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Monthly Archives: March 2021

Humour: News in Cartoons

明報社評:中央把關從嚴從緊 香港政治範式轉變

全國人大常委會通過修訂《基本法》附件一及附件二,立法會產生辦法,敲定「432」方案,直選議席大減,選舉委員會權力顯著擴大,候選人資格審查委員會(下稱「資審委」)履行把關職責,將與特區國安委和國安處緊密配合。修訂內容反映中央「從嚴把關」落實「愛國者治港」,斷絕反中亂港分子權力之路,對香港而言,這不僅是一次政治收緊,更是一次範式轉移。中央認為過去20多年香港政治發展模式出了重大問題,要以自上而下的一套,保障「一國兩制」在港有效實施,這跟多年來不少港人以「民主化保障一國兩制」的想法,有很大出入。新制度下香港政治權力高度集中,這樣的上層建築,能否與本港資本主義社會下層建築相匹配,促進改革發展、維護社會多元,做到長治久安,唯有時間可以解答。

改制強調國家元素 倡導賢能精英政治

全國人大3.11決定,就「完善香港選舉制度」定下框架,早前中央官員來港聽意見,社會有聲音主張立法會組成,選委會、功能組別與分區直選議席,各佔三分之一是較理想組合,亦有人關注選委會擴大後5個界別的組成、資審委如何運作,希望提名門檻盡量寬鬆。觀乎人大常委會對基本法附件一、二的修訂,明顯傾向從嚴從緊,立法會直選成分顯著減少,提名門檻相對偏高,泛民爭取議席難度明顯增加,整個制度設計,多方面都看到與國家相關的元素。

未來立法會構成,採用「432」方案,選委會議員佔40席,分區直選由35席大減至20席。由於分區直選改行雙議席單票制,同一陣營或政黨要在一個直選分區盡攬兩席,難度頗高,多年來泛民建制得票接近六四開,正常情况不易出現一面倒賽果。功能組別議席方面,除了新增「港區人大政協及全國性團體」,以及代表在港中資企業的商界(三)界別,泛民較有優勢的一些專業界別,亦出現重組變化,例如昔日是泛民票倉的資訊科技界,現改為科技創新界,由團體票產生,再無個人票,至於醫學界及衛生服務界則二合為一。

新制度下,選委會權力大增,新增的第五界別,即人大政協及全國團體香港成員代表,固然體現了國家元素;專業界方面,諸如會計界、法律界等,部分選委亦是由與國家相關的組織提名產生。日後參選立法會,須在選委會5個界別各自取得至少兩名選委提名,這樣的門檻,一定比不分界別只需10人提名為高,傳統民主派是否願意向人大政協拜票,換取入閘提名,將是一大未知數。

所有選委均為香港永久居民,不過整個選委會內的國家元素,將比以往更為突出,選委會設總召集人,由擔任國家領導職務的選委擔任,從中央角度,這可確保關鍵時刻有人發揮領導協調作用,顧全國家大局。另外,資審委成員由特區主要官員擔任,若有候選人資格存疑,將由國安處審查,交由國安委評估,若認為不合資格,將向資審委提交意見書。資審委是最終決定者,惟國安委的角色似乎更吃重,由於國安委設有中央指派的「國安事務顧問」,這亦意味中央在有需要時可透過機制表達意見。特首林鄭月娥提到,《港區國安法》列明國安委檢視的資料不能披露,有關決定不能司法覆核,按同一邏輯,日後當局未必會詳細公開交代「DQ」理由。

香港回歸近24年,中央修改香港選舉制度,除了因應近年港獨、暴力、攬炒等情况,還牽涉更為長遠和根本的轉變。早在1980年代,中央與港人對回歸後香港如何保持「不變」,便存在很不同的看法。對中央而言,香港從來是經濟城市,中央透過一國兩制和基本法,保證香港資本主義生活方式50年不變,這亦是為何當年中央官員說,回歸就是換旗換督,其他按既有機制去辦。「中央的承諾和支持,就是香港一國兩制的最大保障」,這是中央多年來的看法;然而在香港,不少人則認為民主化才是一國兩制和生活方式不變的最大保障,形成了「民主回歸」論述。

