bill, nor did they have an understanding of the legal processes associated with it.
Still, each told me the law is terrible. When asked for specifics on the 'badness' I'm left with blank faces and shuffling feet.
They soon changed direction to assert Mainland police operated in Hong Kong on 12 June to suppress the protesters. I ask for evidence.
"They had no numbers on uniforms and spoke Putonghua". On that last point, again, I ask, did you hear them, or do you have any substantiation? No, thought not.
And so it evolves. Supposedly intelligent young people, with all the gifts offered by modern education, run to the streets to riot based on tweets and Facebook postings. Possessed of a false narrative, especially the perfidy of the Mainland, they're primed to run amok.
This craziness continues to unfold. We now have pharmacists asking the police not to use tear gas because it's harmful. You can't make this nonsense up. Tear gas is not nice stuff that's for sure. But, it's safer than batons to the head or rubber bullets.
Pharmacist should stick to their trade or at least have the common sense to recognise that officers have the right to defend themselves against spears and bricks.
Feeding this maelstrom is biased reporting and activist journalism. The online so-called 'Hong Kong Free Press' is well recognised for its distorted copy, only matched by the likes of the Chinese language ‘Apple Daily’.
They gleefully throw about references to Tiananmen, and portray the police as 'attacking protesters'. Edited video clips omit any instances of hooligans attacking police because you can't let the facts get in the way of an agenda.
On a more positive note, by and large, the South China Morning Post has balanced coverage.
In a disturbing development, the protesters opted to spread false news supported by doctored images. In one instance, the time on a police spokesman's watch is 'photoshopped' to suggest he filmed a statement before events took place.
This false image enters social media to tell a lie that the police orchestrated the assault on LegCo. Fortunately, an official version shows the real time to refute the allegation.
In another instance, someone posted clips of army vehicles travelling about to suggest the PLA was moving to LegCo. Dangerous stuff.
I'm certain Beijing won't be sending the PLA or Mainland security units the deal with the rioters. I know that many in the West and the Pro-Dems wish to believe this would happen because it fulfils their delusional narrative.
Even though things are rough at the moment, we are some considerable way from a collapse of social order. So to speak of Beijing taking a direct role is fanciful.
In truth, the thugs who stormed and then wrecked LegCo have done immense damage to their cause. In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of people protested peacefully. These sane and rational voices now lost to the scenes of violence brought forth by a few, which brings me back to my assertion why leaderless movements ultimately fail.
Likewise, Police supporters did no one any favours by attacking journalists at the rally on Sunday. A dignified, well-ordered event, forfeited positive coverage to these incidents.
Weighing things up, it's evident to me that the police are stretched. Nonetheless, don’t doubt their ability to take back the initiative once released of the political shackles.
Fighting riots and dealing with hooligans is always a messy business, but I'm sure the Hong Kong Police will prevail. And yet, clearly, a political solution is needed, which Carrie Lam looks incapable of delivering.
As I write, reports are coming in of arrests. Those who had their fun in LegCo are now waiting for a knock on the door. I'm thinking many are regretting their actions.
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There is poison in the air and vitriol in every argument. For some, it's a vendetta with a passion that's an obsession. Even erstwhile defenders of the 'rule of law' — people who should know better — are calling for rioters to walk free.
At the same time, they've demanded the pillorying of the police for doing their job.
Anson Chan Fan On-sang, former Chief Secretary, is making such a call. You could argue Anson Chan always had loose respect for the law when it doesn't serve her interests.
In her earlier days, as Director of Social Welfare, she oversaw a break-in to private premises to release an allegedly abused child. At the time, many suggested her actions were illegal. A later enquiry cleared Chan, although her authoritarian manner didn't go unnoticed.
In effect, Anson Chan is calling for the suspension of the 'rule of law'. If the government accedes to this wanton request, then the next mob can demand the same.
She's inviting the government to intervene in the independence of our legal system, the very thing she decries on the Mainland. Her hypocrisy is breathtaking.
But, these are strange times. People ignore the facts, the evidence that is before them. I've heard protesters claim that the bricks that flew at police are fantastic fake images. Yet with glee, they'll accept any image of police actions as 'brutality'.
You have to suspect that Anson Chan and other politicians are providing top cover for the rioters. They give tacit support through words of encouragement that go down to the street as justification for hurling bricks at police officers.
Then when the police respond, they're at fault for seeking to protect themselves while restoring order.
It's inevitable we now have a deep level of instability in our society. The extradition bill was a catalyst to bring forth anger from a deep well of resentment over the repeated failings of our government.
Poor housing, a dereliction in tackling environmental issues, reduced social-mobility and stagnant real wages are all factors. That the government appears to serve vested interests, especially leading business figures, feeds resentment.
While Hong Kong is sitting on massive reserves of capital, old folks work collecting cardboard to survive. We have one of the highest Gini coefficients (a measure of inequality in society), and I'd long felt that must eventually give rise to unrest.
Now the police are the focus of the protester's ire, in part, because the anti-riot tactics worked so well. During the 2016 Mongkok riot, the police proved slow to respond. Since then, they've adapted and changed tactics.
The new 'raptor squads' are mobile, use controlled aggression and have effectively shut down the aggressive elements. They've responded with allegations of brutality. Of course, with protestor violence neutered the opposition is seeking to blunt the police's options as a capable agent to restore public order.
Meanwhile, the trajectory of events is following a similar pattern to Occupy. After the initial engagement, with a fair amount of violence, each side is waiting for the other to move. While the police have taken a battering in the media, the protesters haven't had it all their way.
They've forfeited a degree of support with their siege of Police HQ, and the damage they did. Stupid tactics such as blocking doors on MTR trains will not endear them to the public. Moreover, the call for a general strike was a complete failure.
Undeniably they've learnt that Occupy tactics don't work when society continues to function. Moreover, escalating the violence will not earn them the result they seek. Their dilemma is simple. Unless the majority of the public support them, they'll fragment and falter.
They've adopted a leaderless movement model, a fantastic fluffy idea. I want to point out we know the history of leaderless movements. Sooner or later, these movements lead to internal frustration and failure, as the component groups jostle for ascendancy.
Rarely, if ever, does such a campaign, carry the momentum to endure long enough to see the change it desires. I'm reminded of Macbeth's cynical observation:
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Carrie Lam is Hong Kong’s chief executive in name only. Even with a soft-authoritarian, semi-democratic government, you govern at the consent of the people. If the people don’t consent, then you’ve lost authority, and it’s only a matter of time before you go. Thus, Lam is a besieged and lonely figure.
She’s vilified by the young, distrusted by her constituents in the pro-government camp and Beijing appears unimpressed. Her divided Executive Council members are only making lukewarm efforts on her behalf.
Their pleading for a ‘second-chance’ has a desperate tone that underlines her dilemma; she can’t step aside without Beijing’s blessing.
After the massive display of public sentiment on Sunday 9th June, she had an opportunity to roll back on the extradition bill. Then reassess the situation. Instead, with willful blindness, she pressed on.
As a supporter of the law, I was immediately apprehensive that she’d misread the situation. Although, I'd not expected the fury that manifested itself in Wednesday’s violence. The later handling of matters with ‘on again/off again riot’ remarks by the Commissioner of Police feeds a narrative of bumbling.
It’s the frontline police officers who faced physical danger as a consequence of Lam’s ineptitude. Having taken a beating during the initial stages of the Mongkok riot in 2016, the police were ready with new tactics and equipment.
Once applied, these proved useful in moving the rioters along. Throughout, the use of force was proportionate.
As is always the case, bystanders caught up in events suffer when tear smoke is used. That’s why folks need to listen to police warnings. If people don’t opt to move away, they face the consequences of their actions.
Likewise, members of the press who insert themselves between the police and rioters are taking a terrible risk. I’d be interested to know if any press were hit by the rioters hurling bricks at the police.
Of course, the protesters are alleging brutality and over-aggressive tactics. That’s part of their strategy to switch blame for the riot.
Amnesty International, the NGO with a political agenda, has joined in with its biased coverage of events.
Getting back to the root cause, some blame must fall on the British. First, the Brits left Hong Kong without addressing the matter of extradition. That remains a stain, amongst many, on their record in Hong Kong. The cynical removal of ‘right of abode’ in the UK for Hong Kong citizens is the most severe blight.
Second, the aloof culture of the administrative officer cadre didn't help matters. The adopted British colonial system hasn’t worked well in the new reality of Hong Kong. The senior echelons of the Hong Kong civil service, which gave us two chief executives, is stamped with the training the Brits gave them.
To be fair, this system worked well and served the UK’s interests when applied with a deft hand in the context of colonial rule. The officials who administered colonies were wary of their position, and tread with care.
Not so their successors. Adopting a coercive and autocratic management style, they stereo-typed opposing voices as radicals. Couple that with the self-aggrandising we’ve seen from Carrie Lam, and the whole show starts to unravel. Lam preaches altruism, but her conduct is less so. With the damage done, she’s marking time until the axe falls.
As always, its the frontline police officers who pick up the pieces. They suffer the daily taunts and indignities brought forth by Lam. And yet, in less anxious times the administrative officers sneer at the police, forcing them to jump through hoops for any concessions on pay and conditions.
My experience is of an elite self-serving group, who are more attuned to internal intrigues than the needs of the community they serve.
Few believe there is a quick solution to the fury that Lam has unleashed. The more insidious effect of this mess is not visible. Police officers, already wary of government officials, now have a deep resentment that rioters can attack them with impunity.
There is a sense that the government is willing to sacrifice police officers for its political goals. Empty words of encouragement from the pulpit will not change that.
