From Zero to XI
As the world begins to open up, Hong Kong's Zero Covid policy has been buried under an avalanche of new cases, with wait times of up to eight hours at hospital emergency rooms.
Hong Kong appears to be doubling down on its Zero Covid policy, despite on-the-ground reports that suggest a general unravelling in Asia’s World City. Reports the Wall Street Journal:
As spiraling Omicron cases overwhelm Hong Kong’s health system, officials … [are] commandeering thousands of apartments and hotel rooms to isolate infected residents.
Wards at public hospitals have begun to overflow, with reports of children being turned away as pediatric isolation beds ran out. Despite the strain, just a fraction of those being treated or isolated were in critical condition, and Hong Kong officials urged Covid-19-positive residents – previously subject to immediate hospitalization regardless of symptoms or vaccination status – to avoid emergency rooms if their symptoms are mild.
The Global Times reported that “Xi [Jinping] conveyed his high attention on Hong Kong’s recent COVID-19 surge and his kind care for the Hong Kong people to SAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam through Vice Premier Han Zheng.”
Xi’s personal interest is not necessarily a blessing under any circumstances:
The immediate plan would appear to get really serious about testing:
The scenes were straight out of China’s coronavirus playbook. Armies of workers, deployed to lock down residents. Plans to erect a massive makeshift hospital. And on Wednesday, a command from Xi Jinping, the country’s top leader, plastered across local front pages: “Make controlling the epidemic as soon as possible an overwhelming priority.”
In Hong Kong itself, anger and frustration are thwarting what are arguably ham-fisted attempts by the authorities to sedate the chaos:
The New York Times suggests that Beijing is casting around for scapegoats, with Tian Feilong, a law professor specializing in Hong Kong at Beijing’s Beihang University, writing that the latest outbreak showed that “the Hong Kong government still has some insufficiently loyal or two-faced officials.”
Carrie Lam, HKSAR chief executive, said the government will recruit more truck drivers and transport goods from to Hong Kong by sea. Over 20 percent of drivers are quarantined or sick, leading to supply shortages and food inflation.
But the current confusion is sure to be only temporary.
On-the-fly translation: “Hong Kong hospitals are full, and the beds are set in the open air, and there are no tents. Carrie Lam told reporters that the central government [in Beijing] demanded"dynamic clearing" but she didn't know what that meant.”
Civil servant perks
A popular TV series in China has been documenting the comeuppance of corrupt officials – more than 4 million so far. According to the New York Times, the November episode, “Zero Tolerance”, is “the best journalistically and artistically” so far. Perhaps too good.
It’s easy to see how the show’s producers – and even the censors – might see the reporting as redounding to the determination of Xi Jinping to clean up the CCP, but as the Times puts it they “seemed unaware or unconcerned that they were airing the dirtiest laundry of the Communist Party, which, as the ruling party of a one-party state, has no one to blame for the rampant corruption but itself.”
Wang Fuyu, formerly a deputy party secretary in Hainan Province and later in Guizhou Province, asked businesspeople to buy him houses in three cities for different seasons: winter on tropical Hainan Island, summer in the cool Guizhou Plateau, and spring and fall in the southern city of Shenzhen. An avid golfer, he had a mansion on a golf course and could start swinging as soon as he stepped out of his door.
Chen Gang, Beijing’s longtime deputy mayor, who studied at China’s top architecture school, used some of his $20 million in ill-gotten gains to fund a garden complex in the city’s suburbs that he designed. The complex, the documentary said, occupied 18 acres and included a Chinese courtyard, a Western-style all-glass mansion, a Japanese garden, an artificial white-sand beach, a theater and a spa.
Social media users joked that the series felt like a recruiting commercial for civil servants, or a how-to guide to bribery.
Fiber-to-the-floor Hong Kong
Are we seeing the arrival of the Great Firewall in Hong Kong? No, not yet, but Hong Kong bureaucrats are getting fussier about what they want you to see and they’re probably itching to get better at it.
Writer Nathan Hammond explains why he’s not calling this a version of the Great Firewall yet:
“I have been describing the current state of Internet Censorship in Hong Kong as “Internet censorship amateur hour.” I believe that this – the first request – was implemented manually. Not only that, but it was handled inconsistently by many parties across each of the ISPs in Hong Kong. This is mildly reassuring as to where we stand.
