Censorship: How China is tightening its grip on Hong Kong
Hong Kong is feeling the creeping hand of censorship from President Xi Jinping as he exercises a tightening of control over the city and mainland China, said expert Jeffrey Wasserstrom.
Jeffrey Wasserstrom spoke about how censorship works in China. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC
The disappearance of the Hong Kong booksellers, the silencing of previously vocal critics of China, and the flooding of pro-China posters around the city during the 20th anniversary of the Handover celebrations are all signs of tightening control, said Wasserstrom, Chancellor’s Professor of History at the University of California at Irvine.
During his appearance at the club on November 3, Wasserstrom detailed censorship in China through the decades, outlining how traditionally Communist Party leaders had swung between a tightening and loosening of control over the information people shared and received. He told how in the era of Deng Xiaoping, Chinese citizens were not free enough to publicly criticise him, but they were not forced to praise him either. He said in the 1990s political jokes were rife, with citizens allowed to be apolitical, with less pressure to express their loyalty.
But the era of Xi Jinping and “his elevation in status” has not only seen a crackdown on freedom of expression and information, but also increased pressure to praise China’s leader or risk being seen as disloyal, he said.
And he warned that a general concept that, until now, applied a different set of rules to Hong Kong was coming to an end. Wasserstrom described how, rather than One Country, Two systems – the framework around which Hong Kong will be reintegrated with the mainland – there had been One Country, Three Systems. He explained this as one set of rules applied in Tibet and Xinjiang; a second set of rules applying to the mainland; and a third set of rules that allowed Hong Kong media to freely report on issues including the pro-democracy movement. But the case of the missing booksellers, along with a push for a China-approved national curriculum, was a sign that this third rule no longer applied to Hong Kong.
The event, titled Xi’s Dreams, Orwell’s Nightmares: Censorship in Today’s China, compared the dystopian visions of writers George Orwell and Aldous Huxley to make the point that China’s censorship campaign is two-pronged: it blocks information coming in but at the same time bombards its citizens with the propaganda it wants them to see – “a culture of distraction and entertainment”. While Huxley’s Brave New World was seen as a critique of capitalism an imperialism, Orwell’s 1984 had much darker undertones.
Wasserstrom also touched upon a recent article by journalist Louisa Lim, who commented on new research on the effects on China’s censorship on its young people which revealed that many of those who were given unlimited access to the internet failed to use it. The report quotes American writer Neil Postman: “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who would want to read one.”
He noted the increase in China-centric posters around Hong Kong suggested efforts to spread propaganda had become more obvious, and said future signs to look out for would be banks in the city using the Belt and Road Initiative to promote themselves
Referring to Hong Kong and the silencing of some well-known anti-establishment figures, Wasserstrom used the metaphor of the canary in the mineshaft: “One other thing that can happen to a canary is it can find it possible to keep breathing but is unable to sing,” he said, before adding: “We need not just to keep watching the dramatic moments when the canaries disappear and die, but when they stop singing.”
FCC expresses concern over the exclusion of major news organisations from China’s political unveiling
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, is concerned at the unexplained barring of several major international news organisations from the most important political event in China in the last five years.
The BBC, the Financial Times, the Economist, the New York Times and the Guardian were all denied access to the unveiling of the new Politburo Standing Committee in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: AFP
Chinese government officials did not explain why these particular news organisations were all excluded from the carefully stage-managed event attended by some 2,000 journalists. A statement from the congress media centre said that space was limited on Wednesday and noted that the media concerned had been able to attend previous briefings.
However, it seems almost certain that they were likely barred simply because of their, at times, critical coverage of China and Chinese politics.
As the Foreign Correspondents Club of Chinanoted in a statement yesterday: “Using media access as a tool to punish journalists whose coverage the Chinese authorities disapprove of is a gross violation of the principles of press freedom.”
Restricting media access to key political events is an ominously retrograde step for a country and government that claims to be open and transparent. Moreover, it contrasts sharply with the relatively free and open access given to foreign journalists at Communist Party Congresses in the 1980s and 90s when the country was just re-emerging on the world stage.
