Since last week, the most conspicuous object floating off Victoria Harbour has been the superyacht Nord, believed to be owned by Russian billionaire Alexei Mordashov.
It’s more than 140 metres long and ranked the 15th largest in the world. Still, the US State Department has accused Hong Kong of lacking “transparency” over the floating monster, with Mordashov’s assets being sanctioned by the United States, European Union and Britain.
The war of words from Beijing and Hong Kong against Washington is what we in the business call a diplomatic spat. But rather than high diplomacy and geopolitics, it may be best understood in terms of the behaviour of children in a playground or even kindergarten. The Chinese have been acting more like angry teenagers while the Americans are like eight-year-olds with a temper tantrum, spoiling for a fight for not getting their way.
Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu was stating the obvious when he said the city had no legal obligations to enforce other countries’ sanctions other than those imposed by the United Nations. Many countries often follow US sanctions because of what’s called “secondary sanctions”, or “American bullying” in technical language.
The problem is that the list of sanctions imposed by Washington against Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials and entities is already longer than an old-style phone book. Seriously, the US wants those same Chinese officials, including Lee, whom it has already sanctioned, to help them enforce sanctions against the Russians!
Still, it’s doubtful whether Mordashov would have ordered his yacht to sail into Chinese waters without giving notice. I can imagine the following conversation.
“Ni hao, long time no see, comrade.” “Hi, Alexei, what’s on your mind?” “I’ve been having trouble finding places to dock my baby Nord, you know, because of Putin and his nasty little thing in Ukraine.” “Yeah, I saw photos of your yacht, it’s huge!”
“Hey, if you want, I can fly a chopper over to pick you and your family up for a yacht tour.” “Oh no, we high officials are all committed to clean and simple living under the great leadership of Chairman Xi. You enjoy your yacht luxury.”
“These superyachts are now more trouble than they are worth, thanks to Putin.”
“I see, but you can dock off Victoria. We will get John to thumb his nose at the Americans. He is still smarting over having to count his big salary in HK dollar banknotes every month.”