"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"Despite Chan’s confession, the Hong Kong police couldn't charge him with the murder since it occurred outside their jurisdiction in Taiwan."
Last week Taiwan accepted the extradition of two suspected gunmen from the Mainland. Hung Cheng-chun (洪政軍), aka "Red Turtle," and Kung Hsiang-chih (孔祥志) stand accused of involvement in the 88 shots incident in Tainan City on 10th November 2022.
The pair opened fire at two locations, including the offices of the Democratic Progressive Party. No injuries resulted despite the discharge of 88 rounds. Yet, the timing of the attack, close to local elections, and the venues suggest a political motive. Details are here.
Both were arrested in Quanzhou city on the Mainland and returned to Taiwan last Saturday accompanied by Taiwanese officials. Moreover, according to media reports, China has produced 56 Taiwanese suspects over the past six years, while Taiwan extradited five suspects to China.
But, of course, the Western media never reports any of this stuff. Their simple narrative is that China and Taiwan don’t cooperate, and are in a state of near-war. This is far from the truth because the relationship is more complex than such a monochromatic view.
Still, these renditions beg the question of why is a murder suspect who sparked months of social disorder, which dislocated Hong Kong, unable to return to Taiwan to face justice.
In October 2017, 20-year-old Hongkonger Amber Poon Hiu-wing began dating Chan Tong-kai. The pair shared their relationship on social media. The couple decided to celebrate Valentine's Day in Taiwan the following year. Poon was now three months pregnant, a fact she'd kept from her family and friends.
On February 16, 2018, the night before the couple booked to return to Hong Kong, they went shopping. They purchased a pink suitcase and took it back to the hotel. Poon was never seen in public again.
Chan arrived back in Hong Kong without Poon. Within days Poon’s family reported her missing. When questioned by Hong Kong police, Chan confessed to killing Poon during an argument over her relationship with an ex-boyfriend.
Based on details provided by the Hong Kong police, Taiwanese officers found Chan's body inside the pink suitcase hidden in the undergrowth of a park.
Despite Chan’s confession, the Hong Kong police couldn't charge him with the murder since it occurred outside their jurisdiction in Taiwan. More importantly, and here is the main complication, the two governments have no formal extradition agreements, although they did have experience in informally handing over criminals.
In 2016, three murder suspects fled from Hong Kong to Taiwan. Once known, the Taiwanese cancelled their tourist visas and repatriated them to Hong Kong. As a result, Hong Kong police arrested them when they landed at the airport.
But this time, in a marked departure from past practice, Taiwan sought a formal legal assistance treaty. Given Hong Kong's status and Taiwan's position, they must have known that any such a treaty is impossible as tantamount to acknowledging Taiwan as an independent entity. That is something the Hong Kong government couldn't contemplate.
With Poon's family clamouring for justice, the Hong Kong government proposed the Fugitive Offenders Bill. This mechanism would allow the rendition to places that didn't have formal agreements with Hong Kong. Within weeks these proposals catalysed protests with escalating violence that rocked Hong Kong from 2019 until mid-2020.
In the meantime, Chan faced fraud charges for his misuse of Poon's credit card in Hong Kong with a sentence of 29 months. Released in October 2019, he vowed to surrender himself to the Taiwanese police but has failed to do so.
Instead, his guardian, the Reverend Peter Koon of the Hong Kong Anglican Church, told local media that Chan, "spends all his time playing video games and watching television".
The case is now at an impasse. The Hong Kong government's position is that Chan remains "a free man" and could turn himself in if Taiwan issued him a visa to travel.
The Taiwanese, meanwhile, assert they can't issue a visa since there is already a warrant out for Chan as a murder suspect. They continue to press for a treaty in an evident self-serving political move. And yet, the artifice of the Taiwanese position is now on full display given the rendition of the 88 shooting incident suspects. In the pursuit of their political aims they’ve thrown common decency away.