If China wants to be seen as responsible leader of the global community it should honour President Xi Jinping’s claim that the country “welcomes objective reporting and constructive suggestions” and allow both domestic and foreign journalists to do their job.
Video: Everything you need to know about China’s upcoming 19th Party congress
Four China experts discussed their views on who’s in and who’s out as the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China approaches.
The debate at the FCC on October 3 featured panelists Dr. Willy Lam of Centre for China Studies and the History Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Dr. Jean-Pierre Cabestan, Department of Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University; Dr. Chloé Froissart of Tsinghua University Sino-French Centre in Social Sciences in Beijing; and Dr. Bill Taylor of the Department of Public Policy, City University of Hong Kong.
Left to right: Dr. Bill Taylor, Dr. Chloé Froissart, Dr. Jean-Pierre Cabestan, and Dr. Willy Lam. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC
Dr Lam, author of several books on China including his most recent Routledge Handbook of the Chinese Communist Party, went so far as to predict the top seven Politburo Standing committee members to be unveiled at the congress which begins on October 18.
The panel speculated on how the policies due to be announced at the congress would affect China’s population, and its international relations.
Watch the debate below
British government needs to be robust over Sino-British Joint Declaration, says Jonathan Dimbleby
BBC presenter and historian, Jonathan Dimbleby, left, talked about the state of world politics when he appeared at the FCC. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC
The British government should be “very robust” over whether it believes the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong’s handover has been violated, veteran broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby said, the week after China’s foreign ministry dismissed the treaty as a “historical document that no longer has any realistic meaning”.
The BBC Question Time host and historian said that while the U.K. government had last week reiterated that the 1984 treaty was binding, the overall criticism had been “muted”.
He said that if it was agreed that a violation had taken place, then it would “call into question whether you could trust China’s word when it came to signing documents”.
“I think that the British government should be very robust in saying whether or not this agreement has or has not… been violated,” he said
He added that he believed that independent trading relations, post-Brexit, could “overshadow concern for the evolution of democracy here [in Hong Kong]”.
Dimbleby revealed that as a journalist in the 1990s he came across minutes of meetings conducted in the late 1980s between the British government and Beijing that showed the U.K. government of the time had little intention to push for democracy in Hong Kong after the handover. In public, he said, the Conservative government was assuring Hongkongers that they would achieve democracy as part of the agreement.
Watch Jonathan Dimbleby’s Q&A session
“In the way that one does as a writer or journalist… I came across minutes of meetings conducted in late 80s between the British government and the Beijing government. In public, if you look back… the British government were saying to the people of Hong Kong yes, you will have democracy and we want you to have more of it, we will fight for that.
“Simultaneously the British government was reassuring Beijing they had no intention of rocking the prevailing apple cart and central government need have no fear that democracy would be taken forward in the way that a lot of people, as the polls showed here, wanted it to be.
“I came away from that experience and wrote about it without great faith in how my government would deal with Beijing,” Dimbleby told the packed July 5 club lunch.
The night before, Dimbleby had taken part in a BBC World Questions debate alongside Joshua Wong, one of the student leaders of Occupy Central and the founder of the pro-democracy Demosisto party. He praised the 20-year-old, saying: “Joshua Wong is a remarkable illustration of the intelligent young of this generation.”
In a change to the usual club lunch formula, the floor was opened up to questions from the outset. Dimbleby was asked what he thought of Brexit, the U.K. General Election outcome, and Donald Trump as president.
He said: “I woke up like many people after my country voted for Brexit in a state of shock and astonishment. Those who supported Brexit were equally astonished because they never expected to win.”
On the U.S. question, he continued: “Like many people I believed that Donald Trump would never emerge as President of the United States. I thought it would be catastrophic if he did and that most people in the United States would recognise that to be the case.
“Latterly in my own country I did not imagine the Prime Minister, who was a vicar’s daughter, who said there were no circumstances in which she would call a snap election, deciding to do so. The Conservatives are in office, but they’re hardly in power. And the rest of the world is on tenterhooks.
