Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, is infamous for having had his work co-opted and corrupted by the Nazis. It became the intellectual basis for their terrible crimes. His Übermensch or Supermen idea was seized upon to justify the suppression of compassion. The need to take harsh actions. This twisting of an idea led to Buchenwald, Auschwitz, Belsen and the other death camps. Yet, Nietzsche would have disavowed the Nazis. He would have objected to their illicit and distorted adoption of his philosophy.
What interests me is whether Nietzsche is relevant today? I’d say yes. He has some interesting observations to make. Often overlooked in the post-war discussion of Nietzsche’s work is the predictions he made about how societies may evolve. Although, the outcome he predicted may not arise in its entirety.
Nietzsche's renown arises from leading the charge that saw the so-called ‘death of God’. He held that the Christian doctrine created a slave morality. You suffered in this life, to get a reward in the next. In the process, by adopting the Christian approach you fail to aspire by surrendering to your masters. Without power, the Christian lies a weakness into a strength. A herd mentality of servitude results. Nietzsche formed a belief that at its very core Christianity has a hatred of human nature. It seeks to suppress our urges. The things that make us human, it degrades by objecting to experiences that allow us to grow. Thus, Christianity with its worship of weakness, slows our progress, denting our aspirations.
Nietzsche struggled throughout his life with illness. This led to a psychological condition with syphilis the probable cause. A failed love affair made matters worse. Plus, he dabbled with the ideas of Mr Grumpy of the philosophers, Arthur Schopenhauer. A notable falling out with composer Wagner, further helped shape his world view. At times he couldn’t write for more than 20 minutes without a break. He struggled on. Despite his many setbacks he never accepted all the dark sentiments of Schopenhauer.
Nietzsche saw beauty in the mountains, the arts and culture. What is more, he believed that pain, struggle and hardship made us better people. Yes, you can ascend to the top of the mountain by helicopter to admire the view. But to Nietzsche, that’s an empty unfulfilling event.
The greater person, the Übermensch, climbs the mountain. Huffing, slipping and fighting the elements. He gains more from the experience. Likewise with lost love, sorrow and mistakes. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Thus, suffering is to be embraced. Pain for Nietzsche unlocked happiness. Instead of following a blue print, the individual committed to themselves to the task.
Later in life, the foundation of his work was a failed effort to replace Christian values. He was that guidance for a new generation without God must be given. That never came to be during his life. Although his sister published his theories, these are by no means complete or coherent.
Nietzsche was astute to recognise that mankind could slip backwards as the world became comfortable. The ‘last man’ has turned his back on challenges, deals in mediocrity and the trivial. Wallowing in opulent ignorance. In the title, I’ve cited the Kardashian’s as emblematic of what distracts the ‘last man’. Actually, I’m spoilt for choice. Love Island, Big Brother, countless computer games in the candy crush milieu, also fit the bill. I suppose that’s the point. There is so much stuff out there that we are always distracted.
Watching reality TV, inane game shows, plus an obsession with mindless computer games appear to affirm Nietzsche’s view. That ‘last man’ devoid of a moral compass, faithless, listless, is average. Without their churches and religious masters, the herd is fragmenting. A void is being filled by polarised cultural choices purveyed by the Internet and TV.
I have to say there is profound intellectual snottiness in taking that position. As I look around me people continue to seek the exceptional, make sacrifices and aim for greatness. Yes, granted, the distracted common herd is increasingly segmented. That does not mean we have stopped moving forward.
So many great comedians have left us early. John Belushi, Bill Hicks, Chris Farley and Andy Kaufman all passed off our screens too soon. Denying us laughs that keep people sane in this topsy turvy world. Thus, it with a heavy heart that we note the passing of one of the greatest … Sean ‘Spicy’ Spicer.
After only six short months, Spicy has had his White House gig cancelled. It is only possible to reflect on what could have been, whilst relishing the comedy gold Spicy gave us. In groundbreaking sketches, he reinvented the English language, then speared the ‘false-news’ media. Who can forget his opening salvo? His assertions that Trump had the largest inauguration turn-out since the Nuremberg rallies stood firm. Even in the face of photographic evidence. He demonstrated a unique talent for flipping the facts to get those belly muscles trembling. Nice one!
