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Book Review: ‘Defying the Dragon’ by Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines’ prescient new book pulls few punches as it traces the furious face-off between Hong Kong and the motherland. By Mark Jones

The breakneck speed of recent events in Hong Kong now has a book that manages to keep up. Stephen Vines’ account of the past three years takes us well into 2021: only the necessities of printing halt his narrative.

That he has managed to cram over 300 pages full of reportage, narrative, interviews and statistical analysis, together with pen portraits of the main players on either side of the political divide, is a tribute to the author’s energy and formidable powers of organisation. The writing is brisk, assertive and never gets in the way of the story. As the story might be one of the pivotal events of the decade, that’s a substantial achievement.

Yet for all its drive and timeliness, Defying the Dragon: Hong Kong and the World’s Largest Dictatorship already feels like history rather than current affairs.

It is published at the precise moment that Hong Kong’s faltering, fractious history as a kind of democracy is closed. From now on, Legco will be populated exclusively by patriots whose only qualification for office will be the ownership of a small rubber stamp.

The present participle in the title suggests that the democracy movement and the majority of Hongkongers continue to defy China. His final chapter is more doubtful. It’s called “Endgame?” That question mark is interesting.

There’s no such punctuation mark over the Chinese Communist Party’s own endgame now that it has enacted the National Security Law (NSL). Nor has there been since the chairman of China’s Legislative Affairs Commission, Shen Chunyao, announced at a press conference that Beijing will “exercise full control over all aspects of policymaking in Hong Kong”.

Stephen Vines

Vines has the reporter’s – and the historian’s – knack of spotting a big moment which the rest of us may well have forgotten or overlooked. That is one of the book’s strengths. Prophecy is not.

“There is every reason to believe,” he writes, “that Hongkongers will continue demonstrating the same resilience and creativity that drove the 2019-20 uprising.” Perhaps so, but he does not venture to say how. Either he does not know what the opposition’s next move will be; or he’s not saying; or they, understandably, are not telling.

Balance and equivocation are also not facets of Vines’s narrative. The 2017 Netflix documentary about Joshua Wong (whose words appear on the cover urging “anyone who cares about Hong Kong and China” to read the book) was subtitled “Teenager vs Superpower”. There’s no superpower in Vines’s book, but “The World’s Largest Dictatorship”.

No equivocation either: in his view, China’s, and Xi Jinping’s, actions in Hong Kong follow the progress of all dictatorships and dictators.

And that progress invariably comes to an abrupt and often bloody end. Here, geo-political analysis falls prey to wish-fulfillment. Parallels with the fall of the USSR ignore the fact the former Soviet Union was bust, and its leaders knew it. You can call Xi’s China lots of things, but bust isn’t one of them. Apartheid fell partly because South African business got tired of being shut out of international markets. Yet last year, a record US$11 trillion worth of payments were cleared in Hong Kong. That does not look like an international capital market preparing to vote with its feet. You wonder if the forced kowtowing to Beijing on the NSL from the SAR’s business community is actually that forced at all. Business craves stability. Xi is obliging.

This is an important book whose importance will depend on when and where it is read. The timing is immaculate: it appears at a time when the post-Trump West is getting serious about articulating a concerted, meaningful position on China. As for where, only a few favoured politicians and censors will bother in China. Perhaps that will be the case in Hong Kong, too. But for policymakers in Brussels and Washington, London and Tokyo, the book will be an absolute page-turner.

Pick up a copy at the FCC or online via

Obituary: A Salute to Jim Shaw

Older members will be saddened to learn of the death of James “Jim” H Shaw. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jim spent much of his childhood in Louisville, Kentucky before moving to Birmingham, Alabama, where he finished high school and graduated from the University of Alabama with a journalism degree. After college he worked for the Huntsville Times in Alabama before joining the US Army.

After his stint in the army, spent mostly in Japan, he went to work for Pacific Stars and Stripes, Asia bureau. Recalling his first day at work, he later wrote: “Stripes at the time occupied a run-down old wooden building. The newsroom would have looked familiar to anyone who’s ever worked in one. Tobacco smoke. Coffee cups. Stacks of papers. At one end was my future home: the copydesk, a real copydesk with a slot in the middle where the slot editor sat and doled out stories.”

While in Yokohama, he met his future wife, Kaoru. After their marriage they moved to what was then Saigon, South Vietnam, where Jim was promoted to editor.

Just before the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Shaws relocated first to Bangkok, then to Happy Valley, Hong Kong, where they lived for 20 years while Jim edited Off Duty magazine. He also taught their Siamese cat to use the toilet by progressively lowering its litter tray down the bowl.

At weekends, Jim and Kaoru and a group of media friends took off on an old fishing junk, the Li Po, for swimming, dinghy sailing and even barbecuing on the boat. The Li Po came to grief not through fire but storm, when Typhoon Ellen rampaged through Aberdeen Harbour in 1983. The group promptly bought the Li Po II.

During the 1980s, Hong Kong was Asia’s publishing centre, with many regional magazines edited and printed here. Jim was a founder member of the Hong Kong Magazine Editors group, which met for lunch once a month either at the FCC or on the tab of some grateful hotel manager.

Wherever they lived, but especially in Hong Kong, the Shaws made life-long friends. Jim loved working, boating and travelling, not necessarily in that order. They returned to the US in the late 1990s, moving first to Los Angeles, then to New Bern, North Carolina – which had a climate very like Hong Kong’s, Jim claimed – before settling back in his childhood home, Louisville, in 2010.

Jim enjoyed an enriched and leisurely life until he became ill late last year. One of the highlights of his last full year was a 2019 reunion of many friends and colleagues from his time in Hong Kong. A friend recalls the sensation of sipping mint juleps, sitting on the porch assailed by the smell of magnolias, in a warm southern sun. “He was that easy to be with.”

Jim is survived by Kaoru, and several nieces and nephews.

Future-Proof: Major Updates to Club Communications

Communications Committee Co-Convenor Genavieve Alexander provides a backstage pass to the committee’s recent projects and upcoming plans.

As co-convenors of the Communications Committee, Kristine Servando and I have spent the last year working closely with the FCC marketing team, the Board of Governors and General Manager Didier Saugy to revamp the club’s communication channels and brand identity. Our mission? To future-proof the club’s visual image, improve the overall experience and attract new members.

Among the highlights is a freshly redesigned website with a dedicated “Members Area” – a one-stop-shop where members can book events, reserve a table, order club merchandise and manage their accounts. “The website’s new design and photography make it more inviting and interesting for members, and the speed of the site improves the user experience,” says Saugy, who has been instrumental in steering the new website. “You can still call us to book events or tables, not everyone is a tech master, and we welcome feedback.”

The Correspondent magazine has also had a revamp with an elevated design and content overhaul, as has our weekly FCC “What’s On” member e-newsletter. Meanwhile, the club’s social media channels – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube – have been steadily growing in popularity and engagement thanks to our content strategies.

We hope these tools help members get the most out of the club and attract new faces to our eclectic community. In the meantime, we caught up with three of the people who brought these initiatives to life.

A Refreshed Website

Every institution, even one as historic as the FCC, needs an online presence that fits neatly into its customers’ lifestyles. Hearing the call from members for a faster, more streamlined and mobile-friendly website, we set to work to bring you a totally redesigned website with a beautiful layout and several useful, convenient functions.