With Taiwan keen to attract Hong Kong tourists as Covid restrictions ease, the issue is again a hot topic. What will happen if other Hongkongers commit a crime in Taiwan and flee? And vice-versa. Doubtless this will happen.
All things considered, the saga of "Red Turtle" and Kung suggests a solution is possible once you step back, remove the politics, and act with pragmatism. Then, five years after the event, Amber Poon's family may receive a sliver of justice and relief from their torment.
"Arguably, Hong Kong was built on parallel trading because we've always leveraged differences between the Mainland and us to generate business."
They're back! Once the Mainland crossing points re-opened, it didn't take long for Hong Kong's savvy parallel traders to swing into action. Likewise, Mainlanders are lining up outside luxury goods shops in Central to buy the latest LV bag or Gucci item.
But, of course, nobody is raising a hue and crying about Pedder Street's queues as the visitors swipe their credit cards. That's the acceptable face of parallel trading.
Yet further north, the grumbling is already gathering pace as the more grass-roots parallel traders reappear in Sheung Shui. The phenomenon is not new. Don't forget it played a role in the now defunct localist movement that sought to stir up anti-Mainlander sentiment.
A series of protests starting in 2011, led to near riots in 2015, with those opposing the trade scuffled with traders and their supporters. Driving the militant end of the discontent were elements intent on inciting hatred. Some of that was a foretaste of what came along in 2019. Still, genuine public disquiet at the social disturbance caused by the parallel trade existed.
In this blog post, I will sweep through the history of parallel trading in Hong Kong, mentioning the current regulations and the potential benefits and drawbacks. Finally, I'll consider possible solutions.
So what is parallel trading, and why is it a cause of concern? Parallel traders buy products in Hong Kong at lower prices and sell them in Shenzhen at higher prices. The business model is that simple.
However, the term' parallel trading' is probably confusing the issue. What is happening is more akin to smuggling and grey trading. Thus, it's essential to distinguish between legal and illegal; parallel trading becomes unlawful if the trademark owner's consent is not given according to Section 20 of the Trade Marks Ordinance, Chapter 559, Laws of Hong Kong.
According to a Hong Kong Trade Development Council study, legal parallel trading in Hong Kong was estimated at around US$24 billion in 2020. This figure includes exports and imports of goods shipped through Hong Kong. Most of these goods are sourced from mainland China and then resold in other countries, primarily in the Asia-Pacific region.
Unfortunately, I've got no data on the value of grey trading, except to say it must be lucrative given the scale of the operations visible in Sheung Shui and elsewhere.
While this trade existed for decades, these days, syndicates bulk buy everyday items from shops in Sheung Shui, Fanling and further afield. The articles are then broken down into individual loads and distributed to couriers, who travel across the boundary to hand over the items.
The explosion in this grey trading can be traced back to 2003 when the 'Individual Visit Scheme' was implemented, allowing multiple boundary crossings and creating the means for the trade to flourish.
To some extent, the trade caters to a market created by the sudden appearance of Shenzhen's middle-class population by offering them cheaper genuine goods. Moreover, past shortages in the Mainland and concerns around the quality of such items as child milk powder drove demand to new heights. Hong Kong suffered as mothers here couldn't source milk powder.
And yet, this type of trading is universal as it allows merchants to take advantage of price differences between the two markets. And, arguably, Hong Kong was built on parallel trading because we've always leveraged differences between the Mainland and us to generate business.
Hence these traders, seen by some as a blight, are the manifestations of an activity that helped make Hong Kong a success. Further, all involved are gainfully employed, making a living and not reliant on the state for benefits. If you look at the couriers, the majority are middle or old-aged, who struggle to find gainful employment elsewhere. They earn as much as HK$1000 a trip, making the work lucrative.
Parallel trading can also help manufacturers by boosting demand and increasing sales, brand recognition and profits. Yet, the impact of the trade on its host community, mainly Sheung Shui, is visible and significant. I'll get to that.
