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China Responds to U.S. Election With Heavy Censorship

Commuters use smartphone

The reaction among the United States’ strongest allies in Asia — Japan and South Korea — was more severe, however, as local stock markets plunged.

Patrick Brzesk reports: As news of Donald Trump’s shocking presidential win was reverberating around the world Wednesday, media coverage in China was oddly scant — and not by accident.

“I think Trump is the tragedy of the American people. How did he win? It must be a scam. Now I think cats and dogs can be president!”

— Sina Weibo user Zhonghua Junlon

China’s censors had issued advance orders to media outlets to restrict coverage of the U.S. democratic contest. All websites, news outlets and TV networks were told not to provide any live coverage or broadcasts of the election and to avoid “excessive” reporting of the story, a source who was briefed on the official instructions told the South China Morning Post.

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“In Tokyo, and across the Japanese archipelago, the election also was a sensation. TV stations in Japan rapidly rejigged schedules Wednesday afternoon to continue coverage of the U.S. election as the reality of a Trump presidency became apparent, while the Tokyo stock market crashed as the yen soared against a weakening dollar.”

In response, coverage of Trump’s upset was carried only as a secondary story across the Chinese media landscape, with most outlets highlighting a meeting between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Vladimir Putin instead.

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China’s foreign ministry also stopped short of issuing congratulations to Trump in the immediate aftermath of the decision, instead stating: “China is closely following the U.S. presidential election, and expects to maintain healthy Sino-U.S. relations with the new government.” (Chinese President Xi Jinping was also making calls elsewhere: he rang outer space to congratulate the astronauts aboard China’s recently launched Shenzhou 11 spacecraft, wishing them “a victorious return.”)

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The press restrictions were part of Beijing’s usual strategy of limiting the Chinese public’s exposure to Western ideas and democracy. Instead, censors told Chinese media to report “in a timely manner” on any embarrassing scandals during the election and to criticize “in depth” any perceived political abuses.

“2016 looks like it may be a turning point in world history with first Brexit and now this. I’m hoping 2016 doesn’t go down as the beginning of the end.”

— A manager at a major Japanese entertainment company, who spoke on condition of anonymity

To that end, the People’s Daily ran an editorial on the eve of the election saying that the current cycle had “undeniably revealed the dark side of so-called democracy in the U.S.” The paper, which is the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, described the presidential contest as dark, tasteless, chaotic and nothing more than a “meaningless farce.” A similar editorial controlled by Xinhua said the election was “an expression of all of the American political system’s flaws.”

As Trump’s victory began to circulate around Chinese social media late Wednesday (local time), the response was a mix of surprise, schadenfreude and amusement.

An investor at a brokerage firm in the Chinese city of Heifi on Wednesday. Individual investors who began selling in mid-June helped unleash a downward spiral of more selling. Photo: Reuters

Sina Weibo user Zhonghua Junlong said of the result: “It shows that the U.S. government and democracy have weakened. And at the same times it provided our country with a prosperous opportunity — it will make China more powerful.”

[Read the full story here, at Hollywood Reporter]

A user named Fangsi de qingchun weighed in with a more democratic-leaning reaction: “I think Trump is the tragedy of the American people. How did he win? It must be a scam. Now I think cats and dogs can be president!”

A Pew Research poll conducted in October showed that Clinton was the slim favorite of most Chinese, but an SCMP poll published earlier this week suggested that Trump was viewed somewhat more favorably in China than anywhere else in Asia. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Subversive Message in Hong Kong Goes Up in Lights 

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The city has gone to great lengths to contain protests during Mr. Zhang’s visit, but pro-democracy messages have slipped through.

BEIJING — Jason Lam reports: For more than a minute on Tuesday night, nine-digit numbers were displayed across the facade of Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper, the International Commerce Center. Towering above Victoria Harbor, the glowing white digits blinked against the night sky: 979,012,493… 979,012,492… 979,012,491…

“Due to the high level of security, there’s almost no channel for the Hong Kong people to voice and protest.”