Aeschylus, an ancient Greek playwright, is the father of tragedy plays. He famously stated, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” Those words could apply to Hong Kong this week.
We appear to be at war with ourselves. I think it’s fair to say that a traumatised Hong Kong is seeking to digest what happened and establish some truth.
Over the past few days, I’ve been consistently asked “What do you think?” as if I can offer some new insight or revelation.
I regret to say; I have no quick nor appropriate response. So, I thought it best to steal a quote. From the movie ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’, these words best sum up my current state of mind.
There’s a little boy and on his 14th birthday he gets a horse... and everybody in the village says, “how wonderful. The boy got a horse”
And the Zen master says, “we’ll see.”
Two years later, the boy falls off the horse, breaks his leg, and everyone in the village says, “How terrible.”
And the Zen master says, “We’ll see.”
Then, a war breaks out and all the young men have to go off and fight... except the boy can’t cause his legs all messed up. and everybody in the village says, “How wonderful.”
The Zen master says, “We’ll see.”
There is only one political issue in Hong Kong at this time; the proposed amendments to extradition arrangements.
It’s sucking up all the political oxygen as the community once again polarises along ‘blue’ and ‘yellow’ lines brought forth by Occupy.
My initial opinion remains mostly unchanged. I favour the amendments, although I’m honest enough to see issues with the safeguards that need attention. The trick will be enhancing those safeguards, but not at the risk of making the amendment non-functional.
Much debate continues as the government presses ahead with modified proposals — meanwhile, the forces of resistance fight — literally — to derail the bill.
To recap, Hong Kong has no extradition arrangements with Taiwan, Macau or the Mainland. This bizarre situation means Hong Kong is a safe refuge for criminals, including a man accused of killing his girlfriend in Taiwan. She was pregnant at the time. He fled back to Hong Kong, but can’t face charges for murder here.
The proposed amendments came about to deal with this young man. That fact is now somewhat lost. In simple terms, the whole matter has evolved into a much broader debate around the fairness of the Mainland courts.
With this, is conflated a discussion on the ability of the Chinese State to reach into Hong Kong using legal means to seize its opponents. ‘Well water mixing with river water’ or ‘removing the firewall’ sums up the apprehension.
Objectors to the amendment include groups who would generally support the government. Business leaders expressed reservations, citing the loose interpretation of the law on the Mainland. They asserted that commercial disputes often fall foul of the criminal law.
In response, the government granted them concessions that removed ‘economic’ crimes from the list of offences. I have to say that this terrible precedent de-facto acknowledges that there is a problem with China’s legal system.
Allied in challenging the amendments, is a potent mix of the legal community, teachers, accountants and strident anti-China groups. Further, overseas governments are involved in expressing concerns.
Of course, Chris Patten has had his say. He probably sees another book in the issue and needs to segue in at any cost. I’ve yet to hear from him a proposal that would have the criminals face justice.
In the ongoing debate, I’ve heard courteous and well-reasoned positions from several knowledgable people.
Faced with persuasive, balanced arguments, you can understand why concerns arise. Yet, none of this is insurmountable.
If Canada is capable of rendering suspects back to China, one has to ask why can’t Hong Kong?
Sadly, the opposition in LegCo — our parliament — is led by the snarling Claudio Mo and her crew of goons. For them, there is no compromise, no ground to give as everything that China touches is evil.
They repudiate anyone who takes another path as a traitor. Hence the violence we’ve seen in the LegCo Chamber and its adjoining corridors.
The false narrative put about by the radical opposition has laid the seeds of misconception and anxiety. A university graduate in her mid-twenties told me she feared snatching off the streets for rendition to the Mainland.
She’d posted pro-democracy messages on her Facebook page. This lady works for a Mainland Chinese bank and spends at least one week a month in Shenzhen.
I suggested that if the Mainland authorities had an interest in her Facebook postings, which I doubt, why had they not detained her in Shenzhen. What followed was a convoluted explanation, without an element of rational thought. It came as a shock to me that such an ‘educated’ person didn’t see the sheer silliness of her reasoning.
But then again, the doyen of the opposition Martin Lee repeatedly claimed before and since 1997, that he’d end his days in a Chinese gulag. In the meantime, he moves in and out of Hong Kong travelling to such places as Washington to badmouth China.
But then the opposition has their heroes, their villains and their truth. Alas, there is a greater truth. Hong Kong cannot conclude an extradition treaty with Taiwan while ignoring the Mainland. Such a state of affairs is politically unacceptable.
Why? Well, because Beijing doesn’t recognise Taiwan as a separate entity; to them, it’s a renege province. Thus it’s impossible for the Hong Kong government, which is subordinate to Beijing, to go it alone.
Doubtless, we cannot stand still. Here’s an idea. Instead of demonising the Chinese legal system, how about seizing the opportunity to engage. Take the occasion to make the Mainland aware of our expectations as regards safeguards and protocols.
After all, in 2047, that much acclaimed ‘firewall’ is no longer a certainty. Perhaps it would be best to engage now, and plants some seeds of reform.
For that, to work, we’d need to move away from the bile and chanting of ‘four legs good, two legs bad’ doctrine of the radical opposition. On Sunday, a march against the amendments takes place.
A large turn-out could force the government’s hand. Do not forget they backed down on Article 23 following the massive showing of discontent in 2003. The crunch moment is close. Let’ see.
The crack of AK47s around Beijing in June 1989 still echoes in Hong Kong. These events, however you interpret them, continue to influence Hong Kong politics. If you doubt that, consider the ongoing extradition debate with direct lines drawn to 30 years ago.
People in the West and some in Hong Kong have a superficial understanding of the sequence of events, the causes and the consequences. Images of the ‘Tank Man’ frame their narrative, together with students making bold statements about democracy. Then the army rolls in, and people die. Alas, this vast over-simplification doesn’t even scratch the surface.
I can’t cover all the ground here, except to say the unrest wasn’t confined to Beijing and the causes were many. A weak economy, widespread corruption and an internal party struggle all coalesced.
The catalyst was the death of reformer HU Yaobang. Students took to the streets, then occupied Tiananmen Square demanding reforms.
It’s known protests flared in several urban centres. Students and workers seized bridges in Wuhan, occupying streets in Shanghai, Xi’an, Nanjing and Chengdu.
These troubles rumbled on for days after June 4, although the authorities gradually gained the upper hand.
In Shanghai, the protests dispersed peacefully. Not so in Chengdu. Reports suggest as many as 300 people died as the police moved on protesters. But, without the presence of international media, these reports are not verified.
We know from first-hand accounts that the students in Tiananmen couldn’t coordinate their actions or agree on a strategy. Several factions jockeyed for control.
Misunderstandings and confusion meant the forfeiting of opportunities. In the end, it was probably too late — yet even with the soldiers advancing on the square, the students continued a frantic debate.
Also, the Western media reports of killings in the square proved inaccurate. It’s now known that confrontations developed in the West of the city. None of this changes the fact that people died, but it fed a description of the West’s media producing false reports.
The abiding image in the West is of ‘Tank Man’ confronting the PLA armoured column. That took place on June 5. He is later led away by other protestors. We don’t know who he is, and his whereabouts remain a mystery.
As a response, Hong Kong’s people’s faith in the future under Chinese rule evaporated overnight. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets. The New China News Agency in Happy Valley (now the Metropolitan Hotel) was the focus of their wrath. Along the way, vast sums of money came in to help the students flee.
Then an exodus of talent started from Hong Kong as people sought to secure a future abroad. The lame response from the British didn’t fill many with confidence. Besides offering a stingy 50,000 passports across a population of five million, the Brits uttered empty words of reassurance.
But times changed, and attitudes evolved. China underwent an accelerated development that saw it challenge the US as the leading economy.
Hong Kong’s people’s zeal for change in China eased as the economic benefits of a close relationship supplanted political considerations.
Most folks accepted the situation to make an uneasy peace, while keeping their options open. A Canadian passport in the bottom drawer and a house in Vancouver sit ready.
Commemoration of June 4 is ritualistic for our old-guard pro-democracy politicians. Moreover, it’s the time of the year when they can replenish their coffers with donations. The communion of the candle-lit vigil, replaying of the news clips and former student leaders speeches.
And yet, the draw of the event is weakening for the new batch of activists. They reject Tiananmen as irrelevant to their generation, to focus within Hong Kong. Although, after the collapse of the Occupy movement in late 2014, and the later prosecutions, they’ve somewhat lost direction. Their frustration bubbled over with the 2016 Mongkok riot.
It’s telling that before last year’s vigil, the head of Hong Kong University Student’s Union made public statements.
“As Hongkongers, do we have a responsibility to build a democratic China? This is a question we must ask.” He went on to infer that Hong Kong people have a different identity from Mainlanders. He implied this creates a responsibility to focus on Hong Kong issues.
Similar sentiments came from other student bodies, who asserted they didn’t ‘feel’ a connection to the events of 1989. This rejection of a broader role in Chinese affairs is an anathema to the old-guard. Beijing can’t be comfortable either, because the Hong Kong students are defining themselves as outside the domain of greater China.
China 2019 is very different from the China of 1989. During a recent visit to Shanghai, I’m knocked sideways to see hundreds of teenagers dressed in Hogwarts costumes rushing to a movie.
The people are wealthier, better travelled and engaged in building a future that is breathtaking to observe. They’ve attained much in a short time.
The clamour for democracy — in whatever form — was predicted to flow from increased prosperity. For the most part, pundits asserting such theories failed to recognise the complexities on the ground.
In truth, the ability of the Party to deliver wealth, layered atop tight controls, held things in check. Allied to that is the inherent nationalism with an overwhelming sense that the Chinese are moving forward.
