HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Staff at Hong Kong's public broadcaster have been told to avoid "inappropriate terminology" that would imply that Taiwan is a sovereign state as the Asian financial hub continues to try to curb dissent.
In a circular distributed to staff urging a "high degree of caution" on Taiwan, journalists at Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) were told to avoid calling President Tsai Ing-wen "Taiwan's president" and not to call her administration a "government", the broadcaster reported on Wednesday (July 21).
Instead, RTHK staff were to use the terms "Taiwan's leader" and "Taiwan authorities".
According to RTHK, the memo said: "Under no circumstances should Taiwan be referred to as a sovereign state or perceived as one."
The memo also specified that terms such as "country" and Republic of China "must not be used when referring to Taiwan".
The development comes as Hong Kong and Taiwan officials continue to spar diplomatically, and after the city's government launched an overhaul of the public broadcaster following a controversy involving its coverage of the democratically ruled island claimed by China.
In the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, RTHK was sternly criticised by Hong Kong's top officials for breaching its charter after an interviewer asked a World Health Organisation official whether Taiwan should be included in the agency, producing an awkward exchange that subsequently went viral.
The issue was particularly sensitive for Beijing since it came at a time when many were blaming China for the Covid-19 pandemic while simultaneously praising Taiwan for its skilful handling of the virus during the earlier part of the pandemic.
"RTHK cannot claim immunity by being a public broadcaster and not observe this very important principle of 'one country, two systems'," Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at the time, referring to the policy by which China governs the city.
In February, the Hong Kong government appointed Mr Patrick Li, a career civil servant with no media experience, as director of broadcasting.
A government statement said Mr Li would "ensure that RTHK fully abides by the charter".
Since then, hard-hitting programmes have been cancelled, management tried to withdraw its own reporters' submissions to a local human rights journalism award, and fired staff have accused the broadcaster of purging voices critical of the government.
While the instructions in the memo resemble some of the directions sent to state-owned media outlets in mainland China, the circular to RTHK also comes as Hong Kong and Taiwan - close trade partners with intimate business links - engage in a bitter diplomatic dispute.
Relations have been tense ever since Ms Tsai and her administration voiced firm support for Hong Kong's unprecedented democracy protests in 2019, with both sides withdrawing diplomats from de facto consulates after disagreements over protocol and visas.
China has insisted that Taiwan officials serving in Hong Kong sign a statement agreeing both sides belong to "one China", sparking a dispute that led to the exit of Taipei's top envoy and eventually to the closure of Hong Kong's trade office in Taipei.
On Wednesday, the Taiwanese news outlet Liberty Times, citing unidentified sources, reported that Taiwan's sole remaining official at the representative office in Hong Kong plans to return home before their visa expires at the end of July.
Also on Wednesday, the Hong Kong police's national security department arrested Mr Lam Man-chung, the former executive editor-in-chief of the shuttered pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, according to local broadcaster Now TV, which cited people it did not identify.
The paper, owned by now jailed tycoon and democracy activist Jimmy Lai, closed after authorities raided its offices in June and arrested five senior executives. Hong Kong police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.