Via the New York Times:
As the police deploy tear gas against protesters on the streets of Hong Kong, another battle is raging less visibly: the one for narrative control. After weeks of asserting that the unrest had been orchestrated by foreign “black hands,” Chinese officials on Monday accused protesters of showing the first signs of “terrorism.” Such messaging is key to Beijing’s public opinion operation, which has been turned up to full volume.
The weapons of this information war include a flood of social media posts from state-run media, some carrying misinformation. When a woman dispensing first aid was shot in the eye by the Hong Kong police, the state-run CCTV reported on its official social media account that she had been shot by protesters. It also accused her of handing out money to demonstrators. Chinese readers are unlikely to question the veracity of such an authoritative source, and CCTV’s Weibo post, which says the movement is slandering the Hong Kong police by blaming them for the injury, has been liked more than 700,000 times.
Ten weeks ago, when Hong Kongers first took to the streets to protest disputed extradition legislation, Beijing censored all reports of this civil unrest. But in recent days, it has reveled in posting video of protesters purportedly using air guns, slingshots and petrol bombs against the police. The state-run Global Times has described protesters as “nothing more than street thugs who want Hong Kong to ‘go to hell,’” or as people who had “voluntarily stripped themselves of their national identity.” Such descriptions are aimed at delegitimizing the protesters’ cause, especially among educated mainlanders who might otherwise be sympathetic.
Chinese people living or studying overseas are another important audience for Beijing’s messaging. Their primary news diet is largely delivered via WeChat, a Chinese chat app where messages are subject to censorship, so they often still fall within Beijing’s propaganda orbit. Recent pictures of an American diplomat meeting two activists, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, were used to bolster Beijing’s claims of hostile foreign forces backing the protests. On Tuesday, scenes of a Chinese state media worker being tied up at the airport and beaten by young protesters flooded Chinese social media, bolstering calls for Beijing to intervene militarily in Hong Kong.
Such messaging helps to mobilize Chinese communities, especially newly arrived migrants in Australia, Canada, the United States and elsewhere, to support the official line from Beijing. One website for a planned protest this weekend in Sydney asks Chinese to stand together against “rioting” in Hong Kong, which it said was causing discrimination against Chinese in Australia.
The battle over Hong Kong is, in effect, being exported, pitting overseas Chinese communities against each other. Over the past few weeks, “Lennon Walls,” covered in colorful Post-it notes expressing support for Hong Kong, have been torn down by supporters of Beijing from Auckland, New Zealand, to Vancouver, British Columbia, and from Hobart, Australia, to Harvard Square. After a violent tussle between pro-China and pro-Hong Kong students in late July at the University of Queensland in Australia, the Chinese consul-general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, issued a statement praising the “spontaneous patriotic behavior of Chinese students.”
One reason this conflict is playing out on social media is that almost all of Hong Kong’s big media companies are owned by mainland business executives or groups with extensive business interests in China, so they have instinctively taken a pro-Beijing stance. This has left digital news outlets and the overseas media as the front line in the battle for public opinion. People trying to livestream the protests and foreign media are apparently already being targeted by the police. In recent weeks, a BBC journalist was saved from injury only by his face mask, which shattered when the police shot directly at his head. Another reporter wearing a bright yellow press vest was crushed against a wall by three police officers. Two journalists were attacked by a gang of street thugs, and a well-known British livestreamer scratching his belly was publicly accused by a pro-Beijing politician of being a “foreign commander” sending hand signals to protesters. Such an accusation would be laughable had it not been so widely shared.
To counter what they say are lies and malicious distortions, the protesters have started to hold regular news conferences, with their representatives addressing the media wearing face masks and yellow helmets. The movement’s social media strategy has been to use colorful memes and videos tailored for different audiences, including large-print messages with floral backgrounds for elderly readers.
In recent days, the state-run Chinese media has begun sharing videos showing large-scale exercises featuring the People’s Armed Police, a paramilitary group, in the city of Shenzhen, over the border from Hong Kong. The same group, instead of the People’s Liberation Army, was used to crack down on protests in Chengdu in 1989. Hong Kongers may dismiss these provocations as bluffing, but it is a clear sign that the information war, like the battle for Hong Kong itself, is set to escalate further.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, via SCMP:
Hong Kong’s airport struggled to pick up the pieces on Wednesday after securing a court order to clear out anti-government demonstrators who had grounded nearly 1,000 flights and a day earlier unleashed unprecedented violence that prompted widespread condemnation.
Beijing and local officials, residents and tourists, as well as business and international aviation groups denounced the actions of the protesters who had cable-tied, beaten and tormented for several hours two mainland Chinese men whom they accused of being spies and clashed with riot police.
Beijing officials overseeing the city’s affairs compared their actions to that of terrorists, and said the radical protesters had “totally breached the bottom line of the law, morals and humanity”.
Good luck with that, also at SCMP:
Hong Kong police fired tear gas at anti-government protesters who had gathered outside Sham Shui Po Police Station to pray for blessings in a celebration of the annual Hungry Ghost Festival on Wednesday night after they refused to stop aiming laser beams at the building and leave the area.
The event started at 8pm on Yen Chow Street outside the Dragon Centre shopping centre, which is near Sham Shui Po Police Station, one of the spots where protesters had clashed with officers on several occasions earlier this month.
A few dozen participants burned paper offerings to mark the festival, a traditional Taoist and Buddhist event that takes place on the 14th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, which fell on Wednesday this year.
Satellite photos show what appear to be armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles belonging to the China’s paramilitary People’s Armed police parked in a sports stadium in the city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, which some have interpreted as Beijing threatening increased force against pro-democracy protesters.
The pictures collected on Monday by Maxar’s WorldView show more than 100 vehicles sitting on and around the soccer stadium at the Shenzhen Bay sports centre just across the harbour from the Asian financial hub that has been rocked by more than two months of near-daily street demonstrations.
The US State Department said on Wednesday that it was “deeply concerned” by reports of Chinese forces massing on the border with Hong Kong and urged Beijing to respect the territory’s autonomy. A US congressional committee also promised “swift consequences” for any military crackdown amid continued pro-democracy demonstrations.
The statement by a State Department spokeswoman cited “staunch” support for freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in Hong Kong. The lawmakers’ statement, co-authored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, referred to Beijing’s bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 and dovetailed with comments by China experts. The bipartisan comments were significantly more forceful than those made recently by US President Donald Trump.
If and when the CPC noose tightens around HK then expect sanctions from Europe to rain down as well. It may end HK’s freedoms but it will also end China’s free and easy period of globalisation.
The crackdown will be condemned everywhere but here, via the AFR:
China is increasingly reliant on Australian energy and mineral exports as the trade war with the United States rumbles on, crimping Beijing’s ability to penalise Canberra for its tougher stance on national security issues.
Australia supplied a record 74 per cent of China’s imported iron ore in June, according to trade figures, almost double the monthly average from 10 years ago.
…”China is in some respects more dependent on us than we are on them,” said Ross Babbage, a former analyst at Australia’s Office of National Assessments, the nation’s peak intelligence agency.
But will we use that leverage? Come now, there are house prices to protect.
He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.
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