Media blackout of Hong Kong protests in China

Graffiti at the entrance of Hong Kong's Legislative Council Complex during protests on July 1, 2019. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Riot police clash with protesters as they arrive to disperse protesters from the Legislative Council Building in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

BEIJING - Dramatic images of protesters storming the Hong Kong parliament building on Monday night (July 1) and city-wide demonstrations that have gone on for weeks now have been seen all around the world.

Yet in China, there has been a media blackout as the Chinese Communist Party ensures that no image or mention of the mass protests get through whether on social media, TV or newspapers.

TV screens go black when foreign news outlets flash images of the demonstrations, while many foreign media have also found their websites blocked.

Social media platforms are scrubbed of any mention of what has been happening in Hong Kong.

On Monday, as the city marked the 22nd anniversary of its handover to China and protestors in hardhats and masks took over the Legislative Council building, Beijing still kept mum.

Some had worried that the chaos at the parliament building would give Beijing an excuse to send in the troops. Others even went as far as to speculate that those who took over the Legislative Council building were directed to do so by pro-Beijing forces.

Earlier in the day, its foreign ministry spokesman had slammed Britain for "gesticulating" about its former colony, saying it no longer had responsibility over Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong matters are purely an internal affair for China. No foreign country has a right to interfere," its spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters at a daily news conference.

"Recently Britain has continuously gesticulated about Hong Kong, flagrantly interfering. We are extremely dissatisfied with this and resolutely oppose it," he added.

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Britain's foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt had reminded China that the Sino-British Joint Declaration was still in force and Britain remained committed to upholding it.

The bilateral treaty, signed between Britain and China in 1984, allows Hong Kong and its systems to remain unchanged for 50 years after its handover in 1997.

Hong Kong residents' fear of an erosion of their autonomy have manifested in protests over the years, notably the Umbrella Movement campaign which saw major streets in the city's central business district taken over by demonstrators for nearly three months in 2014.

China's censorship machinery kicked in then as well, wiping any mention or image on the mainland of the mass protest.

On Monday, which was also the 98th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Community Party, its state media carried reports of Hong Kong's commemoration of its handover including a speech by its beleaguered chief executive Carrie Lam.

But the party-owned China Daily also ran a rare editorial stating that Hong Kong was an "inalienable part" of China and that the only way it could remain stable and enjoy economic growth was to fully integrate itself with China's development.

"The unrest is among those, particularly Hong Kong's youth, who feel unable to benefit from the SAR's development and excluded from its decision-making process - sentiments that have led to populist movements elsewhere - and those who are using these grievances and disturbances as a means to serve their own agendas and put pressure on Beijing," it said, referring to Hong Kong's special administrative region acronym.

Late at night, its nationalistic tabloid, Global Times, also broke its silence and condemned protestors who took over the parliament house, saying they had crossed a red line and had gone off "an evil path".

Professor Steve Tsang, who heads the SOAS China Institute in London, said if the "firebrand elements" do not learn their lesson from history, including the Tiananmen protests, things could quickly escalate and turn bad.

"Knowing when and where to stop is a skill and quality that Hong Kong's activists must master, if they want to advance their cause," he said.

In 1989, Beijing sent in troops and tanks to quell a student-led protest on Tiananmen Square, resulting in the deaths of hundreds, possibly thousands of people.

"Let's also not overlook the fact that the relative restrained responses of Beijing have so far worked well for all concerned. I know many will find it objectionable because of the nature of the regime, but Beijing should be given credit for the restraint so far, and should be encouraged to see this as a more effective way to deal with Hong Kong than just resorting to repression."

China's "one country two systems" formula was the brainchild of late leader Deng Xiaoping. Beijing had hoped it could be applied to Taiwan, which it sees as a breakaway province and is intent on reunifying with.

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