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Hong Kong faces ‘selection not election’ of China’s favoured candidate

On Sunday, 1,994 people will choose a new chief executive on behalf of Hong Kongs nearly 4 million voters but Beijings anointed one is far from popular

Every newly elected leader of Hong Kong takes the oath of office in front of Chinas president, below a giant red national flag of China, and the slightly smaller banner of the city.

It is a tightly scripted event designed to shield Chinese officials from the embarrassment of dissenting voices.

In Hong Kong politics, formality is everything, and many say the election for the citys next leader which happens on Sunday will indeed be a formality.

Most expect Beijings preferred candidate to be anointed despite her rival being by far the more popular choice.

The race for the top job, officially known as the chief executive, is largely between two retired civil servants. Carrie Lam was the deputy to the present chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, and is supported by the Chinese government. John Tsang, a former financial secretary, consistently polls ahead of her by a wide margin.

A third candidate is also running, retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, who is neither popular nor politically connected in Beijing.

However, only 1,094 people are able to cast a ballot, far less than the citys 3.8 million registered voters. Those who have a say include all 70 members of the citys legislature and some district politicians, business groups, professional unions, pop stars, priests and professors.

This is entirely controlled by the Beijing government, its a selection, not an election, says Nathan Law, a pro-democracy legislator swept into office in the wake of 2014 street protests agitating for more open elections.

If Carrie Lam wins, it will be hard for her to govern Hong Kong because she doesnt have the support from ordinary people.

The idea that Sundays vote is indeed a selection, not an election is a mantra repeated across the political spectrum, with many dismayed that citizens in the former British colony have no say in who runs the city.

The Basic Law, Hong Kongs mini constitution, explicitly states: The ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage. A political change package pushed by Beijing in 2014 would have allowed a one person, one vote system, but candidates would first need to be approved by a committee.

That pre-screening was criticised by pro-democracy activists, eventually erupting into 79 days of street protests that consumed the city.

I dont see much of a difference, comparing Lam to CY Leung, said Law, one of the leaders of those protests. Shes also responsible for the failure of political reform and the impression she has given during the campaign is that she will be a hardliner.

Law, who as a legislator is able to vote, plans to submit a blank ballot in protest against Beijings outsized influence in the decision and the small circle nature of the election.

From left, John Tsang, Carrie Lam, and Woo Kwok-hing greet each other before a televised debate. Photograph: Vincent Yu/AP

In the weeks leading up to the vote, the city hardly feels gripped by a battle for hearts and minds. There are no mass political rallies, with much of the electioneering done in closed-door meetings with special interest groups and only a sprinkling of subdued political advertisements around the city.

Most Hong Kongers have not been debating the candidates over dinner or pints at the pub, and many are resigned to the fact their opinion has no effect on who wins. I dont see the point in even holding an election, the whole thing has already been decided by China, said Lam Ho-wai, a 26-year-old real estate agent.

Hong Kongs youth are the main drivers behind dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. As property prices skyrocket and job opportunities become scarce, more and more young people blame politicians they see as serving only Beijing. This has dovetailed with a rise in a Hong Kong identity many see as separate from China.

Its important to China to have a chief executive who could somehow draw the younger generation closer to the central government, says Michael Tien, a pro-establishment legislator. I believe John Tsang will be much more effective in dealing with the youth problem compared to Carrie Lam, and Im surprised and disappointed that the central government feels its not that important.

In December, Tien was approached by someone very close to Beijing and encouraged to support Lam for the top job, he said.

Hong Kongs chief executive office has never been without scandal. Tung Chee-hwa, the first ethnically Chinese person to run the city, resigned in the wake of mass protests against proposed national security legislation and the Sars outbreak. Donald Tsang, who succeeded Tung, was convicted of corruption last month.

In many ways its a thankless job, and in the highly polarised world of Hong Kong politics, every misstep is a tempest in a teacup.

But no matter who wins, observers say little will change in terms of political culture. The big picture will remain the same, says Matthew Wong, a politics professor at Hong Kong University. Beijing has matters firmly in hand and theres little Hong Kong people can do to change that.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/24/hong-kong-selection-not-election-china-favoured-candidate

All under one roof: how malls and cities are becoming indistinguishable

Suburban malls may be a dying breed, but in cities from New York to Hong Kong, new malls are thriving by seamlessly blending into the urban fabric

We didnt expect to see stores, says Yulia, as her husband browses for shoes in one of the shops lining the Oculus, the new focus of New Yorks World Trade Center.

Visiting from Ukraine and on their way to the 9/11 memorial, they were beckoned by the Oculuss unusual architecture: from the outside, the Santiago Calatrava-designed ribbed structure reminds you of a bird or a dinosaur skeleton; inside, it is teaming with tourists taking pictures with selfie sticks.

But the Oculus, named after the eyelike opening at the apex that lets in light, is more than a piece of striking architecture. It exists as a mall, with more than a hundred stores, and as a hub connecting office buildings in Brookfield Place and One World Trade Center with 11 subway lines and Path trains, serving 50,000 commuters every day. Thats a lot of eyeballs on shopfronts.

