Recent Items

Six Reasons Why Choosing Hong Kong Is a Brilliant Move by Edward #Snowden

Posted on by

By MsExpat, a journalist and essayist who lives in New York and Hong Kong and Fellow of The Mighty Corrente Building. Originally published at Corrente.

I live in Hong Kong. And when the news broke that Snowden had decided to take refuge in my city, I was puzzled at first. But then, as I read and listened to pundit after pundit in the US declare that Hong Kong was a crazy choice for a whistleblower on the lam, I began to realize: no, they’re absolutely wrong. Choosing Hong Kong is clearly something Edward Snowden thought through, and very well indeed. Heck, many of the reasons why he’s probably in Hong Kong are the same reasons I came here, too.

1. Under our (still largely intact and transparent) Hong Kong rule of law, the wheels of justice grind slowly. Very slowly.

This infographic from the South China Morning Post gives you a good picture of all the potential routes that Snowden’s case might take through our legal system. The main thing to note here is the “typical” length of time it takes to move a case between the various appeal courts: a year from the Court of First Instance to the Court of Appeal, and another 3 years to the Court of Final Appeal. As there is nothing “typical” about this case, and since Hong Kong barristers and judges, following the British legal system, worry and deliberate every fine point to death, Snowden’s case could easily drag on longer. The most infamous American citizen to grace a Hong Kong courtroom in this century, “Milkshake Murdress”Nancy Kissel, has been dragging out for 10 years, a trial, an appeal, a re-trial and now another appeal.

Word has it that Beijing may “solve” the problem of what to do about Snowden in the easiest way possible–by encouraging the Hong Kong courts to take their time. Not that Hong Kong courts ever need any encouragement to take their own good time–even a decade– making absolutely, positively sure that justice is served.

2. Snowden can settle in and feel right at home, since Hong Kong is the Geek-friendliest city in the world. Even if I wasn’t on the run, if I were a cyber-whiz kid, I’d salivate at the prospects of being based in Hong Kong. Since we lack space and spend lots of time cooped up in small rooms, we have taken to the virtual world like ducks to water. There are something like 2.3 SIM cards in use for every resident of Hong Kong (that’s a higher ratio than our birth rate). Budding spies and others of a paranoid nature can buy a couple of those SIM cards to swap in and out of their (unlocked) phones for $10 in any 7-11, no registration, no questions asked (try doing that in India or Argentina!)

In addition to phones, we are wired up the wazoo, and fibre optic Broadband is pretty much standard everywhere. My connections in HK are waaay better, and far cheaper, than any Internet service I’ve ever had in New York City. And we’ve got so much bandwidth that much of our cable TV is delivered through broadband Internet connections. During the Taiwan earthquake a few years ago, the main trunk Internet cable between Asia and North America got damaged and went down for 6 weeks–but no problem. Hong Kong is connected in the other direction too, via a fat cable to Europe. When it comes to international communications, we’re probably one of the best locations in the world.

Unlike mainland China, our Hong Kong Internet is unaffected by the censorship of the Great Firewall of China. We’ve got Facebook, Twitter, and lots of Chinese language social media boards too. And because our citizens spend so much time in the online universe, we are especially savvy about the issues surrounding Internet freedom, and are quite vigilant against both governmental and corporate abuses of it. Which leads to another reason why Snowden’s instincts might have led him to HK:

3. Local Popular Support. The other day, Hong Kong legislative councillor Leung Kwok Hung launched a small protest in support of Snowden at the US Consulate, a curtain-raiser for the larger demonstration that’s being planned for this Saturday. During the mini press conference at the gates of the consulate, a Chinese reporter asked Leung what was the relevance of Snowden’s plight to Hong Kongers. Without missing a beat, he answered, “Do you use a mobile phone? Do you surf the web?”. Unlike the reporter, most young people in Hong Kong aren’t so clueless and they’ve made the connection: Snowden is standing up for the right to privacy of everyone who uses electronic communication, no matter where they live in the world. And they are embracing him as a cyber-crusader–last I looked, the front page poll of the South China Morning Post’s online page was running 70-30 in support of Snowden.