20多年來,港人覺得民主化步伐緩慢,中央則覺得香港政治出了大問題,由反23條立法、佔領運動到反修例風暴,民主化訴求異化為民主抗中和港獨。新制度設計如此強調國家角色及作用,對香港而言是一次範式轉變,中央認為香港政治發展不能再走自下而上的一套,港人治港之餘,中央亦需要發揮更大作用,以自上而下方式,貫徹一國兩制,讓香港朝「賢能精英政治」方向走。昨天特首提到,選委會科技創新界有一半委員,將由中科院及中國工程院香港院士等提名,希望未來有更多人才參政從政,反映的正是這一思路,問題是選委會的構成,除了吸納一批之前聞政治色變的有識之士,亦有一些奇怪組合,同鄉社團、各區撲滅罪行委員會等新的從政跳板,會為香港政治生態帶來什麼轉變,仍是未知之數。

權力高度集中 易生政治腐敗

中央盼在香港推動「賢能精英政治」,這樣的政治上層建築,能否與現今香港社會下層建築相適應,需要時間觀察。近期內地常有意見認為,香港應重新做一個經濟城市,現實是不管認同與否,過去10多年,香港確實變成了一個政治城市,人心不會一下子驟變。新制度下香港政治權力高度集中,容易衍生政治腐敗,如何提防政治投機者鑽營謀私,同樣是一大問題。


Source : 明報

The Great American Delusion – Just That One Guy

Patrick Armstrong wrote . . . . . . . . .

I have just finished a book about the CIA which mentions the Kennedy Administration’s obsession about Fidel Castro. “‘We were hysterical about Castro,’ Defense Secretary Robert McNamara acknowledged”; there were innumerable assassination plots. The missile crisis seems to have brought Kennedy to his senses and, a couple of months before his assassination, the CIA principal had to tell the mobster he had picked to organise it that the plot to kill Castro had been terminated. None of it amounted to anything and, in the words of one player “so much of the goddamn stuff was really juvenile.” Sixty years later, Fidel Castro is gone but Cuba remains – still defiant.

Mohammad Mosaddegh of Iran was a problem; after he was overthrown Iran was not a problem for a while but today it’s an even bigger problem; and they still resent his overthrow. Ngô Đình Diệm in Vietnam was a problem; but his death just led to more war. Mohamed Farrah Aidid of Somalia was another who had to go, but after the Battle Of Mogadishu it was the Americans and NATO who went; Somalia, much now as it was then, has faded from the news. Slobodan Milošević was the Butcher of the Balkans until a court found that he wasn’t so guilty after all. Saddam Hussein was a pretty comprehensive problem, the NYT informed us; now he’s gone and Iraq is still a problem – can’t win it, can’t leave it. Kims in North Korea come and go; it remains the same. And so on and on – Assad, Maduro, Qaddafi, Arafat, Daniel Ortega and Yanukovych; all individuals who were imagined to be the single roadblock in the path of… The Better, Progress, Democracy and all other Good Things.

But the two biggest are Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. I have written enough about the crazy American obsession with Putin: five years ago I wrote A Brief Compendium of Nonsense About Putin. Since then he has grown in monstrosity: election rigger, computer hacker, serial poisoner, “Russia under Putin poses an existential threat to the United States and other countries of the West, Russia’s neighbors, and his own people” is a typical effusion. Note the personalism: the “existential threat” is “Russia under Putin”, not “Russia”. If only Putin could be got rid of…

