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Arresting sights amid the joy

Paris, 4 October 2023: Enter the dragon, followed by fireworks. Two historic traditions were restored to Hong Kong over the long holiday weekend and, if citizens celebrated rather more joyously than usual, perhaps it was because the wait had been so painfully long.

Thousands of spectators gathered in Tai Hang last Thursday evening for the neighbourhood’s famous fire dragon dance – the first since 2019 – to mark the auspicious Mid-Autumn Festival. The 67-metre dragon, made from thousands of lighted incense sticks, rope, rattan and straw, was hoisted aloft by hundreds of performers who danced through the narrow streets, delighting the crowds. Legend says the event originated in the 19th century to drive away the plague from Tai Hang village, rendering its recent Covid-enforced absence somewhat ironic. Still, this dragon is durable. The ritual is recognised by the authorities as an “intangible cultural heritage” and even has its own museum.

Sunday’s spectacular firework display above Victoria Harbour to mark China’s National Day had been away even longer, our city’s 2019 civil unrest putting a dampener on proceedings that year before the pandemic intervened. Some 430,000 converged on the waterfront to watch the 23-minute show, oohing and aahing at the colourful pyrotechnics. Among the VIPS in attendance was Chief Executive John Lee, who used the occasion to praise Hongkongers as “full of ideas, creative, flexible and agile”.

Alas, so are some of our shadier citizens. Hong Kong police have arrested 6,400 individuals and seized crime proceeds, narcotics and illicit goods worth HK$410 million after teaming up with their counterparts in Guangdong and Macau to clamp down on illegal activities. The authorities “have been sparing no effort to combat triad activities and organised crimes”, trumpeted a police spokesman after the city mobilised more than 83,000 officers in the three-month operation, code-named “Thunderbolt 2023”.

If triad activities are a throwback, crypto regulation is as modern as it gets. Hong Kong’s growing scandal involving cryptocurrency exchange JPEX has so far seen 2,417 complaints against the platform, with suspected losses reaching HK$1.5 billion and 20 arrests made. Besides a glitzy advertising campaign, JPEX had recruited minor celebrities and influencers to promote its services, luring naive investors. Dora Li of the Investor and Financial Education Council believes the episode shows the need for citizens to learn more about fintech. But the Securities and Futures Commission is under fire for being slow to act. Lawmaker Jeffrey Lam has blasted it for “esoteric” language that citizens “don’t understand”.

Talk of taking citizens for a ride naturally brings up our taxi drivers. Police (they are busy these days) have snared several rogue cabbies in an undercover operation, including one cheeky chap who tried to charge a plain-clothes officer HK$800 – four times the correct amount – for a trip from Tsim Sha Tsui to Disneyland. A case of taking the Mickey, you might say. Superintendent Nip Hoi-kwan of the police traffic branch laments “a few bad apples in the taxi industry” damaging Hong Kong’s image.

It might be more than a few. Police have received over 2,700 complaints against cabbies in the first eight months of this year, surpassing the total number of pre-pandemic cases recorded throughout 2019. Apart from overcharging, other gripes involved cherry-picking passengers or taking circuitous routes. The police operation also cracked down on illegal ride-hailing services, chiefly those of Uber and Didi, with several drivers detained.

Could such enforcement action be a prelude to our government getting serious about tackling reform of Hong Kong’s outdated, problem-plagued taxi industry? Probably not. Vested interests, Uber’s growing popularity and a glaring lack of political will are all factors. A major feature on the topic in the China Daily makes for interesting reading, not least because my BC&C colleague Alex Liu is extensively quoted.

Someone else with plenty to say – at least when pushed – is former English Premier League referee Mike Riley, my latest guest on Law & More. An old friend of the firm and frequent visitor to Hong Kong, he discusses a range of hot topics in football, including VAR, which now places match officials under even more scrutiny. Pressure? Mike knows all about that.

So do Ryder Cup players. I have just witnessed golf’s gladiators go toe to toe in Rome, where those magnificent players and impassioned fans made for an unforgettable experience. I am now back in Paris to continue my Rugby World Cup adventure while keeping an eye on Hong Kong’s growing medal haul at the Asian Games in Hangzhou. But amid these sporting highlights, special mention must be made of the BC&C-sponsored Dragons, Hong Kong Cricket’s all-Chinese development team, recording their first win of the season – appropriately on National Day – beating the Knights in a final-over thriller.

Captain Jason Lui was the hero, striding onto the field and hammering an unbeaten 127 runs to see his team to victory. Enter the Dragon, followed by fireworks.

Until next time, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins

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