YouTube ban unravels myth of US-style ‘freedom of expression’

Hong Kong is getting ready for its first chief executive election under the revamped electoral system on May 8. Just after the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee had verified John Lee Ka-chiu’s candidacy, YouTube swiftly shut down his campaign channel, citing compliance with US sanctions. Such accurate timing begs the question as to why YouTube chose to ban Lee at this point given that he had been on Washington’s sanctions list for over a year. Obviously, YouTube made the move under pressure from Washington politicians who hate the idea that Lee is likely to become Hong Kong’s next chief executive.

From the illegal “Occupy Central” movement in 2014, to the Mongkok Riot in 2016 and the “black revolution” in 2019, the Hong Kong Police Force under the leadership of Lee demonstrated their loyalty, courage, and commitment to upholding law and order under terrible stress and hostility, effectively forming an unbeatable “iron wall” that has kept both national security and Hong Kong safe. This was especially true in the second half of 2019, when the police force foiled a series of subversive plots of the rioters who terrorized the streets on a daily basis, and Lee played an integral role in the making of such resounding success. Once he was promoted to chief secretary for administration last year, he strived to resume quarantine-free travel with the Chinese mainland and was actively involved in the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area to expedite the city’s integration into national development. Lee also made clear that he would, if elected, push for the enactment of legislation according to Article 23 of the Basic Law to better fulfill Hong Kong’s constitutional obligation of safeguarding national security. What he has been doing for the well-being of Hong Kong society speaks volumes for his staunch patriotism.

In the eyes of many American politicians, a “die-hard” patriotic chief executive is not in the interests of the United States. Washington has long viewed China as its top competitor and left no stone unturned to curb China’s rise. With a stalwart patriot at the helm of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Washington’s efforts to turn Hong Kong against Beijing will come to nothing. This outlook has triggered the knee-jerk reaction of some politicians in Washington who have coerced YouTube into shutting down Lee’s campaign account.

These same American politicians have been busy pointing fingers at the HKSAR government, accusing it of encroaching on freedom of speech and silencing dissidents after the National Security Law for Hong Kong was promulgated in June 2020 to keep subversives at bay. Now they have shut Lee out of YouTube. So much for American-style “freedom of speech”.

Such hypocrisy and double standards were also vividly demonstrated by other American institutions or media outlets which had no qualms about censoring “pro-Russia” voices in the discourse over the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Ever since the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, mainstream Russian media such as RT and Sputnik News Agency have largely been banned by the West; the Kremlin’s official accounts on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube face restrictions; Russian broadcast channels and applications have been removed from the app stores of Netflix, Apple, and Google; an unprecedented censorship campaign against Russia was launched; and documents related to US-funded biological labs in Ukraine were simply brushed aside by American media as “misinformation”.

Obviously, Washington practices double standards when it comes to “freedom of expression”. You have it only if what you say is in American interests.

John Lee’s nomination is broadly endorsed by the Election Committee, with 786 of them having given him their nod. Top brass from all walks of life have also expressed their support for Lee to stand for the top post. His campaign team, which consists of a 90-member presidium and a 58-member advisory panel, is not short of heavyweights. The case of overwhelming support for Lee’s well-articulated governance vision is manifest.

The termination of Lee’s YouTube channel will not stop him from communicating his vision for Hong Kong to the public, nor will it undermine his election campaign. The jaw-dropping crackdown on Lee, apart from unmasking the falsehood of the American-style “freedom of expression”, poses no hurdle to Hong Kong’s chief executive election and its democratic progress.

This episode also reminds us that pursuing a democratic system in line with Hong Kong’s actualities is bound to encounter barbs and stumbling blocks set up by anti-China forces. But so long as we remain focused on achieving good governance and adhere to the “one country, two systems” principle, the subversives — both here and overseas — will only find themselves spinning their wheels when trying to stop Hong Kong from striding forward.

The author is a Hong Kong member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and chairman of the Hong Kong New Era Development Thinktank.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.