Snowden told Poitras and Greenwald that he was trusting his fate to the Hong Kong legal system and to the Hong Kong people . This seemed an odd, even naive notion at first, since the Hong Kong people aren’t even allowed to vote for their Chief Executive, much less decide whether a foreign whistleblower gets extradited, jailed or freed. But the Hong Kong people are the fulcrum of the peculiar balance of powers here. In the absence of universal suffrage, people power and public opinion counts for a lot more here than in other places. Hong Kong people can, and regularly do, beat back unpopular government proposals and actions by taking to the streets en masse (or sometimes just by threatening to do so). Snowden’s faith in Hong Kong people power shows that he understands the the semi-institutionalized power of public opinion in determining how things play out in Hong Kong. And he’s not only understanding it, he’s manipulating it–that’s why, I think, he approached the South China Morning Post with information about how the NSA was hacking into Hong Kong computers. It wasn’t to bait China (although that may have been part of his motive), but to forge an alliance with Hong Kongers by making his actions not just about the US, but local. It’s a great way to make friends in your new home. A lot of them certainly will be on the street this Saturday.

4. Hong Kong is one of the most ambiguous political spaces in the world–and that is a big advantage for Snowden. Instead of two parties at play, there are three–the US, Hong Kong, and China–each with a distinct agenda.

Hong Kong is a “Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic”. We’re “One Country Two Systems”–part and yet not part of mainland China. We have a different political and legal system, our own police, immigration and customs, separate immigration rules, our own currency. With respect to Hong Kong, the Chinese must tread lightly, otherwise they risk scaring away the corporate titans and the financial industry that fuels the city’s engines (and helps line mainland tycoon’s pockets and move their money out of China). Lay too heavy and obvious a hand on Hong Kong and the Chinese also risk spooking Taiwan, which Beijing desperately want to someday coax back into the Motherland. While we Hong Kongers don’t exactly enjoy the “high degree of autonomy” we were promised in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, we know we can count on Beijing to do everything possible to make it appear as if we do. (Hence, we have “elections” for the chief executive where the voters are 1,200 electors handpicked by Beijing.) The stakes of keeping up this face are way too high for Beijing to risk it by doing something brash like hustling Snowden off to mainland China. And they won’t let anything happen that makes it look like Hong Kong’s legal system is being gamed behind the scenes. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government is in a situation that makes it most uncomfortable: having to triangulate between China’s interests, US demands, and preserving its international credibility as an “autonomous” zone. If you want to see just how uncomfortable, count the number of times our Chief Executive, CY Leung says “No comment” to this Bloomberg reporter. Nobody stands to win by taking decisive action on Snowden, so my guess, based on years of living in Hong Kong, is that both Beijing and Hong Kong will avoid doing so, which heightens the possiblity of a long, long court process.

5. Safety and security: One of the small nuances that struck me in the Poitras/Greenwald video of Snowden is that he mentions the Triads. That’s the term we use for the organized gangsters of Hong Kong, but it’s not widely used outside the city, except by law enforcement professionals and fans of Hong Kong cop movies. Snowden was speculating whether the US might pay off the Triads to take him out in a hit, which suggested to me that he’d done a lot of thinking about his personal security before choosing our city as his safe haven.

Hong Kong is one of the safest places in the world, certainly the safest major world city. We’re gun free, and there were only 27 murders last year (in a city of 7.4 million), most of them organized crime hits and domestic violence. Murders are so remarkable that they remain in the headlines for weeks. In Hong Kong, the idea that someone might shoot a fugitive spook, John leCarre-style, with a high powered rifle through a hotel room window, or grab him on the street, toss him in a van and spirit him off to the airport for rendition–well, such things are always possible but realistically highly unlikely. We’re a city of islands and peninsulas, surrounded by water, with tightly controlled borders, and the highest ratio of police to citizens in the world.

In Hong Kong Snowden need have no fear of a drone strike; it would be unthinkable for the US to mount one on what is legally Chinese territory, and logistically impossible to drop a bomb in one of the world’s most densely populated cities without creating huge collateral damage.

6. Legal aid. Partly because it is the first haven for mainland Chinese dissidents, and partly because the local democracy movement here uses the courts aggressively for judicial review, to test and challenge government’s actions and policies, Hong Kong has an unusually large cohort of superb and distinguished lawyers specializing in Human Rights and Civil Rights law. Snowden need not worry about his defence; most of these lawyers will be salivating to take on such an important high profile case, pro bono. My guess is that not only has he found his legal advisor, but that he’s staying with him, or her, right now.

