Lai See
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 May, 2014, 12:42am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 May, 2014, 12:42am

Why no travel alert for mainland China with this grim toll?

BIO

Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.
 

Travelling in mainland China is becoming more risky. In yesterday’s South China Morning Post, we read that six people were wounded in a knife attack at Guangzhou railway station.

This is the third attack on a mainland railway station in the past two months. Last week, there was an explosion in Urumqi  that resulted in the deaths of two attackers and one civilian,  with 79 wounded. In March, machete-wielding attackers killed 29 and wounded 143  in Kunming.

Last week, six people, including three children, were killed and 13 injured by a deranged driver who repeatedly drove his car onto the pavement.

By the standards our Security Bureau applies,  this would have attracted some comment on its Outbound Travel Alert System, if not an alert of some kind. Indonesia, for example, has an amber travel alert. Our Security Bureau experts note: “Protests in different cities in end-March 2012; An explosion in Central Java on 25 September 2011 resulted in casualties; A bomb attack in West Java on 15 April 2011.”

The Philippines was put on a black travel alert when eight Hong Kong people died and seven were injured in the Manila hostage-taking. However, despite the 36 deaths and 235 injured in the four incidents mentioned above, the mainland doesn’t even warrant a mention, let alone a travel warning. Now, how can that be?

 

Art or housing?

Intelligence Squared, the organisation that seeks to raise the level of discussion on matters of public interest, tells us that tickets are selling fast for its annual Art Basel Hong Kong debate. The topic for debate on May 16 is: “Asia should house its poor before it houses its art? Are state museums just vanity projects that swallow up money better spent on helping the needy, or should we think of them as important spaces, forging a connection with a country’s past and national identity for the future?”

Speaking for the motion are the Mumbai-based critic and journalist Vishwas Kulkarni and my colleague, Jake van der Kamp. They will be up against Jessica Morgan, The Daskalopoulos Curator, International Art at Tate Modern, and Philip Tinari, director of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. This intellectual firepower will be moderated by Michael Lynch, chief executive of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.

 

No bank is too big to jail?
We see with some interest that the US Department of Justice  is contemplating bringing criminal charges against certain banks in the US. It would be the first criminal prosecutions against a bank in the US, since the start of the global financial crisis. 

But we should not be lulled into thinking these prosecutions are occurring out of a concern that banks are breaking the law. They are being considered, as Bloomberg reports, because prosecutors have been “stung” by lawmakers’ criticisms that multibillion-dollar settlements have done little to punish Wall Street since the onset of the global crisis. 

In other words, if there had been no criticism, they would happily have continued exacting huge fines. Thus high-powered  executives avoid prosecution while the shareholders pick up the tab and the US government scoops up the fine. The law-breaking by banks that has come to light since the start of the crisis  has been breath-taking, as has the US authorities’ muted response.

It is worth recalling the remarks by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer at the time of HSBC’s admission of criminal liability for money laundering: “HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking licence in the US, the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilised.”

Meanwhile, a number of individuals in Hong Kong  have been jailed for money laundering. There is  concern at the possible fallout of a criminal prosecution of a big bank and how it will affect the financial system. It’s hard not to be cynical when the DOJ considers testing its new approach on two foreign banks, Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas.

“I intend to reaffirm the principle that no individual or entity that does harm to our economy is ever above the law,”  US Attorney General Eric Holder said recently.  “There is no such thing as too big to jail.”

 

Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com

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