Next, he rewrote the English lexicon so that an immigration ‘ban’ didn’t mean ‘ban’. We're still not sure what it means. Don't worry Spicy, the Courts are taking a position. Then, to help tickle the funny bone, the White House introduced us to the term ‘alternative facts’. A classic that explains Spicy’s world view.
As a Navy Reserve Officer, Spicy is well schooled in military history. That’s why he knew that Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons against people in World War II. Although, he admits Hitler was a nasty guy. He chose to give us this comic gem on the Jewish Passover holiday. What a hoot!
Fortunately, Spicy the Navy Reserve Officer does not take himself too seriously. He ‘tongue-in-cheek’ managed to misplace an entire carrier battle group. Hey, Navy guys don’t need to know the difference between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. That’s a specialist role. Plus, it's pretty hard to hide the USS Carl Vinson and her fleet of support ships.
Yet, he reached his nirvana with a biting portrayal of Saturday Night Live. His parody of Melissa McCarthy is up there with the Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch. A timeless classic that laid bare the left leaning hypocrisy of the liberal elite and their snowflake admirers. It will be some time before anything displaces that performance.
There's an old axiom. Everybody in politics wants to be in show business, everyone in show business wants to be in politics. Spicy should try politics next having carried off the comedy world.
So, farewell Sean ‘Spicy’ Spicer. No more laughs from you. No matter, the biggest joke still resides in the White House.
All species eventually go extinct. Yet, the rate of extinction varies, and studies suggest we are currently running at 1000 times the normal rate. This rate of extinction is only seen in the fossil record. As a rule, huge asteroid strikes or super volcano eruptions are blamed. On the other hand, in this instance it's pretty certain that humans are the cause of this modern day extinction bonanza. We are busy changing the climate, whilst encroaching on our co-species habitats.
This will eventually rebound on us. As biodiversity erodes, this removes components of the biosphere that feed and protect us. So, besides altruistic concern for other species, we are going to kill ourselves off unless our habits change.
I suppose the trouble is we’ve created a narrative that humans can overcome all challenges. This is a story that we tell ourselves that arose around the time of the industrial revolution. Before the late 1600s, we lived an agrarian existence dependent on the seasons. Wind and water provided us with the power to do stuff. In turn, we were dependent on the vagaries of the weather. You couldn’t sail the oceans to trade unless the winds cooperated. Mills grinding flour needed flowing water.
All that changed with the steam engine. Even though using steam to produce motion had been around for 2000 years, no one perfected it. Those early devices proved inefficient ornaments of fancy. Thus, although we’d started on the road of technology, mankind still viewed himself as at the mercy of nature. Humble and wary, our ancestors took care not to offend the forces of nature. Religions evolved to ensure we kept the 'Gods' on our side.
Then in the early 1770s, the steam engine proper appeared. At first, a clumsy device, it worked in a fashion without much impact. Until in 1781, James Watt filed a patent for an engine that produced continuous rotary motion. He'd perfected the process. This was the game changer.
Suddenly, factories no longer need flowing water to drive their machines. Ships needn't wait for the trade winds to set out on the oceans. This, in turn, meant people could be moved and concentrated. The industrial revolution was underway.
In the process, a narrative evolved that we controlled the forces of nature. Our advances in science fed that account of ascendancy. The night became day with lighting; diseases cured and held in check. We even ventured into near space. Everything and anything appeared possible. It’s fair to say we developed a ‘God’ complex, as masters of our domain. Unfortunately, this is a delusion fed by hubris.
Instead, there are signs all around us that we don’t understand the complexity or consequences of our actions. Nature has taken to reminding us of our fragile grip. For example, scientists claim to have mastered nuclear forces with promises of safe clean energy. That assertion is wearing thin. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima are the well-known mishaps. That excludes 21 other serious incidents at nuclear power plants that resulted in deaths and radiation releases. This data does not include the military mishaps, which number in the hundreds. Confidence about understanding and controlling the power of the atom appears somewhat overstated. Our narrative is slipping.