Print Friendly
Twitter103DiggReddit6StumbleUpon0Facebook747LinkedIn19Google+9bufferEmail

36 comments

    1. diptherio

      Their menu offers “Fresh Live Seafood”…uh, no thanks.

      I’ll always have a special fondness for HK, as it’s where I met the most inept con-man I’ve ever come across. He claimed to work on a cruise ship, dealing cards. Supposedly, he needed a partner to sign on as a guest and help him fleece the high-stakes blackjack players, using his patented system of signals: if the mark has 17, dealer taps left shoulder; 18, dealer taps right shoulder; 19, left elbow; 20, right elbow; and the signal for 21? A facepalm. Literally…this guy’s super-secret signal was to slap his palm to his forehead like he forgot to pick his daughter up from soccer practice.

      I could barely contain my laughter as I extricated myself from his company. It was apparent that I was the intended mark, and equally apparent that this guy needed to seriously work on his shtick.

      I hope Snowden’s having as amusing a stay in HK as I did. Somehow I doubt it. Still, sounds like he made a pretty well thought-out decision. I’ve been somewhat flabbergasted by all the flack he’s gotten over his choice of asylum. All these folks who don’t have top-secret clearances and haven’t been watching how our intelligence agencies operate from the inside, for some reason decide that they know better than he where to seek refuge? Seems a little arrogant, if you ask me.

      1. AbyNormal

        the card shark got my morning off to a roaring foot stomping start!

        it’ll always come down to ‘who you know’…my gut whispers ‘Snowden’s contact(s) aren’t as ARROGANT & LAZY as our FAT CATS.

        You say you care about the poor? Tell me their names.
        c.greenfield

      2. Dikaios Logos

        “Fresh live seafood” doesn’t mean swallowing goldfish. It means that the seafood is alive in an aquarium until you order it. I have yet to meet someone who tried that and didn’t find it the best way to eat seafood.

        1. diptherio

          haha…from my land-lubber perspective that phrase struck me as odd, thanks for the clarification. Still though, isn’t that a little like the cow at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe? I mean, I don’t really want to see my dinner in a fully conscious state before I mow down on it. Different strokes, I guess…hahaha

          When asked if he would like to see the Dish of the Day, Zaphod replies, “We’ll meet the meat.” The Major Cow’s quite vocal and emphatic desire to be consumed by Milliways’ patrons is the most revolting thing that Arthur Dent has ever heard, and the Dish is nonplussed by a queasy Arthur’s subsequent order of a green salad, since it knows “many vegetables that are very clear” on the point of not wanting to be eaten — which was part of the reason for the creation of the Ameglian Major Cow in the first place. After Zaphod orders four rare steaks, the Dish announces that it is nipping off to the kitchen to shoot itself. Though it states, “I’ll be very humane,” this does not comfort Arthur at all.

          ~Wikipedia

        2. diptherio

          HK is great for seafood, but goddess help the vegetarian who needs to satiate his/her peckishness in that city. I had to break down and just accept that everything had some type of fish in it, even the veggie soup (fish broth).

          1. Stan Musical

            There aren’t many of them, and true, Cantonese especially pride themselves on eating anything that moves, but look out for restaurants with yellow signs and red writing (usually the character 齋) signifying “vegetarian restaurant.” Often the menu consists of the Chinese approach to vegetarianism, fake meat of all sorts, but it’s still 100% vegetarian.

  1. Chris E.

    I would add that Snowden has exposed the NSA with top-secret doc leaks over a week ago, yet has managed to evade “rendition” by the deep state presumably still to this day.

    Stupid like a fox, I’d say. There’s no way he’d get away with that if he was hiding out in Europe or anywhere in the US.

  2. Marc

    “the idea that someone might….grab him on the street, toss him in a van and spirit him off to the airport for rendition–well, such things are always possible but realistically highly unlikely”

    Not because it hasn’t happened before – Arowa al-Saadi, 6 year old daughter of Sami al-Saadi, rendered, along with her brothers Mostapha (aged 11) and Anes (aged 9), to Libya!

    1. Yves Smith

      The facts are very different.