Meanwhile, the Tiananmen anniversary is weaponised to serve a broader agenda. It’s an easy stick with which to beat China, while countries gainly ignore their history. Without wishing to engage in naked whataboutism or cynically deflect responsibility, is there a contradiction and double-standard in the West’s attitude?
None of this justifies nor condones what happened. On my travels, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with people who were there in Beijing; academics, officials and city residents. Believe me; there are regrets and recriminations aplenty on all sides.
Tonight I observed the vigil. I went to sense the mood and understand the current sentiment. The turnout was huge. As expected, the crowd was sombre.
They sang the songs, eulogised the dead and called for the Party to reverse the verdict on 1989 and recognise the students as patriots. All eyes are now on Sunday, June 9, when a march against the proposed extradition bill will take place.
“We seal off the city, no one leaves. We cut the phone lines. We contain the spread of misinformation. That is how we keep the people from undermining the fruits of their labour.”
Chernobyl remains etched in my memory. In the spring of 1986, I’m awaiting the birth of my first child in the north of England as news arrives of a radioactive cloud drifting across Europe towards us.
My wife and I scrambled for any information. What precautions to take? Should we leave the UK? Perhaps we should have stayed in Hong Kong for the birth?
Only weeks before we’d seen the Challenger disaster live on TV. Both of us questioned bringing a child into the world with radiation falling from the sky.
Fortunately, the UK suffered less than others. Scotland received most of the fallout, and some fell in Cumbria. The contamination followed rainfall patterns.
All this came back to me watching the HBO series 'Chernobyl.’ With hindsight, our concerns paled against what unfolded in the Soviet Union. HBO has done an exceptional service in capturing the complex, multilayered nature of the disaster, including the courageous response by ordinary Russians.
A reminder of the events — on April 26 1986, after midnight the operators of Reactor 4 at Chernobyl carried out a safety test. Due to a design flaw and the operators failing to follow a checklist in the correct order, superheated water turned to steam.
This water burst from the containment vessel in a massive explosion that sent radioactive material nearly a mile high. An estimated 190 metric tons of uranium was now in the atmosphere. Then the reactor core erupted in flames to shower the immediate area with irradiated graphite.
The responding fire-crews stood next to the open reactor core, pouring water in a futile attempt to douse the fire. Most of those men died within weeks. While they succeeded in containing the fires in adjacent structures, the core continued to burn.
For nine days, it pumped tonnes of radiation into the atmosphere. The blaze is eventually extinguished by a combined effort of helicopters dropping over 5,000 metric tons of sand, lead, clay, and neutron-absorbing boron onto the burning reactor.
From the outset, the plant operators, the senior management, local political leaders and the whole chain of command sought to downplay or conceal the scale of the disaster. In the process, they put more people at risk.
They repeated the lie of an intact reactor core because Soviet prestige was at stake. Meanwhile, the population of the local town looked at a strange blue light filling the sky as the air ionized.
Then the truth emerged. In Sweden, a worker’s shoe sets off an alarm at a nuclear plant. A particle from Chernobyl has travelled westward; more tests pick up high levels of radiation in the atmosphere. Soon satellite pictures confirmed the scale of the disaster.
The HBO series captures all this. Full credit goes to Craig Mazin for researching, conceiving and writing the series. With a matter of fact tone, the story — which we already know in sketch form — starts to fill with detail.
By filming in the former Soviet Union, the production values are excellent, adding considerable authenticity. The Soviets built their cities to a standard plan; thus, the film-makers were able to find exact copies of the nearby town of Pripyat. Period vehicles, clothes and furniture were all available.
All the characters are real people, except for the female scientist Ulana Khomyuk. Played with understated resolve by Emily Watson, she represents several scientists.
The superb Jared Harris plays the pivotal role of the real-life Valery Legasov. It’s Legasov who leads the fight to prevent a further explosion that could contaminate the whole continent.
He opens the series by committing suicide two years after the disaster. Death is constant throughout. The irradiated firemen in agony, a stunted child, pet dogs culled and finally the end of the Soviet system.
The inherent design fault in the RBMK reactor was known, a fact kept from the operators. A culture of secrecy, patronage and human frailty led to the accident. And yet, it was Soviet citizen’s who came forward in a noble way to tackle the problem. Some knew the risks; others didn’t. All pressed on, with a fair number sacrificing themselves.
The ‘salt of the earth’ miners, who dig an unneeded tunnel by hand directly under the burnt-out core, is a revelation. Four hundred men without any protection, including clothes, push on to get the job done.
In the end, the tunnel proves redundant because a meltdown did not occur. Their scene with the minister for coal and soldiers is probably apocryphal, nonetheless so poignant.
The message is clear. The people have the final say because the soldiers can’t kill everyone. Plus, you can’t kill men who’ve already embraced death. As they toiled away naked in the heat, their bodies receive the equal of 160,000 X-rays. It’s believed that a quarter died as a result.
Also, over 600 Soviet helicopter pilots risked dangerous levels of radiation to fly the thousands of flights dropping material to cover the exposed reactor. One crashed when he collided with a crane.
Then, you have the most remarkable men — human robots. After radiation frazzled the circuits of robots clearing the plant roof of toxic material, men with shovels took over. Working for less than 90 seconds at a time, these brave souls heaved the toxic debris back into the core. Linger too long, death is inevitable. A painful death that even morphine can’t ease.
A multitude of messages come forth from this series. Yes, nuclear power has enormous risks. Also, the truth will get out; facts will always trump ideology. Radiation doesn’t know or care for our human ideas or ideals; it has no sentiments, empathy, nor viewpoint. It just is.
All the apparatus of the Soviet regime, the KGB and threats of imprisonment or worse, couldn’t contain the lie. And then when the truth emerged, it started a process that brought the system down.
A clean up at the sealed site continues. A new cover is being built to shield us from the radiation. Current estimates state the core will remain dangerous for 20,000 years.
That’s a long time. Let’s get some scale on that number. Some 20,000 years ago, the human population was an estimated 300,000. We clung to existence as hunter-gatherers, having emerged from Africa.
Chernobyl is chilling. The nuclear disaster is one part of the story. Stupidity, bureaucracy, self-serving officials, corruption, human-frailty and sheer horror are all in the mix. A top it all is the awful sacrifice that people made to prevent the disaster escalating.
The man who looked into the exposed reactor core to assess the situation knew he’d die — likewise, the operators wading through pools of radioactive water to open valves. Thousands of military personnel clearing debris, stripping topsoil and washing down everything — all exposed themselves to terrible risks. The exact grim toll will never be known.
A large body of evidence shows that long-term crime rates are declining. That’s not only in Hong Kong; it’s a trend seen across all modern societies.
Surprisingly, no one has a coherent all-encompassing explanation of why. (Yes, I know knife crime is surging in the UK, and there are other blips out there.)
Like their predecessors, today’s senior police officers bask in the glory to claim their policies brought about the change. Uncomfortable as it is to state this, in reality, the police’s ability to influence global crime-trends is minimal.
Granted, short-term impacts in fixed areas are possible. Across the generations, societal factors are more critical ingredients.
A new intriguing study points to the emergence of mobile phones as pushing crime downwards. This study aroused my interest because it counters a conventional narrative.
During my time in the Hong Kong Police, it was common to view mobile phones as crime enablers. Driven out of sight by the technology, enforcement against certain crimes proved challenging. I’m sure that’s true.
Still, there is an upside and a bigger picture. Drug trafficking is a prime example. The study out of the USA suggests mobile phones helped reduce crime rates, including a 19 to 29 per cent decline in homicides from 1990 to 2000.
Let’s examine this. In the past, drug traffickers needed to control territory to conduct their trade. That may be a street corner, a sector of a neighbourhood, a night club or a bar. This need for physical space brought opposing gangs into direct contact, with conflict as they vied for the ground.
With the arrival of the mobile phone, the need for transactions at fixed locations disappeared. Traffickers and users hooked up via messaging to arrange a drop.
Thus, the gangs did not need ‘turf’ to dominate the drugs trade. The ‘turf’ moved to cyberspace, where a physical confrontation between rival gangs is impossible.
Also, the possibility of ‘robbery’ by rivals or opportunists decreased. With the traffickers on the move, taking out a competitor proved difficult. In turn, the research established that the need for a large gang dissipated.
With no turf to protect, fewer confrontations and scores to settle, a leaner business model emerged.
For the trafficker, the fixed location makes them vulnerable to enforcement action. Besides, the mobile phone benefited small-time operators. As a consequence, drug prices fell with increased competition.
Your friendly neighbourhood drug dealer delivering to the door — pizza style — is an attractive option. Venturing out to gangland to buy drugs from a menacing thug does not appeal. In effect, it’s argued, the mobile phone gentrified the drug trafficking game.
At first glance, the evidence in the US research is compelling. As the cell-phone network spread, researchers tracked changes in crime patterns. Drilling down into the data, specifically victim/culprit relationships, the link emerges.
Yet, some researchers have come out to question this study as too simplistic. They assert the data is far from robust in establishing course and effect. For them, the evidence does not hold up across time, across cities, or across countries.
We know that Hong Kong has seen the disappearance of the ‘street traffickers’ except in entertainment areas. Thus, it may be possible to conclude similar processes at work here. I’d like to see more data before affirming that.
My gut feeling — mobile phones have had negative impacts and some positives. Yes, nothing is exciting or novel in that assertion. And I know quantifying these effects with reliable statistics is tricky. The well-recognised unreliability of official crime statistics is part of the problem.
What is certain is that these days, people can report incidents with ease, gather evidence by recording on phones and then share it. Add to that the deterrent impact.
