We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“When the U.K. handed back control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, Beijing promised the city that it could maintain an independent legal system, democratic freedoms and a “high degree of autonomy” for at least 50 years. This “One Country, Two Systems” formula has underpinned the city’s success because it allowed Hong Kong to maintain access to global markets as a separate, law-abiding and free-trading member of the World Trade Organization. But as President Xi Jinping has concentrated more power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, Hong Kong’s autonomy – and therefore its economic raison d’etre – has come under ever greater threat.”

Ben Bland.

My expectation is that if China does indeed fully crush what autonomy Hong Kong has, business will flee to the benefit of Singapore, mainly, and possibly other jurisdictions along the Pacific Rim. It will be commercially dumb of China to do this, but bear in mind that what is dumb commercially is not always dumb if your main agenda is nationalism and being a general asshole. In the meantime, I will go to Hong Kong and do business there and have a good time, but I fear the good times aren’t going to last forever.

21 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Gavin Longmuir

    Good times never last for ever.

    International agreements tend to leave me shaking my head. What was the little old UK going to do if giant China did not live up to its promise to maintain the autonomy of Hong Kong for 50 years? Launch another round of Opium Wars against mainland China? The agreement was just words on paper — words which gave the UK domestic cover for walking away from its obligations to the citizens of Hong Kong.

  • neonsnake

    In the meantime, I will go to Hong Kong and do business there and have a good time, but I fear the good times aren’t going to last forever.

    It’s very sad. I spent an amount of time in Hong Kong, and have good friends there and in China. The fear that the younger people feel is very real. I feel very very sorry for them.

    Apparently today/yesterday the police used rubber bullets on protesters. My friends from China are unsurprised. My friends from Hong Kong are shocked, but not entirely surprised.

  • Paul Marks

    Sadly much (most?) of Big Business has decided that such things as Freedom of Speech and the right to a fair trial are not important – indeed a silly and “reactionary”.

    I hope that J.P. is correct that Western business enterprises will leave Hong Kong if what is left of Freedom of Speech and the right to a fair trial is destroyed – but I doubt it.

    After all many (most?) big business enterprises already dismiss employees (even senior managers) if they are found to have voiced “incorrect” political or cultural opinions – even years before.

    Sadly the People’s Republic of China (“Social Credit” system and all) is very much the wave of the future – what the “rules based international order” is to be based upon.

    The interesting thing is how stupid these supposedly ultra intelligent Big Business people are – they really do not seem to understand that without such things as Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Conscience, their own WEALTH and COMFORT will not last long.

    “President Winnie the Pooh would never hurt ME – I am his FRIEND”.

    You will learn, you wicked fools, you will learn. Your “rules based international order” where “incorrect opinions” and “hate speech” are “crimes” will strangle you.

    As for Singapore – it is ruled by pragmatic people, and it is rather small. Sadly I think there is little hope that Singapore will stand against the “internationally community”.

    “But Paul the rules-based-international-order of the international community was supposed to be pro FREEDOM”.

    Saying a cat is “supposed” to bark will not make it bark. An “international order” or “international community” can only end up as one thing – tyranny.

    This the People’s Republic of China understands.

    In a former age Western businessmen would have stood up for liberty – but such times are long passed. Types who will not stand up against a “twitter storm” demanding that people be fired for “hate speech” or “incorrect” opinions are not going to stand up to the People’s Republic of China.

    After all the “education system” (the schools and universities) have taught these Corporate Managers that “Social Justice” tyranny is CORRECT.

  • neonsnake

    I hope that J.P. is correct that Western business enterprises will leave Hong Kong if what is left of Freedom of Speech and the right to a fair trial is destroyed – but I doubt it.</blockquote

    Christ all fucking mighty, I hope not, for the sake of the actual people living there, who grew up with an expectation that has been undermined through no fault of their own. They deserve better.

  • Paul Marks

    neonsnake I am not sure what you mean – are you saying that Western companies should stay in Hong Kong even if Freedom of Speech and the Right to a Fair Trial are utterly destroyed?