      Sami al-Saadi was basically baited and switched. He went to the airport (!!!) thinking he was going to be taken to the UK and enjoy political asylum. Instead, he was held at the ariport, and eventually sent to Libya.

      A Libyan dissident who escaped the grip of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi by hiding on the mainland has claimed Beijing freely opened its doors to him in 2003, with a visa approval process that was “so easy”.

      However, Sami al-Saadi’s efforts to escape persecution by Gaddafi’s regime were thwarted in 2004 when Hong Kong security officials, in co-operation with US and British intelligence agents, allegedly forced the suspected terrorist, his wife and four young children back to Tripoli, where he claims he endured years of torture by Gaddafi’s men. Saadi fled Libya in 1988 after being jailed a few years earlier for handing out anti-Gaddafi leaflets.

      The alleged rendition in March 2004 occurred when Saadi – a founding member of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group – arrived in Hong Kong believing he had safe passage to return to Britain, where he had previously gained political asylum. Instead, he and his family were detained at Chek Lap Kok for having fake French passports and, less than two weeks later, were sent back to Tripoli on a secret flight.

      http://www.scmp.com/news/world/article/1032529/china-visa-was-easy-get-says-tortured-libyan-sami-al-saadi

      So Ms. ExPat’s point still holds. No one in Hong Kong has been subject to extraordinary rendition by being grabbed in the city. Saadi was enticed to go or went under bad assumptions to the airport, was incarcerated there and then rendered.

    2. Richard Kline

      It doesn’t look to me like “Swift Ed” Snowden needs much advice from me. But I do have one bit: Ed, buddy, watch out for the honeytrap. Make sure all the sex you have is in public venues, witnesses will matter.

      He can easily fund himself writing a book on this and vending it online . . . . (Pay the local taxt, bro.)

    3. MsExPat

      The Saadi affair was a mess that reveals a couple of things about the Hong Kong system. First is the close relationship that the Hong Kong police have (or at least had in 2004) with their security counterparts in the US and the UK. As the Saadi rendition was a full on M16 operation, the cooperation of the HK police (there are still Brits in the ranks and upper echelons) was practically a reflex. As Saadi turned out to be a huge embarrassment (he has successfully settled a compensation suit with the UK, and is currently suing the HK government) I doubt that Hong Kong authorities are going to let themselves be roped into a rendition again. And, as Yves points out, the situation was quite different, and Saadi was baited and switched, not hooded and bundled into the back of a van on Nathan Road.

      The other thing that the Saadi affair reveals about Hong Kong, though, is not so pretty. There’s a lingering institutional racism in the city that privileges white Westerners over brown people–I call it the “gwailo free pass”. Unless you are a certified criminal wacko or a sleaze bag (thank god, we turned away Gary Glitter!), as a Westerner you’ll usually get more delicate and careful treatment from Hong Kong’s institutions than if you are a South Asian, a Middle Easterner, an African (like Saadi) or even worse, a Filipina (Hong Kong’s refusal to grant migrant workers access to right of abode status is a blot on our human rights record).

      Snowden, obviously, fits the profile for “gwailo free pass” status.

  3. from Mexico

    MsExpat said:

    And he’s not only understanding it, he’s manipulating it–that’s why, I think, he approached the South China Morning Post with information about how the NSA was hacking into Hong Kong computers. It wasn’t to bait China (although that may have been part of his motive), but to forge an alliance with Hong Kongers by making his actions not just about the US, but local. It’s a great way to make friends in your new home. A lot of them certainly will be on the street this Saturday.

    Thank you soooooooo much for this. “What rules the world is ideas,” observed Irving Kristol, “because ideas define the way reality is perceived.” And you have given us an alterate idea as to what Snowden is up to other than the one being spun by the enemies of visible government and democracy, which they articulate here:

    “Could the NSA leaker defect to China?”

    http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/us/2013/06/14/tsr-todd-nsa-leaker-defect-china.cnn#/video/us/2013/06/14/tsr-todd-nsa-leaker-defect-china.cnn

  4. from Mexico

    MsExpat said:

    And they are embracing him as a cyber-crusader–last I looked, the front page poll of the South China Morning Post’s online page was running 70-30 in support of Snowden.

    My guess is that you would find a similar level of support for Snowden here in Mexico, although I have seen no polling data to back that up. My observations are purely anecdotal, as my friends who work in academia tell me this story is what everyone is talking about, with solid condemnation of the US government.