Likewise, economics. All those clever men and women, with years of training and education. Yet, they are unable to predict the disastrous consequences of economic policies.
Then we come to the greatest lie we tell ourselves. That's the one about the impact we’re having on the very system that sustains us. Climate change and its associated issues are not accepted by many. In this internet age, it appears getting a common narrative on any issue is near impossible. On the internet, our main forum of debate, is an interwoven subjective thread that wanders. It's endless, it goes nowhere and gives no consensus. It's all too tiresome and draining. Who can be bothered to follow it?
It seems to me that anyone proposing an approach to deal with these issues gets accused of propaganda. At the same time, the pseudo intellectuals emerge to assert you are being reductive. Thus, we’ve replaced a common view born of discussions and reasoning, with a tangle of infinite viewpoint clusters. This morphs, flips and evolves, then fragments.
Of course, none of this changes some fundamental facts. Situated on a small planet, in an unexceptional part of the galaxy, we don't have many options for relocation. Our Sun has about 120 million years on the clock before it burns the last of its hydrogen. Then it bloats up as a red giant to consume Mercury and Venus. By then all life on the surface of the Earth will already be gone. Incinerated to a crisp.
Unless we can crack the challenge of space travel, we disappear. That’s if we are still around. Biologist Erst Mayr's research indicates that most species last 100,000 years before disappearing. Modern humans have been around for between 100,000 to 200,000 years. If Mayr is right, we are approaching that average extinction time. On a more positive note, human population numbers are levelling off. By 2100, the population should stabilise and then fall. That may take some burden off the biosphere depending on our habits.
Bottom line … we can’t get off this planet for some time. Our technology is not good enough. Also, where are we to go? Thus, we’d better take care of the place. Our narrative of ‘god-like’ control through science is false. I’m not going to get all ‘dippy-hippy’ to cite spiritualism or some Russel Brand clap-trap as the solution. Granted our ancestors can teach us much about respecting the balance of life, but we don’t need to adopt the mumbo-jumbo of worship. As far as I’m concerned science helped get us into this mess; science will help us out, if we adjust our approach.
Our first realisation needs to be that we are not dominant or independent over nature. We co-exist in a complex biosphere that is adaptable, given time, however, it also has limitations.
Our second realisation is that our actions, in all forms and directions, have an impact on the biosphere. When we change things, that change rebounds on us in some manner. That can be positive or negative.
Our third realisation, is that we can coexist and prosper within the biosphere. If we act with moderation. With algorithms, it should be possible to assess the impact of our activities. Then we can take a reasoned decision on whether to proceed, adjust or stop an activity. If that’s too utopian, then a few other simple initiatives are possible.
We need to keep large biosphere reserves that are not encroached upon. This is already underway with national parks. The programme needs expanding.
As regards energy, let's be clear, there is no shortage. We circle a massive fusion reactor that is pumping out vast amounts of energy. It will function for the expected duration of our tenure here. More important is how we trap that energy, harnessing it for our purposes. Again, science should have the answer.
Rubatosis, the awareness of your own heart beat, is unsettling. That’s because it reminds us we are fragile, temporal creatures leading an unstable existence. If we could hear and see the impact we are having on nature, we’d be equally unsettled. It’s time. Stop, observe and listen.
Thirty years ago, I joined a team deployed to cover a visit by Queen Elizabeth II. Every detail got choreographed, with nothing left to chance. Of course, security was a paramount concern. Lord Louis Mountbatten had died seven years earlier at the hand of Irish terrorists. The killing of the Queen's second cousin was evidence of a real threat. And yet, during the operation no firearms were visible. Whilst the uniform presence focused on crowd and traffic control. No one was wearing a military-style helmet. Body armour was discreet. Hidden under jackets, out of view.
Now, contrast that with today. Automatic weapons carried in the open. Officers in uniforms that wouldn’t look out of place on a battlefront. Robust, visible and with brooding undertones of menace. The posture and tone is a remarkable change from the past.