For example, as trouble flairs in a dispute, and a fight may occur, out come the phones to capture the moment. Seeing this, the adversaries sometimes back off.
My conclusion, for what it’s worth, is that technology is making old-school crimes harder to commit. CCTV, facial-recognition, the tracking of movements and pattern spotting algorithms all help.
But fear not, bad guys are also harnessing that technology. The so-called computer-crimes, online frauds and the like, all herald that change. We need to remain vigilant.
Mrs May is no longer a lame duck prime minister; she’s a dead duck. In response, every Tory with a whiff of ambition has thrown their hat into the ring. When I started writing this piece, the tally was ten contenders. It’s now eleven. We can expect more. This race is going to be fun to watch.
You’d expect calls for a general election. That won’t be happening. Why? Well because the opposition Labour Party is in meltdown. Corbyn’s sitting on the fence fell flat with the voters. Or they don’t trust a man who is so dogmatic that if you dare to vote for another party, you enter the wilderness.
Politics is the art of the possible, except for old-style lefty types who steamroll anyone who dares to think differently. For them, it’s a short distance from expulsion to the gulag.
Who is crunching the numbers at Labour Central? The Brexit Party cannibalised UKIP, the Tories and a section of former Labour voters. That means traditional Labour voters were in the majority voting for the Lib Dems and Remain parties.
Corbyn appears intent on alienating these same voters by expelling someone that voted as they did. He’s made the wrong call again. Maybe that tremendous political intellect, Diana Abbott has the spreadsheet.
Even a town steeped in the history of the Labour movement, Merthyr Tydfil, has rejected Corbyn. You get the impression there are two Labour Parties; the London elite, and in the post-industrial towns, the restless working folks.
That second category is looking for a new political home given Labour’s performance. After all, Corbyn is hardly the ‘working class’ hero he purports.
At this stage in the electoral cycle, with the ruling Tories in an appalling mess, you’d expect Labour to surge ahead. Wrong. Corbyn is intent on missing every open goal.
He was never able to deliver a decisive blow to Mrs May during PM questions, by dithering or rambling on too much. The body language of Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy, gave away his frustration. Expect him to make his move soon. More blood will flow. So May is gone. I suspect Corbyn will join her given his fragmenting support.
Much of this would be easy to dismiss except the real consequences for people. With all the political oxygen sucked up by Brexit, industries are faltering, and no one has a strategy to address the decay.
The latest victims are the steelworkers of Scunthorpe. Five thousand workers face the dole, plus 20,000 men and women in the supply chain. With British Steel in administration, the impact will be severe.
When the Redcar steelworks closed in September 2015, a surge in suicides — especially amongst men — swept through the town.
What comes with that is domestic violence, mental health problems and alcohol abuse. In that instance, the blame landed on EU rules for hampering an intervention that could save a community.
Scunthorpe produced ultra high-quality steel. It built the Jodrell Bank Lovell radio-telescope that allowed us to study quasars, pulsars and see deep into space. With that gone, not only are communities devastated, but the UK slips behind in the technology stakes.
Meanwhile, Nigel Farage has pulled off the most astonishing political feat. He’s taken a party that didn’t exist six weeks ago to the head of the line.
His message was simple — for too long, the main political parties have ignored whole sections of British society -- especially those places overwhelmed by hardships and demographic changes.
The Brexit Party took a page out of Barack Obama’s book. They harnessed existing social network platforms, and grassroots campaigners to spread the message. In the process, the Brexit Party bypassed the mainstream media helping feed the narrative of bias in the BBC and others.
It worked because these ignored communities are looking for answers, and Farage spoke to them. Counter-intuitively, the fact that the Brexit party had no manifesto didn’t seem to matter.
It was surprising to watch that across the country, ordinary citizens challenged BBC reporters. Think back 30 years, when such would be unthinkable.
This change is partly due to perceptions of bias and such cases as harbouring sex offender Jimmy Savile. With their reputation trashed, people are questioning this once mighty institution.
At the same time, the whole process has turned much nastier. It started with milkshakes — laughed off as political theatre in the Guardian — then soon became bricks at a political rally in Preston.
Then we had the whole suicide bomber nonsense. Social media is feeding that frenzy. It’s not so much that people are in echo chambers, more like social media amplifies messages including distortions.
So, are we seeing the wholesale reshaping of British politics and a shift in public attitudes? Indeed, the two political behemoths, Labour and Tory, that dominated for so long are looking fragile. Brexit has exposed deep internal divisions.
At the same time, once favoured public institutions are under suspicion. That includes broadcasters, the courts and the police.
There is no paucity of people to blame, something that Farage exploited. But to go further, he will need to put some meat on the bone.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung announced last week “I’ll not spare a single rat” as he launched a three-month campaign to kill off Hong Kong’s rodents following an outbreak of the rat hepatitis E virus.
Hong Kong has earned the dubious distinction of being the first place to record the transfer of hepatitis E from rats to humans. And yet, Hong Kong does not have a rat problem; it has a human problem.
We’ve created the perfect environment for the rat to thrive. For this achievement, we can thank our lacklustre approach towards cleanliness, third-world hygiene standards and not enforcing the law.
We’ve learnt nothing from SARS, as we’ve slipped back into our old habits. Walk down any alleyway in Hong Kong, and you will find discarded food. No wonder the rats thrive.
With his unachievable statement, the Chief Secretary grabbed the headlines. I doubt much will come of this given the culture of not enforcing the law. Add to that the inability of the Food and Environmental Health Department to respond with the required magnitude of effort. Cheng’s statement illustrates a complete lack of understanding of the task.
There are two types of rat in Hong Kong – the larger, brown Norway or sewer rat (Rattus norvegicus) and the smaller, black roof rat (Rattus rattus). We tend to encounter the sewer rat in the city. The average brown rat weighs in at about 250g.
For starters, we have no idea how many rats are in Hong Kong, thus how do you measure progress? Estimates vary from five to ten million depending on who you speak with. Moreover, the capture and kill techniques we apply are scratching the surface.
Let us assume the lower figure of five million rats in Hong Kong. Now, the two favoured approaches of killing the rats are poisoning and trapping. Next set the modest target of killing one million rats in traps.
Based on a single trap catching three-a-day for three months, you’d need about 5,555 traps. Each would need positioning, checking, and the dead rats recovered.
One million brown rats weighs 25o metric tonnes that need transporting to burial. The logistics are unattainable given current staffing levels and the inability of FEHD to coordinate such a large scale operation.
Rats are hardy creatures. They breed prolifically, can survive falls from 15 meters; additionally, they can swim considerable distances. They’re also intelligent enough to detect traps; the scent of humans alerts them.
By trapping and taking account of Darwin’s evolutionary concept, we accelerate the creation of a breed of rats who avoid traps. Thus, the government has set itself up to fail.
Cheng’s statement was grandstanding. We’ve seen it before. Remember ‘Team Clean’ after SARS headed up by Donald Tsang — loads of publicity, ministers on TV putting on a show and then it all fizzles out. Grab the headlines, move on.
Nothing changes on the ground. Without a long-term commitment, the government won’t attain anything but cynical comments from chaps like me.
Rats are a real danger to us. They spread diseases while creating untold damage. In Mumbai, rats are responsible for most of the vehicle fires. Furthermore, airlines work relentlessly to keep rats off planes.
Their teeth make short work of control wires, with the potential to bring down a plane. Studies in the USA suggest the cost of damage caused by rats amounts to US$3- billion a year.
Part of the challenge in Hong Kong is the unwillingness to enforce the law with vigour. Our agencies give out leaflets, repeated warnings, and bend over backwards to persuade people to cooperate.
We witness this daily with the approach to illegal parking, dripping aircons while the laws on smoking are ignored wholesale. This reluctance to enforce the law is steered by the accompanying policies designed to prevent complaints. Until that changes, the public knows they can ignore the law.
Compare us to Singapore to see the difference. Their back alleys are free of the litter because strict enforcement has caused a change in behaviour. The places that have achieved success in ‘managing’ their rat populations, adopt long-term approaches — not quick fixes.
An aspect that has gone unremarked would be the adverse consequences if Cheung achieved his target of killing all rats. For starters, we’d have a massive waste problem on our hands.
The rats provide a service by clearing away discarded food to convert it into new rats. Second, other invasive species, such as cockroaches, would find themselves without a challenger. Their populations would explode. Thus, by removing one problem, we create another.
I’d prefer if Cheung were confident enough to admit that the best we can hope to achieve is ‘suppression’ of the rat population. Flash headlines don’t remove the menace of the rats; consistent enforcement and changing human behaviour does.
A spat broke out this week over a picture of two chaps holding hands. On Monday, the newspapers reported that our airport and rail operators refused to display an advert by Cathay Pacific Airways.
According to the Airport Authority and the MTR Corporation, the public wouldn’t accept the image of men strolling along arm in arm. Wrong. Both soon backed down in the face of criticism. Some people are gay, get over it.
But, there is an issue here. As one commentator asked, “Is it the job of corporations to promote LGBT issues?”
A valid question. I’m not sure I know the answer. It’s a tricky area because companies are entering the realm of social justice when a fierce debate is underway.
For example, Gillette recently overreached with its ‘toxic masculinity’ campaign. Many took offence at the hectoring tone -- as a consequence, a boycott of Gillette goods developed.
Along the way, their online advert attracted millions of dislikes. In the West, we are witnessing a scramble by large corporations to prove they are woke. I’d better define that term.
First, we had political correctness dictating that certain words are verboten. These words may offend.
Not content with that, the social justice warriors, supported by the grievance study professors, ventured into testing society to make sure we are all culturally compliant.