The mall company Westfield, of course, hopes that the tourists and transit users will stray to the stores. The New New York Place to Be, reads the malls tagline. Shop. Eat. Drink. Play. All under one magnificent roof.

Oculus was Westfields $1.4bn bet that New York, a city known for its love of the street, could also have a successful mall. And judging from the crowds, it counters the narrative that the mall is dead, like those thousands of empty suburban malls dotting the American landscape, ghostboxes decaying on cracked asphalt parking lots.

Boxpark turned shipping containers into an urban mall that merges directly with the London street. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Michael Sorkin, professor of architecture at City College of New York, points out that Westfield is an example of a kind of global urbanism. The Westfield mall is virtually indistinguishable from Dubai duty-free, he says, pointing out that the same generic multinational shops are now to be found not just in malls, but on the streets of cities. The effect is compromising and imperial a real estate formula.

Certainly, the Westfield World Trade Center seems to demonstrate that it is not the mall that is declining, but suburbia. The mall, meanwhile, is becoming urban.

In fact, a new breed of shopping centre is integrating so seamlessly into its urban surroundings that it can be difficult to draw any line between city and mall whatsoever. Londons Boxpark, Las Vegass Downtown Container Park and Miamis Brickell City Centre are examples of mall-like environments that try to weave into the street life of a city.

Across the Pacific Ocean from the Oculus, developers in China are experimenting even more radically, with new mall configurations catering to the rapid rise of domestic consumerism and quickly evolving tastes.

Sino Ocean Taikoo Li in Chengdu, China, an outdoor mall with streets. Photograph: Oval Partnership

In the early 2000s, when enclosed malls were the standard, architect Chris Law of the Oval Partnership proposed an open city concept for San Li Tun, an area in Beijings central business district. He proposed to inject the big box with a heavy dose of public space. He says people had a common reaction to his plan: You guys are crazy.

Instead of laying out asphalt parking lots, Law wanted sidewalks and trees that would cool and shade pedestrian outdoor space. He designed the shops and restaurants around two distinct plazas one brimming with an interactive water feature and a massive screen to televise events, the other for quietly reading a book over a cappuccino.

Rather than designing the whole complex himself, he created a masterplan with an urban design framework for other architects to fill in, making it appear as if the complex grew organically just like cities do, Law says.

As a result, the mall has the look of a modern village complete with irregular facades and zigzagging alleyways. It became a large success, not least for being a pedestrian respite in a city of cars.

The developer then tasked Law to design another outdoor retail development in Chengdu near an ancient temple. Law respectfully designed structures with timber portal frames to match the cultural heritage, laying out the stores and restaurants along intimate, tree-lined lanes. He added a hotel, serviced apartments and an office tower to create a mixed-use district centred around intricate public space.

An escalator gives the game away at this outdoor retail space in Chengdu, China. Photograph: HeZhenHuan

As innovative as his projects may be, we simply continued the urban pattern that has been around for hundreds of years, Law says. He mentions medieval cities such as Sienna, or those depicted on the Qingming scroll, where shops and food stalls lined thriving public space.

It raises the question: was the enclosed, suburban mall, located far from the city centre, a discontinuity? An invention for the age of cheap fossil fuel?

They certainly waste energy. The typical big box is thick and fat, says Ali Malkawi, professor of architectural technology at Harvard University and founder of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities. In contrast, the outdoor retail village typically has a smaller ecological footprint. Thin structures allow for the possibility of natural ventilation and daylighting, and hence can be more energy-efficient, Malkawi says.

Malls first appeared in suburbs in the 1950s, when reducing energy was not a priority, says Malkawi, and they were only accessible by car. The more you move shopping away from where people live, the more you increase transportations impact on the environment, he says. (The transport sector accounts for nearly a quarter of all energy-related CO2 emissions.)

Architect Friedrich Ludewig of the firm Acme takes the idea a step futher. Knowing that the point to shopping in stores is to offer something physical that is interesting, otherwise we can do it all online, he designed a suburban mall extension in Melbourne around a town square, with a public library at its centre, not an anchor store.

Offer something physical or we can all do it online … Friedrich Ludewig, whose suburban mall in Melbourne is designed around a town square with a public library (pictured) at its heart. Photograph: Acme

Customers prefer to be outside and to feel less artificial, Ludewig says of what is, in fact, an outdoor mall. His company has taken steps to create a seamless urban feel. There are guidelines for storefronts, including about colour, to ensure the visual coherence of the public space and avoid screaming yellow storefronts. When there are lots of people shouting, he said, you cant hear anyone.

He also thinks about the right ratio between landscaping and paving of the open spaces, and makes an effort to think about the city planning of how the space is used throughout the day. We spend a lot of time thinking: what does it feel like at Wednesday morning 11am?, when there are not a lot of shoppers around. He also argues that outdoor malls save money by having open spaces and buildings that are naturally ventilated rather than air-conditioned.

Above all, however, he says: It shouldnt feel like something is wrong. He describes a feeling akin to what is known as the uncanny valley: the hypothesis that when human replicas appear almost (but not quite) real, they trigger disgust and revulsion because they seem unhealthy.