The author of this piece goes on: “China will be at the top of the to-do list”. And the Atlantic Council has emitted The Longer Telegram: Toward A New American China Strategy written by Anonymous. Clearly it is supposed to echo Mr X’s (George Kennan’s) Long Telegram. But some differences: this is longer – much longer, grinding on for seven times the length of Kennan’s essay. Secondly, Kennan himself didn’t think that his recommendations had been well followed and was utterly opposed to NATO expansion and Western triumphantasies. I will certainly not waste my time reading this midden of prolixity (one wishes an ex-PFC Wintergreen had binned it), the summary is more than enough – and it’s longer than Kennan’s essay. The very first sentence puts us on familiar ground

The single most important challenge facing the United States in the twenty-first century is the rise of an increasingly authoritarian China under President and General Secretary Xi Jinping.

“China under President and General Secretary Xi Jinping”, “Russia under Putin”. Back to personalities.

…Xi has returned China… quasi-Maoist personality cult… systematic elimination of his political opponents…. Xi has used ethnonationalism… Xi’s China… Xi has demonstrated… China under… Xi is no longer just a problem for U.S. primacy. He now presents a serious problem for the whole of the democratic world…

He is the problem and “All U.S. political and policy responses to China therefore should be focused through the principal lens of Xi himself.” No Xi, no problem; no Putin, no problem; no Saddam, no problem; no Qaddafi, no problem. Away we go again.

Better informed people point out that Xi Jinping’s policies have a context: we start with Deng Xiaoping’s strategic guideline “hide capabilities and bide time”. Once capabilities could no longer be hidden, they moved to Hu Jintao’s “Actively Accomplish Something”. That something – or rather, those many somethings – are being actively accomplished by Xi Jinping. Far from a polity captured by a personality, China has a collective leadership focussed on a long-term strategy.

But that is only one voice in the background and the personality-obsessed (Very Much) Longer Telegram comes from the Atlantic Council which has a far greater influence on U.S. and NATO activities. As it is engummed in personalism, so are they.

What do the personality-obsessed suggest be done to get rid of Xi? Well, this is a little more difficult than other cases: bombing got rid of Saddam and Qaddafi but China is too strong. Economic measures, as even someone as dim as Anonymous realises, might hurt the USA more than China. Stripped of nostalgianism (the U.S. must “retain collective economic and technological superiority”), delusion (“Dividing Russia from China in the future is equally [critical]”) and degraded touchstones (“current rules-based liberal international order and, critically, its ideological underpinnings, including core democratic values”), the strategy offered is pitiful.

We are invited to be “laser focused” on the assumption that Xi’s so-called one man rule is resented by many in China; if a wedge can be driven into the leadership, Beijing will return to the happy pre-Xi state when

China, under all five of its post-Mao leaders prior to Xi, was able to work with the United States. Under them, China aimed to join the existing international order, not to remake it in China’s own image. Now, however, the mission for U.S. China strategy should be to see China return to its pre-2013 path—i.e., the pre-Xi strategic status quo.

One is reminded of Napoleon’s delusion that Russia’s nobles could be wedged away from Alexander and the undying conviction that one more targetted sanction will make Putin’s henchmen kick him out. But, enough of Anonymous’ fancies – they have no base in reality: the USA out-sourced its manufacturing to China long ago and won’t be getting it back, wokeism is killing its education system, its politics are broken, its military is losing everywhere and doesn’t realise it, a tsunami of debt has built up. Most absurd of all, after years of needless hostility to Russia, Washington has no hope of separating Moscow from Beijing. And Xi Jinping is not some rogue who seized control – he is the top of a robust pyramid.

The only significance of this paltry effort is that it gives us another – and depressingly influential – example of the curious American obsession with personalities – everything in Chinese-U.S. relations was going along swimmingly until Xi. But actually, as anyone capable of seeing reality knows, China is much, much more than one man.

China/Russia/Iran/Iraq/insert-name-of-country was happy to accept its place in the Rules-Based International Order until that nasty Xi/Putin/Ayatollah/Saddam/insert-name changed everything; get rid of him and it will all fix itself.