“I think we’re in very uncertain times, I think we are in quite alarming times with the unpredictability of the American President.
“The one thing about the leaders of Russia and China is that they may behave in unpredictable ways but we are quite clear about what their broad intentions are in the West and that is hugely unsettling… for all people in a way that I never imagined.”
Dimbleby added: “If you’re a journalist you have to be glass half full and I’m generally half glass full, but I’ve never felt closer to being glass half empty.”
FCC archives: Not just a soundbite – Chris Patten’s plea as the Handover approached
FCC member and Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, asks the world’s press not to forget the territory after the Handover in this piece reproduced from the 1997 special edition of The Correspondent
Former HK Governor Chris Patten at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in October 1998. Photo by Kees Metselaar
The journalists are coming. At last count more than 8,400 of them to cover one of the greatest end-of-millennium peacetime stories.
As Anson Chan said in a speech in Manila the other day, if Hong Kong can survive that, the rest should be easy.
But will it? That’s the 64,000 dollar question all those interviewers, commentators, analysts and writers will be posing as they report this postscript of Empire.
I’ve been asked the question a million times already – well, it feels like a million times – and will no doubt be asked again and again before Britannia glides through the great bowl of light that will illuminate our magnificent harbour shortly after June 30 has turned into July 1.
FCC members know my answer pretty well. It is that Hong Kong will go on being one of the greatest cities in the world – provided that the promises of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong’s future are honoured.
I have no doubt that so long as the combination of political freedom and economic liberty, underpinned by the rule of law, is preserved and strengthened, Hong Kong can fulfil its potential as the New York of Asia.
That’s been at the heart of the debate we have been having these last five years. The people of Hong Kong understand that if if some of our critics don’t. Some of them think the 28th and last British governor of Hong Kong should have tip-toed round this issue and gone for a quiet life.
Will Hong Kong remain free? What do you really think of Hong Kong’s future prospects?
That was never an option. The choice was clear cut. Either I stood up for the people of Hong Kong and the freedoms and rights they were promised by Britain and China in the Joint Declaration, at the risk of having the occasional row with China; or I could have done what the Chinese wanted me to do – and spent the last few years in a row with the democrats who, by any measure, represent majority opinion in this community.
What sort of questions would journalists be asking me and Britain now if I had chosen the latter course? I know what those questions would have been and, frankly, I could not have answered them with a clear conscience.
But questions remain, and they will be fired in from every corner of the globe as the transition reaches its midnight climax. Can it work? Will it work? Will Hong Kong remain free? What do you really think of Hong Kong’s future prospects?
I’ll answer as I always do – as a rational and curious optimist with a belief in the people of Hong Kong. They have made this place the spectacular success story it is today and they can go on to a better tomorrow.
They can do that so long as they continue to demonstrate the self-confidence to stand up for their rights, as they did so recently in the face of threats to roll back some of their civil liberties. These are people who know what it’s like to live in a free society.
It will not be for the people of Hong Kong alone to speak up for those rights and freedoms. Britain will continue to do so. So will many others.
The media should keep the spotlight on Hong Kong, too. Not just at the historic moment when the flags change, but in the weeks and months and years – the decades – that follow.
Hong Kong must not be allowed to become a sound bite of history. Don’t forget – none of us should forget – that China has promised in the Joint Declaration to allow Hong Kong to continue pretty much as you find it today for the 50 years up to the year 2047.
Globalisation is coming to an end – but communism unlikely to rule, says top economist
Economist Stephen King explained how globalisation was soon to be a thing of the past. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC
Globalisation is on its deathbed as people see inequality in wealth and some of the world’s richest countries seek to withdraw from cross-border partnerships, according to HSBC economist and author, Stephen King.
Speaking at a club lunch on June 20, King said that in the West we’re seeing a rejection of the values of globalisation amid a growing belief that institutions such as NATO and the European Union are less effective and, in some cases, no longer fit for purpose. He gave U.S. President Donald Trump pulling out of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), and China creating the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) as examples of how some countries are becoming more isolationist as they focus on their domestic interests over global relationships.
King said we reached peak enthusiasm for globalisation in 1989, when Berlin Wall came down.