This spring, we were proud to launch the new website and collect feedback from members for further tweaks and improvements. We asked designer Jonathan Gillespie of Boss Digital about the new look, feel and functionality to learn more:


What can members expect from the new website?

Jonathan Gillespie: In a nutshell: You’ll discover a more mobile-friendly site with faster loading speeds and greater security. You’ll also enjoy more convenient access to member services online, including your account, through a new personalised member dashboard where you can make bookings, place orders and manage your profile. We’ve also incorporated an improved shopping experience via the FCC e-Shop – where food, beverages, merchandise, and books are all on sale – and an event calendar that makes it easy to search, browse and book events.


What are the key features of the redesign?

JG: We’ve used the latest FCC brand colours and a contemporary design that utilises new technologies, including an auto-updating homepage, push notifications, subtle animations and page loading effects. It’s compatible on desktop, mobile and tablet, plus there’s a new online enquiry form that sends messages directly to the relevant FCC department.


How can members get the most from the website?

JG: All you have to do is create an account via the Members Area, so you can make bookings for events, functions, restaurants and shop online.


What’s still in the pipeline?

JG: We have apps for iOS and Android in the works, which we plan to launch this summer. Members can set communication preferences, such as email or push notifications, based on what type of information they wish to receive – be that events, news, or promotions.

Have feedback on the new website? Share it with our concierge team via phone (2521 1511) or email ([email protected]).

Turning a New Page

The Correspondent magazine has a long history, dating to the 1970s. The original design held steady for decades, only seeing a revamp for the first time in 2016. Four years later, in 2020, designer Noel de Guzman helped move the magazine forward again with a new look.

“We incorporated the club’s corporate colours – blue and yellow – and peppered them throughout the magazine to create a more modern, punchy look and guide the reader’s eye,” says de Guzman.

“We also added a lot of entry points such as icons, boxes and pull-outs to make the pages more interesting and selected a new headline font, Roboto, and body font, Adobe Caslon Pro, to make the magazine look more contemporary and easier to read.”

The magazine has grown by leaps over the last few decades, and the print run of 2,800 copies per quarter now reaches 2,405 members, 93 reciprocal clubs, 31 press clubs, 125 consulates and 35 clubs across 43 countries.

To learn more about the 2020 upgrade, we asked Editor Kate Springer to weigh in on the content direction:


How has the magazine changed in design and content?

Kate Springer: In terms of design, we have aimed for a more energised look that is easier to read and navigate thanks to a thoughtful balance of text and visuals. A little white space goes a long way! Noel has done a great job of retaining the classic FCC style while embracing a more contemporary tone.

When revamping the content, I set out to emphasise people – exactly what makes the FCC so special – as well as timely press freedom issues, regional coverage and more lifestyle content. We’ve also played around with formats to keep things interesting, so readers will find a nice mix of round-ups and Q&As, short highlights, graphs, illustrations, longer reads, photo essays, retrospectives and more.

Whether you read the magazine from cover to cover, or you dip in for an article or two, we hope that you enjoy the diverse voices, stories and layouts.


What are your favourite sections?

KS: ‘Members’ Insights’ and ‘Staff Profiles.’ In the former, we set out to showcase the talents and experience of various members. There are so many interesting FCC members that it’s hard to narrow it down sometimes.

We hope the short interview in the ‘Staff Profiles’ section not only helps you put a face to a name but also celebrates the many people who make the FCC feel like home.

I also love our expanded food and beverage coverage, since the FCC is home to exceptional bars and restaurants – each with an atmospheric setting. In this section, towards the front of the magazine, you’ll find high-quality, appetising photography, a round-up of upcoming dining promotions, wine-pairing inspiration, recipes and interviews.

As a magazine about journalism, we naturally put a lot of time and effort into our feature articles. We explore industry trends, expert insights, press freedom concerns, lifestyle issues, meaningful historic moments, and dispatches from around the region to create relevant, engaging content for FCC members.


Where can The Correspondent be enjoyed online?

KS: You can enjoy an improved reading experience on the FCC’s newly redesigned website ( or head over to ISSUU to read a digital version of the magazine ( Thanks for reading!

Should you wish to share story ideas or feedback with The Correspondent, please contact: [email protected].


Social Media: Follow & Share

As a club of conversations, we have invested a lot of energy in growing our online presence via key social media channels this year. Join the discussion on your favourite platforms:


Likes: 10,126*
Followers: 11,400
Follow Us: The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong?
Tag Us:



Followers: 1,238*
Follow Us: @fcchkfcc
Tag Us: @fcchkfcc
Tag Your photos: #fcchk



Followers: 18,800*
Follow Us: @fcchk
Tag Us: @fcchk



Followers: 945*
Add Us: FCC Hong Kong



Subscribers: 7,210*
Total Views: 1.3 million
Find Us: FCC HK

*Numbers correct as of 18 June 2021



Stay Tuned… we have a podcast in the works

Over the years, the FCC has hosted an array of diverse, topical and inspirational speakers from all over the globe and our aim is to archive these in our very own podcast.

Please reach out if you are keen to get involved in the Communications Committee and help bring this podcast to life.

Introducing the FCC’s New Members: July 2021

What do a Swede, a Singaporean, a surveyor and a solicitor have in common? The FCC, of course.


Rebecca Bailey

Rebecca Bailey

I moved to Hong Kong last November to join AFP as a news editor (and as it turned out, bassist in the newsroom band, The Wires.) I also produce the “Asia Matters” podcast in my spare time. Prior to this, I worked for the BBC in Scotland, Singapore and London, including editing the flagship programme “Outside Source”. Three of us on the team started the 50:50 diversity project, which has since grown to become a global alliance of more than 100 partners in 26 countries.


Cecilia Carlsson

Cecilia Carlsson

When we left Sweden for Hong Kong in 2003, my husband Ulf – a handball player who ended up in fintech – and I decided to make the most of what we thought would be a short adventure. Some 18 years on, Hong Kong is home; it’s where our three daughters grew up, and where the adventure has never ended. With my background as a news researcher with Sveriges Television, I have always been drawn to the vibrant news hub that is the FCC.


Fiona Chan

Fiona Chan

I am a solicitor, and was educated first in the New Territories and subsequently in England. Music is very important to me and I recognise its importance to others, including those less fortunate than me. Prior to my legal career, I was a part-time piano teacher for five years in a community centre in a housing estate. I belong to a new generation of Hongkongers and I hope to be given the opportunity to bring new thoughts and perspectives to FCC members – both those connect with my profession and beyond.


Vanessa Hemavathi


I am Singaporean and relocated to Hong Kong about six years ago. I have had several interesting career pivots, having started out as a chemistry teacher in Singapore before switching to travel as a flight attendant with Singapore Airlines. Subsequently, The Wall Street Journal brought me to Hong Kong. I currently work in finance and lead a charitable organisation called Help for Children Asia. As an ardent arts and literature lover, I especially enjoy watching plays.


Simon Jankowski

Simon Jankowski

I am originally from Australia and moved to Hong Kong in 2018 as security director at BT specialising in cyber security. Previously, I had often travelled to Asia for work and had always loved Hong Kong, so I jumped at the opportunity to move here when it arose. In my spare time, I am a freelance photographer and techie. I love the atmosphere of the club and its members.