When are they going to understand that it’s a whole country, not just one guy?


Source : Strategic Culture Foundation

U.S. 10-year Treasury Yield and GDP Growth Since 1977

Various crisis occurred when rates temporarily rose

Source : Real Investment Advice

Chart of the Day: 200-Year History of U.S. Interest Rates

Global Oil Shipments Depend On Major Chokepoints

Source : Statista


In 2020, nearly 19,000 ships transited the Suez Canal, averaging 51.5 per day. Vessels have grown in size and capacity and 1.17 billion net tons was handled by the crucial artery last year.

Infographic: Nuclear Energy in the World 10 Years After Fukushima

Chart of the Day: Instagram Is Sharing 79% of Your Personal Data Categories with Third Parties

Source : Statista

Tiny Palau Pins Hopes on Taiwan Travel Bubble to Help Virus-wrecked Tourism

Ben Blanchard wrote . . . . . . . . .

Palau is looking forward to opening a travel bubble with Taiwan to help its wrecked tourism industry recover, its president said on Tuesday, offering an economic boost to the strategic Pacific region where China is tussling for influence with loans and aid.

Palau, one of only 15 countries to maintain formal diplomatic ties with Chinese-claimed Taiwan and also a staunch U.S. ally, all but closed its borders last year to keep COVID-19 out despite the economic cost, and has never recorded a case.

Meeting Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei ahead of Thursday’s opening of the travel corridor, Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. said that with U.S.-provided vaccines being rolled out in his archipelago nation of fewer than 20,000 they were ready to play host to Taiwanese.

“We’ve gotten a shot in our arm with the vaccine; by allowing the tourists to come in you give us a shot in the arm for our economy,” Whipps said.

“And that’s very important because as you know many of our people are out of work because we’re very much dependent on tourism.”

Taiwan has the pandemic well under control at home with only 33 active cases, giving Taipei the confidence to allow the bubble. Palau is less than four hours by plane from Taiwan.

Whipps’ trip coincided on Monday with renewed Chinese air force activity near Taiwan, after Beijing rebuked Washington for the presence of the U.S. ambassador to Palau, John Hennessey-Niland, as part of the president’s delegation.

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, the ambassador said it was a “special privilege” to be in the delegation.

“I know that here in Taiwan people describe the relationship between the United States and Taiwan as ‘real friends, real progress’. And I think that description applies to the three countries – the United States, Taiwan and Palau,” he added.

The Pacific is the site of a diplomatic tug-of-war between Beijing and Washington, and in 2019 China snatched away two of Taiwan’s allies there, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.

The United States has accused China of practicing “debt trap diplomacy” in the Pacific, which Beijing denies.


Source : Reuters

COVID-19: The E484K Mutation and the Risks It Poses

Jacqui Wise wrote . . . . . . . . .

The mutation E484K, first identified in the South African SARS-CoV-2 variant, has now been identified in the UK fast-spreading variant, prompting fears the virus is evolving further and could become resistant to vaccines. Jacqui Wise looks at what we know so far

What do we know about the E484K mutation?

The E484K mutation is not a new variant in itself, it’s a mutation which occurs in different variants and has already been found in the South African (B.1.351) and Brazilian (B.1.1.28) variants. The mutation is in the spike protein and appears to have an impact on the body’s immune response and, possibly, vaccine efficacy. On 1 February, Public Health England (PHE) announced that the Covid-19 Genomics (COG-UK) consortium had identified this same E484K mutation in 11 samples carrying the UK variant B.1.1.7 (sometimes called the Kent variant), after analysing 214 159 sequences.

Where has it been identified in the UK?

PHE confirmed to The BMJ that they have now identified 11 cases of the UK B1.1.7 variant carrying the E484K mutation around the Bristol area and 40 cases of the original SARS-C0V-2 virus carrying the same E484K mutation in the Liverpool area. Public health officials are carrying out enhanced contact tracing, additional laboratory analysis, and testing in these areas.