    Do you not understand that civil liberties and economic liberties are, fundamentally, linked? A society that has no respect for civil liberties will NOT, in the end, respect private property rights and contracts either.

    In their own rightly understood long term self interest business enterprises (people) should leave.

    Sadly much of Big Business today is controlled by people who (although very clever in many ways) do not understand this basic truth.

  • Paul Marks

    Neonsnake – my sympathy to your friends in both the PRC and in Hong Kong. I am sorry that the world is as it is.

  • neonsnake

    Neonsnake – my sympathy to your friends in both the PRC and in Hong Kong. I am sorry that the world is as it is.

    I appreciate that comment, Paul. I mean that sincerely. Thank you. Means a lot.

    I also appreciate your comment above, and don’t necessarily disagree.

    It’s a tricky thing between “abstract” and actually having people there that I consider my close friends, if that makes sense?

  • neonsnake

    Do you not understand that civil liberties and economic liberties are, fundamentally, linked?

    Go on?

    I think so, but you know I’m openly civil liberties above all else.

    Hey, look – you live in Kettering, right? That’s not so far from me.

    You wanna beer? I’ll buy. We can have a proper chat.

  • biff

    Is anyone truly surprised? If they are, they should be kept as far away as possible from any sort of negotiations with authoritarians, despots, or statists of any stripe.

  • neonsnake

    are you saying that Western companies should stay in Hong Kong even if Freedom of Speech and the Right to a Fair Trial are utterly destroyed?

    Well, we would still be trading with China and have offices there, so I see no material philosophical difference.

    The form will change, of course.

    More abstractly – the presence of Western companies serves as a reminder of what exists beyond the great firewall. I see value in that.

  • Michael Taylor

    Never bet against Hong Kong. Away from the headlines, Hong Kong and Shenzhen are converging rapidly, and will continue to do so. Within 3yrs this will be a US$1tr+ economy, with Hong Kong has its main gateway. You’d have to be crazy to bet against it.

  • JohnK

    Michael:

    Your point makes economic sense.

    Sadly, the one thing we know about communism is that it is about the raw, naked exercise of absolute power. Economic sense does not come into it.

    The relative freedoms enjoyed under the law in Hong Kong are no threat to China. Indeed, they are a valuable economic asset to China. But for a communist party which was happy to go along with the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, in which millions died for no economic benefit whatsoever, it is clear that there are other priorities.

    The main priority of President Xi seems to be to retain absolute power for himself and the CP for all time. Or to put it another way, if you wish to see the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face for ever.

  • Do you not understand that civil liberties and economic liberties are, fundamentally, linked?

    … I’m openly civil liberties above all else. (neonsnake, June 12, 2019 at 8:50 pm)

    Theory: Orwell said, “A prickly mimosa is an adequate defence against a naked man armed only with a just cause.”

    Historical experience: the creation of the United States, with its first and second amendments, is merely one of several occasions when the existence of civil liberties owe much to acts prompted by the question ‘who taxes whom’.

    Personal experience:

    – a decade ago, a friend of mine who was a member of the ACLU discussed with me their history of defending viewpoints they despised – KKK marches and the like. I agreed, but warned that, from the literature in her house, it was clear they hated economic liberty. She instantly confirmed that they did indeed hate economic liberty, more than before and growing, in the noughties (but hoped they could nevertheless remain even-handed about civil liberty and so do some good – and she by helping them – despite that).

    – My friend ceased being a member of the ACLU over two years ago. She also ceased giving them any money (though, as she told me, that last meant nothing because, after Trump’s election, “they’re getting shedloads” – as the media who hate him get clicks from him, so the ACLU and others found Trump was great for business).

    So history and my own thought suggests economic liberty is very important to all other kinds. Its availability is often an important part of small-scale “vote with your feet” liberty, which is a fundamental mechanism.