Stella Law

Stella Law

I am a mother of two, a chartered surveyor, an accredited appraiser, a columnist for several financial magazines and newspapers, a part-time lecturer at HKU Spaces, and also an entrepreneur. I founded my own company, CHFT Advisory and Appraisal, in 2014. One of my missions is to bring the power of technology to the industry and fuel the expansion of my firm’s global business. In 2019, I was selected as a rising star by the American Society of Appraisers and I also won a Golden Bauhinia Women Entrepreneur Award (Innovation Technology) recently.


Jack Lee Sai Chong

Jack Chong

I am active both as an art historian and critic, and often comment on Hong Kong’s art and cultural scene. Apart from teaching in various universities, my major interests are the study of Hong Kong art, motoring history and food culture. One of my recent publications was Motor Heritage in Hong Kong From the Postwar Era to 1960s, a research project funded by Wilson Heritage. As the founder and vice chairman of the Hong Kong Art History Research Society, I write regularly for the press, including several automobile magazines.


Ambrose Li

Ambrose Li

For the past three years I have produced documentaries and news features for a local broadcaster. In my previous life, I trained as an art historian and worked at a 1,000-year-old English castle, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Life has taken me to Hong Kong, Canada and the UK. Consistent with my wanderlust, I study Italian in my spare time, and hope to be able to live in Italy at some point. Some of my favourite things include dogs, wine, hiking, cooking, and museum-hopping – maybe not all at once.


Kane Mak

Kane Mak

I am a lawyer by profession, with a dispute resolution and contentious regulatory focus. While the more interesting aspects of my work involve handling regulatory and criminal investigations and white-collar defence, the real joy comes from occasionally officiating marriages for friends and other couples as a civil celebrant – after all, it’s one of the happier occasions in life when one needs a lawyer. You will probably see me around the club during weekends with my wife Ruby and mischievous one-year-old son Ryan.


Mihir Melwani

Mihir Melwani

I’ve reported from all corners of Hong Kong for international and local outlets, most recently on the city’s underground street racing scene. I’m always on the hunt for weird and wonderful stories. I was born and raised in Hong Kong. Second home – Whistler Mountain in Canada. I have a background in mechanical engineering. Young journo, big dreams.


Peter Ng

Peter Ng

I am a litigation solicitor with Herbert Smith Freehills. I was born and educated in Hong Kong, and have spent time studying and working in London, Beijing and Kingston, Ontario. I enjoy going to classical concerts and operas (my favourite is “Der Rosenkavalier”, and a good beer. Lately the pandemic has made it possible to enjoy both at the same time – with the help of online streaming. My wife Stephanie and I are thrilled to be joining the club.


Anita O’Sullivan

Anita Sullivan

Growing up in Poland, the thought of travelling outside the Eastern European bloc was something I never envisaged. I still remember the sense of freedom when I got my first passport after the fall of communism in the 1980s. After graduating from the Warsaw University of Technology with a master’s degree in chemical engineering, I joined the biggest gas company in Poland. But after qualifying and working as an engineer, the funny thing is, I have spent most of my professional career working in the finance industry.


Jadyn Beverley Sham

Jadyn Sham

I grew up in Melbourne and came to Hong Kong in 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis. A year later, I found my first job with Bloomberg TV Asia and my career in journalism took off. Reuters became my next base as I continued to thrive in business news. In September 2018, I began working for CNN – my first gig in hard news and I got a heartfelt taste of it during the 2019 Hong Kong protests.  Today, I continue to follow the Hong Kong/Taiwan story, US-China relations and any animal stories we can find around the world.


Nick Turner

Nick Turner

These days, I work as a lawyer, but I started out as a journalist of sorts. In the early 2000s, I wrote advertorials for Women’s Wear Daily in New York City. Think legwear, Fashion Week, and cotton fabric – real hard-hitting news. Not bad for a hayseed from Nebraska, but a fashionista I wasn’t. After some time in Washington DC and Los Angeles, I shipped off to Hong Kong. For work, I advise banks and other companies on US administrative law, mainly economic sanctions. I’m a co-chair of the American Chamber of Commerce’s Law Committee and a RUSI Associate Fellow.


Tae Yoo

Tae Yoo

My family and I came to Hong Kong from Chicago, Illinois, in 2008. We’ve also lived in Singapore but in 2011 I joined Hong Kong Exchange & Clearing. I love Hong Kong for its diversity, culture, food and vibrancy. Living in Asia has been an eye-opening experience for us as Korean-Americans. It has given us the opportunity to travel all around the region over the last 13 years to learn more about culture, history and food.

How One FCC Member Is Tackling the Oceans’ Plastic Plague

Doug Woodring, founder and managing director of Ocean Recovery Alliance, outlines what we can all do about the plastics that threaten to take over our seas. By Morgan M Davis

It’s no secret that the world has a plastic problem. In recent years campaigns have called for a ban on plastic shopping bags and straws, but as Doug Woodring can testify, this is just the tip of the iceberg. In his 25 years living in Asia, including a decade running the Ocean Recovery Alliance, Woodring has seen how a societal reliance on plastic wreaks its toll.

Doug Woodring Ocean Recovery Alliance founder Doug Woodring.

How has awareness about plastic pollution changed since you started Ocean Recovery Alliance in 2010?

Doug Woodring: It has become a global effort, as opposed to simply trying to protect the local creek or river. That’s important with plastic because, like air pollution, when it gets in the water, it moves. Plastic doesn’t degrade very easily. There’s only one way the problem can be solved and it’s from all things upstream. The ocean is just the downstream recipient of our activities.

 Because of David Attenborough’s “Planet Earth: Blue Planet II”, which spoke out quite strongly about the plastic issue, the UK and many other countries got excited. In Thailand they closed Maya Bay, where “The Beach” was filmed, due to pollution. Five years ago you never would have expected that a government would close their most famous tourist spot due to pollution.

When COVID-19 first emerged, I thought this was going to make us lose all the momentum. But we will come out the other end, probably with more corporations and governments ready to do things that can really make a difference.

Cambodians clear rubbish from a river.

Aside from reducing our everyday plastic use, how can we make real changes?

DW: The average half-life of plastic is more than 400 years. The challenges are societal; the way we do things on the run and use products that are cheap and packaged. It’s almost impossible to get away from it. You can’t go back to paper, glass, wood and metal in large volumes because of the environmental footprints that those also create. If you think about it, every single piece of plastic has left someone’s hand before it became garbage.

Carbon comes out of a big factory or a big power plant, and big trucks and boats that the average citizen doesn’t have a chance to touch. But plastic and waste are different. It is not that people want to litter, but the infrastructure is just not there.

Governments have a role to play because they can set policy. Consumers don’t have much power because they pretty much follow the lead for whatever they’re given. Some make an impact with their wallets

and their voices but a lot of them just pick up whatever’s on the shelf, and don’t think twice. I believe it’s the corporations that have the biggest role to play. They have the budgets and the marketing teams. They can tell the story, educate and lead policy. It’s been a chicken-and-egg problem. If someone doesn’t start to get the ball rolling, then we’ll never achieve economies of scale.

