Western media criticism of HK subjective and distorted

Hong Kong has once again become the center of criticism following the recent arrest of several senior executives of Stand News and the online news portal’s subsequent closure. Some Western media were quick to publish sensational articles to discredit Hong Kong and Beijing, accusing them of curbing Hong Kong’s press freedom.

Wait a minute! Hong Kong people are so familiar with this yellow journalism, which has been used intermittently before and after 1997 to tarnish the images of Hong Kong and, of course, Beijing ultimately. Nevertheless, Hong Kong has never degenerated as predicted by those Western media, but instead grown much beyond their expectation.

This time it is The Wall Street Journal, which published two editorials recently to smear Hong Kong and Beijing. It claimed, in its editorial “No One Is Safe in Hong Kong”, published on Dec 29, that the arrests of Stand News’ executives were Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong’s press freedom. The other piece, “Hong Kong Says Vote — or Else”, published on Nov 29, incited Hong Kong voters to boycott the Dec 19 Legislative Council election.

Hong Kong people shall remember the two “mistakes” that Fortune magazine made on Hong Kong’s future in 1995 and 2002. In its cover article “The Death of Hong Kong”, published in June 1995 , it said flatly: “In fact, the naked truth about Hong Kong’s future can be summed up in two words: It’s over”.

The article painted a very bleak picture of Hong Kong’s future, saying the city would be ruined by communist rule after 1997. “But as Hong Kong becomes a captive colony of Beijing and increasingly begins to resemble just another mainland city, governed by corruption and political connections rather than the even-handed rule of law, it seems destined to become a global backwater”, it said.

If the Western media really care about press freedom, they should put their efforts into securing the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the whistleblower who has published information on alleged US war crimes and government wrongdoings

However, the economically vibrant and politically stable Hong Kong after the handover has silenced the cynical voices from the West for a long time.

The magazine’s other sensational article, “Who needs Hong Kong”, published in May 2002, attacked Hong Kong’s economic viability following China’s World Trade Organization accession, and the progressive development of Shanghai as a regional financial center.

In response to media inquiries on this matter, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government issued a statement, noting that more than 3,200 multinational companies had established their regional operations here — an increase of 32 percent since 1998, and that hundreds of thousands of former Hong Kong residents, who emigrated overseas before 1997, had given Hong Kong a vote of confidence by returning to the city.

The statement said: “It is good to see that the magazine, which seven years ago predicted the death of Hong Kong, has returned to pay us a visit. History has shown that Fortune’s report of our ‘death’ was greatly exaggerated. … We would be happy for Fortune to return in five years to see how what is happening now has brought that vision to life”.

And Fortune did come back in June 2007 with the apologetic article “Oops! Hong Kong is hardly dead”. In the article, it admitted making wrong predictions on Hong Kong’s future once it returned to China. “Yet 10 years after the handover…, Hong Kong is far from over and hardly dead. What’s clear is that economic concerns have won, and that — at least economically — China has left Hong Kong alone to thrive under its ‘one country, two systems’ pledge. … Beijing’s role in handpicking the government hasn’t translated, as many had feared, into interference in the judicial system or the press, which remain largely independent”, it said.

History always repeats itself. Let’s see in a few years’ time if Fortune’s case will also apply to The WSJ. I am confident that such a time will come, as Hong Kong is reshaping itself back to a safe, stable, efficient, vibrant, harmonious and open society as it used to be prior to the 2019 social unrest. And I do hope that when the time comes, The WSJ will follow the example of Fortune to apologize to Hong Kong people if it is to regain its fame as a “reputable and trustful” news organization.

In the case of Stand News, the matter is now under police investigation. On Dec 29, police arrested seven current and former executives for allegedly violating Sections 9 and 10 of the Crimes Ordinance involving seditious intention and related offenses. The news portal ceased operations itself immediately.

Stand News is suspected of publishing or posting seditious materials from July 2020 through November 2021, even after the National Security Law for Hong Kong took effect on June 30, 2020, including an article allegedly inciting local people to adopt the Irish Republican Amy’s strategies, and, in particular, the “lone wolf” terrorist tactic, for confrontational activities in Hong Kong. Almost two months later, a man attacked a policeman and seriously wounded him with a knife before committing suicide.

Stand News also served as a platform for those fugitives who fled abroad after the 2019 social unrest to incite hatred against the authorities and call for foreign sanctions against the HKSAR and central government officials.

There are also some mysteries surrounding Stand News. For example: How could a small online news portal claiming to be nonprofit financed only by crowdfunding have amassed assets worth HK$61 million ($7.82 million) and have the spare cash for setting up an office in the UK? This is certainly a focus for a police investigation on whether the media has colluded with foreign forces to overthrow the HKSAR government.

With Sino-US relations getting worse and worse in recent years, some Western media outlets have become increasingly critical of Beijing and Hong Kong, particularly media under the auspices of the US and UK governments. They interpreted matters of China and its HKSAR with a very subjective and distorted view, if not a politically motivated one.

They were adept at exploiting every chance to demonize the National Security Law for Hong Kong, especially when the HKSAR government took law enforcement action against the alleged offenses of a news organization, accusing the authority of sapping press freedom.

They are oblivious to the fact that the now-defunct Apple Daily and Stand News had abused press freedom by making use of their platforms to promote subversive ideas and seditious materials. This is unacceptable to any government around the world.

Hong Kong is a city of law and order; and press freedom is protected under the Basic Law and Hong Kong Bill of Rights. Hong Kong journalists have been and will still be free to criticize the government for any wrongdoing, but not with a malicious intent to incite subversion. Press freedom must not go above the law.

If the Western media really care about press freedom, they should put their efforts into securing the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the whistleblower who has published information on alleged US war crimes and government wrongdoings, and who reportedly has serious health problems.

He has been confined in the Belmarsh maximum-security prison in London since April 2019. His legal team has filed an application to appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court, which ruled earlier that he can be extradited to the United States to face charges punishable by a prison term of up to 175 years.

The WSJ should keep writing editorial pieces on this matter.

The author is a member of the Hong Kong Association of Media Veterans and a freelance writer.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.