The seemingly innocuous numbers contained a subversive statement. The animation is a countdown of the seconds until when the “one country, two systems” framework — a guarantee that Hong Kong, a former British colony, would keep its civil liberties and a high degree of autonomy for 50 years after its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 — is set to expire.

[Watch in Times Video »]

“We hope to deliver this work to illustrate the biggest anxiety of the Hong Kong people,” Sampson Wong, who created the animation with the artist Jason Lam, said before the lights first went up.

“Most of the animations shown on the I.C.C. are ad-like, meaningless videos. We wanted to show something relevant to the social situation of Hong Kong.”

–Sampson Wong

The artists planned the display to coincide with a three-day visit to Hong Kong by Zhang Dejiang, a member of China’s governing Politburo Standing Committee, which began on Tuesday. Mr. Zhang is the highest-ranking official from mainland China to visit Hong Kong since the pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 known as the Umbrella Movement.

Zhang Dejiang

Zhang Dejiang

[Read the full text here, at The New York Times]

The city has gone to great lengths to contain protests during Mr. Zhang’s visit, but pro-democracy messages have slipped through. At least seven members of the League of Social Democrats party were arrested on Tuesday in connection with at least two banners appearing in public — one on a hillside, the other along the route taken by Mr. Zhang’s motorcade — reading “I Want Genuine Universal Suffrage” and “End Chinese Communist Party Dictatorship.”

“Due to the high level of security, there’s almost no channel for the Hong Kong people to voice and protest,” Mr. Wong said. Read the rest of this entry »


Press Freedom Under Attack in Hong Kong

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Protest for press freedom in Hong Kong. March 2014.

Kevin Lau, former editor of the local Chinese-language daily Ming Pao in Hong Kongwas brutally attacked with a knife and suffered serious wounds on February 26, 2014.

This was the latest of hardships that Mr. Lau had to endure in Hong Kong, a city increasingly hostile towards the press.  In January he had been ousted from his position as Editor in Chief at the newspaper Ming Pao, sparking enough outrage that 90% of the editorial staff at Ming Pao signed a petition demanding that the company state its reasons for dismissing Kevin Lau. Many speculated that it was his critical reporting of the Hong Kong government that was the reason for his removal as Editor in Chief.

Under Lau’s leadership, Ming Pao was critical of numerous government policies and pushed for democratic reforms in Hong Kong. The newspaper also exposed several political scandals, embarrassing political leaders in the city.

Read the rest of this entry »


Thousands March to Support Press Freedom in Hong Kong

 Ming Pao staff members marched in support of press freedom Sunday in Hong Kong, many carrying banners that read 'They Can't Kill Us All.' Reuters

Ming Pao staff members marched in support of press freedom Sunday in Hong Kong, many carrying banners that read ‘They Can’t Kill Us All.’ Reuters

HONG KONG—Isabella Steger reports:  Thousands of people turned out Sunday in Hong Kong to support media freedom after the condition of former newspaper editor Kevin Lau, who was the victim of a brutal knife attack, took a turn for the better.

Mr. Lau was the editor of respected local Chinese-language daily Ming Pao before being abruptly dismissed in January. He was slashed with a knife on Wednesday near a restaurant he was known to regularly frequent on the east side of Hong Kong’s main island.

He entered the hospital in critical condition and his condition was improved to “serious” on Friday. On Saturday, Mr. Lau’s wife, Vivien Lau, issued a statement saying Mr. Lau had been transferred to the hospital’s general ward from the intensive-care unit.

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Attacked Hong Kong Journalist’s Condition Improves

“However, the reality is the wounds he suffers are deep and serious.…He will have to undergo a prolonged program of physiotherapy and other rehabilitation,” Ms. Lau said.

Mr. Lau was shown on television Saturday flashing an “OK” sign to reporters as he was being moved to the general ward.

Read the rest of this entry »