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]

How to defeat the Chinese Communists

How can the HongKongers defeat the Chinese Communists (hereinafter termed ChiComs), and preserve their HongKonger way of life approximately as it now is? In the short run, they probably can’t. During the next few months, the ChiCom repression in Hong Kong will surely get ever nastier, and the bigger plan, to just gobble it up and digest it into ChiCom China will surely bash onwards.

But then again, I thought that these Hong Kong demonstrations would all be snuffed out months ago. So what the hell do I know? I thought they’d just send in the tanks, and to hell with “world opinion”. But the ChiComs, it turned out, didn’t want to just kill everyone who dared to disobey, plus anyone else who happened to be standing about nearby. That would not be a good look for them. What are they? Russians? Far too unsophisticated. Instead the plan has been to divide and conquer, and it presumably still is. By putting violent agent provovateurs in among the demonstrators, and by ramping up the violence simultaneously perpetrated by the police, the plan was, and is, to turn the peaceful and hugely well attended demonstrations into far smaller, far more violent street battles of the sort that would disgust regular people. Who would then turn around and support law and order, increased spending on public housing, blah blah. So far, this has not worked.

And for as long as any ChiCom plan for Hong Kong continues not to work, “world opinion” has that much more time to shake itself free from the sneer quotes and get itself organised, to try to help Hong Kong to stay semi-free.

Those district rat-catcher (or whatever) elections last Sunday came at just the wrong time for the ChiComs, because they gave peaceful HongKongers the chance to make their opinions known, about creatures of a far more significant sort than rats, and at just the time when the ChiCom plan should have started seriously shutting the HongKongers up. These elections were a landslide.

The ChiComs are very keen to exude indifference to world opinion, but they clearly do care about it, because if they truly didn’t care about it, those tanks would have gone in months ago, just as I had assumed they would. So, since world opinion clearly has some effect, the first thing the rest of us can do to help the HongKongers is to keep our eyeballs on Hong Kong.

As I say, I continue to be pessimistic about the medium-term future in Hong Kong. But in the longer run, if the HongKongers can’t have a local victory, they can set about getting their revenge. And all of the rest of us who care can join in and help them.

We, the HongKongers and all their supporters around the world, can start talking seriously about toppling the ChiComs, not just by continuing to contest Hong Kong, but also by talking about China as a whole.

If the ChiComs won’t let Hong Kong be, then the HongKongers have a perfect right to start talking about China as a whole, since that’s what is now trying to swallow them up. If they aren’t allowed the distinct and distinctly better system that they were promised, then the only system they are allowed becomes fair game for their complaints and for their recommendations. That’s a claim that will make sense to anyone able to think for themselves. It won’t persuade the ChiComs, but persuading everyone else in the world with a clutch of honest brain cells to rub together is a fine start.

What needs to happen is some re-framing.

→ Continue reading: How to defeat the Chinese Communists

Why is this not the world’s biggest ongoing news story?

In a cultural genocide with few parallels since World War II, thousands of Muslim religious sites have been destroyed. At least 1 million Muslims have been confined to camps, where aging imams are shackled and young men are forced to renounce their faith. Muslims not locked away are forced to eat during the fasting month of Ramadan, forced to drink and smoke in violation of their faith, barred from praying or studying the Koran or making the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Fred Hiatt

I am amazed this is not the biggest ongoing news story on the planet. Yet the silence from the world, particularly the Muslim world, is astonishing. Makes one wonder (as if) what is really behind the unrelenting focus on Israel when China can do this with hardly a murmur.

South Park says sorry

Yes, South Park grovels:

Some background here:

After the “Band in China” episode mocked Hollywood for shaping its content to please the Chinese government, Beijing has responded by deleting all clips, episodes and discussions of the Comedy Central show.

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone probably saw this coming, and to their credit, simply didn’t care.

From the point of view of the Chinese government there are far too many people now paying quite close attention to them, whom they do not control. The people presiding over Communist despotisms are always touted as strategic geniuses, but I sense a change in the world. Or then again, it could just be that I attended an excellent talk about Hong Kong last night, and will be attending another talk about Hong Kong on Wednesday, at the ASI. That link may not last, so I note here that a lady called Denise Ho will be speaking.