“Once you get into blame and counter blame, you can see how globalisation ends up in trouble,” he said.
He discussed technology as a tool that, until now, has boosted globalisation. But he warned that although technology had enabled living standards to rise rapidly, globalisation instead depends on ideas and institutions.
When asked to give his thoughts on the likelihood of a global revival of communism, he was a little more upbeat. King said it would be difficult for any country to deliver fully-fledged communism when other systems where it has existed are in retreat.
Revealed: Methods of torture used against China’s officials in corruption crackdown
Sophie Richardson, China Director, Human Rights Watch, revealed how China’s corruption suspects are kidnapped and tortured
The methods of torture used to extract confessions from suspected corrupt Chinese Communist Party officials was revealed as Human Rights Watch released its report at the FCC into the shuanggui detention system.
Beatings, solitary confinement, being made to stay in one position for hours, sleep and food deprivation were just some of the ways in which detention officers from the party’s CCDI (Central Commission for Discipline Inspection) coerced confessions.
Sophie Richardson, China Director of Human Rights Watch, called on the Chinese government to immediately abolish shuanggui, its secretive detention system that operates outside of China’s legal system, during the report release on December 6.
When President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, he announced a far-reaching anti-corruption campaign with a pledge to eradicate graft once and for all from the Communist Party. The campaign has seen both “tigers and flies” – high-ranking and low-ranking officials – detained and prosecuted for alleged corruption. What is lesser known is how shuanggui officers operate.
The Human Rights Watch report, titled Special Measures: Detention and Torture in the Chinese Communist Party’s Shuanggui System, is based on 21 interviews with four former detainees as well as family members of detainees, 35 detailed accounts from more than 200 Chinese media reports, and analysis of court verdicts from across the country. It outlines how suspects are led under false pretences to a meeting place where they are then spirited away for prolonged periods of time, their families not knowing where they are or why they have disappeared. They are then taken to shuanggui facilities, which the report stated have padded walls in order to prevent detainees from committing suicide, where they have no access to lawyers.
A drawing of a room used for shuanggui detention by a former detainee.
One detainee, a former police chief from Jiangxi Province, recalled: “For nine days and nine nights I sat in tiger chairs; and urinated and defecated into adult diapers…for over a hundred hours, whether it’s day or night, they took turns interrogating me.”
Accounts from former detainees detail the various abuses inflicted by officers to extract confessions from the suspects, who are then typically brought into the criminal justice system where they are convicted and sentenced to often lengthy prison terms.
Ms Richardson called on China to abolish shuanggui, saying: “President Xi Jinping has built his anti-corruption campaign on an abusive and illegal detention system. Torturing suspects to confess won’t bring an end to corruption, but will end any confidence in China’s judicial system.”
She added: “Nobody, not even guilty Chinese Communist Party officials, should be denied basic fair trial rights or tortured.”
Figures in the report show that in 2015, 336,000 individuals were punished internally in the war against corruption. A further 14,000 were handed over to the courts for prosecution.
Guangdong on track to become leading science and tech hub
Professor Huang Ningsheng talked about Guangdong’s bid to become an innovation hub
Investment in Guangdong’s scientific research and development is expected to take up 2.58% of the province’s total GDP for 2016, according to the Director-General of its department of science and technology.
It is a figure that looks set to increase over the coming years as the province, which neighbours Hong Kong, seeks to enhance its competitiveness and further cement its reputation as an up-and-coming scientific and technical innovation hub.
During the November 30 club lunch, guest speaker Professor Huang Ningsheng told the audience of the push to not only attract talent to the province, but also to produce talent by way of creating new R&D institutions and universities.
The former Dean of the Guangdong Provincial Academy of Sciences said that support from the Chinese Government had been essential in making Guangdong province home to some of China’s fastest growing tech companies. He added that even President Xi Jinping had ‘provided us with a lot of guidance’.
He said that the NPC Standing Committee of Guangdong Province was this week reviewing legislation that could speed up the transfer of science and technology findings into business results. Guangdong Province will also benefit from the Chinese government providing subsidies for venture capitalists who invest in R&D institutions and tech companies.
