A British government report on Hong Kong expresses “serious concerns” about press freedom and self-censorship in its former colony and about reports that leading British banks pulled advertising from a local pro-democracy newspaper.
The six-monthly report, presented by British Secretary of Foreign Affairs William Hague to the British parliament on Thursday, is more explicit than London’s recent summaries, reflecting rising tensions over democratic reform in the Asian financial hub.
“We believe that freedom of expression, including of the press, has played an important part in Hong Kong’s success,” said the report, which was made available by the British Consulate General in Hong Kong.
“As such we take seriously concerns about press freedom, including fears about self-censorship,” it added, saying London would monitor the situation closely and noting Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s (梁振英) “clear statements on press freedom.”
It details a series of recent incidents, including the stabbing in February of Kevin Lau (劉進圖), formerly chief editor of a leading local newspaper, Ming Pao. It also notes media reports that said London-based banks HSBC and Standard Chartered were among institutions that had pulled adverts from Hong Kong’s Apple Daily tabloid “in response to political pressure.”
Both banks, when asked in London for comment, said any changes made in their advertising would be for commercial reasons.
“The bank’s selection of marketing format and channel is commercial, and linked to target market and customer segment,” an HSBC spokeswoman said.
Earlier this week, HSBC cut its rating for Hong Kong equities to underweight from neutral, saying a campaign for greater democracy in the Asian financial center could sour relations with China and hurt the territory’s economy. The move was not mentioned in Thursday’s report.
Hong Kong is now locked in an intensifying political debate over its democratic future as the Hong Kong government decides how to implement Beijing’s promises of a territory-wide vote for its next leader in 2017.
Beijing officials are insisting that candidates can only be nominated by a special committee, but democracy activists are insisting the public must be allowed to select politicians for the ballot, fearing leading democrats will otherwise be screened out.
A campaign of civil disobedience threatens to shut down the territory’s financial district later in the summer unless a meaningful democratic plan is introduced.
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