The social scientists see this as the second phase of the cultural wars after step one shaped by the PC game.
To be clear, you are woke if you hold all the ‘correct’ opinions on identity, politics and so-called neo-leftwing issues.
A manifestation of woke is the desire to crush anyone who disagrees with you. Puritanical in approach, those with alternative opinions are by default nasty people. They face vilification.
To achieve this, the identity politics game comes forth. In simple terms, everyone must have a category based on colour, race or sex. That category then confers prescribed values.
Thus, all straight white men are members of the patriarchy and evil. Everyone else is at a disadvantage. For clarity, all women and non-white people lack privilege because whitety controls everything.
The inherent nonsense of the woke culture gets lost on the faithful as they fail to recognise its regressive aspects. In the 1960s, people fought for equal rights.
Contrary to belief, being woke is not progressive because it reverses the gains of the past. We are all prescribed boxes then assigned our views. Of course, this pseudo-progressive ideology has its grounding in social condescension.
In the UK, the woke are in the main upper-middle-class folks looking down on the masses. You could argue being woke is a form of class hatred.
As it unfolded in the UK, the woke culture produced ‘no-platforming’, apostles of safe spaces and attacks on institutions associated with dark periods of history. Universities removed statues of figures deemed inappropriate.
This intolerance shut down debates, preventing critical discussions as part of exploring ideas. No rational debate over immigration, race or trans issues is possible.
Only the correct way to speak prevails, as the imposition of a woke dictatorship takes hold.
Lecturers faced bans for standing next to a person with a T-shirt deemed improper. This ludicrousness reached new heights in 2014, with the idea that people without a uterus cannot discuss abortion. This is the position taken by radical woke feminists at Oxford University.
Matters then became somewhat confused. Someone asked about allowing people who identify as women in on the debate, i.e. men. Soon it all spun out of control; it’s argued that to deny people who identify as women in on the discussion is transphobia.
So by applying a bit of lippy, putting on my high heels, and insisting on being Brenda for the day, I’d get in. This stuff is comedy gold. Then you have things like this.
The woke have adopted the ‘stay in your lane’ phrase to control people. You can only talk about your experience and matters that pertain to you directly. Owen Jones demonstrates this trait to perfection here.
The woke want us sealed in our boxes and to shut up. The atmosphere around the woke culture is akin to Maoist struggle sessions. Learned people must sit, head bowed, while the woke, rant about compliance with their ideology.
John Stuart Mill, in his profound work ‘On Liberty’ observed that the biggest threat to an open society does not come from the law. He opined that the tyranny of custom and accepted wisdom is stronger.
As a species, we all seek to fit into the group, to conform by saying the right things. Such informal pressure is intense because it helped humans get along. Evolution shaped us that way.
Nonetheless, the downside is forcing people into a spiral of silence when their views don’t follow the consensus. If you speak out, then be ready to lose your job as a punishment for a thought crime.
In turn, the public discourse becomes dishonest, although in private people don’t change. That’s happening in the UK.
I have a gut feeling that the Brexit vote is, in part, a reaction by the working class against imposed conformity. The vote out was a ‘fuck-off’ to condescending middle-class phoney-liberals.
Fortunately, Hong Kong has escaped much of this malarkey, although it’s starting to creep in. No doubt it will arrive in force soon as corporations appear keen to get involved so they signal ‘we are nice guys’.
It only remains to point out the inherent dangers in woke culture. It soon flips into shutting down those with different opinions or involving the law in policing what people may think — all big brother stuff.
At least some see the funny side.
Hong Kong has a shortage of doctors. With a population of about 7.4 million, we have some 14,000 doctors. That’s a ratio of 1.9 doctors per 1,000 people. Compare that to Singapore, which has 2.4.
To meet that figure we’d need another 3,000 doctors. Another report suggests Hong Kong is down by 11,000 doctors. The shortage is acute in particular specialities. Child development assessment is 40 per cent down on the required number of doctors.
None of this is a surprise to the public lining up for treatment. Long waits are the norm. And yet Hong Kong is sitting on massive reserves of cash. Why isn’t that money used to invest in better medical care for the community? Well, several barriers are preventing movement on that issue.
As a consequence of obstruction by some and blindness by others, we see massive waiting times at public hospitals. Patients with a stable condition are waiting for up to 3½ years to see a specialist. If you have private medical care, there are no such delays. But that comes at a cost. And there is the nub of the issue.
Our two medical schools, funded by the taxpayer, do not produce enough doctors to meet needs. Allied to that is the poor working conditions in public hospitals run by the Hospital Authority.
Doctors and other staff put in long hours while facing a heavy workload for pay that doesn’t match the private sector — anyone who can jump ship.
So why not import doctors? Well, blocking the gate is the Medical Council. This professional body is acting like a militant trade union to prevent overseas doctors from coming through. Of course, it puts forth arguments about maintaining professional standards, dropping dark hints about doctors from certain places.
The places are not named, but we all get the point. As a control, it puts in place restrictive entry requirements, designed to keep them out. Did I mention local doctors run the Medical Council? Get the picture?
Ultimately, our government is not beyond blame. With the Medical Council hindering the import of doctors, officials adopted their usual passive attitude and obfuscated. This situation has gone on for years.
It’s worth pointing out that officials are mostly immune to the consequences of the shortage. With specialised clinics designated for civil servants, long waits are not something they suffer. Besides, most can afford private medical care given the packages of senior officials.
Matters came to a head during the recent flu season. Signs of strain in the Hospital Authority broke to the surface.
Staff discontent at their appalling workload and lack of manpower caused the government to react finally. They adopted the usual ‘knee-jerk’ reaction of a cash injection.
No long-term solution, nor a comprehensive strategy, with a lifetime commitment. Only a quick bit of cash. Then, business as usual. Move on, nothing to see here!
In summary, we have a Medical Council working against the public interest, a dithering government, and to boot, loads of money in the bank.
One pundit suggested the only way is to open up the flood gates, to swamp the market. Without the ability to make a reasonable living in the private sector, force doctors to stay in the public system. It’s a tad radical, but a sign of the sentiment building in the community.
Politicians on all sides are right to be displeased. As a consequence, the Medical Council has taken a well-deserved beating in the court of public opinion. Operating behind closed doors, the public has little insight into its workings.
Let’s talk briefly about social responsibility. I wouldn’t mind so much if doctors paid the full cost of their training and then went into the private sector to make huge salaries. Fair enough. But if they don’t pay, they then owe the community a return on the money we invested in their training.
It usually takes six years to complete a medical degree. The fees are about HK$43,000 per year. The fact is the public subsidises medical courses because, without such an investment, few could afford to become doctors.
Mind you; this doesn’t mean doctors don’t have a responsibility to serve the community that paid for their training. As taxpayers, we fork out HK$3.7 million per doctor in basic-training costs. Then add-on the specialist training that comes later to reach an amount nearing HK10 million.
That doctors from reputable overseas institutions need to pass local exams appears restrictive. Surely, it’s a simple matter of drawing up a list of recognised accredited foreign institutions.
After that, and verification of individual qualifications, let them in.
Moreover, since we’ve got the money, invest in a long-term approach.
We have an ageing population — the people that built this great city — and they deserve care in their twilight years.
A new medical school and a Medical Council that works in the public interest would be an excellent start.
Democracy is about consensus, give and take; it's not about abuse, violence nor giving and taking punches.
Thus, the scene that unfolded in our LegCo chamber on Saturday morning is both shocking and frightening. Matters have moved beyond rational debate into the realm of the beer-hall putsch.
We could debate the merits of the extradition bill, LegCo procedures and house-rules, but there is no point. Neither side is listening nor has any willingness to listen.
In my opinion, if you wanted to give democracy a bad name, you couldn't have staged a better performance.
The litmus test of a real democratic system is when you lose a debate or vote, you take it with good grace and struggle on through legitimate channels.
When the USA elected Donald Trump, Obama didn't block his way to the White House or surround him with yelling goons. No, he acted with dignity. Even Hilary Clinton had the courtesy to turn up at Trump’s inauguration.
"I'm here today to honour our democracy and its enduring values," Hillary tweeted on the morning of the inauguration in February 2017.
What values are our lame politicians signalling? If you’re defeated, then it's acceptable to assault and block your opponents physically; use fascist tactics of noise, intimidation and throw yourself at them.
Then feign injuries by crashing to the floor, to seek sympathy suggesting your opponents caused the harm; if you can get yourself in an ambulance even better.
My concern is that the brutality we witnessed legitimises the aggression of young hotheads on the streets. Moreover, if so-called democrats politicians can block corridors and doorways, then anyone can.
They've lowered the bar. I'll make a prediction; the same tactics will soon be used against them. The dye is cast.
So where do we go from here? LegCo has descended into chaos. Reasoned debate is no longer possible in a climate of vitriol.
It's no good Claudia Mo yelling that everyone else is to blame, when her antics and those of her cohort contributed to this mess.
Each side has erected it barricades; they've dug-in ready for a long battle.
Meanwhile, they've provided Beijing with all the ammunition it needs to cast doubt on the merits of democracy.
The BBC reported Humphrey Hawksley observed in his book 'Democracy Kills' … “the British colonial government and, it turned out, the non-democratic Chinese gave Hong Kong people enough dignity, wealth and freedom to make democracy a worthy vision, but not one worth dying for"
The so-called democrats are not dying for democracy; they're killing it.
Fuyang (富阳区) sits to the south-west of the famous Hangzhou. This area is low mountains, valleys and the broad Fuchun River. A temperate climate favours tea plantations in the hills, while on the banks of the river industry flourishes.
Stretching along the boulevards are trees, floral displays, manicured lawns accompanied by jogging and cycling tracks. These gardens and walkway tell us something. Here is a provincial city with ambition.