    Here’s an article from one of the Mexico City dailies reporting on the demonstration in Hong Kong yesterday.

    With signs that say “No to extradition!” and “Shame on the US government!”, the protesters marched towards the seat of government. The organizers estimated the number of participants of 900 people, according to the daily South China Morning Post.

    [....]

    Although the Chinese Exterior Mininster has not wanted to opine regarding the Snowden case, the state media has expressed praise. A statement from the official agency Xinhua compared Snowden to the Wikileaks informant Bradley Manning and founder of the web news service, Julian Assange, adding “These people are too brilliant to be shut up.”

    http://www.jornada.unam.mx/ultimas/2013/06/15/83943173-manifestantes-piden-al-gobierno-de-hong-kong-proteccion-para-snowden

  5. Jeff W

    Although the infographic labels

    Seek refugee status from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Hong Kong — but the government has not set up an independent screening process as required by the Court of Final Appeal

    as “Not a helpful option,” this piece in GlobalPost gives a very different assessment:

    But there is at least one reason it [Edward Snowden’s decision to come to Hong Kong] could be incredibly shrewd: Hong Kong’s asylum system is currently stuck in a state of limbo that could allow Snowden to exploit a loophole and buy some valuable time.

    Simon Young, director of the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the University of Hong Kong, told GlobalPost that a decision delivered by Hong Kong’s High Court in March of this year required the government to create a new procedure for reviewing asylum applications.

    Until the government does this, he said, asylum seekers are allowed to stay in Hong Kong indefinitely.

    “We’re still waiting to hear from government how they are going to implement this decision,” said Young. “Until that’s the case, you can’t return anyone until the law’s in place.”

    In other words, should Snowden apply for asylum, then even if the US made a valid extradition request and Hong Kong was willing to comply he could not be deported until the government figured out a new way to review asylum cases — a potentially lengthy process.

    —that is to say, years, according to Young. (Young is, in fact, one of the Hong Kong lawyers who argued the case on behalf of refugees before the High Court that resulted in the requirement to create a new procedure for asylum seekers.)

    According to this SCMP piece:

    There is another option, as [Simon] Young explained: Snowden can legally stay in Hong Kong for up to 90 days under his visitor visa. If he applies for refugee status immediately, and is granted refugee status by the UNHCR office within the 90 days, the Hong Kong government would not need to get involved. Snowden could then be resettled in a third country.

  6. from Mexico

    MsExpat said:

    But the Hong Kong people are the fulcrum of the peculiar balance of powers here. In the absence of universal suffrage, people power and public opinion counts for a lot more here than in other places. Hong Kong people can, and regularly do, beat back unpopular government proposals and actions by taking to the streets en masse (or sometimes just by threatening to do so). Snowden’s faith in Hong Kong people power shows that he understands the semi-institutionalized power of public opinion in determining how things play out in Hong Kong.

    What most people in first-world Western countries fail to recognize is that what their so-called democracies deliver is some of the least representative and most repressive governmenance in the world. As Larry Pinkley said: “I go back and I quote the words of Albert Camus again when he said ‘What better way to enslave a man than to give him a vote and tell him he’s free’.” http://vimeo.com/20355767#t=5833

    Or as Hannah Arendt wrote in “On Violence”:

    All political institutions are manifestations and materializations of power; they petrify and decay as soon as the living power of the people ceases to uphold them. This is what Madison meant when he said “all governments rest on opinion,” a word no less true for the various forms of monarchy than for democracies. (“To suppose that majority rule functions only in democracy is a fantastic illusion,” as Jouvenel points out: “The king, who is but one solitary individual, stands far more in need of the general support of Society than any other form of government.” Even the tyrant, the One who rules against all, needs helpers in the business of violence, though their number may be rather restricted.)

    Just how little influence popular opinion has in governmental decisions in first-world Western democracies is brought home by images such as this one in Great Britain, where over one million demonstrators amassed to protest the Iraq War, and were summarily dismissed in favor of the grotesque and outrageous lies being spun by Tony Blair:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOsHLA1CMPI&feature=player_detailpage#t=3110s

    And even in the United States, opinion polls show a majority of Americans were opposed to the Iraq war and a majority did not come to support the war until after the bombs began falling.

