May everyone be energetic as dragon
in the year of the ox/cow!
Today is the 15th day of the lunar new year. Long before the celebrations of the new Chinese year of the ox/cow draw to a close (on Chap Goh Meh) though, the Communist Chinese government and its Hong Kong acolytes have already given those of us hoping for a better year -- or plain tomorrow -- for Hong Kong plenty to worry and be upset about. Put another way: I wish I could be confident that the year of the ox/cow will be better than that of the rat was; but, alas, I'm not.
As with last year, the 15th day of Chinese New Year sees the Wuhan coronavirus and political oppression preying on my mind. With regards to the former: Hong Kong's fourth coronavirus wave is looking to have a very long tail and now accounts for more than 50 percent of the territory's total number of 10,951 coronavirus cases. Today's total number of new cases is 24; with a restaurant cluster having been detected and suspected to have been caused by a cleaner there carrying on working despite developing a cough and fever, and ending up being a super spreader.
As a general aside: it has long bugged me that there are people who will go to work despite obviously being unwell and infectious (be it with a cold, flu or worse). And my feelings about people who go and socialize even while possessing symptoms associated with the coronavirus are unprintable. Ditto those who decided to stop wearing masks (period or "just" properly) -- despite a mask wearing protocol being in place -- because they see the number of daily new cases going down. (I've seen more people doing that this week than combined for the entire months of December and January.)
And while Hong Kong's vaccination program has finally begun, the only vaccines available are questionable Sinovac ones since the arrival of the BioNTech vaccines (which have far greater efficacy than the Sinovac ones) has been delayed. Hopefully, it won't be a permanent delay -- and there will be enough of the BioNTech for everyone for whom it will be their choice of vaccine; which probably will be a lot of people, especially after it is more widely realized that the so-called Fosun-BioNTech vaccine is actually the same as the much heralded Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine!
In any case, as has been so for a good part of the lunar year of the rat, greater political clouds than pandemic ones have been darkening my mood as well as loom on the horizon. Earlier today, United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet stated her concerns that China is restricting basic civil and political freedoms – including in Hong Kong – in the name of national security and Covid-19 measures. This follows her decrying Hong Kong's rapidly shrinking civic and democratic space in December last year.
But until political leaders like her actually do more than "state their concerns" and "decry" what is happening in Hong Kong (along with the likes of Xinjiang), the fact of the matter is that the Communist Chinese regime and the government it put in place in Hong Kong are going to keep doing what they are doing -- including destroying the Hong Kong many of us knew and love. And then there are the multinationals that feel that they "cannot afford to ignore the Chinese market if they want a better growth prospect" and are enabling China (far more, really, than it is enabling them).
It is truly very painful for those of us who love Hong Kong, democracy and freedom to see what it is happening in our beloved city. The "unauthorized assembly" trial involving Martin Lee, Margaret Ng, Jimmy Lai and six other veteran pro-democracy figures is not going well, according to a friend who has been in attendance every since it began back on February 16th. (And the signs that a campaign is being mounted to plead for (clemency for) Martin Lee in the international media point to the expectation that guilty verdicts will be pronounced for him and his fellow defendants.)
And even as this high profile trial drags on in court, there are signs that the authorities are getting ready to re-arrest other pro-democracy personalities and possibly not let them out on bail this time around. More specifically, the 55 democratic politicians and activists arrested in January under the security law but then not charged have been told to report back to the police this Sunday, five weeks earlier than scheduled, and the fear is that this time, they will be charged and immediately put behind bars.
Speaking of fear: Hong Kong Baptist University announced today that it has cancelled a press photography exhibition which included images of the Hong Kong protests, days before it was expected to launch -- citing concerns about campus safety and security, and pandemic control. Considering that they had allowed a fashion show, featuring actual humans parading about, just a few days ago, their official reasons for cancelling the exhibition ring hollow. Rather, it is far more likely that the Hong Kong university is following in the footsteps of the government-run Association Casa de Portugal Macao (Macau Foundation) -- who cancelled the same exhibition last October-- in running scared of upsetting Beijing.
More on the subject of fear, this time seemingly emanating from "the other side": why does HK$8 billion (~US$1.0317 billion) need to set aside by the Hong Kong government for "safeguarding national security": this is on top of the additionally HK$25 billion (~US$3.224 billion) for the coming year set aside for "maintaining law and order" by the Hong Kong police: a 7.7 percent budget boost in the coming financial year -- year after its budget ballooned by 25 percent the year before?
Some responses to reportage re this over on Twitter: "Must be an exceptionally dangerous place, Hong Kong. Funny, because it seemed so safe when I was there"; "What kind of regimes spends this much money fighting against their own people?"; and "Nothing says "Hong Kong is a part of China" more than a government who's setting $8 BILLION aside for "national security expenses", in a city where people make up their own minds to voluntarily protest in the streets. Know how many hospitals and houses 8 billion can construct?"
Oh, and belated Happy Chinese New Year greetings to this blog's readers, and Kung Hei Fatt Choi!