This small place, in a big country, has a plan and the confidence to drive forward. Moreover, that plan is audacious, stretching to the horizon with a high-speed rail link and modern highways.
It's a plan well on the way to realisation. On all sides are construction; new homes, factories and signs of wealth.
Here we have a striking demonstration that even a somewhat minor city is riding the wave of China's emergence with a bold statement.
Technology is ubiquitous here. You call a cab by an App, and it appears in minutes; its approach displayed on a map. Payment is cashless; likewise in restaurants, shops and just about everywhere.
The convenience is exceptional. The local people are healthy, positive and engaging although the concept of queuing hasn't reached everybody.
Thus it's disheartening to read the Western media coverage that portrays China as a land of harsh repression. That's the danger of adopting a single perspective and then generalising. We know that all media organisations, despite assertions of balance, have a slant that distorts their commentary.
Snobbery and self-regard are also at play. An illusion of superiority around institutions and culture, asserting the West is best. A self-proclaimed eminence from living like a frog in a well. This arrogant and narrow view is being shaken as democracy falters, as the tide of influence ebbs east.
A generalised negative stereotyping of China predisposes people to accept without question the false narrative of a few. The Falun Gung cult is not alone in harnessing this attitude to spread propaganda. Many in the West lapped it up.
Only when Falun Gung leader Li Hongzhi denounced homosexuals, rock music and 'mixed-marriage' did people wake up.
Besides, Li's exotic ideas around shape-shifting and aliens using humans as pets pulled back the curtain on the madness at the organisation's core. The gullibility of supposedly educated Westerners never ceases to surprise me.
While trumpeting a free media, the West ignores its inherent bias. As an example, the BBC blanks out thousands of ex-soldiers gathered in central London. Their demonstration in support of retired colleagues charged over historical events gets scant coverage.
Not so the simultaneous middle-class climate protest, that has celebrities jetting-in to get their picture taken. The BBC gives that hypocritical show wall-to-wall coverage.
Looking at the world through a distorted prism fosters misinterpretation. The USA entered the Vietnam war believing the domino theory of communist influence. They then found themselves in an unwinnable civil war, with the population as the enemy.
Without a doubt, some fear China as an emerging power. People question why can't the UK or the USA have a Huawei or similar corporation. They have short memories. Apple, IBM, General Electric and alike dominated the world of innovation for decades.
Now its China's turn. And this should be no surprise when you consider the number of STEM graduates the country produces. The data for 2016 is below.
According to estimates, the number of Chinese graduates aged between 25 and 34 will rise 300 per cent by 2030. The US and Europe can expect just 30 per cent.
Why focus on STEM graduates? Simple, these folks are crucial to emerging industries. They write the software, design engineering solutions and innovate.
Granted, some STEM graduates may elect to work overseas. Nonetheless, the sheer number at China's disposal fills her sails and provides the momentum that will keep them ahead. Plus China has long-term plans that it implements.
Let me illustrate the point with the example of the UK's dithering over a high-speed rail system.In the last 15 years, China has built 18,000 miles of high-speed rail track with trains running at 217 mph (350 kph). By 2025, the system will cover 24,000 miles of track.
In the meantime, the UK can't agree, never mind, build a single high-speed link between London and Birmingham covering 125 miles. The proposed project remains only an idea, despite decades of discussion.
All in all, it's evident that China is forging ahead. They adopt technology faster, while infrastructure projects continue to expand. Importantly, there is a recognition that the environment suffered due to breakneck development; as a result, initiatives abound.
A good number of cities operate all-electric buses. Soon you will see electric cars as the norm. Undoubtedly human rights are lagging, but the child labour that drove the UK's industrial revolution is not there.
It took the West, hundreds of years to move from an agrarian society to the modern world we see. China is doing the same, with many more people, in decades.
Thus, there are bound to be miscalculations along the way. I have to say that blind criticism doesn't help.
If the gardens of Fuyang tell us anything, it's that China has a strategy, a direction and the willingness to implement. In the process, millions of people are brought out of poverty, fed and given an education.
In truth, we must ask several questions; could a western-style government achieve this? Is the mantra of Western society that democracy equals freedom and prosperity sustainable? Or is democracy deployed as a cover to shield strategic interests and drive access to markets?
Is Hong Kong in danger of becoming a haven for criminals? That's possible given the unfolding altercation over amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. Four weeks ago, I expressed my support for the modest proposals made by the Secretary for Security.
Since then, we've seen street protests and rising opposition from many quarters. Of course, given the perverted state of local politics, any rational debate evaporated under the onslaught of the usual anti-China dogma. Project fear is underway.
Some commentators heralded the street protest as a reemergence of the democracy movement. Such an assessment is premature. Also, inflated claims of the number attending the rally eroded the organiser's credibility.
The so-called democrats have now taken up the challenge to defeat the proposals. The business community, including pro-China figures, who initiated the objections have skulked off into the shadows.
In an arrogant move, they'd sought special treatment by way of exclusion for certain economic crimes. They now appear content to let their customary opponents make the headway. I'm sure this has not gone unnoticed in Beijing.
Since 1997, China handed to Hong Kong over 200 wanted fugitives. These suspects came back to face justice at the hand of our common law system. Mainland security authorities facilitated that process, made the arrests and all despite the lack of a formal agreement.
The action of the Chinese authorities sent a clear message; you can't flee Hong Kong to hide on the Mainland. If caught you'll be heading back to face Hong Kong justice.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the Mainland. By way of reciprocation, Hong Kong has sent no one the other way. Which begs the question, how many Mainland fugitives are sheltering in Hong Kong?
One Chinese official hinted that as many as 300 are here. Hong Kong's stance is ambiguous. Since there is no extradition agreement between the two sides, the Mainland has not sent any requests for the surrender of suspects.
With no applications, we have no data on the number of criminals hiding here. That in itself is a worrying state of affairs. Do we know who these people are and what they're doing?
Driving the negative attitudes is a dread that anyone may face extradition to Mainland China, where the legal system toes the party line. Some have warned that the amendment deals a crippling blow to our freedoms.
Setting aside this hype, a reading of the proposals makes it clear that our courts have the final say on extradition. These are courts operating under the common law principles and with robust safeguards. Moreover, the amendment excludes political offences.
Thus, it appears to me those opposing the changes, don't trust Hong Kong courts to uphold the 'rule of law'. A worrying stance to take, but no surprise.
During Occupy in 2014, leading public figures — including self-acclaimed legal experts — displayed contempt for the rule of law. They ignored the law for months, asserting their motivations justified such action.
In an act of supreme arrogance, they granted themselves the right to break the rules, citing a higher calling. Unfortunately for them, the courts took a different view; their conceited reasoning rejected for the falsehood at its core. Nobody is above the law.
Does the same erroneous thinking blight this episode? Or is it another example of opposing anything that touches on the Mainland?
I suspect a bit of both. The so-called democrats can't help themselves but disapprove.
We have seen them hold up many initiatives, and are now hellbent on protecting criminal fugitives. That includes a man suspected of killing his girlfriend and their unborn child in Taiwan. He's forgotten in the furore.
Let's not overlook that many Western nations have extradited suspects to China, thus it's perverse that Hong Kong - a part of China - can't do the same. In February, Spain deported two suspects to China on fraud charges.
In 2018, Bulgaria returned an allegedly corrupt official. Lai Changxing, a criminal mastermind behind a massive smuggling operation, was recovered from Canada in 2011. In all these cases China provided assurances of no-death-penalty.
The usual naysayers are wading in with their hypocritical utterances. Chris Patten, our last colonial governor, is on speed-dial for most journalists as the go-to Hong Kong critic. Therefore no surprise, he's highly vocal in opposition to the extradition proposals.
But as usual with Patten, double standards apply. He's silent about Britain's extradition treaties with Zimbabwe, Cuba, Uganda or Brunei. Dispatching people to a country that allows the stoning of gays is apparently acceptable to Patten.
James To has led the efforts to stall these amendments in the legislative process. He's held up the bill reading at the committee stage by frivolous antics.
In response, the pro-government camp is seeking to unseat him. He's countering with threats of a judicial review that could drag on for years. None of this is edifying or noble.
Simultaneously, our Chief Executive Carrie Lam declined to meet privately with the so-called democrats. She opined that the LegCo Chamber is the place to debate the issue.
Thus, with both sides now digging in, a long-term struggle is possible. Without a doubt, the only people benefiting are the felons.
I'm confident that this issue won't go away. It's only a matter of time before a Mainland murderer, rapist or paedophile arrives to seek sanctuary in Hong Kong.
They may already be here. Wanted by the Mainland police, the fugitive will have James To, Claudia Mo and Dennis Kwok fighting for them. History will not judge these folks well.
Lastly, I do wonder how China looks upon these antics. Let's be clear; our common law legal system has a shelf-life that expires in 2047. So does it serve our long-term interests to block these amendments?
Are we affirming an unwillingness to cooperate with the Mainland? Come 2047, Beijing may well ask, why keep a system that harbours dangerous criminals?
If a particularly wanton criminal took refuge here, would Beijing act? Perhaps that's what the so-called democrats seek. Maybe that's the big game? To bring about a self-fulfilling prophecy of China intervening.
In the meantime, crooks can mock our criminal justice system to hide amongst us.
Is that the image Hong Kong seeks to project to the world — a haven for villains?
As Occupy kicked off in September 2014, my wife’s 98-year-old grandad ventured:
“It will all end in tears.”