    Then think of TARP, where public opinion was opposed to it by over 80%, and yet it was passed by large majorities of both parties. Think also of social security, again where cuts are opposed by over 70% of Americans, and yet Obama and his reactionary right-wing Republican cohort are pursuing cuts.

    And the political pathology and dysfunction is not just at the national level. It is at the grass-roots level too, as the recent decision by the Pride SF board to rescind Bradley Manning’s pride parade grand marshal honor demonstrated. Some 150 people showed up at their public meeting to support Manning, with 50 rising to speak in favor of him. The anti-manning forces could muster only 3 people to speak out in favor of their position. And yet the 3 triumphed over the 150, and the board decided against Manning. It was a resounding triumph of elite-network politics over the people, of the 1% over the 99%.

    1. wunsacon

      Hey, from Mexico,

      Speaking of Camus, check out his wikiquote page:
      http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Camus
      Search for the phrase “On the whole men are more good than bad…”.
      The photo-caption combination is interesting. Of all the images that could’ve been chosen to pair with that quote, someone reduced the quote to that one. (Based on death toll, a portrait of Dubya would be more appropriate.)

      >> “What rules the world is ideas, because ideas define the way reality is perceived.” observed Irving Kristol.

      Thanks for sharing that. It’s nicely phrased.

  7. Chris Rogers

    Well I like all the positive remarks on HK, particularly given I’ve been here myself since 1996 – however, some of the comments and the original post itself just don’t ring true – first and foremost, its bloody expensive here and getting more expensive by the day for those of us who have to actually live and work here.

    Secondly, inequality levels are at US levels, which means bloody high.

    As for broadband, well if you live in the City with access to a fibre connection then you are on 100Mb, if, as like me, you are in a rural location and on microwave links, speeds are bloody slow.

    HK does have an excellent legal system and court system thou and it is this that Snowden no doubt is relying upon, oh and the fact that the US can’t launch any type of military operation to snatch him – further, and in relation to the Triads, we actually do have people smuggling in HK with many a Mainlander wishing to land here illegally – hence numerous ID checks if you are Asian shall I say – it goes both ways though, as not only can they get people in, they can get people out – think Macau or any of the nations with a boarder with China – Cigarette smuggling is huge, as is heroin, so getting people in and out is no big deal for those in the know – Our police are armed though.

    My only criticism in reality is about my own country, namely the UK, for its a sad indictment against the UK that HK’s legal system essentially is that of the UK, and its this ‘Rule of Law’ that the UK denigrates each and every day it prostitutes itself to the USA – actually makes you ashamed to be British!!!!!!!

    1. Bank Holiday

      Heroin – that’s how the Taliban remains solvent.

      Why can’t we spy on Goldman Sachs, US Bank, Triple Canopy, CACI, L3, Exxon/Mobil, Corrections Corp of America et al – all the titans of industry and guv’mint? Seems like we’d learn something. Now they are bragging about preventing terror attacks – the housing crisis was a terror attack that they went along with as far as I’ve read. Man doesn’t have three squares and a roof over his head and watch out you can f#$k all allegiance to the flag.

      “It looked as if a night of dark intent was coming, and not only a night, an age. Someone had better be prepared for rage…” ― Robert Frost.

      1. wunsacon

        With the attempted Ag-gag laws, it’s clear that institutions are entitled to spy, individuals should expect to be spied upon, and not vice versa.

      2. Greg Lemieux

        I imagine that most of the corporations have been given a free ride due to their coziness. I’ve wondered why these companies are given huge tax breaks and suspect that it’s merely tit for tat for keeping the abuses silent. What better way to get payed off.

    2. Jim Haygood

      Hong Kong being ‘bloody expensive’ is a function of the ‘ambiguous political space’ that MsExpat mentioned.

      With the HK dollar pegged to the US dollar for thirty years, Hong Kong’s monetary policy effectively is set by the US Federal Reserve. Yet Hong Kong’s real economy is tied to its vast manufacturing hinterland of Guangdong, which has experienced probably the highest growth on the planet over the same period.

      As a result, the intersection of three policy jurisdictions — ultra-stimulative US monetary policy, China’s long secular economic boom, and Hong Kong’s local rationing of the supply of land for development — has produced eye-popping runups in Hong Kong property prices.

