"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
“During the 1850s, Hong Kong was notorious for venereal disease amongst military personnel.”
Conducting training in the 1980s around Luen Wo Hui, I often encountered Gurkha soldiers lining up for 'short-time' pleasure outside back alley premises. They'd politely greet us and show no embarrassment.
Likewise, the police did not act against these 'establishments'. Instead, the word was that the 'girls' were subject to medical checks by the military, who tacitly facilitated the sex workers. The term ‘girls’ is loosely applied here because most of the ladies were in their 30s and 40s.
During the 1850s, Hong Kong was notorious for venereal disease amongst military personnel. The situation became a concern of the British Government, who felt the prevalence of VD might affect its military power. In response, the 4th governor, Sir John Bowring, introduced in 1857 the “Venereal Diseases Ordinance”.
A system for the registration and inspection of brothels was introduced as the first attempt to control the spread of the disease. Also, prostitutes who were considered as infected were liable to forced removal to hospital.
Yet the law only mandated the medical inspection of women whose clients were Europeans — i.e the military. The legislation's intent was not to protect the wider community but rather the soldiers and sailors who used the brothels.
These laws remained on the books until 1887, when concerns that the government perpetuated prostitution brought changes. Still the military kept an eye of the brothels visited by troops, a practice that continued into the 1980s.
All this came back to me with the announcement that the U.K. has banned military personnel from using sex workers. The horrors of the Agnes Wanjiru case proved the final straw — more on that later.
In colonial Hong Kong, the brothels came staffed by a mixture of 'professional' girls and the odd part-timer. Control of the activity rested with triads and local heavies. As long as the venue caused no nuisance, everyone went along with it. The often stated opinion was that, "soldiers need these places to prevent them interfering with local girls."
Yet, the dirty secret remains that a fair portion of the girls arrived in brothels either because of abuse, poverty or coercion.
Hong Kong’s sex industry has always been multifaceted and dynamic. Disguised as a bar, massage parlours, dance halls and short-time hotels, brothels existed near most of the military bases in Hong Kong.
At one time, even sleepy rural Kam Tin had a small red light area. The Wan Chai bar district strung up to entertain soldiers and sailors during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. None of this is unique to Hong Kong.
The massive U.S. military presence in Asia led to 'brothel towns' such as Angeles City dudded 'Sin City'. This sat next to the huge Clark Air Base. But as this BBC article from 2003 notes, these places also catered for the most vile types.
In recent years, with the impact of the Internet and changing demands, Hong Kong’s sex industry morphed. The appearance of the ‘One Flat, One Phoenix’ (一樓一鳳); literally a one women brothel changed the scene. But that’s another story.
For centuries brothels were part of military life, as armies sought to keep up the morale of the troops. The French had mobile 'fun houses' staffed by Vietnamese women towed behind their armies. These girls were sold into servitude by poor families. The Japanese rounded up women in Korea and China while the Germans snatched Polish and Russian girls off the street.
The outcomes for the girls were invariably awful. Serving 20-plus men daily was brutal, and the health risks took a terrible toll. No one can condone this and you'd think things have changed.
Yet, the 2012 Agnes Wanjiru case proved otherwise. The impoverished Kenyan part-time sex worker was found dead in a hotel septic tank close to a British Army training camp two months after she disappeared. She was last seen in the company of British soldiers in the hotel. Her decayed body showed signs of many stab wounds. Later nine soldiers faced interviews about her death, although no charges were laid.
Evidence has now emerged that the killing was openly discussed amongst British soldiers with the culprit known. As a result, the Kenyan police have reopened their investigation.
Two years ago, soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, were confined to their barracks in Kenya after up to 100 sought medical advice after visiting temporary brothels near their base. Fears they'd caught HIV prompted the lock-down.
The Ministry of Defence has now banned troops from paying for sex after an outcry over these incidents.
Historically, armies have behaved terribly towards women during and after battles. For example, the rape of some two million German women by Soviet troops at the end of WW2 is well documented.
Little discussed are the rapes carried out by U.S. military personnel during their occupation of Japan after war. At the time, U.S. military leaders had data showing that as many as 330 rapes occurred daily. In response, the Japanese government agreed to provide brothels.
Will this blanket ban by the U.K. prove enforceable and have any adverse consequences? At one time, the argument went that by making sex workers available to soldiers, you prevented them from chasing 'nice' girls and stopped rape.