“We’re seeing the new round of technical revolution and industrial revolution,” he said.
Professor Huang said the key factors in ensuring the province’s continued growth as a tech hub were the creation of more incubators – which help turn research findings into products that businesses can sell – and laboratories to engage in basic applied research. He added that legislation to protect intellectual property rights was also essential in attracting talent and investment to the province.
The focus for Guangdong is the production of smart robots, telecommunications and life science and health.
Chris Patten on Trump, Brexit, Article 23 and India
Chris Patten arrives at the FCC
Here’s a round-up of the Q&A with Chris Patten following his talk at the FCC on November 25.
PATTEN ON INDIA
Look, I don’t mean any disrespect to my own country or to France, speaking as a member of the Legion d’honneur, or to China or to Hong Kong, but I happen to think India is the most interesting country in the world. And I don’t just say that because you asked the question. I don’t mean by that that I think that India is poised to become a superpower. Actually I’m not sure it is. I think that’s partly because I think thats partly to India’s benefit and I think it’s partly because Indians don’t want it to be. But India is an extraordinary democracy and democracy and the system of government in India have held together an astonishingly diverse society, ethnicities, religions, languages, in a way that simply wouldn’t have worked without that safety valve. I think other communities could have blown apart or could have seen the development of a bamboo gulag. India hasn’t done that.
India’s constitution had at its heart seculism (sic), socialism, and I’m afraid the socialism wasn’t a great success. It’s joined the world economy, it has very, very effective multinationals which on the whole follow pretty clean internationally recognised corporal governance guidelines. There is now a lot more Indian investment in the UK than there is UK investment in India and I hope that the present government will avoid the temptation we’ve seen in other countries to become more nationalist if the economic climate becomes a bit more difficult. India I think is concerned about its relationship with China but because of that it would be a mistake I think for others in the United States or Europe to try to use India as a sort of democratic pawn in a geo-strategic argument with China, I think that would be a huge huge error.
I think that India’s development is something which matters to the whole world and I think part of India’s success is Indian soft power: Indian literature. The best novels these days are written by – there are some good ones written by Americans – but the best novels are on the whole written by Indians. The Indian cinema which, I know the Chinese cinema has been very good but perhaps more restricted, Bollywood has been a fantastic success, though it may not matter so much to members of the audience who are Chinese, Indian cricket has alas been all too successful as an export of Indian soft power. So I think India is an extraordinary story, it’s not going to simply move up a straight line up the graph paper but by 2040 the largest population in the world will be Indian with the largest economically active population outstripping China which will have, I’m sure, problems it can overcome in moving from having a huge labour surplus to a labour deficit and to having the second largest group of people in the world who will be Chinese pensioners. So India faces some big responsibilities and big challenges, and I think it’s going to be a very exciting story.
ON FREE TRADE AND BREXIT
I totally agree with you that we have to engage in the argument just as we have to engage in the argument with tabloids and social media about whether or not it is important to tell the truth in election campaigns. I think those are issues which really demand international and strong leadership and I think one of the lessons from Brexit in Britain was that political leaders hadn’t been sufficiently bold and vigorous in taking on some of the criticisms of the European Union.
On free trade I just make two very swift points. First of all, we all know, I mean there’s a wealth of statistical evidence that those who do worst from protectionism are the poor. If you’re well off you cope. If you’re poor you find the cost of the everyday items you buy goes up and you don’t find yourself working in a job where productivity is being raised because of greater competitiveness. In Britain we made the terrible mistake… we’re so centralised as an economy that we didn’t do what the Danes have done for example which is to ensure that public spending programmes are adjusted to take much greater account of the areas where there are real difficulties with declining industries and workforces which are undertrained and underprepared for industrial generational change. And I think we’ve also failed with basic education in some parts of Britain.