      One wonders whether the Chinese cultural propensity for gambling is associated with the characteristic extreme volatility of Hong Kong’s share and property markets, which periodically experience bone-jarring crashes in between their blistering rallies.

      As you say, the ultimate irony is that the ambiguous jurisdiction of Hong Kong, lacking direct democracy to choose its executive, nevertheless is de facto a safer refuge for political dissidents than either the UK or its English common law progeny, the US.

      The near-total shift in US political discourse to ‘democracy’ as its favourite buzzword — as opposed to the 19th century preference for ‘liberty,’ which has now been removed from the new U.S. quarter dollar coin — tells you everything you need to know.

      1. MsExPat

        No, HK’s property market does not reflect a “cultural propensity for gambling”, but rather a cultural preference for investment in real property (or gold) rather than in untrustworthy paper.

        Hong Kong’s latest property bubble is partly the function of the rock bottom interest rates, but the real engine here is the suck of mainland Chinese capital out of the country. All the shiny luxury apartment towers that have sprung up in the last five years turn dark at night, as nobody lives in them. The mainland Chinese who’ve been snapping up these ridiculously overpriced psuedo-palaces (marketed with nouveau riche-bait names like “Sorrento” and “Lavrotto”) for investment can’t be bothered to let them out.

        Since the Hong Kong dollar is fully convertible on the international market, and the RMB is not, Hong Kong prospers as the only place in the world where you can easily swap those pink Mao Tse Tungs for something more useful (and then buy a 15 mil flat to park your cash in–HK is a financial shopping mall of convenient one stop investing!)

        Snowden isn’t the only one who’s figured out that Hong Kong’s ambiguous status can be leveraged to work in your interest.

    3. MsExPat

      I won’t argue that the cost of living in Hong Kong isn’t crazy high, or that there isn’t increasing inequality. These are the very negative realities of the city, and what’s worse is that there doesn’t seem to be any official will to correct them–at the very least I would like to see a universal pension scheme so that little old ladies don’t have to haul scrap cardboard for pocket money, one of the shames of Hong Kong.

      But I don’t think Hong Kong’s cost of living and economic inequities was a factor in Snowden’s decision to head there.

      He’s certainly going to be in need of financial assistance at some point, not for his legal defence (as I mentioned, the human and civil rights legal cohort are going to be lining up to help him, pro bono), but for his expenses. Asylum seekers in Hong Kong aren’t allowed employment while they wait for their case to be decided, so if his case drags on he’ll need to find a way to pay the rent on his $2,500 USD a month 350 square foot Hong Kong shoebox.

      1. Stan Musical

        A Hong Kong resident told me a fundamental reason for high rents was that most of the territory’s land was privately owned but kept undeveloped in order to keep prices high. Taking the train through the NT it is puzzling that there’s so much undeveloped land (even leaving aside the large amount that’s not suitable) while millions live stacked 30 or more stories high in their over-priced hatboxes.

        1. Chris Rogers

          That is very much true – further, the concentration of wealth in HK is greater than the USA, as such, for every 6 HK$ spent here, 5 of these land up in the accounts of six families.

          Presently, approx. 56,000 flats in Hong Kong remain empty, they are investments and not homes – this is a country that has a three year waiting list for public housing and residential property costs on par with Tokyo – the average pay of workers by the way is US$1000 per month, many have seen no income rises since the turn of the century – its a rich mans paradise, not so nice if you are a Mr. average.

  8. wunsacon

    >> With respect to Hong Kong, the Chinese must tread lightly, otherwise they risk scaring away the corporate titans and the financial industry that fuels the city’s engines

    Uh, if so, then those titans — that depend on the police state to enforce and expand their “property rights” — will pressure HK govt to extradite Snowden. They can’t let anyone anywhere spill the beans and live comfortably to tell the tale. Otherwise, more people just might do it.

  9. wunsacon

    “The most transparent Administration in history.”

    ^^ Oh, the irony. … Almost as good as “change you can believe in”.

  10. camaras de seguridad

    He leido Six Reasons Why Choosing Hong Kong Is a Brilliant Move by Edward #Snowden « naked capitalism con mucho interes y me ha parecido didactico ademas de facil de leer. No dejeis de cuidar esta web es bueno.

Comments are closed.