It’s justifiable to contend, that the modern threats make this necessary. Terrorists and others have evolved their methods. This, in turn, demands the adoption of new tactics and equipment by the police. I have no quibble with that assertion. The danger lies in the gradual creep of military tactics into day-to-day policing. This can leave residents asking when did the police force come to resemble an army of occupation?
In the United States, this issue has raised considerable debate. Gun crime there drove the police to adopt military tactics. Also, in 1997 the Federal government began donating surplus-military kit to the police. Agencies found themselves in possession of grenade launchers, assaults rifles and armoured vehicles. Over 600 of these got given over. So what, you ask? It's sensible to have this kit recycled and used. Yes, no argument there. Except it drove a consequential evolution in tactics. Some would argue the impact of that transformation is unhealthy for community engagement.
With military-style tactics at hand, the police increasingly adopted ‘kinetic options’. Instead of negotiating situations or engaging to resolve issues, the kit came out. This produced an explosion in the use of SWAT units. Even routine drug busts involved SWAT teams. Kicking in doors, using room clearing tactics, teams swept through homes. The public recognised the methods. They'd seen them in movies and in news reports of troops operating in war zones. Those on the receiving end of these raids grew hostile to the police. The adoption of these practices is now blamed for the erosion of police/community trust. It proved a trigger factor in the Ferguson riots of 2014.
Again, you are asking, so what? Why is this relevant to Hong Kong? Well, it may surprise you to know that police forces cross-train. In 2010, I attended active-shooter training in the United States. The instructors were all ex-military. Most of the course was a direct adoption of urban warfare tactics. Great fun, I'll admit. But with a downside. It conditions you to see threats. This is necessary to survive in a dangerous environment, but how do you dial it down when the threats not there. I began to understand why at times US cops ‘over-reacted’. People behave the way trained. If the training emphasises threat and danger, that what officer’s see.
Hong Kong has adopted the NYPD model of 'Hercules' teams to counter the threat of modern terrorists. Mobile hard-hitting teams of terrorists will multi-target with guns and bombs. In response, skilled police teams need to take the fight to the bad guys. There is no time to negotiate or consider your options once an attack starts. You go in hard. Overwhelm them. The threat of a multi-cell, coordinated attack, hitting simultaneous targets is real. Mumbai, Paris, Belgium and London, all point to the risk.
On the one hand, a risk is identified and a response provided, and the other hand, there are consequences. These include impacts on public perception of the police. Any erosion of the bridge between the police and the public impacts trust. It’s a tough equation to balance when the posture of police is pugnacious. To avoid this, experience suggests the police need to re-double community engagement efforts. Only then can you hope to redress the balance.
Police culture and how it evolves is also worthy of consideration in this discussion. As the police adopt military tactics, the soft skills become less prevalent. Those soft skills are so important to many aspects of the job. Without soft skills, the temptation is to escalate, with the use of force. Patience could see a better outcome. Talking remains a viable option in most cases that officers encounter. It's certain that disputes and domestic incidents need that approach.
Unfortunately, boys love their toys. So if you give officers new kit to play with, expect to see it used. I know because I’ve done it. Whilst at the Police Tactical Unit, we experimented with US style side-handled batons. In the right hands, these can deliver an incapacitating blow. In no time officers were carrying the batons downtown. After about a week an eagle-eyed commander put a stop to that.
Public order duties present a specific challenge. The police are working to keep things calm, by adopting a posture that does not inflame the situation. At the same time, officers need to be ready for sudden unrest. Add to that occupational health and safety concerns. If threats exists the law requires officer protection with helmets and body guards. This, in turn, makes the cops look aggressive. Thereby defeating attempts to assuage the protesters. Thus, hiding units in ‘hard order’ close at hand became a skill, so as not to inflame a situation
Getting back to my main point. The police need community support to do their job. Otherwise, it is not policing as I understand it … it’s an occupation. There is a risk in increasing the amounts of military-type hardware and tactics. It can isolate the community served. But, modern threats make it necessary to have a rapid counter-reaction ready. Only by the public recognising this policing dilemma, will mutual understanding result.
