Sunday, 4 December 2016

Trump's China Lesson

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen with two advisers on the call with Trump
Beijing surely when into fits of volcanic rage when US President-elect Donald Trump talked to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday evening Hong Kong time.

It later emerged that it was Taiwan that initiated the call that lasted 10 minutes in which included issues of economy and defense, according to Taiwan's Presidential Office.

"During the discussion, they noted the close economic, political and security ties between Taiwan and the United States," the office said in a statement on Saturday.

US President Jimmy Carter recognized the one-China policy
The conversation broke protocol that previous US presidents have followed of no direct contact with Taiwanese leaders since 1979, when then US President Jimmy Carter recognized the "one China" policy, shifting its support from Taiwan to mainland China, though it still has unofficial ties with the island.

Beijing's official response was cool -- it lodged an official representation to Washington on Saturday, urging it to uphold its commitment to the one-China policy.

However, Trump isn't yet president, so technically the phone call was not official. But it does seriously question the brash businessman's knowledge of the geopolitics in Asia, and if his advisers know they are provoking the dragon by pulling on its tail for no good reason as evidenced by his tweet:

Does Donald Trump understand the geopolitics in Asia?
"Interesting how the US sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call."

Sounds like a sly move on Taiwan's part to get Trump embroiled in a mess with China even before he becomes president.

How Trump handles China -- or the rest of the world for that matter -- will reveal what kind of president he is. Many within the US and around the world are terrified of what he will do after he is inaugurated domestically and globally.

It's so bizarre to see a reality TV show personality become the leader of the most powerful country in the world.

But does he understand this reality is not a TV show?

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Michelin Three-Starred Dim Sum

Lung King Heen's prized baked barbecue pork buns with pine nuts
After making a reservation almost a month ago, my friend YTSL and I headed to Lung King Heen, the Michelin three-starred restaurant in the Four Seasons Hong Kong for dim sum. She had tried it and raved about it and so I was curious enough to want to sample it too.

An idea of what the interior of the restaurant is like!
We sat down to lunch at 12.30pm, a bit surprised the place wasn't full already -- but then again perhaps tai tais want to sleep in on a Saturday...

YTSL suggested we order all the signature dim sum dishes, particularly the baked barbecued pork buns with pine nuts. Since there were two of us, the waiter told us most dishes came in three pieces and would we like to have two, with a price adjustment? What a novel idea.

However, we did keep the barbecue pork bun order to three pieces and YTSL was in bun heaven.

Baked whole abalone puff with diced chicken
The bun is fluffy and light, and manages to hold the filling, which is choc full of char siu and some pine nuts for added texture. The end result is a delicious combination that isn't oily or too buttery, meaty and slightly crunchy.

Another delicious pastry is the baked whole abalone puff with diced chicken, the abalone is small, sliced for easy consumption, but very meaty.

Steamed rice rolls are only available on weekends, so we made sure we ordered one of them -- the signature one of lobster and water chestnut in fermented bean sauce. It was very decadent, with lots of fresh lobster meat, added crunch from the water chestnut and very flavourful.

This week's weekend dim sum special was steamed beef balls, and they were executed well, very tender, and moist. We also liked the vegetarian steamed assorted mushroom and zucchini dumpling that was packaged in a translucent wrapper, very delicate and delicious.

1/2 portion of scallops with pear, shrimp paste, Yunnan ham
The steamed shrimp dumplings with wild mushrooms were a minor fault in terms of flavour -- it goes to show that the classic pairing shrimp dumplings with bamboo shoots is done for a reason and shouldn't be altered. We liked the shrimp -- very meaty and crunchy, but the mushrooms didn't seem to go with the shrimps in terms of texture and flavour.

Oh well. Not to fret over. But we did like the scallops with a bit of shrimp in it, on a piece of pear base and encased in a white pastry with shrimp paste and Yunnan ham. Absolutely exquisite how it was packaged and executed.

We got a few desserts to try on the house, including a black sesame and walnut mousse (topped with bits of gold foil), osmanthus jelly, almond cookies, coconut glutinous rice cakes shaped like diamonds, and little balls of mango encased in desicated coconut.

A delicate flower with warm custard inside was delicious!
In the end both of us shelled out HK$460 each and the restaurant still wasn't packed by the time we left around 2.45pm. We were quite surprised to see other people eat quickly and then leave -- they must come here so frequently that it's not something they savour...

Lung King Heen
4/F, Four Seasons Hong Kong
8 Finance Street
3196 8880

Friday, 2 December 2016

Snowden Shines Spotlight on Asylum Seekers

Edward Snowden criticizes Hong Kong on its treatment of asylum seekers
Edward Snowden has popped up again, this time criticizing the Hong Kong government for its treatment of asylum seekers in the city.

