Hong Kong and the importance of a book shop

13.01.2016 - Tony Henderson

Hong Kong and the importance of a book shop
Umbrella Movement Hong Kong (Image by Tony Henderson)

Journalist Howard Win titles his most recent writing, “Hong Kong faces another uncomfortable year in 2016″ explaining that: “Hong Kong approaches 2016 with most of the same issues that preoccupied it in 2015. There is a looming conjuncture of global and domestic circumstances that suggests 2016 is likely to be as gloomy and ill-tempered as last year, if not more so.”

It is worthwhile reading what Howard Winn says about Hong Kong although his centre of interest is not coincident with Pressenza’s. His forte is economics though he is never short of opinions on the political front…he sees economic concerns as likely to weigh [even] more heavily in 2016 as Hong Kong’s GDP growth declines in the wake of slower demand from mainland China…. meaning, demand on the services and so on Hong Kong provides which will hit the Hong Kong economy to some degree.

On housing prices, indeed a major concern for Hong Kong people, these will remain high following Win says, on ‘the pernicious effects of quantitative easing’ – being, that, quantitative easing can help ensure that inflation does not fall below a target but risks include the policy being more effective than intended in acting against deflation (leading to higher inflation in the longer term, due to increased money supply), or not being effective enough if banks do not lend out the additional reserves..

Locally this has meant owning property which has long been a form of security for some, a lesser number than the whole…to compensate for the lacks of the government’s pension system.

The result so far is, property prices more than doubling since 2008 and the prospect of owning a home vanishing for most people.

“The economic backdrop has lent a bitter edge to domestic issues, Winn says, “the government shows no sign of changing its parsimonious policies towards the elderly and the poor while lavishing vast sums on unwanted but political infrastructure projects like the HK$85 billion billion high speed railway to Guangzhou and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge which will cost at least as much”

Despite its cash richness at the top end Hong Kong people are to a certain degree – as many just groan about everything anyway – “disenchanted with government and in particular the Chief Executive CY Leung who is seen as too willing to acquiesce to Beijing’s wishes resulting in the erosion of Hong Kong’s ‘high degree of autonomy,’ granted under the Sino-British Declaration and its one country two systems formula.”

Winn continues: “Rather than acting as a leader and ensuring that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is maintained and that mainland authorities don’t interfere unduly in Hong Kong’s affairs, he {CE}is seen as someone who is actively facilitating the increasing ‘mainlandisation’ of Hong Kong…. Leung couldn’t even bring himself to publicly support Hong Kong when it played mainland China at football in November last year.”

Why is the CE doubted by the populace, “…So when the mainland authorities make speeches and comments that are clearly in breach of the Basic Law, Leung’s response generally is to defend the officials despite the concern their remarks cause in Hong Kong . The State Council’s notorious ‘white paper” published in June 2014 was greeted with dismay even by pro-Beijing supporters and members of the Hong Kong government. But Leung’s response was that it would “help both local and international communities to better understand the “one country, two systems” policy.”

…”It will be recalled this was the paper which said that judges should be ‘patriots’ and described them as no more than government administrators or officials charged with upholding national security. A month or so later Zhang Xiaoming, the head of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, talked about the chief executive being ‘above the law’ and said the separation of the powers didn’t really apply in Hong Kong. Leung said nothing to counter this and it was left to the chief justice Geoffrey Ma [only days ago] to point out that nobody was above the law in Hong Kong.”

The central government is today, as ever, regarded with suspicion and seen as a threat to Hong Kong’s way of life, Winn sees, “Mainland business concerns have already taken over large swathes of Hong Kong’s business and economic interests by moving in on key sectors such as real estate, finance, power, construction and the stock market. Also a number of key professional organisations are now controlled by people sympathetic to Beijing. Clearly one of Beijing’s strategies is to swamp Hong Kong with people from the mainland. Hong Kong’s press has been become less vocal and more wary of articles critical of the mainland.”

The CE has advanced the process of ‘mainlandisation’ by appointing mainland businessmen to government advisory bodies where in days of yore these positions would have been filled by pro-government Hong Kong chaps.

In 2012 many parents protested against efforts to introduce what is called a ‘national curriculum,’ seen as a form of bringing Communist propaganda into play among the kids.

Then, there was the University of Hong Kong blocking of Johannes Chan’s appointment as pro vice-chancellor despite his being the unanimous choice of the university pointing at outside interference, not necessarily of Beijing directly but from pro-Beijing local power-seekers thinking of their future.

That the mainland sees gradual integration of Hong Kong into general China affairs without any SAR distinction is or should be well understood locally and all that remains is to determine how much of what is the essential Hong Kong way of life is left at the end of the process. This is a worthy preoccupation of Hong Kongers.

Thus the current debacle over the missing book sellers who appear to have been illegally taken to the mainland and detained which hoists a red flag indeed….

The silence from the mainland is ‘interesting’ as any abduction would be a too-blatant transgression of the one country two systems purport and any obvious divergence from its basic intent, so set in the Basic Law of Hong Kong, and that would scare the Taiwan peoples in their hopes of at least kindly integration on their side, besides the mainland hopes of using Hong Kong as an example of such easy slide of Taiwan into the ways of mainland China.

“In many ways 2015 was a milestone year when people began to get a sense of what the future under China entails,’ Winn continues, “it is clear that in 2016 China will continue to tighten the screws on Hong Kong. No relatively liberal society takes kindly to being refashioned by an authoritarian state. It’s not unlike trying to push the toothpaste back into the tube.”

This raises the question of how Hong Kong people will respond to any erosion of their way of life and their institutions. There is clear resistance but over time will this be stifled by a regime well versed in handling dissent.

And revealing his stand as someone largely engaged in finance, so Hong Kongish among journalists, he states that for most of the expatriates, the tycoons and the rich professionals, Hong Kong is a good place to make money and to keep it given the relatively light taxation regime.”

The human side to affairs though is never to be underestimated and the people’s will is not determined by the antics of the rich and famous, not outside the world of entertainment at least. The Umbrella Movement and the wide swathe of ordinary people who became activists during the series of sit-in street protests that took place in Hong Kong from 26 September to 15 December 2014 is not forgotten.

Issues such as the universal pension scheme, housing – changes in the small house policy, concretisation of the country parks and rural land takeovers, air pollution, these are the type of matters and their fair resolution that will determine popular political response and civil engagement on the streets of Hong Kong.

In the end, it is the street that has the final say, the the byways of the proletariat so-called, seemingly at the beck and call of outside influences. Beijing as inheritor of Mao’s Great Chinese Revolution knows that.

Modern times and technology is usurping the centralised power base of governments and corporations as can be seen given a deeper look into what is happening on a global scale today, resulting in over-doses of internally directed security, borne out of an intentionally created fear. This is a major cause in creating political and ideological polarisation noted in Hong Kong and elswhere.

This is where a free press comes in, away from the mechanisms of the ‘bought press’ or mainstream media owned by either State or tycoon under sway of Big Capitalism. And this is why a bookshop and its books people are causing such a fuss in Hong Kong – and in Beijing.

See original at: http://howardwinnreports.com/2016/01/13/hong-kong-faces-another-uncomfortable-year-in-2016/

Categories: Asia, Opinions, Politics
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