Likewise, the police need to get sophisticated. Their repertoire needs to include being able to switch roles as circumstances dictate. Individual officers must heed their behaviour, even in isolated incidents. These days single incidents get looped on social media for an impact beyond their true gravity. An officer may have a hundred encounters with people on his shift that go well. The one time he slips-up gets the attention.
It’s trite, but a ‘policeman's lot is not a happy one’ especially when you also expect him to be a soldier.
Going punk and shouting "f---k you!!!" might make you feel good for five minutes, but who’s laughing now? It’s never a good move to behave like a sixth former, after two beers, when operating in a rules-based environment. This simple fact didn’t get through to several former Hong Kong legislators.
Yesterday, our independent Courts barred four legislators from office for improper oath taking. This is the second batch to give-up hard won seats in our de-facto parliament. Nine months ago, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching got disqualified. They changed their oaths to include insulting phrases about China. The Youngspiration duo won a stunning victory in the 2016 LegCo elections. This, in turn, paved the way for fresh blood in our political process. The chance to make a difference was theirs. Then, they blew it.
After 11 days in office, they went. Their immaturity and total disregard for decency backfired. Both now face bankruptcy. Judicial appeals drag on, whilst the government seeks back the salary paid them. Some of that public money went to buy a PlayStation and a large stock of alcohol. Evidence came to light when journalists got access to their abandoned offices. The mess they left behind causes me to question if they ever intended to be serious about their important role.
On the back of the stupidity of Leung and Yau, China decided to act. Their insulting conduct was too much to ignore. China’s top legal body reinterpreted the Hong Kong’s law to make oath taking a solemn occasion. Under the law, China has every right to act. I stress this because the so-called democrats always cite the ‘rule of law’ principle.
The reinterpretation opened the door. Four other legislators, who’d given corrupted oaths, now faced action. The Courts ruled against them, but they will no doubt appeal. The acts that brought us to this situation are listed here.
To understand the gravity of the situation, let us suppose this is the UK Parliament. Their oath is;
I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.
The religious reference can be omitted, but not the mention of the Her Majesty. At present, seven elected UK MPs cannot take their seats because they refuse to take the oath. This is the standard in the ‘mother of parliaments’ that the democrats aspire to emulate. Would the US Congress allow a Senator to defile the flag in the chamber? No. Yet, our so-called democrats believe such conduct is acceptable. They appear to confuse democracy with anarchy.
In reality, it’s all about opposing China and grandstanding for headlines. The democratic camp failed to get anything with its 2014 Occupy movement, thus it's now clutching at straws. In the process, LegCo has descended into a farce. Objects get thrown. Legislators yell like spoilt children, whilst business is disrupted on frivolous grounds. Leung Kwok-hung (aka Long Hair) makes a habit of getting thrown out of the chamber at the start of any debate. Thus, he can avoid working the rest of the day.
There is a strong argument that the so-called democratic forces don’t want true democracy. In 2015, they vetoed a bill that would have given the electorate the right to pick our Chief Executive. The so-called democrats make a living by being an opposition, that vents on one issue. Beyond democracy calls, they have no coherent stance. Don't ask them details on the economy, environment or other major policy areas. So, if true democracy came, they’d struggle. They'd have to work much harder, as their evident weaknesses would emerge. It’s easy to play to the gallery, claim yourself to be the victim. Real politics is too hard, especially when formulating long-term policies.
Fall out from this saga will rumble on for some time. Our new Chief Executive, the hapless Carrie Lam, enjoyed a two-week honeymoon period. She reached out to the opposition democrats, hoping to build bridges. Those nascent bridges have collapsed into a swirling river of unavailing fury. The gulf between the government and the opposition is insurmountable. Without any sense of hypocrisy, democrats called for Lam to intervene in the Court decision. This is robust evidence of their duplicity. They’d be marching on the streets if China did the same.
Of course, this all feeds the western media narrative that Hong Kong is under China’s thumb. This, in turn, influences the ignorant western politicians, who couldn't even find Hong Kong on a map. The truth is far more complex. Hong Kong’s so-called democratic forces have misplayed their hand to invite trouble on themselves. Meanwhile, the rest of us shake our heads in disbelief at their asinine conduct. The Hong Kong people are the victims. Victims of naive, wannabe politicians, who don’t have the common decency to abide by the rules. Remember … if you go punk, you may get punked!