At a more macro level, economists tell us that such grey trading can decrease the demand for goods in the domestic market, as traders can buy the goods in other jurisdictions and sell them at a lower price. As a result, this trade can lead to decreased sales for domestic companies and a drop in overall economic activity.
Furthermore, this business can distort price signals, as the prices for goods in the domestic market may no longer reflect the actual underlying demand for the items.
Finally, parallel trading can impact the government's ability to collect taxes on the goods purchased and sold. Yet, none of these macro factors is driving the discontent at the trade here in Hong Kong.
For many years now, with an interlude for Covid, it is the more mundane issues of obstruction, noise, litter, and the general nuisance traders create that raised concerns. For example, at Sheung Shui Station, traders mainly gather near Exit C to exchange goods, causing a severe blockage. In response, the MTR erected barriers and gates to control the situation, with staff enforcing the rules. Alas, this led to disputes and conflict with Police reinforcements needed to restore order.
Faced with public discontent, the government sought to regulate the trade by imposing strict limits on the number of goods carried at any time. For example, limits on how much milk powder an individual may have; the law states that any person carrying more than 1.8kg of powdered formula when leaving Hong Kong may face a maximum fine of HK$500,000 and two years imprisonment.
Nonetheless, the scale of the challenge is enormous. According to statistics from the Hong Kong Immigration Department, about 2.43 million people entered and exited through the control points from February 6th to 12th. Stopping, checking and searching even a tiny proportion of these people requires considerable time and resources.
Still, the current government's response is piecemeal, involving tweaking regulations and ad-hoc enforcement action by various agencies, including the Customs and Excise Department.
The authorities must recognise that uncoordinated actions such as sweeps that pick up couriers and ticketing obstruction will only have a marginal impact.
Ultimately, it is perfectly possible to disrupt the trade with an intelligence-led operation coordinated across multiple agencies to tackle the money moved around. That will hurt the syndicates.
I've heard pundits suggest that parallel trading is a tangible demonstration that 'one-country, two-systems’ remains intact. There is an element of truth in that. However, such a stance does not assuage the poor residents of Sheung Shui overwhelmed by the disruption to their community.
"The new Kai Tak space port is a major step forward for the city of Hong Kong, as it will open up new opportunities for research, exploration, and innovation."
Hong Kong has recently opened its new Kai Tak space port, and it is set to revolutionize the travel industry in the region. Located at the former Kai Tak Airport, the new space port will offer low-cost and efficient access to space for commercial and research purposes.
The port is equipped with a launch pad, a control tower, and a command center, and is capable of launching satellites, space probes, and other spacecrafts.
The new space port is a major milestone for the city of Hong Kong, as it is the first of its kind in the region. With the help of the Kai Tak space port, the city will now be able to participate in the global space industry, and open up new opportunities for research, exploration, and innovation.
The port will also serve as a hub for the growing space industry in Asia, and help to create new jobs and economic opportunities for the Hong Kong people.
In addition to its commercial and research applications, the Kai Tak space port will also serve as a gateway for space tourism. With its state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure, the port will provide a safe and secure environment for people to explore the wonders of outer space.
With the help of the Kai Tak space port, people will be able to experience the thrill of space travel and explore the stars like never before.
The new Kai Tak space port is a major step forward for the city of Hong Kong, as it will open up new opportunities for research, exploration, and innovation. With its state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure, the port will serve as a gateway to the stars, and help to create new jobs and economic opportunities for the Hong Kong people.
(All the above was generated by AI)
"To say ChatGPT is intelligent is to say that planes are birds. Both fly, but by different means. Artificial flying machines don't need to adopt the modus operandi of birds, and ChatGPT does not think like humans."
"Open the Pod bay doors, please, HAL," pleads Dave Bowman, stranded outside his spacecraft. When HAL, the computer, responds with, "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that", we know that the machine has humans in its sights.