Langham Place, like many Hong Kong malls, is deliberately placed to capture natural pedestrian flows. Photograph: Alamy

The city of Hong Kong solves this issue by going one step further it weaves malls into the very urban fabric.

The city counts more than 300 shopping centres. Most do not perch on asphalt parking lots, but on subway stations and underneath skyscrapers. Hong Kongs transit provider is also a real estate developer, and has capitalised on the value created by its subway stops: it sandwiches malls between stations and skyscrapers, establishing pedestrian streams that irrigate the shopfronts.

Tens of thousands of people often work, live and play in a single megastructure, without ever having to leave. And the mall is deliberately placed on the intersection of all pedestrian flows, between entry points into the structure and the residential, office, and transit functions. These malls are, by design, impossible to miss.

Langham Place, for instance, is a 59-storey complex in Hong Kong that includes retail, a five-star hotel and class-A office space. It is connected to the subway with its own tunnel and pulls in an estimated 100,000 people per day.

My whole life is here, says Katniss. She works in the buildings office, where she also shops, eats her meals and watches movies. Even on her daysoff, she enjoys going on dates in the malls soaring atrium, and drinking coffee near the huge escalator.

This expresscalator whisks people up four storeys in a matter of seconds. To get shoppers back down, the Jerde Partnership designed an ingenious retail-lined downward spiral path, shaped like a corkscrew. Langham Places retail portion alone measures 15 storeys, which is a skyscraper in its own right a vertical mall.

On both sides of the Pacific, the mall is not dead. It has simply transformed into an integrated part of cities themselves.

For Sorkin, that comes with a risk. While the idea of the shopping mall becoming urban has a certain appeal, the net effect is to turn the city into a shopping mall.

Stefan Als books include Mall City: Hong Kongs Dreamworlds of Consumption and The Strip: Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream

Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/mar/16/malls-cities-become-one-and-same

Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua ‘abducted’ from Hong Kong hotel

The reported disappearance of the financier, who has ties to Xi Jinpings family, will ring alarm bells in the former British colony

A billionaire with links to the family of Xi Jinping was reportedly taken from his apartment in the Four Seasons in Hong Kong by Chinese police and taken to the mainland.

Xiao Jianhua, one of Chinas richest men, is currently in police custody on the mainland, the Financial Times and New York Times reported. He may be assisting with a graft investigation, part of the Chinese presidents sweeping campaign that critics say is more about consolidating power than tackling corruption.

If Chinese police were involved in Xiaos abduction from Hong Kong, it would appear to violate the former British colonys mini-constitution, which only permits the Hong Kong police to operate in the territory.

Xiao was born in China, is a Canadian citizen and holds a diplomatic passport from Antigua and Barbuda, reports said. He was living in a luxury apartment at the Four Seasons but a group of plain clothes Chinese security agents allegedly escorted him from the hotel across the border to the mainland, reports said. There was so sign of a struggle on CCTV footage taken at the hotel.

Xiao denied he had been abducted in two posts on his companys social media account, but by Wednesday both had been deleted.

Regarding the reports on me in recent days, I have to say that I, Xiao Jianhua, have been recovering from an illness outside the country, he said in one of the posts. He said he had not been abducted, according to the statement that was quoted in Chinese state media.

But Hong Kong police said Xiao crossed into China through one of the citys land border crossings on 27 January, contradicting Xiaos claim he was receiving medical treatment abroad.

An unknown person took out a full-page advert on the front of a Hong Kong newspaper to reprint the now-deleted statements claiming to be from Xiao and signed by him.

Benjamin Haas (@haasbenjamin)

Advert on front page of Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao prints statement claiming to be from Xiao Jianhua, was deleted from company’s WeChat pic.twitter.com/zMfe0yQGBi

February 1, 2017

In another statement, he denied doing anything to harm Chinas ruling Communist party or working with any opposing forces or organisations.

Hong Kong police received a request for assistance on 28 January, but Xiaos relatives attempted to withdraw the case a day later, the police said in a statement.

The police investigation continues and we have asked relevant mainland departments to assist with following up on the situation of the victim in the mainland, the statement said, without directly naming Xiao.

The case comes about a year after five Hong Kong-based booksellers that published salacious tales of Chinas leadership were detained by Chinese security forces.

Two of the men were spirited across borders without any formal extradition, one from his vacation home in Thailand and another off the streets of Hong Kong is a fashion similar to Xiao.

The booksellers case unsettled many in the city, which has a separate legal system and greater freedom compared to China under an agreement known as one country, two systems, while Xiaos disappearance is sure to stoke fears Hong kong is losing its autonomy.

Xiao controls Tomorrow Group, a holding company with stakes in real-estate, insurance, coal and cement firms and his wealth is estimated to be about 40 billion yuan (4.6 billion), according to wealth tracker Hurun Report.

In 2014 he admitted to the New York Times he helped the family of president Xi dispose of assets but they didnt make any extra profits through their family clout.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/01/chinese-billionaire-xiao-jianhua-abducted-from-hong-kong-hotel-reports

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