Grenfell Tower is coming to Hong Kong. I'm not being flippant when I make that assertion. Hong Kong has all the conditions for a repeat of the disaster that befell London this summer. Besides, the scale is likely to be much larger. Granted, the combustible cladding that contributed to the rapid spread of the fire is absent from Hong Kong. Yet, other factors are in place to make the risks the same. Bamboo scaffolding and plastic tarpaulins will do the job. Also, don't forget the sheer density of Hong Kong makes multiple fires a probability.
Renowned for having some of the tallest buildings in the world, we also have outdated and unenforced fire regulations. Next is our lack of civil readiness. Civilians are not drilled in fire preparedness, except for the odd fire exercise at work. The government will assert that public announcements warn of the dangers and what to do. But, these are few and infrequent. And, are the messages getting through. Evidence suggests not.
Have you bothered to check the fire reels in your building? Can you locate the reels? Are the escape routes familiar? Could you find them in the dark with smoke swirling? Add to that the lack of sprinklers in our residential buildings, whilst smoke alarms are a rarity.
Hong Kong has had plenty of warning of what could happen. The Garley Building fire of November 1996, caused 41 deaths and left 80 with serious injuries. Our brave firefighters have ladders that will take them to the 10th floor only. All firefighting operations are predicated on firefighters fighting from the inside. Clutter and limited access routes make this a tremulous challenge. A helicopter rescued four people from the Garley Building roof. The helicopter then withdrew after its downwash fanned the flames. Other jurisdictions have helicopters capable of fighting high-rise fires. Whether helicopters adapted to fight fires would have made a difference is debatable. Hong Kong has not pursued that option.
The fire at the Amoycan Industrial Centre mini-storage facility in 2016 killed two firefighters. It took over 100 hours to extinguish. Narrow corridors and a lack of access contributed to this terrible incident. An enquiry found that only five percent of fire hazard notices issued to mini-storage operators were followed. Of 2,548 notices given to the operators of mini-storage facilities, 2,431 were ignored. No further action resulted. By any measure that's a failing enforcement system.
To its credit, the government responded with extra posts for safety enforcement. Whether this has the desired outcome remains to be seen. As far as I’m concerned only appearances in Court and the award of penalties will ensure compliance. It cannot go unremarked that the government’s approach is piecemeal. It’s clear not all the lessons have been learnt. Until the government gets tough our incredibly brave firefighters are put in harms way. This is avoidable.
The governments agenda is driven by recent events. It’s always fighting the last battle. It fails to look forward or be proactive. For example, the current focus is on industrial buildings following the Amoycan fire. Yet, a pro-active review would identify more frightening hazards in Hong Kong. A bit of 'red-teaming' coupled with some 'scenario planning' would flag up the threats. For starters, petrol stations located at the base of high-rise towers. These are a disaster waiting to happen in the heart of the urban area. A misplaced cigarette or electrical spark would detonate a fire bomb. Coupled with this is the rampant illegal parking causing severe obstruction. It’s certain any response would be delayed.
Sub-divided flats and cage homes escalate the risks to a new level of magnitude. Chipboard walls and tight corridors make these buildings a death trap. Dodgy electrical fittings add to the threat. Its well known that landlords seeking to maximise their profits pay little heed to safety. Some passageways are so narrow you need to walk sideways. A firefighter in full kit with his breathing apparatus couldn't make way.
Here the comparisons with the Grenfell Tower fire resonant the loudest. The occupants of these shockingly small homes are Hong Kong’s most disenfranchised people. Most are on minimum wage, either elderly or new arrivals mostly from the mainland. With no political clout, they are ignored. Like the residents of Grenville Tower, these people are invisible to the politicians. Except for a few NGOs no one is pushing stringent regulations to safeguard these most vulnerable of people. It’s known that one minister’s family is a landlord for several sub-divided flats. What does that tell you about government reluctance to tackle the issue?