On Lombok, where plastic pollution threatens tourism and fishing, the Ocean Recovery Alliance helped start a weekly ocean clean-up.

Why did you decide to set up Ocean Recovery Alliance in Hong Kong?

DW: Asia has an opportunity to make changes because most of the manufacturing comes from this part of the world. You’re starting to see brands from the West ask for supply chain changes and material changes. Asia may well be an innovator for a lot of this.

The interesting thing about Hong Kong is that most corporations have or have had offices here. Instead of me living in the US or somewhere else and having to travel to 50 cities to meet different companies, I can almost do all of that here. Your readers are probably working for companies or institutions in Hong Kong that can be involved in our efforts by just doing the Plastic Disclosure Project [a reporting framework for measuring plastic use]. There’s no right or wrong number for plastic use, but you need to set a baseline for what you use.

Doug’s Toolkit

Learn more about the global plastic problem by checking out these sources:


In a UN Environment-funded study, Ocean Recovery Alliance scored 580 global commitments on plastic pollution, and created a scorecard and toolkit to find the best possible scenarios.


Waste & Opportunity

Not-for-profit organisation As You Sow puts together reports on 50 corporations’ efforts, or lack thereof, to use sustainable packaging.


Plastic Wave

“Breaking the Plastic Wave”, a Pew Charitable Trusts report, looks at what can be done to solve our plastic pollution problems.

FCC Recipe: How to Cook Char Kway Teow

Executive Chef Johnny Ma lets his creative eye roam around Southeast Asia to conjure his version of one of the region’s most popular comfort foods. Now you can follow his sterling example at home.

It would be hard to come up with a dish that’s more fusion, and more Asian, than char kway teow – stir-fried flat rice noodles. It started out, so legend has it, as a sort of fast-food cooked by farmers, fishermen and cockle-gatherers who were looking to make some extra cash serving labourers with a tasty meal that was inexpensive and easy to make.

Regional variations abound, as chefs adapted recipes to cater for local tastes and make the best of whatever foodstuffs were on hand. But from Guangdong to Malaysia to Singapore and beyond, the hearty mix of seafood and sausage on a bed of noodles spiced up with chilli and soy has been whetting appetites for generations. Here’s how to whip up the FCC’s version just like Executive Chef Johnny Ma.

Char Kway Teow Recipe:



5 tbsp soy sauce

1½ tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp sugar

½ tsp  fish sauce

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper powder


Chilli Paste

30g seeded dried red chillies, soak in water

2 pcs fresh red chillies, seeded

3 pcs small shallots or pearl onions, peeled and sliced

1 tsp oil

1 pinch salt


Other Ingredients

2 tbsp oil

3 pcs cloves garlic, chopped finely

8 pcs shelled prawn; submerge in ice cold water plus 2 tbsp sugar for 30 minutes

50g Chinese sausages, sliced diagonally

1 bun fresh bean sprouts, rinsed with cold water and drained

400g fresh flat rice noodles, loosened with no clumps

2 pcs large eggs

1 bun Chinese chives; remove about 2 cm of the bottom section and cut into 2 cm strip



  1. Mix the sauce ingredients and set aside.
  2. Grind all the chilli paste ingredients until fine using a mini food processor
  3. Heat up a wok with 1 tsp oil and stir-fry the paste until aromatic. Move to a dish and set aside.
  4. Clean the wok thoroughly. Heat on high until it starts to smoke. Add 2 tbsp oil, chopped garlic and do a quick stir.
  5. Remove prawns from water and combine with sausage in the wok. Stir a few times with the spatula until the prawns start to change colour and you can smell the sausage.
  6. Add bean sprouts into the wok, then the noodles.
  7. Add 2½ tbsp of the sauce and stir vigorously to blend well. Using the spatula, push the noodles to one side.
  8. Add a little oil on the empty area and crack the eggs on it, then scramble with a spatula.
  9. Flip the noodles and cover the egg, and wait for about 15 seconds.


Why Clubhouse Is an Unlikely Forum for Free Speech and Connection

Known for its free-flow virtual discussions and debates, Clubhouse has become a valuable resource for curious audiophiles in an era of isolation. By Erin Hale

Chances are you’ve heard of the “invite-only” app Clubhouse – or maybe you’ve already tuned in.

Unlike Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram, which are mostly fuelled by text, photos and videos, Clubhouse delivers a continuous livestream of audio conversations on everything from tech and business to arts, culture, sex, music, science, parenting, wellness, politics and human rights issues.

At the heart of the audio app are real-time discussion “rooms”, in which users can chime in by virtually “raising their hand” with the click of a button or simply listen anonymously.

Launched in the spring of 2020, Clubhouse burst into the mainstream nearly a year later in January 2021 when Tesla CEO Elon Musk participated in a live discussion moderated by venture capitalists and a Facebook executive.

Musk drew a then-record of 5,000 listeners to the room, propelling the app from niche to buzzworthy as a wave of celebrities followed suit. Even so, a much-discussed “air of exclusivity” remains, as users need an invitation to participate.

Jeremiah Owyang US-based tech analyst Jeremiah Owyang says Clubhouse offers real-time connection during COVID-19. (Photo: Supplied)

But these factors alone are not the only forces thrusting Clubhouse into the limelight, says Jeremiah Owyang, a technology analyst at San Francisco-based Kaleido Insights and an early Clubhouse convert. The app also reflects the global COVID-19 zeitgeist to “stay connected” in the face of social restrictions, travel bans and lockdowns.

“Clubhouse launched at the perfect moment; the world was going into quarantine and humans wanted to connect, even though they were physically separated,” says Owyang. “Real-time video resulted in ‘Zoom fatigue’ – it was just too much – and text-based social networks left us craving more human connection.

“So social audio is the ‘Goldilocks Medium’ as it’s the best of both worlds,” he says. “Since Clubhouse launched, many competitors have followed suit, and tech giants are planning to incorporate real-time voice into their existing communication suites.”

When he joined in 2020 as User No. 3,121, Owyang says there was only one Clubhouse room, populated mostly by residents of the US West Coast. Over the past year, Clubhouse has grown from 1,500 users in May 2020 to more than 10 million as of May 2021. While still dwarfed by Facebook and Twitter, the app has broadened its appeal, features, markets and available languages.

But for some, the app’s rising profile has made it riskier to use. For a short while after Musk’s appearance in early 2021, Clubhouse began to host rooms where users in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan could talk to each other live in Mandarin and Cantonese.

The rooms ranged from uncensored discussions about Chinese identity to Hong Kong’s protest movement, and included one 16-hour marathon session on Uyghur camps in Xinjiang that drew a reported 4,000 users. Users have also opened discussion rooms for Thai dissidents while other conversations have seen Saudi Arabians, Egyptians and Iranians tackling sensitive topics such as abortion, sexual harassment and political reform.

Clubhouse – a much sought-after invitation.

Given the app’s wide range of casual chats, panels, interviews, on-the-ground perspectives and expert insights, it’s no surprise that curious types and audiophiles have flocked to sign up to hear thoughts on topical issues from activists, experts, celebrities and ordinary people alike.