The former National Security Agency contractor speaks from experience, as he was sheltered by three groups of asylum seekers when he was in Hong Kong for two weeks in 2013, after he had fled the United States.

In an interview with Canadian news outlet Ricochet Media, Snowden described the poverty, "discrimination and repression" suffered by asylum seekers in Hong Kong.

Snowden criticized the fact that the were not allowed to work in the city, and so they were left "hungry and destitute" as they waited for their claims to be processed.

They cannot work and have barely have enough to live on
At the time he was housed by a Filipino family, as well as a family and a man from Sri Lanka, who are still asylum seekers.

"Hong Kong is one of the richest cities in the world, yet I saw refugees struggling through days, whose poverties were punctuated by discrimination and repression," Snowden said.

"It seems beyond imagination that a government could deny people the right to work for a wage while also refusing them money to eat, instead providing food provisions that were wholly insufficient to survive on, and often spoiled and out of date, but that's how the system worked there."

Food provisions have since been replaced with supermarket coupons worth HK$1,200, along with a monthly housing allowance of HK$1,500 per adult, transport expenses averaging HK$200 per person and HK$300 for utilities.

"Today food coupons and food debit cards with a limited value per month are provided to the asylum seekers, but again it is far from below what is required to survive on. So asylum seekers in Hong Kong are still left hungry and destitute today," he said.

It's an issue Snowden is passionate about because not only was he grateful for these asylum seekers' help in housing them even though they could be caught, but also he could easily have been one of the 10,815 asylum seekers in Hong Kong seeking to have their refugee claims processed.

Activists give voice to asylum seekers, but is anyone listening?
"In my own case, I was told it could take a decade to process an asylum claim," Snowden recalled. "Try to imagine that, if only for a few seconds. For the next 10 years, you'll be arrested if you dare to work, but you're on your own to find sufficient food, to pay the full rent, to pay the full utility bills.

"How long could you last? There is a kind of law which is itself criminal, and this is a clear example," he says.

In Hong Kong asylum seekers are a group of people that literally live on the fringes of society. They aren't very visible, and if they are, it's because they were arrested for selling or trafficking drugs because they were desperate to make extra money to just be able to survive.

Locals hardly ever come into contact with these people, who are not encouraged to integrate, or work -- God forbid they take away jobs from Hong Kong residents.

Aside from refugee activists, Snowden is the only high profile person to speak up for these asylum seekers and educate people on their sad plight in the city.

Greater awareness will hopefully build momentum to shame the government into looking after these people better -- though locals would probably think there are many other more pressing issues in the city to fix first!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Beijing Dangles an Olive Branch

How did Robert Chow score meetings with officials like Wang Guangya?
It's all relative isn't it.

Now that the Hong Kong pan-democrats seem completely tame next to the localists, the Chinese government has decided to grant the pan-dems mainland travel documents from now on.

But the pan-democrats aren't buying it. Leung Yiu-chung of the Neighbourhood and Worker's Service Centre says it is a two-pronged strategy by Beijing to break the ice with opposition lawmakers, while cracking down hard on independence advocacy.

Leung Yiu-chung isn't convinced by Beijing's olive branch
"If officials would like to talk about relaunching the city's political reform process, I would go anytime, even this afternoon, but there is no need for another sightseeing trip," To said.

What was also bizarre about the announcement was that it came not from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, but from the pan-democrats' fiercest critic, Robert Chow Yung, who runs the pro-establishment group Silent Majority for Hong Kong.

He has managed to score meetings with Wang Guangya, director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People's Congress, and Chen Zuoer, chairman of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies.

The fact that Chow got these meetings -- one purportedly lasting as long as two hours -- shows that even Leung Chun-ying doesn't quite have the guanxi touch anymore.

Nevertheless, at least three pan-democrats who have been unable to renew their mainland travel documents for more than a decade -- Democrat James To Kun-sun, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung from the League of Social Democrats, and Leung Yiu-chung -- have said they will not apply for permits.

Leung Kwok-hung isn't applying for a permit anytime soon
"I also found it very strange that Chow was informed before the local government. It seems Beijing has downgraded the local government," Leung Yiu-chung said.

When asked if he knew about the announcement from Beijing, Leung Chun-ying declined to confirm, only saying he had been "working hard to advocate that the central government promptly allow our pan-democrat friends [to visit the mainland]".

Hmmm... since when were the pan-democrats his "friends"?

Even Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, Hong Kong's sole representative on the National People's Congress Standing Committee didn't know about the latest development. She saw it as a gesture to the pan-democrats that "if you are not [advocating independence] there is no reason why there should be no communication [between us]".

Very interesting development, but also good on the pan-democrats for sticking to their guns. Democracy is worth much more than a travel permit to the mainland...