That second link is to a report in the Guardian, which it makes a nice change for us here to be agreeing with, assuming most of us do. The Chinese government is now making enemies all across the political spectrum. They will surely “win” this battle in Hong Kong, one way or another. But are they now stuck in a Cold War that they might end up losing? Could well be. As the above non-apology from these South Park guys illustrates, to say nothing of events in Hong Kong, things are not now going entirely to their script.

Also, now that masks are no longer allowed in Hong Kong, how about a new hair-do?

Samizdata quote of the day

The ASI has renewed its call for British passport holders in Hong Kong to be given the full rights of British citizens, including the right to settle here. If this were to be done, the People’s Republic would denounce it as post-colonialist interference, but it might well make them tread more carefully.

Madsen Pirie

Samizdata quote of the day

“By stifling his criticisms of human rights-abusing regimes, what Donald Trump may see as the projection of strength is surely viewed by America’s adversaries as weakness. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blames the United States for an attempted coup against his regime, and Trump calls to congratulate him on his suspicious election victory. North Korea murders and purges its nuclear negotiators and Trump gives Kim Jong-un a photo op on North Korean soil. Vladimir Putin counters American geopolitical and economic interests at nearly every turn, and the president can’t bring himself to say a bad word about the autocrat in the Kremlin. What American interest is being advanced by this servility?”

Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine.

Terrible arguments excusing what is going on in Hong Kong

On social media I have come across this sort of “argument” used to justify Beijing’s attempt to put its boot fully on the face of people in Hong Kong:

Britain has no right to interfere in any way, even to protest. That’s because the evil British conquered Hong Kong in the 19th Century, got the locals hooked on opium, and ran it as a colony. Colonies are evil, even if they have the benefits of the English Common Law, reasonably non-corrupt officialdom, and all the rest of it. So it is better that Hong Kong be taken over and turned into the rest of China, with all its charming qualities.

If I wanted to engage in “whataboutery”, I could respond (and did, to wind up a couple of particularly nasty interloctors) with the following points:

China has conquered places of its own. Its treatment of Muslims, Christians and others in different parts of China, including the use of internment camps, etc, has been a disgrace. If today’s Chinese want to play the imperial victim card about Scotsmen taking over Hong Kong and turning it into a capitalist dynamo, they might want to look in the mirror a bit first.

China is a repressive state – and while by far from being unique in that regard, its practices (organ harvesting, internment, intense state surveillance, etc, etc) makes it an egregiously bad place by any sort of pro-liberty metric. Whatever the real or alleged sins of the British Empire, what is happening now is clearly a threat to liberty, and we should judge it on its merits.

There is also a curious sort of moral inversion one sees here. A place (Hong Kong) is a former colony and another place (China) takes it back from said former imperial power. Hong Kong is gradually squeezed; there are protests, and the fears of protestors are widely discussed. And the best that those who try to defend China is to say “oh, but Opium Wars!”

Of course, there is a distinct possibility that some of the people making the Opium War point are in fact bots produced by the Chinese state, or trolls working for Beijing. That point cannot be ruled out.

Imagine there’s no countries

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You, you may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine, John Lennon

The Times editorial I am about to quote, like John Lennon’s much-loved song, begins with the word “Imagine”. It describes a little incident, seemingly unimportant to all but those most directly affected, that took in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. At least, Vanuatu calls itself a nation, and it has a flag and a seat at the UN and all the paraphernalia of a nation, but it seems to have decided that it no longer wishes to function as a separate state. A little incident that took place there four days ago gives a preview of what Lennon’s dream of a world where borders did not matter would really be like.

Imagine for a moment that last Friday a charter flight full of police officers from a foreign power landed at Heathrow. Picture those officers then driving to a series of addresses, identifying four British and two foreign citizens and then, declining to tell British authorities on what grounds they were taking this action, detaining them and forcing them on board the aircraft, which then took off. What might we call such behaviour?

This exact scenario was played out just before the weekend in the South Pacific republic of Vanuatu. Vanuatu might be the answer to a quiz question, but though it has a population the size of Hull it is also an independent sovereign country and a democracy. Nevertheless, last week the Chinese government sent officials to Vanuatu and arrested five men and one woman, all of Chinese ethnicity.

That the republic’s government was complicit in these arrests makes the position more and not less worrying. Before the Chinese police arrived it is reported that the six had been held without charge for several days on the premises of a Chinese company. Though the Chinese informed the government that their officers possessed Chinese arrest warrants, neither the islanders nor anyone else has been told what the charges actually are. In spite of this, local police assisted with the accompanying of the detained individuals to the China-bound aircraft.