That argument involves accepting that some 'girls' get sacrificed; the vulnerable, the abused, drug addicts or trafficked women. Also what does it say about your national values that you opt to allow soldiers to use these women?
Then again, armies are full of active, fit young men in the prime of their life, who need to let off steam. These are people you expect to kill for your country. And let's recognise that many of the best soldiers are not always restrained individuals — that’s the nature of the business. Which circles back to the point, are you asking for trouble by cutting off the 'sex worker' option.
The British Minister of Defence, Ben Wallace, asserts that times have changed. He opines that Britain can hardly stand on the moral high ground when it allows troops to exploit vulnerable women. That stance is unimpeachable.
Except the critics will assert this move is part of a further softening of the Nation’s fighting forces. I don’t know how that argument works. I can only conclude that if the U.K. wishes to keep its moral authority, there is no alternative.
And, yes, the possible adverse consequences of this decision are hard to predict. Will military discipline be adequate to keep things in check? Has the culture changed so much that we can expect young men who are in such stressful roles to control their urges at all times?
That may be wishful thinking. Hence, I suspect that a minority will continue to avail themselves of sex workers but be more discreet. But, never underestimate the stupidity of a few; a group of paratroopers recently filmed themselves during an orgy with a sex worker and the footage leaked.
In the end, you can’t legislate away such behaviour.
“In Germany, the ultimate threat—a complete Russian cut-off of gas looks ever more plausible.”
As Europe swelters in record-high temperatures, energy planners are working hard to ensure people can remain warm in the coming winter. With the war in Ukraine showing no signs of resolution after six months, the thinking is that Putin will step up pressure on the West by other means — using energy supplies as leverage.
In response, the West is preparing; gas storage is underway, coal-fired power stations are kept ready and nuclear power is back in favour. In Germany, which relies on Russia for around one-third of its gas imports, the ultimate threat—a complete Russian cut-off—looks ever more plausible.
Meanwhile, claims that Russian forces are winning look hollow when they’ve lost a third of their combat capability and possibly more. Open-source intelligence puts cumulative equipment losses (destroyed, damaged, abandoned or captured) at 4,658 items, including more than 850 tanks.
So, old weapons that lack precision-guided systems are being brought into service, which is why missile strikes are inaccurate. In addition, stocks of Russian ammunition are reportedly running low. This problem is made worse by Ukrainian strikes against Russian ammunition dumps using the US-supplied HIMAR system. Russian bloggers are picking up on these attacks as discussed here.
By any reckoning, the war is not going well for Putin. The Russians needed more than two months to take the final pockets of Luhansk, while Putin’s minimal objectives have yet to be achieved. That’s why applying pressure on the West and splintering their unity may prove his best option.
The reality of that gambit was brought into sharp focus last week. Russia shut down all gas exports via a pipeline to Germany for about ten days of routine maintenance. A vital turbine needed fixing, and its manufacturer had shipped it to Canada for repair. But because of sanctions, the Canadians initially declined to return the turbine to Russia. Then, under tremendous pressure from Germany, Canada relented, returning the turbine to Germany for onward delivery to Russia. So much for sanctions.
You can see how precarious the situation has become for Germany and others that rely on Russian energy supplies.
Likewise, claims that Putin is mad, close to death or about to be killed by his people have proved futile nonsense. Senior officials in the West now acknowledge that Putin won’t fall from power anytime soon despite wishful thinking to the contrary.
So, the big question — how long will the war last? And what will the outcome be? History tells us that such conflicts rarely run smooth. Instead, there are periods of intense activity, followed by pauses, regrouping, and more fighting. Likewise, diplomatic solutions come and go in parallel with the battles.
What is remarkable is at the moment, there is no evidence of a possible ceasefire or agreed stepping back. We’ve seen no diplomatic activity nor any serious attempts at arbitration. Instead, the Ukrainians and the Russians continue to slug it out, while the West pours in the resources that keep the Russians at bay. Nobody is winning, and everyone is losing.
And what of China? China appears ambivalent about wholeheartedly supporting either party in the war. Its geopolitical calculations lead to a careful calibration of responses, and minimal involvement. It is fair to say that China’s position on the war must be viewed through the lens of competition with the United States. The future of Ukraine is a secondary issue.