In America I mentioned earlier that the Americans spend 0.1% of GDP on labour market issues like retraining. The average for the OECD countries as a whole is six times that. So when I said to some of my Republican friends ‘of course the answer to problems in Michigan or Indiana or the Rust Belt is to spend more on retraining, to do more for education, to look at tax and spend policies and the role they can play in reducing social inequity’, they look at me as though I’m a sort of Keynesian communist. But it’s true. There is an important role for those government policies in addressing the problems which free trade can bring to people who work in declining industries.
Look, I go occasionally to Indiana to Notre Dame University, as the French would call it, a very very good Catholic university in the middle of Indiana, and you go through a lot of Rust Belt to get there. Could you have saved those industries? Maybe. Could we have saved the horse and cart as the principle means of getting from A to B. I suppose so. But we’d have all been much poorer had we done so. I think that unfortunately the people who are most likely to suffer from Trumpian protectionism if it happens are the people who voted for Mr Trump, just as in Britain the people who are most likely to suffer from the consequences of Brexit are the people in some of the disadvantaged parts of the country which voted for it. I think that’s a real tragedy and will actually put our democracies under some pressure in the future.
ON ARTICLE 23 AND ARTICLE 158
Well, maybe it was a good thing that I wasn’t around when they (articles 23 and 158) were accepted, though they weren’t a matter for negotiation between the then colonial power and China. But we did have strong views about Article 23 and we managed to avoid any suggestion that Article 23 should lead to legislation while I was governor and one reason why I didn’t think we needed to do anything about Article 23 was that I thought that subversion was something which I was unlikely to encounter as governor of Hong kong. It has a sort of rather quaint Leninist tone to it and pretty well since the 17th century – Guy Fawkes and all that – subversion hasn’t been a big issue in British politics.
More seriously, I think there is a different sort of relationship which if I was in government in Hong Kong would concern me, and that is the relationship between social and economic issues and political issues. I think that there are some serious issues which young people and other people raise about their futures, about the competitiveness of Hong Kong in the future, about the extent to which their employment opportunities are more narrowed than would have been the case with their parents. So I think there are some social issues – housing another one, and competition from the north for jobs. I think there are some serious issues there and perhaps play into the debate about political issues and those need to be addressed.
And it won’t be to Hong Kong’s benefit if over the next few years there is a sort of traffic jam in the relationship between the Legislative Council and the Executive, if things can’t get done because of an argument or a log jam there. Hong Kong has a reputation for getting things done rather more rapidly than other places and I would hate to see that ended.
ON WHAT HE WOULD PRIORITISE IF HE WERE HONG KONG’S CHIEF EXECUTIVE
The first election campaign that I took part in was in New York in 19 – I’m very old now – 1965 and one of the candidates, when he was asked what the first thing he would do if he won the election was, replied ‘demand a recount’. The first thing I would do is go to mass and say a prayer, and after that I would try I think, whoever I was, to establish a dialogue with people on whichever side of the argument didn’t agree with me. I think it’s corrosive of government when disagreements turn into quarrels.
ON DONALD TRUMP AND THE RIGHT WING
I think that it’s not just America that this is an issue, that a greater emphasis on nationalism and national identity, on nativism, can easily turn into an effort to define oneself against the other. It can easily seem to be ungenerous, it can easily seem to want to lock out minorities, it can easily seem racist. I think the most wonderful words in America are the ones on the seal: E pluribus unum, which has been a fantastic message to the rest of humanity, bringing together people from every conceivable language and background and shaping a great country. City on a hill.
You sit as I did recently in a deli on Maddison Avenue and you watch every sort of identity and humanity walking past the window. And how do those people define themselves? Are they Afro-American New Yorkers? Are they Catholic Polish Americans? Are they Vietnamese Americans? Are they Chinese Americans? The one thing they all are is Americans. And I think that it would be a terrible error if Mr Trump was seen to be celebrating the whiteness of American society without recognising all the other colours which go to make up that extraordinary American flag.
So that’s what I think I would want to say to Mr Trump and since that was what I would say to him, I think I’d probably cancel the appointment of the chairman of Breitbart as his main strategic adviser. Anybody whose appointment is so enthusiastically welcomed by the great Wizard of whatever he is of the Ku Klux Klan is not somebody I’d like to spend an evening with.
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