Below is the latest digest from our political commentator ‘Tony Wong’. Hong Wrong publishes a selection of his musings each week, but you can sign up for his full, daily newsletter by emailing ‘subscribe’ to [email protected] It is “aimed at informed residents who are encouraged to further develop and rebut the arguments made here, and in the media, to create actual, honest and productive political dissent.”
Monday, 28th Oct: Yau Tsim Mong By-election: Without anyone noticing, the District Council by-election of the Yau Tsim Mong district was yesterday. Of the 280,000 people living in the area 7,106 are allowed to vote, of which 2,593 had showed up until 4:30pm.
Some of these 2,593 registered voters are currently in jail for unknown crimes, so polling stations were set up in two different prisons. Prisoners in prisons not organized by the Correctional Services Department can ask to be escorted to the police station in Cheung Sha Wan where they can vote… Anybody can watch the ballot counting… The election was won with 1,515 votes (58.4% of all votes, 21.3% of all registered voters and 0.5% of all residents) by Lam Sufan Kin-man, representative of the Chinese securities and futures trading firm Shenyin Wanguo… The Standard reports that 217,000 people who would have been eligible to vote in this election have been struck from the register after they failed to confirm their address.
Human Rights: The quote of the week goes to whoever commented on the Universal Periodic Review Working Group of the United Nations Human Rights Council. “The HKSAR Government will continue to promote and preserve the human rights and freedoms in Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law and relevant local legislation.” The very idea of human rights is that they trump local laws and constitutions, no matter how well meaning the governments.
Tuesday, 29th Oct: Property Prices: Kelvin Wong writes for Bloomberg about Barclay’s, UBS and Bank of America now all agreeing that Hong Kong’s property prices are about to fall at least 30% within the next two years… We have heard various reasons in the past for why home prices are so high. Usually the government blames speculators and foreign buyers against whom they have implemented a special anti-foreigners tax. Many people agree, though they insist Chinese shoppers and tourists add to the pressure. Wong largely blames short supply which he sees slowly expanding.
We can already rule out that foreigners are the cause of the price boom. We have seen the numbers of transaction falling drastically after the new stamp duties were imposed, but not the level of prices… If we assume that Bloomberg together with the large investment banks have enough influence over the opinion of speculators then we might be able to find out whether speculation is at the root of the price bust, or supply. In the game of speculation, the person to first get out once everybody agrees that they are in a bubble wins the most, and by that logic people would now, solely based on the announcement of falling prices fulfil the prophecy and start selling their apartments, causing prices to fall.
But that does not seem very likely. We do not see people selling their shares or apartments in panic, and property agents are still rather complaining about the low number of transactions. Rather we see ourselves reaffirmed that as long as individuals desperately need apartments and are willing to pay whatever it costs, prices will further rise and rise.
Wednesday, 30th Oct: Hot Air: Panels are a form of public debate in which not just two opposing views clash, but rather a variety of viewpoints are exchanged to entertain and inform the audience… The most important part about a debate is dissent. Without differing opinions the panel is neither going to touch upon the core issues of the topic, but it will just be an opportunity for the attendees to draw attention to their personas and repeat lousy slogans. That is roughly what seemed to have happened at the SCMP panel on ‘Passage to 2016’. The panelists were mixed enough for a good discussion on some of the more central issues, like what decisions we would like Beijing to have a veto on and for what reason, or what constitutes a fair and democratic election, but instead we get some fluffy comments about the problems that we do have found consensus on. “Hong Kong cannot afford to stand still” or “We have to move towards democracy” may sound like sensible statements, but they are worthless if we consider how different the associations are that they raise in people’s heads. Some think of Occupy Central as standing still, other think of it as the way forward. Some may find it sufficiently democratic if we pick a Chief Executive out of three CCP-picked candidates, others would see nothing but authoritarianism in that.
SCMP columnist Alice Wu has the honor of making the final statement in which she emphasises the need to find common ground. There is nothing wrong with that, but having found common ground long ago this does not help us at all in resolving the issues that we have deep disagreement over. And by not talking about them, we never will.
Friday, 1st Nov: Stop and Frisk: Have you ever been stopped by the police without a reason and asked for ID? Unless you have a lot of tattoos, look like you come from a poor nation or dye your hair in odd colors you most likely have not. That is my experience from seeing hundreds of people being stopped by the police for no apparent reasons. Around 2 million times a year people are being held by the police without charge, though we would need a separate survey to find out how many individuals per year are being stopped. It seems unlikely from personal experience that a third of Hong Kong’s population is stopped once per year, and quite easy to imagine that there are a lot of people who purely because of their looks are being held up wherever they go.
The government sells this practice as a success, even though only 22,500 offenses (1% of all stops) are being detected by the police. We don’t get a full breakdown on what kinds of offenses these are, but we hear that 24.8% of all criminal offenses are being solved because of ‘stop and question’ or ‘stop and search’ as the practice is being called. That is an impressively large number, though it could be immensely misleading too. Firstly, 2 million stops per year likely means a very low percentage of the cases are targeted stops, for example one where a detailed description of a suspect is available to the officer. But it could nonetheless mean that these targeted stops are included in the 2 million stops.
I would not be demanding that the police should not have a right to stop somebody who matches a detailed a description of a suspect, but I would demand the officers have to explain themselves in front of the suspect in detail. ‘Because I can stop anybody’ should not be an excuse to stop and search a resident or visitor. An indication that this is the case is that the police claims they found 7,400 wanted persons over the course of two years. For a wanted person a detailed description is likely available, and then the nature of the stop and search is different from a simple non targeted one.
The other possibility is that the police finds this practice as such a success that it becomes their main tool of investigation. Why ask boring questions after a robbery, if you can just detain anybody nearby who they think looks like a robber. The only number that is even lower than that of the successful offenses detected is that of complaints received. People who are detained and searched seem to either find the search justified, or they do not want to take upon themselves the burden of yet another 30 minutes wasted on boring police matters.