Almost incredibly the internal affairs minister of Vanuatu has told the press that the reason why the six detainees did not appear before a Vanuatu judge was that they were not charged with any crime in the territory. Presumably if they had been then they would have had their day in court. As it is the minister has, in effect, connived at an abduction of his own citizens by a foreign power almost certainly in contravention of his country’s laws.

The South China Morning Post report on the same story is quite bold to make an explicit link to the protests in Hong Kong against the proposed bill allowing extradition to mainland China, given that the newspaper has itself been subject to pressure from Beijing.

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.

Lego vs Lepin

I like Lego. It is nostalgic. It is a good quality product: the bricks fit together just so. It has a certain feel to it. I like the product design. I like the Ninjago and the Technic. I like the movies. I do not want Lego to change. I do not want to hear about them taking the monosodium glutamate out of the bricks to save the environment because I know the world will be a worse place as a result: the bricks will not feel the same or they will not last as long or they will not fit together in quite the same way. I get warm fuzzy feelings about the company. I do not want them cutting costs or laying off staff or going out of business.

I do not like Lepin. Lepin is a Chinese company who copy Lego sets piece for piece, slightly change the artwork into a bizarre alternate reality version of the original artwork, and sell them for a fraction of the price. It is an inferior product: the bricks do not fit together so well, the plastic is not so durable, there is probably a greater chance of having a set with a missing piece, there are reports of strange residue on the bricks. More importantly, if other consumers do not mind these things as much as I do and do not love genuine original Lego as much as I do, I am more likely to find myself living in a universe where original genuine Lego is not as good as it is now because it is pressured into cost-cutting, just as I find myself living in a universe where Nik Naks don’t contain monosodium glutamate for some unfathomable reason.

Chinese police raided Lepin factories in China, arrested people and seized goods. Now people are saying that Lepin is no more. It is the end of Lepin and Lego is saved. Hurray!

But I am not sure how happy to be about state violence against non-violent people who did no more than copy an idea. I am ambivalent about intellectual property. Lepin did not take anything that Lego had not already given away the moment they published their designs. A lot of activists complain about digital rights management. I see it as an elegant non-violent method to preserve a revenue stream for a product that is by its nature infinitely copy-able. DRM is much better than inducing the state to lock up people who threaten your business model. It does not really work for designs for physical objects but despite my concerns above I am not convinced this is a big enough problem to warrant a large state apparatus just to solve it. Lepin bricks are, after all, only viable because they are cheaper, and only cheaper because they are inferior. As much as I enjoy living in a universe with monosodium glutamate snacks and real Lego, raids and arrests and seizures is not a good price to pay for this.

Another question that arises out of this: why now? Is the Chinese state making a renewed effort to align with the rest of the western world’s ideas about intellectual property, or did the owners of the Lepin factory recently stop paying their dues to the state?

Samizdata quote of the day

This is an amazing piece. To censor China’s internet, the censors have to be taught the real version of Chinese history so that they know what to block.

Mike Bird comments on this piece in the New York Times.

China’s hardware hack: massive implications if true

Bloomberg is running an utterly astounding story about a massive Chinese hardware hack that if true will have considerable political impact but truly enormous economic implications.

This will have a long-term bearish effect on China’s hitherto unchallengeable position as the overwhelmingly dominant manufacturer of computers, phones and high tech IT component.

And yet… I hesitate to immediately take this entire story at face value, precisely because the geo-political/economic implications are so dramatic that I can hear the sound of a great many axes grinding.

Still, it is certainly something I can well believe the Chinese government would do, even with the associated risk to China’s IT marketability. But then the same is probably true of the US government, I would not put such a thing past them either.

Samizdata quote of the day

Forty years ago, in 1978, 18 farmers from the village of Xiaogang in China, met at night in secret. They had seen subsistence and famine. Exhausted and emaciated, they lacked the energy to work the collective fields as Party discipline required. A few years earlier they had seen 67 of their 120 population starve to death in the “Great Leap Forward” Now they took matters into their own hands. By flickering lights (none had seen electricity), they came forward in turn to sign a document dividing up the collective farm into individual family plots, whose owners could keep most of the proceeds of their labours.

They knew the dangers, and added a clause to the contract pledging that if any were betrayed and executed, the others would raise their children until aged 18. Following that historic contract, the village produced more food next harvest than it had in the previous 5 years combined.

Madsen Pirie