"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
"Covid-19 is far from the deadliest disease to strike humanity, yet it exposed the deep fissures in many societies."
Covid-19 dominated everything in 2020. As the virus took hold, people here, well-versed after SARS 2002, opted to self-initiate precautions. That included mask-wearing. Throughout the year public vigilance ebbed and flowed with each cluster. Most of the time, our government got it right, although it was behind the curve and wilfully blind to certain risks.
None of this matched the sheer incompetence seen elsewhere or the refusal to face facts exemplified by Trump and Boris. Consider that the US has only four per cent of the world's population, yet it accounts for twenty per cent of all Covid deaths. Hong Kong is recording 17 deaths per million people against the US's 955.
The high US death rate is partly attributed to poor underlying community health: obesity is a co-morbidity factor. Nonetheless, shambolic policies, denial and ineptness must account of the lion's share of the deaths.
Unfortunately, in post-Brexit Britain, another national lock-down heralds more misery. The UK dodged a bullet by securing a last-minute Brexit deal, yet is far from out of the woods. Covid has emboldened Nicola Sturgeon as she outshone Boris in the PR game with Scotland clamouring for independence.
With grim proficiency, Bloomberg tabulated national performance data with the 'Covid resilience rankings'. Many so-called first world countries, including Belgium, the US and Italy, proved wanting. Meanwhile, New Zealand sits atop the list. It's remoteness, island status and low-population density favour the fight against Covid. Allied to that, vigilance by its border agents proved useful. Well done, Colin!
All this data brought home some stark truths. Covid-19 is far from the deadliest disease to strike humanity, yet it exposed the deep fissures in many societies. Fortunately, science provides a solution. With unprecedented speed, the boffins produced vaccines of remarkable efficacy. All groundbreaking stuff. Although I expect we will need to live with Covid-19 as an endemic ailment like seasonal flu.
Above I mentioned Carrie Lam's willful blindness? How else do you explain the dance club saga, which set off a cluster of Covid cases that continues to haunt us? Rich older ladies dancing with young 'instructors' has a salacious sizzle. The Internet soon pounced to shame the culprits, including the wives of prominent citizens. I'm sure none of this was pleasant for those on the receiving end, yet it served a purpose. People who flaunted the rules, even influential people, faced exposure and ridicule.
Our tourism industry, already battered by the protests, collapsed. The airport emptied of passengers, although cargo traffic boomed. Hotels scrambled to provide stay-vacations and then offered themselves as quarantine sites — anything to keep the business going.
Of course, the bar and restaurant owners complained about restrictions, pressuring officials to relax the rules or give handouts. The same people then scrambled for cover when Covid cases reemerged. Yes, we all understand the need to strike a balance between the economy and curtailing the disease. That's why I favoured a short, sharp lock-down instead of flip-flopping measures.
At times Carrie Lam couldn't steer a straight course as she sought to pander to all sides, pleasing no one in the process. Militant medical staff took every opportunity to put the boot in, by feeding the media with stories of PPE shortfalls. Much of this chatter proved opportunists grandstanding.
The other big story is the lingering aftermath of the protests, which already waned by late 2019. The majority of citizens grew tired of the violence that accompanied each march, as radicals hung onto their destructive ways. Having used a 'be as water' strategy to some effect throughout much of 2019, going static and holing-up on college campuses proved a tactical disaster. The Police put in cordons and waited.
Occasional protests flared in the first half of 2020, but fatigue was evident. Guileless elements of the movement hung onto Mike Pompeo's words, expecting a direct US intervention. Then when the National Security Law arrived, a switch flipped. Everything stopped.
It's now doubtful that the US will grant Hong Kongers special refugee status. Ted Cruz asserted they could be Chinese spies amongst those fleeing. Well, yes, because it's so unlikely that somebody from one of the freest places in the world could be a "refugee". These guys must be spies. That makes sense Ted, right? Then again, Ted has a habit of doing the most audacious u-turns. Plus, you've got to laugh at the descriptions of Hong Kong as a vast prison.
At least the UK had the decency to offer a path to citizenship, restoring a right it took away in 1981. But, there is a price to pay. The application and set-up costs in the UK are high. Then you have to consider taking a risk on post-Brexit Britain.
One of my friends, a moderate protester, is in despair. 'We went too far, inviting the worst possible outcome', he laments. Indeed, the police brutality narrative took a nosedive after the BLM protests in the US. People realised what real police brutality looks like. After all, the protesters haven't been able to pin a single death on the Hong Kong Police, despite many attempts to fake stories. Most agree the five demands are looking passé.
Whether Hong Kong can move to a more democratic system, now some rationality has returned, is an unsettled point. Indeed, the sentiment for change is there. But if local politics is again hijacked by groups seeking to topple the CCP, we are going nowhere.
On top of that, many protest leaders who before said they'll fight till the death retired, disengaged or fled Hong Kong. And the national security law is not going away. Never forget, Hong Kong had over two decades to craft and enact an NSL as part of the deal between the UK and China. Yet, the opposition delayed, blocked and disrupted every effort to bring forward laws shaped by Hong Kong's legislative process. Then faced with increasing calls for independence, the vulgar realism of politics intervened. Beijing acted and acted swiftly.
Dominic Raab, the British Foreign Secretary, is confecting outrage as Hong Kong brings violent protesters to court. That Hong Kong applies colonial-era law and common-law procedures given to us by the UK is beyond Raab's comprehension. Plus, I don't recall Britain rushing to grant Hong Kong democracy. Raab would do well to reflect on how Britain reacted to social disorder here in 1967, by operating secret prisons and arbitrary detention. So cut the hand-wringing, the lectures and the sanctimonious drivel.
For now, the arc of China's economic supremacy comes boosted by its quick containment of Covid-19. The indicators suggest China well ahead of the USA by 2028. Strangely, most Western media failed to pick up on the November 15th signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. This pact binds Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the Philippines into a low tariff trade zone with China.
The agreement shifts the focus of world trade to the Asia-Pacific Region, further undermining US influence. How Joe Biden navigates the mess left behind by Trump's 'America-first' mantra remains unclear. The Germans have awoken to this new reality by positioning themselves as interlocutors between the EU and China. As the tectonic plates of geopolitical influence shift, watching how this unfolds will be interesting.
Back in Hong Kong, one person deserves our unflinching praise. Doctor Chuang Shuk-Kwan, from the Centre for Health Protection is the public face of the government's response to Covid-19. Each day she fronts the daily press conference, fielding questions and offering advice—a demanding job at the best of times.
We didn't know until November that her husband was dying of a brain tumour. Every day, Doctor Chuang would rush to care for him and then conduct the daily briefing. On November 6th, he succumbed. Within days, Doctor Chuang was back at work.
A few opposition figures took the opportunity to summons up false 'karma' prescriptions on Doctor Chuang in a mark of callousness. Words fail me.
I know it's trite to say it, but 2020 brought out the best in many people; unfortunately, the darkness in other souls came to the fore. Let's trust 2021 proves a kinder year.
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.