That is why China is unlikely to join in any anti-Russia sanctions: not because Beijing supports Moscow’s military invasion of Ukraine but because acceding to those sanctions would mean submission to U.S. will, which is unacceptable to Beijing. It’s notable that China has not supplied arms or given any signs of tangible support to either side beyond humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Whether the people of the West, in particular the Germans, can continue to support Ukraine will undergo a stress-test this winter. There is a school of thought that the West is already at war with Russia, although that distant thunder sounds like a phony war to many. In the UK, the ruling Tories have successfully compartmentalised the cost of living crisis from events in Ukraine. For example, none of the candidates in the Tory leadership contest, that will produce the next Prime Minister, has a different stance on challenging the Russians.
As the New Statesmen magazine opined, “They all follow the story woven by Boris Johnson – that Britain could shovel arms, ammunition and money into Ukraine without any domestic consequences. Our support for the war was framed as a free hit against totalitarianism, delivered by other people’s children and enhancing Britain’s reputation as the unilateral tough guy of Europe.”
Failing a sudden change in fortunes for one side, this war will rattle on for the foreseeable future in a dynamic stalemate. At the same time, Putin will use economic pressure by withholding gas and grain as the cold weather arrives.
By then, some of the current warm conditions may be a pleasant memory as the heating goes off at the behest of Putin. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
“For the third time in six years, a small circle of people decides who leads the country.”
Well, he's gone. Not strictly true because, pending his actual departure, Boris remains in the job until the Tory party decides who will be the next Prime Minister. Yep, that's right — the British people don't elect the PM. That task falls to Tory MPs, who elect a shortlist that party members then vote on.
The Tory party membership is around 150,000, less than 0.3 per cent of the UK's eligible voters. So, for the third time in six years, a small circle election decides who leads the country. Is that the best the mother of parliaments can offer? Of course, I’m being disingenuous because PMs must eventually face a general election.
It's worth remembering that the last PM to be voted in and booted out by the electorate was Ted Heath in 1974. Also, political geeks love to point out that the transition from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown didn't even involve an internal party election.
Since 1945 there have been 21 general elections with the Tories winning 12 times.
So what about the prospective PMs? Well, for starters, you can't knock the Tories for lacking diversity. The candidates are three women, including a black lady and two men, one of whom is of Indian heritage.
Rishi Sunak is the current favourite. The former chancellor is the best-known candidate, although being the favourite can be a kiss of death based on past elections.
Sunak is standing on a platform of ''be honest''. That has some resonance given that Boris's undoing was his frivolous lies and constant misdirection. Still, it's fun to watch Sunak pretend he's had nothing to do with the economy for the past years now he's broken from Boris. His honesty line is coming close to the sort of outright deceit that felled Boris
Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, displays the indolent smirk of a teenager who believes she knows everything. In truth, she's a cosplay Thatcher; she wants to be part of the gang; to be accepted and allowed to play. But don't be fooled; she is clueless. Early in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Truss encouraged untrained young men from the UK to take up arms and fight the Russians.
This inducement suggests she does not comprehend international law. Either that or she is reckless in not considering the outcomes of such people getting captured. As a result, many have suggested she should stick to curating her Instagram channel, leaving foreign affairs to the adults. But still, she enjoys a degree of support on the right wing of the Tory party, although her appearance at the recent candidate debate was lacklustre.
Penny Mordaunt is seeking to position herself as an outsider. She enjoyed an early surge in support but struggled in the debates, given her lack of knowledge of fiscal matters. However, with rampant inflation hitting the UK, someone with a basic understanding of the economy is a must. Mordaunt falls in that domain.
Further, Mordaunt's past support for self-identification by transgender people won't favour her with the membership. She sought to fudge the issue when challenged and looked shifty. Also, her service in the Royal Navy Reserve has come under scrutiny with the suggestion she rather over-stated her role. I suspect Mordaunt is out of the running.
Kemi Badenoch is an exciting prospect. A British-born black woman with Nigerian heritage, she was elected to parliament in 2017. She soon gained a reputation as a robust politician. As a black lady, Badenoch confounds the accepted doctrines of liberal woke types by attacking 'critical race theory.' She is already proving a competent operator with several ministerial posts under her belt. Further, she didn't flinch from confronting her more experienced colleagues in the debates. Badenoch is someone to watch
The only white man on the list is ex-soldier Tom Tugendhat. Yet, despite these antecedents, and his ‘establishment’ profile, he is polling the lowest amongst the candidates. He lacks exposure and governing experience beyond chairing the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Described by some as a 'hawk', Tugendhat has leveraged his military career and cited Ronald Reagan as his political hero.