“Whenever I opted into a group that involved mainland Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong users, I would treat it as though it was the last opportunity that a free, open discussion could take place,” says Hong Kong-based freelance journalist Ezra Cheung, who joined Clubhouse a few weeks after its release at the suggestion of a tech-savvy friend. “Once mainland Chinese authorities censored Clubhouse, I doubted that the same or similar scenarios would easily occur on mainland soil.” 

Users in mainland China were only able to access Clubhouse from September to October 2020, but many users appeared to still be using it with a VPN until February. Despite the ban, many sensitive conversations still take place about issues like democracy movements in Hong Kong, Thailand, and Myanmar as well as China-Taiwan relations.

“The environment Clubhouse has created – which allows people to come and go at will – is a reminder that not just your opinions matter. Others’ views matter too, so listen to them, and you’ll never be let down,” Cheung says. 

Cheung mostly uses Clubhouse to listen and learn, but the app can also offer a chance to organise discussions and network in a more casual setting. Members can engage during discussion, as well as ask for permission to reach out directly afterwards. Many language learners have also joined the bandwagon, opening rooms to practice speaking languages, such as Mandarin or German.

Tesla tycoon Elon Musk Tesla tycoon Elon Musk.

After some initial hesitancy about speaking on such a public platform, Hong Kong-based writer and cultural critic Vivienne Chow took the plunge and joined Clubhouse. From time to time, she has listened to the more sensitive discussions about Hong Kong politics.

“It was an interesting and moving experience… even as an audience member. Of course things are getting more difficult in terms of what we can or cannot say in public as we are still figuring out where the red line holds under the National Security Law in Hong Kong,” she says, adding that Clubhouse has many purposes beyond discussing politics. For instance, Chow has co-founded two “clubs” (discussion rooms that meet regularly): “Arts & Peeps: Asia and Beyond” on the arts; and “Astro Classmates,” on astrology.

“The great thing about Clubhouse is that it allows me to connect with people from the art world internationally – people I’d normally meet at art fairs or events but can’t because of the pandemic,” Chow says. “I’ve hosted and participated in chat rooms, mostly in English, [and had] enjoyable, insightful conversations. And I’ve met a lot of new contacts. It’s like the new LinkedIn.”

She most enjoys the opportunity to share “cultural memories” with other users, including a discussion about a 1994 Chinese rock ‘n’ roll concert in Hong Kong that starred musicians like Dou Wei, He Yong, Zhang Chu, and the heavy metal rock band Tang Dynasty.

For users who had not been able to attend – including many prominent organisers and music critics from China – she was able to bring the experience to life for them. “I ‘raised my hand’ to speak, sharing my tale and memories of that fantastic concert. Fellow speakers were delighted that they finally got to hear about the concert from someone who was actually there.”

Freelance journalist Ezra Cheung (centre) in front line reporting mode. (Photo: Supplied)

As Clubhouse is little more than a year old, members are still figuring out how to best use the app as the potential – and perils – of audio-based social media become more apparent.

Even as the world returns to normal after COVID-19, some users may find the digital world is still the best venue for free and open discussion. For others, including those in Hong Kong, it may be one of the only places left.

Take 5: Clubhouse Tips

  1. Word to the Wise
    Clubhouse doesn’t record your conversations, but it’s best to assume that whatever you say is public and could be recorded by another user.
  2. Tune In
    There are tens of thousands of rooms on Clubhouse. Hop in and out of ongoing chats or follow other users to see what they’re up to.
  3. Mark Your Calendar
    Many Clubhouse discussions are scheduled in advance, so you can add interesting events to your calendar.
  4. Be Polite
    Although you can stay anonymous, it’s best to follow the same social etiquette as you would with a face-to-face chat.
  5. Explore Alternatives
    If you fall in love with audio chatting, check out similar apps, such as “Stereo”, “Wavve” and “Discord”. Twitter is also beta-testing its Clubhouse alternative “Spaces.”

Erin Hale is a freelance journalist based in Taipei, where she writes about Taiwan politics, culture and cross-straits relations. She was previously based in Hong Kong and Cambodia.

2021 Human Rights Press Awards Winners on Why Their Work Matters

It is lamentable that there was no shortage of entries for the 25th edition of the Human Rights Press Awards, which are organised by the FCC, Amnesty International and the Hong Kong Journalists Association. But as Rhea Mogul reports, the high standard of submissions was inspirational.

At the helm of any news story is a fierce commitment to telling the truth. Under increasing political and societal pressure, journalists now more than ever understand the need for urgent, accurate and nuanced reporting that holds power to account and defends vulnerable communities.

Despite increasing challenges, journalists’ unwavering quest for the truth remains one of the bulwarks of free expression and a free press. Their storytelling has exposed uncomfortable realities and given a voice to the voiceless.

Now in its 25th year, the Human Rights Press Awards sets out to celebrate the work of journalists from across Asia who have demonstrated tremendous courage in honouring these principles. Organised by the FCC, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and Amnesty International Hong Kong, this year’s winners were announced on 6 May.

Even in the face of particularly difficult times, which included a global pandemic and political upheaval, the winning journalists delivered original and compelling rights-related reporting that exposed wrongdoing.

The Correspondent spoke with a selection of winners about their work, what it reveals and why it matters.



Photography: Single Image
‘The Struggle’ by Alex Chan Tsz-yuk,

Freelance journalist Alex Chan Tsz-yuk’s winning photograph of a Hong Kong protester being held to the ground by two policemen was taken on 10 May 2020, after clashes broke out between the police and anti-government protesters in Mong Kok. Some 230 people were arrested that day, and the HKJA strongly condemned police treatment of reporters covering the event.

Alex Chan: “I saw three very young protesters get arrested. One young man – the one in the photograph – was trying to reach for something as the police arrested him, but he was pushed to the ground. His fingers then spread open to show the protest slogan ‘five demands, not one less’. That is why I named it ‘The Struggle’ because I think it matches what Hong Kong people are facing after the passing of the National Security Law. They continue with their struggle under political repression.

“That day was one of the most unfriendly journalists ever experienced at the hands of the Hong Kong police. Soon after I took the shot, I was pepper sprayed mercilessly. Some journalists, including myself, were forced to kneel down and stop recording. But instead of stopping, I took out a GoPro and continued my work.  

“The police also told us to show our press cards and made us say our names in front of a camera. They said they had recorded us for illegal assembly. During the very unpleasant experience, my only thought was that I need to protect the pictures I took, and try to publish it as soon as possible. As a journalist I will keep doing my work, document and tell the truth.”



Explanatory Feature Writing: Chinese
‘From Faceless to Voiceless: A Documentary Report of Hong Kong Citizens in Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement and National Security Law’ by Hung-Chin Chen, Tzu-Lei Yang, Long-Hei Chan, Yu-Ju Lee, Tzy-Tyng Chen, Hanshun Wang, Ling-Wei Hsu, Yu-Fang Lin, Cheng-He Mi, Ya-Wun Jheng, Yi-Ching Wu, Yu-Chieh Chen, Yi-Fen Kao and Chun-Hsien Lee, Mirror Media

Journalists from the Taiwan-based publication Mirror Media spent one year documenting how the lives of Hong Kong protesters changed after the implementation of the National Security Law. The judges praised their probing interviews, which encapsulated the feelings of Hong Kong people.