No doubt after a fire, with families and old folks incinerated, the government will come out all earnest about things need to change. We will witness their teary eyed performances as they lament the deaths. They will deftly sidestep the question that the situation was avoidable if only the government accepted its responsibilities and acted.
To sum up, Hong Kong’s crowded buildings, both high and low-rise, present a terrible risk if a fire breaks out. You need to make ready your plan of action. Here’s some advice. Now, go away and prepare to survive.
1st July Rally moves through Causeway Bay
It’s the 2nd July 2017, the day after the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty. President Xi Jinping was in town to swear in our new Chief Executive. Later in the day, the annual 1st July rally kicked off with a turnout down on previous years. I watched the march pass through Causeway Bay. It was noisy, yet orderly. Participants, led by the usual personalities, had no single theme except a call for democracy. Whatever that means.
The march leaders have no sense of irony. They voted down moves towards greater democracy in the 2015 reform package. A cynical man may argue that more democracy would curtail their activities. With that, a generous revenue stream would dry up.
I monitored the international media coverage in the lead-up to the anniversary. Pinching myself, I had to ask do I live in Hong Kong? Some of the commentators appeared to be in a different Hong Kong. Doom and gloom peppered their assessments. Every twist and turn of local politics interpreted in the most sinister light. Taking their narrative, you’d believe we live in fear. Utter balderdash.
The British print media went into overdrive. According to them, everything was sweetness and light during the colonial era. To my surprise, even the lefty Guardian got all nostalgic for the colonial period. Shoddy treatment of the local Chinese forgotten in the hubris. Rehashed old stories got considerable coverage, including the antics of Lord Patten.
The last governor is remembered with fondness here. He engaged with the public, having the politicians gift for talking. Given the staid types who’d preceded him, he enjoyed a popularity bounce by being different. Even so, it remains true none of his initiatives survived the handover. He acted without considering China’s views. They didn’t take kindly to his last-minute initiatives. Again, the British media ignored this important point. Also untouched was the consequential damage done by derailing democratic institutions.
An encounter I had with a Sky reporter during Occupy was revealing. He was keen to know if the police would resort to firearms to clear the streets. The disappointment was visible on his face as I opined that was unlikely. I got the sense he was waiting to polish his credentials by witnessing a Tien An Mun style incident. He was gone from Hong Kong within days. There was no bloodshed to witness, so he and his crew moved on.
President Xi gave a speech that to me was frank about the challenges faced in Hong Kong. He admitted that major differences exist in our society. Like many of us, he cited the politicisation of everything as provoking confrontation. He appeared to leave resolution of these issues with Hong Kong but added a caveat. Hong Kong must not endanger China’s sovereignty and security. That was a clear warning to the foolhardy independence elements. Their tacit supporters amongst the Pan-Dems also need to take note. Given China’s history, it’s twitchiness about independence is understandable. They didn’t build up the nation to give territory away. Moreover, the big prize of Taiwan remains unresolved.
So, the position is clear. Hong Kong will sail along as China’s only international financial centre. The lack of capital controls and the common law legal system give Hong Kong a distinct advantage. Shanghai has none of these blessings. That's unlikely to change soon. As a result, the economy will be based on services and management. The low-skilled and unqualified will struggle in this environment. Resolving that will be the difficult task for the new administration. I say new when in fact it's pretty much the same team. Thus, I’m not confident a revamp will be forthcoming.
On the political front, it’s stalemate. It's certain that the very few who advocate independence can expect to feel the wrath of the Mainland. Also, the moderate Pan Dems need to consider their position in light of Xi’s assertions. They need to play the long game with more astute decisions. Simply rabbiting slogans about democracy is not going to move us forward. Of course, the radicals won’t change course. Meanwhile, whether Article 23 on national security is brought forward is anyones guess.
Life goes on. Ships enter the harbour, the trains run on time, whilst planes ferry goods and people through the Airport. The bankers do their deals, and the maids take their Sunday meals under flyovers and in the parks. Protestors march, their dissenting calls echoing off the concrete canyons. Lastly, the majority go about their business, unruffled and unconcerned.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.