HAL, like Frankenstein, turns on its creator — breaking Asimov's first rule of robotics.
Over the years, this scenario played out in many science fiction films — the omnipotent Skynet artificial neural network in Terminator gains sentience, then immediately attacks. Likewise, the short-life replicants of Blade Runner race against the clock to prevent the erasure of their memories 'like tears in the rain'.
And if you follow the media hype around ChatGPT and other so-called 'artificial intelligence' systems, we could be at the next inflexion point in our relationship with machines. Then, depending on who you believe, we face the mass culling of jobs and roles or another evolution with uncertain outcomes.
Still, as usual, the media are ahead of themselves to drum up clicks with tales of pending disaster. They've summoned a warning from Professor Stephen Hawkins.
"While primitive forms of artificial intelligence developed so far have proved very useful, I fear the consequences of creating something that can match or surpass humans," Hawking wrote. "Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete and would be superseded."
It may help to step back for some calmer reflection. In truth, AI is a misnomer. The name hides something more mundane but still fascinating about computing power and its impact on us.
ChatGPT and similar systems don't think, emote or produce anything unique. Yet, their speed and agility in answering our questions or creating essays give the impression of intelligence, while in reality, they draw upon what we have given them. We are their dataset, or rather the knowledge we’ve acquired, and then uploaded on the internet.
Someone observed that, "To say ChatGPT is intelligent is to say that planes are birds. Both fly, but by different means. Artificial flying machines don't need to adopt the modus operandi of birds, and ChatGPT does not think like humans."
Hence when you ask ChatGPT to produce an essay on "The merits of eating fruit," it will draw together evidence from the internet to craft a response. Moreover, it will use jargon to construct the essay, adding to the perception that intelligence is at work.
Here is a link to essays produced by ChatGPT. Could you spot them as machine generated?
Above all, ChatGPT does no reasoning. The process at work is collating, sorting and crafting a response.
The algorithms add nothing new or original; thus, ChatGPT provides no new insights. So what you get is already known, although delivered at exceptional speed.
Nonetheless, ChatGPT and its companions raise many issues around education, the learning process and the authenticity of student output. If students can harness ChatGPT to do their assignments without detection, how much actual learning takes place?
Thus, I see universities are already moving to ban the use of AI, although how this is enforced remains unclear.
In the future, I expect we may see a return to traditional handwritten exams to test what students have absorbed. But, in the meantime, with the outputs of ChatGPT challenging to detect, students will use it.
Don’t be surprised at that because ChatGPT already passed law exams. Those expensive lawyers better watch out.
Perhaps AI will have the most significant impact in the creative domain. Throughout history, artists copied and paid homage to their mentors. This discussion on the origins of Stars Wars music well proves this point.
In the arts, authenticity is always a murky issue. Nevertheless, arguably AI can evolve something new in the arts, although founded in the past; because the creative possibilities based on mimicking are many.
We are certainly on the cusp of a moment similar to the arrival of the internet. ChatGPT has given us insights into new possibilities, most of which are just coming into view. Here a self-proclaimed nerd of the first tranche of the internet discusses how ChatGPT resolved a coding issue he struggled with.
The example is apt because the algorithms made mistakes based on wrong inputs by the human nerd. Amazingly, when asked, ChatGPT explained what it had done, and this led to a resolution.
Doubtless these systems are useful tools that we will learn to use to our advantage. Yet, given that these systems are reflections of us, they manifest all the failings of humans. Our errors, prejudices, misreadings and other weaknesses lay captured in the work of the algorithms that cannot escape the context we’ve given them.
This leads back to HAL. He went off the rails because humans asked him to process information accurately and lie simultaneously. These conflicting demands drove him to kill.
When genuine AI arrives, it will still be a 'self-portrait' of humankind, flaws and all, except at operating speeds we can't comprehend. Therein lies the risk.
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.