This man has a history. He’d fought the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, to flee by the skin of his teeth on a junk out of Aberdeen. He went through the 1967 riots, fearful for his life as his colleagues brandished the ‘Little Red Book.’ He’s seen things that would make your hair turn grey.
And it did end in tears. Chu Yiu-ming is crying as his co-conspirators went off to jail. Claudia Mo is sitting in LegCo ranting against ‘evil Carrie Lam’ as her emotions ran out of control. All rather bitter and sad, but so predictable. Then we have the pathos of Tanya Chan announcing a tumour on her brain.
That an uneducated but astute old man could predict the outcome, you have to ask why all the gifted souls in the democratic camp couldn’t? Years of studying law, nor decades of social activism didn’t help them.
The trial of the leaders of the 79-day Occupy Central concluded yesterday. Some are guilty as charged, others found not guilty.
The authors of the illegal action, Tai Yiu-ting, Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-Ming, each received 16-months in jail. In compassion, the judge suspended Chu’s sentence given his age and ill-health.
Meanwhile, the sentencing of Tanya Chan is on hold. The poor lady’s condition demands an urgent operation. I wish her well. She's passionate although a misguided person and the stress of recent weeks must be taking its toll.
The younger people charged walked away from court with community service orders, except one with a criminal record. Today, legal scholars are busy passing comment. Many have skin in the game as advocates for one side or the other; thus their observations are tainted.
We could debate the merits of the sentences without achieving a resolution. In the end, the judge made his call. I respect that. As the old saying goes “don’t do the crime if you can’t do time.”
Tai and the others expressed no regret. This stance earned them a rebuff from the judge for their failure to offer an apology to the people of Hong Kong for “excessive inconvenience and suffering.” Predictably, supporters portrayed them as ‘martyrs’ and ‘prisoners of conscience.’
These assertions underline the distortions of truth that shaded aspects of Occupy. The other is the falsehood of a peaceful protest. Then, despite grandstanding claims they’d accept the court's decision, today came news of an appeal.
Occupy left our fair city divided. Our institutions suffered damage, with enormous strains felt in many quarters.
The Police Force suffered the most. Gains it made throughout the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s were suddenly wiped out. Public trust waned as police officers became the meat in the proverbial sandwich.
Officers tutored to deliver a ‘quality service’ in a new era of policing found themselves on the end of relentless insults. Then came the violence.
At work they’re spat at and abused daily; then at home face rifts as families divided along ideological lines. For some, the wounds have not healed as resentment, and deep feelings won’t fade soon.
And yet Tai and his group remain conceited in their opinions that they did the right thing. It's a blind mantra to them. While some sectors are calling for reconciliation and compromise, Tai appeared to offer no such option.
As a law professor, he knew that he faced a conviction for his actions. Thus I find the ‘prisoner of conscience’ label egotistic and an insult to genuine political prisoners.
No matter. Rational thought plus pleas for adherence to the rule of law are unlikely to change ideologically-fixed minds.
So what next? Indeed, Hong Kong needs to move forward on democratic reform especially given the non-functioning LegCo. The Basic Law also mandates we act.
I conclude Carrie Lam is right to hold off bringing forward new proposals for more democracy. In the current climate, with hostile attitudes on all side, constructive and meaningful debate is not possible. It's wise to let the dust settle, and then reconsider.
But have the so-called democrats learnt anything? They remain a divided entity, who detest each other as much as their political opponents. The constant fragmentation within their ill-disciplined ranks plays straight into the hands of the opposition.
Moreover at the grassroots, down at the district level, the democrats have only isolated strongholds. The DAB and others are better organised, with experienced pro-active workers at the frontline dealing with the day-to-day issues of citizens. The democrats, except for Lee Cheuk-yan’s trade union, have no similar structures.
Also, the champagne-liberals like Claudia Mo and Albert Ho fail the communication test at the grassroots. Their message plays well with students, middle-class types and those with anti-China views.
It fails to impress working folks who are struggling to hold down two jobs but can’t get to work because a protest blocks a road.
In short, the democrats are uncoordinated, mercurial and stubbornly blind to their failings. Everything that goes wrong for them is a conspiracy or united front action. In reality, their ineptness is more damaging.
Further, a refusal to engage with Beijing places them outside where the real game is taking place. Running off to Washington or London to bleat about ‘human rights’ only feeds suspicions of their motives.
Simultaneous, there is a more significant transformation at play. One of the cornerstones of western political thinking is that only democracy can provide the environment for economic growth and innovation. That theory is falling apart under the weight of China’s progress.
Likewise, western thinkers assert that the emergence of a middle-class will stoke calls for democracy. Well, that’s not happening. China moulded the best elements of the West's economic model to its system without embracing Western-style democracy.
In the process, they’ve lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in decades. This stunning achievement exposes western theories as wanting.
With elections for District Councils in November this year and LegCo in 2020, we should be able to see if Occupy has a bearing on the outcome.
I’d suggest not, because the public has moved on. Let’s see.
In the capital, politicians call for the full weight of the law to crash down on protesters adopting civil disobedience. In the same city, young minorities die in increasing numbers, stabbed in the street.
The police can't stop this slaughter, but can storm an embassy to drag a journalist to jail. Meanwhile, the political class is busy fighting against the democratic wishes of the public.
But it gets worse. Outside the capital, a campaigner against child rape and his traumatised children, get frog-marched from a town. Aggressive police officers forced them to a train station.
You see, in this country, you can face arrest for thought crime.
At the same time, gay rights activists are banned from university campuses as no platforming takes hold. Then, in a chilling incident, shooters kill a journalist while she's covering a riot.
In the most sinister development, the government wants to control the internet and who can say what.
Where is this Orwellian place? Not Beijing or Hong Kong, but Great Britain.
The response to the London climate protests didn’t reflect well on the British establishment. Especially their last proxy in Hong Kong, Chris Patten.
Only days before, Patten was wagging his finger at Hong Kong, lambasting us for taking action when people blocked roads in Central.
That Benny Tai and his crew advocated civil disobedience accords them a free pass in Patten’s book. That Occupy descended into violence is ignored.
Contrast that to London. Blocking streets there to pursue your cause with civil disobedience is not allowed. The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, is demanding that the police act.
Is Chris Patten rushing to the streets to stand in solidarity with the protesters? I’m not holding my breath.
In fairness to Patten, he was not alone in attacking Hong Kong’s judicial process for convicting the Occupy instigators. Politicians of all flavours joined in. The stench of hypocrisy hung in the air with every utterance.
Further, the British government is formulating strict internet laws that rival those of the world's most oppressive regimes. Under the pretense of protecting children and dealing with fake news, free speech could be shut down.
Control of the process will rest with institutions steeped in nanny-state orthodoxy. You can see where this is going. Woolly definitions and threats of jail provide the levers of suppression.
Britain's political class humiliated the country over Brexit. In places like Hong Kong it’s further denigrating its standing by shameless double-standards; do as I say, not as I do is the mantra.
I suppose, in part, this is arrogance linked to a failure to recognise that Great Britain is no longer a credible voice. As Britain stumbles towards a form of Brexit, is it time for schadenfreude?
An ugly ‘anti-harassment’ imbroglio has spilt out from the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club. It's played out through Twitter, then across the local newspapers and radio. Some club members are asserting freedom of speech is under threat from a badly drafted policy.
Others feel the culture of the FCC is arcane, with drunken men, most expats, allegedly misbehaving. Given the FCC’s self-appointed status as the freedom of speech bastion, this is intriguing.
Let me start by saying, I’m not a member of the 76-year-old FCC. I have attended functions there, generally having a cracking night in mixed company. As sometimes occurs, when alcohol is taken, the banter becomes raunchy, with the ladies contributing their fair share.
At the end of one evening, a bear-like hug by a stout Dutch lady lingered too long. I took no offence because she gave none. That’s the norm for well-adjusted adults.
Also, I recognise that times have changed. The laddie behaviour of my younger years is no longer acceptable. That’s understandable. As a father of daughters, I grew aware of these issues.
Unfortunately, and increasingly, I've encountered professional victims who will seek offence in anything. These types appear driven by a postmodern agenda that attributes all the world’s problems to me and other white blokes.
Of course, both women and men have a legitimate expectation of using the FCC free from harassment. Although, and here's the rub, there is a balance to be struck. Otherwise, we’d go through life never communicating for fear of offending someone.
The Twitter feed over this issue has given us an insight into the ongoing dispute. Appears one lady wants to get physical - copy below.
For the record, I realise that as a white male my views are irrelevant to the hard-line third wave feminists. My colour and gender mark me as a vile creature beyond the pale. Such is the discourse in the identity politics culture wars.
At the FCC, on one side, we have members objecting to the policy. These are not all old white men, as some claim. The evidence points to half of this group being female. They’ve raised concerns that the anti-harassment policy as drafted suppresses free speech.
The FCC definition states harassment is "any unwelcome conduct, comment or display that is reasonably known to offend, intimidate or humiliate the recipient on the basis on the basis of appearance, gender, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, physical size or weight, age, marital/family status, nationality, language, ancestry or place of origin.”
As with all such definitions, it’s subjective and rests on the interpretation of the receiver.
Definitions like this led the London Metropolitan Police to the madness of banning the expression ‘black coffee’. Instead, officers ask for ‘coffee without milk.’
You can see how misappropriation of such a policy is possible.
Certainly, the endless line of people wanting to join the claimed victimhood hierarchy get a leg up. Thus, it would be easy to weaponise the policy to address personal grudges.
Let's suppose two people are discussing the rape of children by Catholic priests. On the next table a person over hears the conversation and is offended, feeling such a discussion is inappropriate. Is that harassment?
On the other side is a group of women and men, who feel that the FCC is not a safe space. They allege leering, unwelcome attention and sexual harassment.