But the issue is far from resolved. Benedict Rogers, the head of Hong Kong Watch. told The Guardian:
With the steady drip of website removals, there are fears that China could begin introducing its great internet firewall into the city. With time, this could have serious ramifications for the continued presence of western technology companies in the city.
Nope, the Evergrande story has not gone away – In fact, the entire China real estate fiasco has not gone away. Reuters reports that a China court has frozen $157 million of Evergrande assets over missed construction payments. How long will China’s property disaster play out? A lot longer than this performance of “China Dream” in choral song.
Everyone’s favorite exiled Chinese billionaire reckons he’s down to his last $100-150,000
The Wall Street Journal reports that Guo Wengui filed for bankruptcy protection … after a New York judge ordered him to pay $134 million in fines for hiding a yacht from an unpaid lender.
Mr. Guo, a prominent critic of China’s Communist Party, built a real-estate empire in Beijing but fled the country in 2014 to seek asylum in the U.S. after Chinese authorities accused him of bribery and money laundering, which he has denied.
Pizza Hut continues to push at the boundaries in Taiwan. These latest – oyster and shrimp pizza, which frankly don’t sound that bad – may not be ready for the prime time, but Pizza Hut’s century egg and ramen pizzas have made it onto menus, so anything is possible.
The South China Morning Post is reporting that a China tech company has developed an in IT system that can predict when an employee is poised to quit the job. The Shenzhen-based company has developed a system that spies on employees browsing job recruitment pages and applying for jobs via email. As one commentator noted, it’s Stage One in Philip K Dick’s imagined pre-crime future.
As Hong Kong falls to covid, Where’s China at with the development of its vaccines? According to Reuters, not exactly on the brink of breathtaking success: One of China’s mRNA candidates has performed poorly in terms of neutralizing antibody activity against Omicron, which is likely to be the strain that finally breaches the defenses of fortress PRC.
DJs playing gold winner tunes are becoming as famous as the athletes winning the actual gold medals in China, according to What’s on Weibo. Read the story; it’s fun.
According to Bitter Winter, a newsletter focused on religious oppression in China, the Chinese authorities are destroying Buddha statues and putting Buddhists in reeducation camps. This is not exactly news, but the new rules on Buddha statues are.
“The CCP claims that the new Religious Affairs Regulations should be interpreted to the effect that ‘large-scale religious statues’ should be all demolished,” writes Bitter Winter. Yup, that’s China-wide, and previously, the measures were reserved for statues outside the areas of temples and monasteries. However, in Drakgo (Tibetan Sichuan Province) “the authorities have even entered a Buddhist monastery and destroyed statues accused of being ‘too tall’.”
Don’t wait with bated breath for regulations on recommended heights for religious statues. It’s far easier to tear them down and then say they were too tall.
A charming feel-good China book that also manages to confront all the staple horrors chronicled by the Western mainstream press – and with a great premise:
Foreigners weren’t allowed to drive cabs in China. So … I came up with a novel business model: free cab rides in exchange for conversation. Roof lamps are banned on private cars in Shanghai, so my news assistant, Yang, had white magnetic signs made. One set of signs read, or literally “Free Loving Heart Taxi,” which sounds better in Mandarin than it does in English. Another pair said, , , or “Make Shanghai Friends, Chat about Shanghai Life.”
Yes, Langfitt – former NPR China correspondent – meets hustlers and even some misfits Of course, it’s more than a road trip. It’s an inner journey in which our guide is compelled to scrutinize his own cultural quirks as much as he is those he’s traveling with. Does it work? When I was reading Country Driving by Peter Hessler, I really felt like I was stuck in a car with Peter Hessler and had to hurl myself out and onto the road in a desperate bid for sanity after around 50 pages. Langfitt is an altogether humbler traveling companion. He doesn’t uncover anything revelatory about China, but he gets to hang out with the Chinese and learn some of their ways. Not all of his insights are on the mark, but if you’re an armchair traveler and you’d like to know more about the PRC you could do far worse than read Shanghai Taxi.
The average domestic worker in Hong Kong makes HK$10,000 a month to put that into perspective.
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