Is this mutation something to worry about?

E484K is called an escape mutation because it helps the virus slip past the body’s immune defences. Ravindra Gupta at the University of Cambridge and colleagues have confirmed that the new B.1.1.7 plus E484K variant substantially increases the amount of serum antibody needed to prevent infection of cells. We already know that the B.1.1.7 variant is more transmissible so a combination of a faster spreading virus that is also better at evading immunity is worrying—if it isn’t stopped it would outcompete the older B.1.1.7 variant.

Another concern is that the South African variant might be able to more efficiently reinfect people who have previously been infected with the original form of the virus. Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at Warwick University, said, “This is likely to be, in part, because the E484K mutation may weaken the immune response and also impact the longevity of the neutralising antibody response. So B.1.1.7 variants carrying the E484K mutation may be more efficient at reinfection.”

Will vaccines work against these emerging variants?

There has been research showing that the current vaccines work against the UK B.1.1.7 variant without the E484K mutation. However, recent clinical trials by Novavax and Johnson & Johnson showed that their new vaccines were less effective in South Africa compared with the UK or US, which is presumably because of the high level of virus carrying the E484K mutation. Even so, Novavax reported a 60% efficacy of their vaccine in South Africa which is still a fairly good response, equivalent to that of the influenza vaccine. And scientists say that vaccines can be redesigned and tweaked to be a better match for the new variants in a matter of months. The Oxford AstraZeneca team, for example, announced they were already looking at updating their vaccine to make it more effective against the mutations that are being seen and it could be available by the autumn. It is possible it could take the form of a one dose booster which is updated and rolled out every year.

What is the UK doing to monitor the spread of variants?

The UK has identified 105 cases of the South African variant B.1.351, so far. Most could be linked to travel, but 11 cases could not, meaning it is spreading within the local community. As a result the government announced it would carry out additional surge testing and sequencing in eight postcode areas in England. This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, however, as less than one in 10 samples from people who test positive are sequenced and many people never get tested in the first place.

Is monitoring good enough?

The UK has carried out nearly half of all SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences deposited to the global database, GISAID. A spokesperson for the COG-UK consortium said that since the beginning of the pandemic they had conducted genome sequencing on about 7% of positive test samples and this is increasing now as case numbers fall and capacity is increasing. This is the highest in Europe, apart from Denmark which announced they will soon test all positive covid-19 test swabs for the presence of variants. Globally, however, genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 remains patchy. For example, the US sequences less than 1% of new samples and many countries, especially in Africa, have no sequencing data at all.

Is the UK sharing its capacity to carry out genomic testing?

On 26 January the UK government announced it was launching the New Variant Assessment Platform to offer genomics expertise to identify new variants of the virus to countries which do not have the resources to do so. This will be led by PHE working with academic partners and the World Health Organization’s SARS-CoV-2 Global laboratory working group.

How can we stop new variants emerging?

The SARS-CoV-2 virus makes around one or two mutations a month. This sounds quite a low number, and is in fact lower than for other viruses, including influenza. The more the virus circulates, however, the more opportunity it has to change. So anything that can be done to suppress spread of the virus will help to limit new variants emerging, including distancing, mask wearing, and handwashing.

Will closing the UK borders help?

From 15 February UK residents and Irish nationals travelling to the UK from 33 “red list” countries will have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days. Non-UK travellers are currently banned from entry. However, Labour has criticised the fact that this measure will only be in place 50 days after the first South African variant was identified in the UK and are also calling for the scheme to be extended to all international travellers. Jonathan Stoye from the Francis Crick Institute said, “Under conditions of very high levels of virus replication even the most stringent of border controls, although they may delay spread, are unlikely to prevent the appearance of new variants.”


Source : BMJ


Read also at RTHK

‘Covid mutation slips past initial screening’ . . . . .