The discussion I’ve seen between FCC members is an ideologically ladened debate. It's akin to no-platforming discussions seen at some Western universities. All the language of the woke world is there; mansplaining, patriarchy, victim-shaming, racism, sexism, micro-aggressions and white-man privilege.
One female journalist has taken to the press writing an opinion piece. In this, she conflated the anti-harassment policy with many matters including the murder of journalists, female prostitution and the pay-gender gap.
Also, it appears a photo of two topless women in the FCC caused some anxiety. That picture went. A photo of a Scottish soldier's bottom didn’t seem to deserve similar action. Interesting.
If we're allowed to conflate on equal terms, I could argue that women's sport is over thanks to a woke generation asserting transgender rights. Likewise, black kids in London face an onslaught of stabbings because a PC culture prevents action. I could go on, but I won't because it's too depressing.
An FCC member speaking on Radio 3 alleged harassment at the main bar is common. When asked if any of this was reported, the questioner faced immediate castigation as ‘victim-shaming'.
This tactic comes from the third-wave feminists. In the same way, some people play the 'Nazi' or 'Hitler' card when caught out in a debate on race.
If you simply shout ‘victim-shaming’ at every question you don’t like, you tend to loose the argument. The vilification of opposing opinions is then linked to the other person being depraved. Meanwhile, the legitimate question goes unanswered.
I have a question. If our journalists are not bold enough to challenge lousy behaviour in the FCC, how can we expect them to be their job?
The FCC issued a statement asserting part of the problem is excessive drinking by some members. Is this a tacit admission that the FCC is a disorderly place. Such may constitute a breach of the liquor licensing conditions.
The licensee is not permitted to allow drunkenness, quarrel or other disorderly conduct on the premises. Perhaps the FCC shouldn’t worry about their lease because without alcohol the club is finished anyway — I’ll take my tongue out of my cheek now.
I don’t have a dog in this fight, except to say I favour free speech within limits. Furthermore, I recognise people must have protection from harassment. How the FCC balances these matters will be interesting to observe.
In December 2014, the Occupy Central Movement (OCM) collapsed. The protest disintegrated under the weight of internal disputes and legal actions.
The instigators, including the pseudo-intellectual Benny Tai, fled the field of play long before that. He’d exercised no control from the outset as disparate groups hijacked the protest. This week the organisers of OCM faced conviction.
I give them credit for waging a successful media campaign that portrayed the event as peaceful. Many in the West and rosy-eyed expatriates in Hong Kong are blind, willfully or otherwise, to the truth.
That 520 people needed hospital treatment: 130 of them police officers, one kicked unconscious in Central, goes unacknowledged. The falsehood of a peaceful event is now embedded in folklore.
Even this week, academics discussing the findings peddled the myth that the police caused the occupation. It's suggested that by closing a footbridge, this prompted people to take to the roads.
This assertion is palpable nonsense. The movement always intended to block roads. To me, these academics have abandoned rational, evidence-based thought in their attempt to shift blame.
While that occupation played out, Hong Kong people sought to get back to normal life. Over time our lawful right to use the roads was reinstated.
I’ve written much about OCM: here, here and here. Now, after four years the perpetrators have finally faced justice. Found guilty, the prospect of jail time awaits them.
None of this fills me with joy. Yes, I’d like to see this gang of the self-righteous serve long sentences. But would we feel better as a society if that is the outcome? These are base impulses, which we should try to restrain.
While there is an obvious need to hold them to account, making them martyrs will be counterproductive. But, to allow them off scot-free makes a mockery of the rule of law. And that's why the unwelcome intervention by Chris Patten is so disheartening.
I suppose Patten can’t help himself. Scorned in the UK, he still enjoys the limelight in Hong Kong. Regrettably, his response amounts to an attack on the judiciary.
Patten is no longer a viable or truthful commentator. For starters, he's out of touch with the reality on the ground.
Second, he appears to be fed a line by his Hong Kong contacts. Combine this with his proven misjudgments - need I mention Jimmy Savile - and you have a man who is not credible.
Joining Patten in this misguided political moralising is British and European politicians. They’re embarrassingly wrong in their judgments. Due process under the common law system applied to the convicted.
I listened to UK politicians justifying the arrest and possible extradition of Julian Assange. The words they used included ‘the rule of law’, ‘due process’ and ‘nobody is above the law.’ All these statements apply to the instigators of Occupy. The willful blindness to this fact is indicative of the Wests double standards.
No matter how much spin and false sainthood the instigator's display, it's inescapable that they failed in their endeavour. Unfortunately, in the process, they polarised Hong Kong society. What’s more, they seeded deep suspicions in Beijing. If you ask the question did Occupy Central help, the answer must be a resounding no.
In the judgment, the court rejected the boneheaded assertion that the police caused the occupation by firing tear smoke. The judge rightly points out that Tai and his mates always sought to bring large crowds to the streets.
Further, their claim that civil disobedience put them above the law was kicked out. Moreover, and something many of us pointed out in 2014, the judge highlighted the naivety of the group.
Sun Tzu (孫子) 544 - 496 BC, envisaged that OCM would falter. A winning strategy lies in ‘making an assessment of the outcome of action’ and ‘form a single united body at one place.’ OCM had neither. It was doomed to fail from the outset.
No doubt we will see the usual protests as a reaction to this judicial finding. Of course, there is a chance that some may decide on radical action. But in reality, OCM is a spent movement. They had their moment and blew it. Likewise, its bastard son the Hong Kong independence movement is finished.
To me, the stock of democracy worldwide is falling. Brexit and Trump are busy seeing to that. As that plays into the equation, people are wondering is it worth it? Many are coming round to the view it’s wrong-headed to have a system that stems progress.
For example, Brexit held hostage to a few. Is that fair when the public voted out? With Western democracy in crisis, Patten pointing the finger at us is a staggering conceit.
Finally, as China progresses, change will come at their chosen speed. The pace will not be set or dictated by yesterday's men. Hong Kong’s democratic forces will need pragmatism, rather than blunt objection if they are to remain a player.
In the meantime, Tai and his friends will no doubt wrap themselves in the banner of victimhood. Sentencing is in two weeks, at which time we can expect more haughty insults from the likes of Patten.
At first, I thought a new Monty Python series is coming. Next, I’m curious to know if Arnold Rimmer is back for another round of Red Dwarf. The absence of a forehead H suggests not. Then, it dawned on me — this is the head of the British Army. And his performance is comedy gold.
The voice, the stance and awful faux studio-setting created an online stir. General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith’s strange presentation took loads of flak. In a three-minute piece, he affirmed that a stiff upper-class type still leads the British Army. The abiding image is a man straight out of 1930s central casting: one lisping old Etonian please, heavy on the hip stance.
Carleton-Smith’s condescending tone didn't play well with the proletariat, who make up the bulk of his thinning army. Unfortunately, it’s probable the poor man has no inkling he’s doing immense damage. ‘The Life of Brian’ clip comes to mind. John Cleese’s Centurion failing to stop Biggus Dickus addressing the mob is the template.
The Real Thing
By all accounts, Carleton-Smith is an accomplished soldier. He went through SAS selection — no slouch then — and served with distinction.
That alone marks him as a tough guy. Unfortunately, the qualities that allow him to excel in one role may not be applicable in another.
The only explanation I can think of is he received poor advice. In the modern era, he needs to recognise that his approach was always likely to attract scorn. Plus, virtue-signalling by men from a privileged background never works well.
But, let’s get some perspective here. Carleton-Smith sought to address recent incidents that attracted media attention. Yet, by conflating these, he’s failed to comprehend the broader consequences. An alleged incident involving sexual abuse is under investigation.
Such conduct, if proven, should result in criminal charges and severe punishment. Nobody condones this behaviour.
Unfortunately, Carleton-Smith fuses that incident with the much less serious matter of soldiers firing at a picture of Jeremy Corbyn. That's a mistake.
Terrorist Supporter Upset
That video emerged last week to spark a furore as the loony left linked it with the assassination of Joe Cox, the Labour MP. This stance says more about their opportunism than the actions of the soldiers. Also, it’s worth remembering that Corbyn is outspoken in his support of terrorists who took the life of parachute regiment members.
I doubt Corbyn and his cohort would be running to the media if these lads were blown sky-high by a roadside bomb. He's more likely to have the bombers round for tea in his allotment shed.
Another aspect that arises from these events is its impact on recruitment. The soft cuddly recruitment campaigns of 2107/2018, saw successful applications for the Army collapse. Forty-seven per cent of applicants drop out. Building on that failure came the 2019 snowflake campaign, a costly exercise in political correctness gone crazy.
As a result, the British Army is now 5,600 short of regular soldiers. Carleton-Smith’s woeful outburst is unlikely to help attract people. Who will join an organisation that throws its people under the bus of political expediency?
One of the most gratuitous responses came from professional soy-boy and drama queen, Owen Jones. He played his expected hand, affirming a status as the lefts man-child commentator. I don't recall young Owen getting upset when posters appeared vilifying Theresa May. Amazing how selective these people can be.
To be honest, soldiers are not angels nor should they be. We ask them to face extraordinary dangers to protect our freedoms. Many pay the ultimate price.
The business of fighting wars is messy. Young people thrust into that disorientating world experience pressures most could never shoulder. If they let off steam with inappropriate humour, then who are we to pass comment. It’s sure that the likes of Corbyn and Owen Jones are not fit to judge these men.
When the beast is at the door, I want the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment guarding that door. I don't want some politically-correct softy. Nonetheless, one aspect of this episode that concerns me is the poor grouping on the target. I’d expect better from such elite soldiers.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.