Sat, Oct 20, 2018 - Page 6 News List

China instructs HK media to counter ‘external forces’


Chinese officials urged Hong Kong media to help prevent “external forces” from challenging Beijing’s authority, in the latest sign that the Chinese Communist Party is laying the ground for a tough new security law.

Hong Kong media executives received the warning during a visit to Beijing in the wake of the territory’s decision not to renew the visa of a Financial Times editor who hosted a Foreign Correspondents’ Club speech by a pro-independence activist.

Huang Kunming (黃坤明), the party’s Propaganda Department minister and a member of the Politburo, on Tuesday said that he hoped the media would help “prevent external forces from turning the city into a base for interfering with the mainland.”

The comments were relayed by Siu Sai-wo (蕭世和), a Hong Kong newspaper publisher who led the media delegation to the Chinese capital.

China’s Hong Kong Liaison Office Director Zhang Xiaoming (張曉明) defended the comments during a meeting on Thursday, Siu said.

“It is nothing unusual for state leaders to send out kind reminders that Hong Kong should not be used as an anti-China and anti-Communist Party base,” Siu cited Zhang as saying.

The comments highlighted the growing pressure on Hong Kong’s media in Beijing’s widening campaign to limit dissent in the territory.

While pro-Beijing officials have long complained about the influence of “external forces” — presumably US and UK organizations — the warnings carry greater weight after the territory’s rare decision not to renew Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet’s work visa.

Underscoring such concerns was a controversy over Siu’s account of Huang’s remarks.

The newspaper executive initially said that Huang had warned the media against becoming a base itself for foreign interference, only to later retract and revise the comment.

The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association on Wednesday released a statement demanding that participants explain what Huang had said.

Still, the remarks fanned concerns that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) intends to use the controversy to pressure Hong Kong to enact security legislation that could put new limits on freedom of speech guaranteed before the territory’s return to China.

The legislation, known as Article 23, requires the administration to enact laws that “prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the region.”

In his meeting with media executives, Zhang noted Hong Kong’s failure to pass Article 23, as required by the territory’s Basic Law.

He also expressed support for Hong Kong’s visa decision, which the territory has so far declined to explain.

“They are laying the framework for Article 23,” Chinese University of Hong Kong adjunct professor Willy Lam (林和立) said.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) last week said she wants “to create a favorable social environment” before advancing the legislation.

The government abandoned plans to enact the laws in 2003 after half a million people took to the streets in protest.

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