Interestingly, Tugendhat holds dual British and French citizenship. His wife is a French judge and senior civil servant. Of all the remaining candidates, he looks least likely to win.
I'll say Sunak will win, while Badenoch will strengthen her standing. She is a possible future PM. Beyond that, Liz Truss is a diminished figure, while Mordaunt and Tugendhat will also take a hit.
Rough business politics.
Update - 19 August 2022. As predicted, Tom Tugendhat is out of the race.
Update - 21 August 2022. Now only Sunak and Truss are left in the running. And, OMG, Truss is the bookies favorite!
“Cocaine, porn, drunkenness and rape — all the delights of the U.K parliament.”
This story is moving so fast that this blog is already behind the curve. But it may help frame events to understand what is happening. In short, when you boil it to the essence, Boris Johnson’s lies have caught up with him
So shall we begin? Cocaine, porn, drunkenness and rape — all the delights of the U.K parliament. Meanwhile, you have Nos 10 denying that Boris Johnson and his then-girlfriend Carrie Symonds were caught "in flagrante" in Mr Johnson's Commons office. But then again, they've denied many things that have turned out to be true.
On the deplorable conduct front, here's what we do know:
Neil Parish: The senior Tory backbencher resigned after he admitted to watching porn twice in the Commons. He claimed to be searching for information on tractors.
Imran Ahmad: He was found guilty in April of sexually assaulting a drunk 15-year-old. Khan had supplied the drink. Meanwhile, other' matters' are under investigation, including Khan propositioning another teenager.
David Warburton: The MP for Somerton and Frome appeared in The Sunday Times with four lines of cocaine on an adjacent table. He also stands accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour with three women. It is alleged that on one occasion, Warburton stripped naked after following a woman into her room despite her protests.
Rob Roberts: The MP admitted making inappropriate sexual advances towards young members of his staff. Roberts asked a young intern to 'fool around' with him after she confided she was suffering from mental health issues.
Andrew Griffiths: The former MP raped his wife and subjected her to coercive control, a High Court judge ruled last December. Griffiths resigned as a minister in 2018 after sending thousands of sexually explicit messages to constituents.
Charlie Elphicke: The former Tory MP was jailed in 2020 on three counts of sexual assault. The court heard how Elphicke chased a staff member around his home chanting, "I'm a naughty Tory". The sentencing judge described him as a "sexual predator".
An unnamed but known Conservative MP was arrested in May on suspicion of rape. He also faces allegations of abuse of position. This individual is believed to be part of the 'Hong Kong All Parliamentary Group' - a body of self-appointed parliamentarians, many of whom sound like the fag-end of the British imperial mindset. The arrested MP will have his day in court, and I look forward to his evidence.
But the big news is that Chris Pincher, Boris Johnson's deputy chief whip, faces a barrage of allegations. This is the man that Boris appointed to keep party discipline — which may explain the above list.
Stories emerge from as far back as 2001 that Pincher can't control his hands when around young men. The big question is how much Boris Johnson knew before he appointed Pincher? After all, Pincher has a string of allegations to his name — even on one occasion referring himself for investigation. And yet, Boris decided to place Pincer in charge of party discipline.
Pincher proved a staunch supporter of Boris during his recent troubles. Hence, the theory is that Boris turned a blind eye to Pincher's repeated inappropriate behaviour. That tells you a lot about the viper pit of politics.
At the same time, Boris can't get his story straight about what he knew and when. Last week he denied knowing about specific allegations against Pincher. In an about-turn, he today admitted knowing the details. It took a honest former senior civil servant to point out that Boris was briefed on Pincher.
This sorry saga is starting to feel like a repeat of the Covid party imbroglio when Boris repeatedly changed his versions of events. Again, like the lying about Covid parties, slippery Boris twists in the wind.
So, having had a successful week strutting the world stage, Boris has come home to questions about his cavalier attitude to upholding standards, the truth and common decency in public life.
Then the bombshell news dropped that big hitters Rishi Sunak, and Sajid Javid quit the cabinet. The BBC's chief political editor said, "You can smell the fear in Nos 10". And the resignations continue to pile in.
We may finally be witnessing the end of Boris's premiership as his lies, mismanagement and bluster catch up with him. Meanwhile, the pile of ordure he leaves behind will take years to clear.
Watch this space.
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.