    Exactly what that means for “when to leave HK” versus “when to stay” is a further discussion (which my day job forces me to defer till later).

  • neonsnake

    Historical experience: the creation of the United States, with its first and second amendments, is merely one of several occasions when the existence of civil liberties owe much to acts prompted by the question ‘who taxes whom’.

    Good point. I’d not thought of it like that before.

    Personally I think that they both rely on each other to roughly the same degree. One could make the argument that they’re the same thing, and I think that would be fair; although I’d myself place civil liberties above economic liberties in the hierarchy and say that part of civil liberties is having economic liberty.

    I don’t think it’s possible to say that you have civil liberty without economic liberty, but I like your example of how it can work (in real world terms) in the other direction.

  • neonsnake

    I was interested in Paul’s view, mainly because I believe I’m a little less “strict” than he is on things like safety regulations – I believe in minimal regulations, but not zero (eg. I should be required to mark White Spirit as flammable) – but I think Paul is a stricter “no regulations at all” chap than me, so I was curious.

    Differing viewpoints are always interesting to read, after all.

  • Michael Taylor

    JohnK.
    I think you absolutely overestimate Xi Jinping’s position. China is no longer a small and simple economy in which political power can be concentrated as in Mao’s time. The growth of the economy has led to a dramatic sophistication, and the proliferation of different and competing interest groups, now heavily ‘armed’ with the financial power to make a political difference. You should expect that behind the facade of dictatorship, there are constant firefights of a truly Soprano intensity. It would be amazing if the head that wears the crown in China is not heavy indeed.

  • Stephen Houghton

    I want to pose a question. Am I alone in thinking that patronage in opposition to a non partisan civil service is an important part of limited government. That is to say when the government is all political hacks, no one is going to think, “their objective we can leave it up to them” or “they are experts, they can be trusted.”

  • JohnK

    Michael:

    I hope you are right. How Xi has managed to assume power over the CP is a mystery.

    I imagine things will be OK in China so long as the economy is successful. When it begins to fail we will find out how secure Xi’s grip on power is. Whether Hong Kong can maintain its economic and political freedom is another matter.

    One thing is for sure, Xi certainly seems to have given up on persuading Taiwan that returning to the motherland is a good idea.

  • Michael Taylor

    JohnK,
    I think there are signs of delusion creeping in on China’s decision making – hardly surprising when you consider the cumulative inaccuracy of the information China’s senior leaders must get from their terrified underlings. One recent sign of this was the belief that they could play the ‘rare earths’ card back against Trump – even though the US has been (officially) war-gaming this ‘threat’ for at least 18 months. It’s difficult to know how Xi will manage a graceful retreat from his over-reach, but I’d have thought that would be his over-riding aim just now.

    More generally, I think the best way to think of Chinese politics is like a particularly ruthless and unending series of the Sopranos. Even for the toughest of the tough, life is precarious.

  • Guy Montag

    Hello. This is my first comment on this blog. I gather it is a libertarian blog. I am not a libertarian but I do enjoy interesting discussions and debate about public affairs on the interwebs. I hope I am not thus disqualified.

    I am unsurprised by the turn of events in Hong Kong but the Chinese do want to throw their weight around and now they have the political leeway and financial and material muscle to do so. The Chinese will get what they want, at least for now.

    The assertion that businesses will gather up their skirts and run away in horror is, I think, quite mistaken. Why run away from all those lucrative contracts for controlling opinions and dismantling the lives of dissidents? It’s what woke capital does best.

  • The extradition law has been ‘suspended’. I suppose the key question is: was that done like the ‘suspension’ of the “you must kill all others” rule in ‘The Hunger Games’ – the tyrants plot to suspend for a time so as to enforce more effectively later – or did the (considerable) public protests actually shake them. Who knows, but from what I gather, I’m impressed by the Hong Kong public. Perhaps the leaders really were surprised.

    So far of course, only the Hong Kong leadership has hesitated visibly. I doubt Xi is keen to suspend anything unless its people from ropes.

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