Hung-Chin Chen, one of the winning journalists on the Mirror Media team, explains: “I visited Hong Kong in 2019, during the pro-democracy movement, and interviewed nine Hong Kong people. Some were normal people like us, who were valiant protesters; others were legislators and scholars. Back then, we wanted to paint a picture about these people and understand what made them take to the streets, what they were feeling when they protested and what made them desperately fight for power under any circumstances.

“None of us could foresee that the National Security Law would soon be imposed on Hong Kong. In less than one year, we knew that the lives of these nine people would have changed drastically. We strongly wanted to write a follow-up report about what happened to them. 

“I felt sorry that some of them chose not to be interviewed again for fear of what would happen. I also felt so thankful that some were brave enough to accept, and told us that they were continuing with their defiance and protests. 

“Others told us that they had started hiding their social media posts out of fear. We tried conveying what this must have felt like, and how the new law changed their lives.

“Journalism is the first rough draft of history. We hope we can do our best to show our readers the truth and real change that Hong Kong has been facing.” 



Documentary Video: Chinese

Paul Lee, Bao Choy, Sze-sze Cheng, Flora Yeung, Judy Chan and Yiu-ling Wong, Radio Television Hong Kong

RTHK’s investigation into the Yuen Long attack of July 2019, which saw an armed mob beat commuters and protesters inside a subway station, was praised by the judges for “chasing the smallest clues” and “interrogating the powerful without fear or favour.”

Freelance producer Bao Choy was convicted and fined HK$6,000 in April for making false statements while obtaining vehicle registration records during her research. RTHK had tried to withdraw its entries from the competition but HRPA organisers declined to cooperate. In the wake of her conviction, we spoke with Choy and her teammate Sze-sze Cheng about their investigation and reporting process.

Bao Choy: “A year after the attack, many of the victims still haven’t found justice and the assailants remain unpunished. This should not be accepted in a civilised city. We therefore decided to reopen the investigation and look at all the tiny details which could provide more information and the forces behind the attack.

“A team of four spent a few months re-watching all the online footage from the night, as well as CCTV footage. We had to mark every tiny clue, and use those clues for further investigation. We used a spreadsheet to share our discoveries, partnering in teams of two to approach the alleged assailants because of security concerns.”

Sze-sze Cheng: “The process was long, but very rewarding. The most memorable part was when we approached villagers and asked for their responses. It was dangerous, but it was part of our job and we had to do it.”

Choy: “It was extremely difficult to get people to talk to us about this particular incident. It seems those white clad-men involved were asked to remain silent. In some ways, their silence reflects a part of the truth.

“Being truthful and transparent are the core values of our work as journalists. Winning this award is recognition of our team and effort. It is proof that we will counter those who want to erase or rewrite history.” 

Cheng: “Our reporter Bao Choy was charged and convicted of false declaration. I think that’s the most cynical thing, and she did her best to fight press freedom. Our work is a part of history and serves as important documentation.”



WINNER – Photography (Single Image)

The Struggle
Alex Chan Tsz Yuk,
Hong Kong, 10 May 2020

Protestor arrested Hong Kong A protester signals “Five demands, not one less” while getting arrested in Mong Kok.


WINNER – People’s Choice Photo Award

Little Brother and Little Sister
Fung Hoi Kin, Ming Pao
Hong Kong, 6 September 2020

When police “kettled” a crowd of demonstrators in Hong Kong, two young childen – brother and sister – attempted to flee but were grabbed by heavily armed officers. In a futile attempt to protect her, the boy reached out to his sibling.

‘Little Brother and Little Sister’ won the People’s Choice Award with more than 21,000 online votes. The Correspondent spoke with one of the HRPA organisers, Mary Hui, about the winning shot. 

“The photo was taken at the height of the mass protests. As has been widely reported, the Hong Kong police increasingly adopted a tactic of ‘kettling’ protesters and other citizens who happened to be near an area of protest, making mass arrests by sweeping up large groups of people,” says Hui. 

“This image of two underage siblings dressed in shorts and a T-shirt being forcibly restrained and overpowered by fully geared-up riot police officers is very striking. The widely documented use of heavy force by the police, and the unaccountability of the officers, was and continues to be a major public grievance that has severely damaged trust in law enforcement, and more broadly, the government. 

“I imagine that many people who voted for this photo thought that the image captured and represented these complexities in a split second.” 


MERIT – Photography (Single Image)

A Mob out for Blood
Danish Siddiqui, Reuters
24 February 2020

A group of men chanting pro-Hindu slogans, beat Mohammad Zubair, 37, who is Muslim, during protests sparked by a new citizenship law in New Delhi. Zubair was on his way home from a mosque when he came across a large Hindu crowd. “They saw I was alone, they saw my cap, beard, clothes and saw me as a Muslim,” Zubair said. “They just started attacking, shouting slogans. What kind of humanity is this?”


WINNER –  Photography Series

Citizenship Law Protests
Danish Siddiqui, Reuters, India

An injured man is rushed to a hospital after clashes erupted over a new citizenship law in New Delhi on 25 February 2020.


A man brandishes a gun during a protest outside the Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi on 30 January  2020.


MERIT –  Photography Series

Pro-Democracy Protests in Thailand
Lillian Suwanrumpha, Mladen Antonov and Jack Taylor, AFP, Thailand

Anti-government protesters gather in Sanam Luang during a pro-democracy rally in Bangkok on 19 September 2020.


A protester portraying a victim of abuse at school grimaces during a ‘Bad Student’ rally in Bangkok on 21 November 2020.


MERIT –  Photography Series

Plight of the Poor in India’s Lockdown
Jewel Samad, Arun Sankar, Money Sharma, Bhuvan Bagga, Sajjad Hussain Indranil Mukherjee and Himanshu Sharma, AFP, India

Police detain stranded migrant workers in Surat during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown on 4 May 2020.


A policeman fills up bottles with water for migrant workers in Ajmer after the government eased a nationwide lockdown on 18 May 2020.



Rhea Mogul is a Hong Kong-based journalist interested in gender issues and minority rights. Her work has appeared in a number of publications including, Hong Kong Free Press and South China Morning Post.

The Troubling Reality of Press Freedom in Singapore

Journalists shopping around for a new home base in Asia may find that the Little Red Dot has thick red lines. Alexis Ong reports from Singapore.

Beijing is no longer a spectre that looms over Hong Kong, but a very tangible presence in the form of the National Security Law, which came into effect on 30 June 2020.

Since then, many Hong Kong-based journalists and media outlets have been tempted to consider alternative home bases in Asia, including Singapore. But press freedom in the city-state is arguably more draconian.

Having written a story for The Initium on how Singapore could be impacted by Hong Kong’s instability, Singaporean journalist and activist Kirsten Han explained that the city-state is far from a bastion of press freedom.

“If you’re someone who wants to leave Hong Kong because you’re troubled by the erosion of civil liberties like freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press – why would you come to Singapore?” she asks.

On the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Singapore ranks 160th out of 180 nations and territories – two spots down from its previous position at 158. The index classifies Singapore as “black” – the lowest possible category – alongside notoriously repressive countries like North Korea, China, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Hong Kong hovers at 80, down from 48th in 2009. Hong Kong’s status may be gradually declining, yet it’s still far from the black zone.

