Chinese Communist Party brings Hong Kong war Downunder

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.

And this:

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.

And this:

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.

David Llewellyn-Smith

David Llewellyn-Smith is Chief Strategist at the MB Fund and MB Super. David is the founding publisher and editor of MacroBusiness and was the founding publisher and global economy editor of The Diplomat, the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics and economics portal.

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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  1. Perhaps an aside, perhaps not. NSW police are recruiting 1200 new members per year up %100 from 600 per year.

    Expecting some ‘unrest’?

    • same in Vic, around 3000 extra on lower crime figures Dan says..go figure. We’re added how many people over the last five years, so even with mass surveil we need more police…It’s might be really bad and we don’t know it? On this story the CCp will flip out soon and Hk will be assimilated with the rest of us. You’d never know the risk from the vix either with all this chaos going on.

  2. Block wechat.

    When they get pissy, ask them to unblock their firewalls.

    I’d love to go slow our coal exports too, but our leaders are way too weak for that.

    • John Howards Bowling Coach

      There is not a chance in hell the Chinese government would unblock the internet great firewalls they have in place. Even suggesting it as a joke is a waste of thought.

  3. Why should China bother cracking down?
    “There is also an automatic end date for the riots. On September 2 the new semester begins and the students will turn back to studies. The rioters will lose their critical mass. The whole issue will end up as another failure without the U.S. achieving any of its aims.”

      • Great optics,
        “Travelers who spoke Mandarin were attacked. The scene became extremely ugly when a journalist from the Chinese Global Times was beaten until he fainted. Protesters claimed that he was with the police and hindered paramedics from reaching and caring for the man. Only when police intervened were the first-aiders able to remove the unconscious person. One of the rioters who beat the man had a U.S. flag in his hand(vid). When the stretcher was rolled out of the airport another protester with a U.S. flag on a pole ran after it and beat the patient (vid).”

      • Facts, there were 2 mainland dudes, the one that was mildly hit was a mainland cop with a shit” I love HK police” … an implant from the mainland, he was supposed to cause that, makes people like you get upset…the other was a global times reporter who has been spreading pro Beijing articles, unfort the protesting kids fell into their trap… know you facts then think about it before rabbiting on…cause that’s exactly what they want, to change global opinion, then excuse to take control…..

      • agreed Rob interesting that the full vid was not shown on watching the full vid you see why the cop was being attacked …

    • John Howards Bowling Coach

      I can’t be sure but I suspect that they have been hiring HK police from across the border, Cantonese speakers, but aligned to the party not to the people. Given the active program to flush a lot of Mainland Chinese into the city that would make sense. In the years since I started travelling to HK regularly I can see a lot of population growth as well as a lot of infiltration from the Mainland, you hear a lot more Mandarin on the streets in place of that particular HK Cantonese accent these days.

      • Word from some teachers in Hong Kong schools is that the police have been recruiting some real drop-out, loser types in recent years. They reckon the average PC Plod is of a much lower standard now than a few years ago.

  4. It is a bit ironic that NYT and Mericans in general is losing their sh!t over this.

    Just google images for “ferguson missouri police” to see the hypocrisy writ large. The effing Police of a no name town in US is more militarised than the effing People’s Liberation Army !!

    • Wonder how behaviour like this would go down with authorities in USA?
      “Ugly confrontation between a huge crowd of protesters and a man they believe is an undercover cop has been ongoing for over an hour now. Have zip tied the man’s hands and fighting over whether to move him. He’s collapsed twice. 

      Its all so ugly and angry and nihilistic. Asked kids who said he was faking what if he wasn’t, they said who cares. Asked what if he dies, who cares. Asked them what they think will happen if he is a cop and he dies, “so they shutdown HK? Good! We are ready for it, we want it.” 

      This was a movement famous for clearing thousands of people out of the way on the streets to let an ambulance through, now blocking a stretcher while a handful of more reasonable people in tears try to reason with them. 

      Most surreal moments have been people (seeing press vest) come up to “explain” to me things they’re clearly getting from Telegram, claiming without evidence the guy is 100% a cop because someone Googled him, or that he had weapons (different guy) or that he was faking fainting.”

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      You don’t need a lot of weapons to take down unarmed protesters, In contrast, guns are far more easily available in the US.

    • Good link. Thanks for sharing.

      Some day the worst will come to pass with speed and violence. The scale of human suffering will be immense, as it has been many times in China’s past. And I think that’s the point with the former empire that we now call the nation China. It’s character has always been periods of peace, and sometimes prosperity for some, punctuated by times of terrible violence and suffering. This is its way. Perhaps that’s what happens when you try to hold an empire together for too long.

      This understanding is one reason why the Dalai Lama has tremendous sympathy for the people of China.

    • Good summary, although I still believe that other outcomes are possible where the ruling CCP party sees improved political and social value going hand in hand with increased personal freedom and a more transparent rule of law.
      In some ways if HK is to revert to be fully integrated into China in 2047 than it probably makes sense to gradually transition rather than waiting till the last possible minute and facing enormous disruption.

  5. “Come now, there are house prices to protect.”

    Yep, Australians have made it abundantly clear that house profits are more important than people for some time now.

  6. Ronin8317MEMBER

    The police attack on reporters, starting from day one, and put the entire HK media against the administration. Even though ‘editorial control’ is being imposed now, it is already too late.

  7. “”
    Nothing to see here. All those vehicles in the stadium, is just overflow parking for whatever commie rally is happening in Shenzen.

  8. John Howards Bowling Coach

    The issue for the world and China is that which was put to me about 17 years ago by a Chinese employee I had. He stated to me that China needs the communist party because the people are ungovernable in a democracy. At that time I thought he was just brainwashed, but over the interceding years I have spent a lot of time in an out of that country and my better half is also originally a mainlander. I tend to agree with him. Chinese people never follow rules, they never obey the law, they never pay tax, unless they are forced to do so. They also trash the environment as badly as any other nation, and almost never take an inclusive view, everything tends toward what they can get rather that what they can give. So given all that, it is no wonder that China has always had strongman leaders and likely always will need to. Look at the Middle East to see what happens when the ruling dictator is removed, many people in this world can’t live with freedom, when they have it, all hell breaks loose. Perhaps China is one of those places that needs to have enforced rules?

  9. Riiiiight….
    The next thing is then to see Colin Powel and NathanYahoo in UN showing evidence with nice coloured charts and vials… case closed, humanitarian intervention is the next logical step.