Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday 1 January 2022

 China’s assault on press freedom silences another independent voice in Hong Kong

Protesters in Taipei, Taiwan, on Thursday hold signs reading "Protest Against Totalitarian Liquidation of Stand News" and "Support Press Freedom in Hong Kong." (Chiang Ying-Ying/AP)
Opinion by the Editorial Board
December 31, 2021 at 9:00 pm Taiwan Time
Even as China has intensified its squeeze on democracy and individual freedom in Hong Kong, the former British colony’s pro-Beijing government has denied that anything untoward has gone on. In September, Regina Ip, a member of Hong Kong’s Executive Council and its Legislative Council, said at a meeting of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, “The freedom of expression is still alive and well.” She cited the fact that a pro-democracy site, Stand News, was “still carrying on as usual.”
That was then. On Wednesday, Stand News shut down after police raided its offices; authorities also took seven people associated with the enterprise into custody. Among those arrested was Denise Ho, a pop music star and a former Stand News board member, whose global campaign for human rights in Hong Kong has long made her a target of Beijing’s ire. (Ms. Ho and three others were granted bail.) Thus did China’s authorities snuff out what was probably the last dissident media voice in the territory, whose final feature stories included one listing about 50 independent journalistic organizations that had shut over the past year.
The government charges Stand News with “inciting hatred against the Hong Kong government,” in purported violation of a previously little-used sedition law. The final straw, apparently, was a Stand News article about the government’s alleged mistreatment of asylum seekers — mostly from elsewhere in Asia — in a new detention center. Yet Stand News had been under pressure for months before to that, even after it deleted political commentary in June. “Stand News’s editorial policy was to be independent and committed to safeguarding Hong Kong’s core values of democracy, human rights, freedom, the rule of law and justice,” the outlet’s final statement to readers noted. And that was its essential crime.
[Charles Lane: Anyone can boycott the Beijing Olympics. Everyone should.]
Notably, Ms. Ho, though born in Hong Kong, is a Canadian citizen. Her arrest conveys a message that even non-Chinese nationals are subject to its crackdown and that Beijing disdains the opinions of, or pressure from, outside democracies. In that sense, the Chinese government is demonstrating how different it is from Poland, whose president, Andrzej Duda, vetoed a bill Monday that would have crippled a broadcast network, TVN, by forcing a current investor to divest its controlling stake. The ostensible rationale was that the investor in question — U.S.-based Discovery — is not Polish. The likely real reason for the bill was TVN’s often critical coverage of the conservative-led government in Warsaw. Mr. Duda, admirably, said he acted in part to protect “media pluralism.”
The Biden administration had urged Mr. Duda to do the right thing, and it had leverage because of Poland’s concern for its standing in the European Union and Western military alliance. No comparable leverage exists with regard to China, which apparently believes it can violate its past commitments to protect liberty in Hong Kong with impunity, even as it prepares to stage the Winter Olympics in February. The crushing of press freedom in Hong Kong joins anti-Uyghur genocide on the list of reasons it was right for President Biden to stage a diplomatic boycott of the Games — and why the struggle for human rights in China will need more such solidarity in the years ahead.

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