Kirsten Han Freelance journalist and editor Kirsten Han spoke about press freedom in Singapore at the FCC in 2018. (Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC)

“Singapore wants to be a model for development, but it’s actually a counter-model for press freedom,” says Daniel Bastard, head of the APAC desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF), alluding to the controversial Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) introduced in May 2019.

The law affords the People’s Action Party (PAP) – Singapore’s ruling political party – the right to combat “fake news,” according to the official position. The Straits Times (ST), a pro-government paper with links to the PAP, recently defended the law as a necessity in a new COVID-19 reality where disinformation runs rampant.

While the law focuses on providing public corrections to alleged falsehoods,     it has also been used against local activists and the political opposition, which the government calls an “unfortunate coincidence”. Serious incidents can also be punished with hefty fines or even a prison sentence.

The law’s broad legislative wording, coupled with the enormous power wielded by the government, poses a threat to independent Singaporean media. Take the case of historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin, the founder and managing director of New Naratif, one of the few independent outlets in the country, as an example.

In 2020, the POFMA office issued a warning to Thum after he posted a video claiming that POFMA outlawed all government criticisms and effectively turned ministers into arbiters of truth. Given the legal consequences, Thum chose to post the necessary corrections while still challenging the law.

Then, of course, there are the “red lines that journalists should not cross, and if they do, it means very stressful lawsuits,” says Bastard. These are also called out-of-bounds markers (or “OB markers”) to indicate topics that aren’t suitable for open public discussion, like racism, LGBTQ issues, religion, or the finer points of government surveillance; OB markers are purposely kept vague.

He compares the system to China’s state media, albeit with a little more room for independent writers like Han. But those who incur the PAP’s wrath will likely face a team of government lawyers, which Bastard compares to a “David versus Goliath” fight.

A Singapore High Court judge ruled in February 2020 that, under POFMA charges, the burden of proof lies with the individual, who must prove the statement in question is true – not for the government to prove it is false.

That same month, in the case of The Online Citizen (TOC), another independent outlet, the court dismissed editor Terry Xu’s appeal against a correction order. TOC had published an article about supposed human rights infringements at Changi Prison, even though Xu pointed out that words like “allege” and “allegation” were used six times in the text.

DANIEL BASTARD Daniel Bastard, head of the APAC desk at RSF.

Despite this, the government deemed TOC guilty of spreading misinformation. The appeals process can cost thousands of dollars, depending on how long the hearing takes. In Xu’s POFMA case, he claimed that his appeal would cost at least SG$10,000, or roughly HK$58,350.

In addition to POFMA, says Bastard, the Singapore government also exerts influence within news organisations. “I believe, still now, that the [Hong Kong] government doesn’t nominate the chief editors and directors of publications, as the government does in Singapore,” explains Bastard. “So in Hong Kong, you still have some editorial freedom or at least autonomy. That doesn’t really exist in Singapore at all.”

Han, who previously served as the editor-in-chief of New Naratif, says the ST is a case in point. It’s owned by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), and the firm’s chairpersons are usually either PAP civil servants or closely involved with the party. The current editor-in-chief, Warren Fernandez, was almost nominated as a PAP candidate in 2006.

At the 2019 World News Congress in Glasgow, the World Editors Forum elected Fernandez as president. “I couldn’t believe it, but it dawned on me that people outside Singapore don’t understand the context of Fernandez being [chief editor] of ST – and how far from independent the paper is in Singapore,” she recalls.

In early May 2021, SPH announced a plan to restructure into a non-profit “limited by guarantee” company, to be chaired by ex-PAP minister Khaw Boon Wan. As reported by Today Online (another state-funded publication run by Mediacorp): “A company limited by guarantee is an entity that does not have share capital or shareholders but, instead, has members who act as guarantors of the company’s liabilities.” The changes will allow SPH (which is still primarily a real estate company) to diversify its funding, a move predicted by former ST Editor-in-Chief Patrick Daniel.

Strait Times With strong links to the People’s Action Party, The Straits Times is emphatically pro-government.

While the shift to a non-profit model is welcome, concerned watchdogs and local opposition have also expressed concerns over Khaw’s appointment as a missed opportunity to create a more independent media environment.

According to academic Cherian George, Khaw’s new role is just another entry in SPH’s long history of appointing former politicians and civil servants with “no prior industry experience” into leadership positions. It also toes the line of the far-reaching 1974 Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA), which put ministers in control of publishing permits. The PAP views the NPPA as a necessity for “moral policing” and social harmony, and to hold publishers accountable for their content.

But it’s clear that as social media becomes an increasingly powerful way for people to communicate, old methods of censorship and content regulation are quickly becoming obsolete.

RSF works with the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to evaluate Singapore for its Universal Periodic Review. According to Bastard, Singapore has accepted 117 past recommendations from the UNHRC – not a single one related to press freedom. “It’s never good for states to be criticised over human rights, even if the PAP government obviously doesn’t care about press freedom,” he says.

But despite POFMA and the censorious climate it creates, the 2020 election showed that young, politically engaged Singaporeans are driving meaningful conversations around historically sensitive topics, such as race, class and independent media. 

“Young Singaporeans have been doing great at normalising certain discussions… and setting new expectations for our political and public discourse,” says Han. “In the long-term, [this] will make a big difference to Singapore.”

Singapore Fake News Committee Charles Chong (right), deputy speaker of the parliament and chairman of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, attend a press conference in Singapore on 20 September 2018. (Photo: Roslan Rahman/AFP)

Plan Bs

For those seeking an alternative homebase in Asia, RSF’s Daniel Bastard suggests:


Although Taiwanese media needs legislative reform to strengthen its independence, the government hasn’t taken concrete steps to address that yet, RSF reports.

“Taiwan is definitely the regional model for press freedom,” says Bastard. “Though the media is quite polarised, there are good legal guarantees.”


South Korea  

South Korea still follows a system where public broadcast managers are appointed by the government, however, it is better than many countries in Asia.

“South Korea would be a second possible homebase, with president Moon [Jae-in] being quite protective with press freedom,” says Bastard.

“Things can change drastically with another government, though; the situation was quite bad under president Park [Geun-hye].”

Alexis Ong is a freelance culture journalist based in Singapore. Her favourite beats are emerging tech, video games, and internet culture.

Looking Back on a Year of Eroding Press Freedom Under the National Security Law

Editor’s Note: As The Correspondent went to press on 17 June, NSL police were once again searching Next Digital headquarters after arresting Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief Ryan Law and four other executives for alleged collusion with foreign forces.

Read the FCC’s official statement regarding Apple Daily’s closure here

How did Hong Kong media react to a catch-all law that sent shockwaves through the territory and beyond? Jennifer Creery explores the law’s far-reaching ramifications.

Jimmy Lai Police lead Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai, 72, away from his home after he was arrested under the NSL on 10 August 2020. (Photo: Vernon Yuen / AFP)

On the morning of 10 August 2020, hundreds of national security police raided the Tseung Kwan O office of Next Digital, the parent company of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. Winding up the slate staircase, uniformed officers made their way into the newsroom on the second floor, occasionally stopping to inspect items on desks. Just hours earlier, police had arrested the company’s founder, Jimmy Lai, at his home in Ho Man Tin for alleged collusion with foreign forces. 

The unprecedented arrest and raid were two of the first major acts against the press carried out under the National Security Law (NSL), enacted on 30 June 2020. Just days after the law was passed, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she could guarantee press freedom if journalists could also guarantee “that they will not commit any offences” under the law.

Long a thorn in the side of the establishment, Apple Daily was a predictable first target. Founded in 1995, the tabloid made a name for itself with its celebrity gossip, shoe-leather reporting and criticism of Beijing. It doubled down on its position during months of street protests that began over an ill-fated extradition bill in 2019, drawing the ire of government officials. Police said in a statement on Facebook that officers had entered the building with a search warrant to investigate an offence related to the legislation.

In the year since the NSL became a reality, Hong Kong’s media landscape has undergone a seismic shift: The New York Times has started moving approximately one-third of its Hong Kong staff to Seoul in South Korea; iCable fired 40 staff last December; and civil servants working for public broadcaster RTHK have been required to pledge allegiance to the government. 

RTHK has also deleted critical programmes across its web and social platforms; axed politically contentious shows; and attempted to pull submissions from awards, while its freelance producer, Bao Choy, was found guilty of knowingly making false statements to obtain vehicle licence records – making her the first person to be convicted of a crime related to the Yuen Long mob attack on 21 July 2019. In May, RTHK fired journalist Nabela Qoser, known for her tough questioning of officials.

“It’s pretty unprecedented for anyone anywhere in the civil service to lose their job,” says David*, an RTHK staffer who asked not to be identified in order to speak freely. “Civil service contracts are the golden rice bowl.”

His account of the last three years tells a bleak tale of shifting goalposts and self-censorship, accelerated under the new Director of Broadcasting Patrick Li. Previously the Deputy Secretary of Home Affairs, Li was ushered in during an overhaul of the organisation after the law’s introduction.

Hundreds of police officers search the Next Media offices following the arrest of Jimmy Lai. Hundreds of police officers search the Next Media offices following the arrest of Jimmy Lai. (Photo: Isaac Lawrence/ AFP)

According to David, an interview with democratic district councillor Michael Mo was axed from the programme “Letter to Hong Kong” without explanation; a re-recording of the segment with the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA)’s Chris Yeung was also rejected under murky circumstances. In the end, Eugene Chan, the president of the pro-Beijing Association of Hong Kong Professionals, put in an appearance instead.

“The HKJA is facing an increasingly difficult environment in defending journalists’ rights,” Yeung tells The Correspondent. “The association is itself being targeted by pro-Beijing media and groups. [But] we will continue to speak up and stand alert.”

In another instance, David says, senior management from RTHK’s editorial committee questioned producers over whether a show on Myanmar could be interpreted as a commentary on Hong Kong – up to four hours before going on air in March. “It’s intimidation and creating deliberate uncertainty,” says David.

For the news writing team, he says, one method for working around political sensitivities has been to lead articles with government or police statements, thus giving credence to the stories.“We’re relying on doing things in the shadows and hoping [management] doesn’t notice. But of course, that’s not the way you should be doing it. You should be taking pride in your work.”

David’s experience cuts across many newsrooms in Hong Kong. HK01, an online outlet known for its investigations and close government contacts, faced an internal dilemma in the tumultuous months before the enactment of the law, according to a reporter, John*, which is not his real name.

John says both HK01’s founder, Yu Pun-hoi, and Chief Editor Ernest Chi Pan-year, asked staff to update the headline of an article containing arrest figures because it created a “negative image” of police and was too sympathetic towards protesters: “I think [Chi] wanted to maintain a good relationship with police. In the past they were only sensitive to [mainland] Chinese government issues,” says John.

At Next Digital, the situation has grown increasingly tense since the raid and arrest last August. As staff gathered on the floor of the newsroom on 5 May, Cheung Kim-hung, chief executive of Next Digital, responded to rumours that authorities would force the newspaper to close in the coming months, declaring: “Apple Daily will not close on its own.”

It was a defiant stance but provided little relief for some staff. “They felt that management didn’t have a contingency [plan] in place and that their fears had been dismissed,” says Oscar*, which is not his real name, a reporter who attended the meeting.

Apple Daily Founded before the Handover, Apple Daily has rarely held back from running hard news stories, especially when it comes to lambasting Beijing.

For over a year, Next Digital staff had been feeling pressure from the police. Between April 2020 and 2021, the police public relations bureau sent at least 89 “misleading report” letters to Apple Daily. In response to a report on a Hong Kong Police College open day to mark National Security Education Day on 15 April, the force criticised a photo caption reading, “What have [police] taught the next generation?”, and accused the publication of “distorting the original purpose” behind the event.  

In an email reply, a police representative told The Correspondent that the department sent the letters to improve public understanding in order to “earn their support and trust … There has been an overwhelming volume of unfounded information circulated in the society over the last few years,” wrote the representative. “Police absolutely respect freedom of speech and freedom of the press.” 

Despite management reaffirming its commitment to editorial independence after the NSL, Apple Daily has not been immune to internal controversy. On 15 April, the Equal Opportunities Commission released a letter that chided the newspaper for its continued use of the term “Wuhan pneumonia” to describe COVID-19, which was first detected in the capital of Hubei. 

Within a week, Apple Daily replaced the term with “Pneumonia epidemic”. Some staff saw it as a capitulation. “I think that incident was the first [of its kind] – that’s why it drew such a response,” Oscar says.

The inaugural National Security Education Day on 15 April 2021 was not greeted with universal acclaim. (Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP)

The working conditions for many local journalists were far from ideal before the NSL brought added risks and pressures. Low salaries and long hours, coupled with increasing output quotas and news fatigue, meant that several years into the profession left journalists burnt out and looking for alternative career options.

“I want to leave but which media can I go to?” asks John, who laments a scarcity of well-paid positions on teams similar to his at HK01. “[Journalists] have a higher level of education; we have a bachelor’s degree, but our salaries are so low. And after the protests [and NSL] we could get charged – so why do we stay here and do this job?”

Some have chosen to leave. Three HK01 staffers, one of whom was senior, have immigrated to the UK, according to John. Several former staff at Apple Daily have also departed for places including the UK, Oscar says, due to poor working conditions, worsened by political pressures.

This kind of industry brain drain threatens to usher in a generation of younger, inexperienced journalists who may lack the judgement, skills and sources to provide the quality of journalism delivered by their predecessors. In particular, they may have yet to establish in-roads with government officials or police officers, relying on carefully tailored press conferences and statements.

“It’s impossible for new journalists to build those sources,” says Oscar, pointing to the precarious nature of building trust in professional relationships after the NSL. “If you have watched i-Cable TV after the mass walkout [in December 2020], there is quite an obvious difference in the quality of the programmes.”

Now that the NSL is a day-to-day reality, Oscar casts a gloomy eye over his career. He says he had, like many other journalists, pursued a career as a reporter with hopes that a more informed society would lead to democratic development. “To end up in a completely opposite direction – it is not what I expected.”

*Name changed to protect the individual’s identity, owing to potential professional or legal ramifications.

Jennifer Creery is an FCC Clare Hollingworth fellow and Curated Content Editor at the Financial Times. Prior to her current role she was an editor at Hong Kong Free Press.

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