As Beijing Continues To Creep Into Hong Kong, Internet Censorship Begins

from the democracy-on-decline dept

As we've written about recently, Beijing's creep into Hong Kong control has turned into nearly a dash as of late. What started with July's new "national security" law that allowed the mainland to meddle in Hong Kong's affairs led to arrests of media members in July, the expulsion and arrest of pro-democracy politicians in November, and then expanded arrests of members of the public who have said the wrong things in January.

And as that mad dash to tighten its grip before a new American administration takes office continues, Beijing appears to be starting the process of censoring the internet in Hong Kong as well. In a move likely designed to make this all look reasonable, the first reports revolve around a website used to post information about Hong Kong police.

Hong Kong’s biggest mobile telecom companies appear to have severed access to a website that listed the personal information of police officers, setting off fears that the authorities may use a new national security law to adopt censorship tactics widely used in mainland China.

Users attempting to access the site, called HKChronicles, on their mobile devices first noticed the disruption on Wednesday evening, according to the site’s owner, Naomi Chan, an 18-year-old high school student. Disruption came without any warning or explanation, she said.

Now, I can write the comments from some of you here to save you the trouble: if this is a site dedicated to doxxing police officers, how is blocking it unreasonable? Your desire to write that comment is almost certainly precisely why this site is the first to have gotten the mainland censorship treatment. But that's entirely besides the point.

Instead, frame it in your mind this way: a site that had previously been accessible by Hong Kong citizens no longer is as a result of the desires of mainland China. In other words, don't get lost in the details, just realize that this is likely the start of a trend. I don't think anyone really wants to suggest in the comments that Beijing will censor this site and stop there, do they? I hope not, because nobody thinks this is anything other than the first domino to fall on its way to internet censorship.

The disruption raised the prospect that the city, long a bastion of online freedom, could begin to fall under the shadow of the tight censorship system that separates mainland Chinese internet from the rest of the online world. On Hong Kong social media, many people worried that the authorities could eventually bring the city’s overall access to the open internet to an end.

“Their talking point has been the national security law will only target a small group of people,” said Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who specializes in online communication.  “In practice it hasn’t been limited to a small group of people,” Mr. Tsui said. “My concern is that internet censorship similarly won’t be limited to a small group of websites.”

It's worth noting that, for now, the method for censorship is different than the mainland's Great Firewall, but the end result is the same. I suppose the questions that remain are just how much more action Beijing is going to take prior to January 20th and what the Biden administration intends to do about any of this once it is in office.

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Filed Under: censorship, china, hkchronicles, hong kong, naomi chan, protests, site blocking


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  1. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 20 Jan 2021 @ 6:39am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Hong Kong is China

    "While affluent people in the financial sector, and the top tiers of the HK movie industry could move when they saw the writing on the wall, many didn't have that choice. Those are the voices I'm talking about."

    If you read the writing on the wall and have over 20 years worth of early warning that's quite enough time to move away from the slopes of mount Vesuvius. The people who did not have the means to start the emigration process at that point are more often than not those to whom it doesn't matter which leadership runs the nation so much as it matters how to feed themselves and their family. The average privileged HK resident was little worse off than the average western white collar worker and would have met very scant resistance in moving elsewhere.

    "I do suspect that the Chinese put pressure on a lot of the notable people who moved away to come back on threat of harm to their families."

    That would be a hell of a thing to manage to keep in secrecy. Are there any indications or reveals implying this is true? Because at the scale this would have to be pursued I'm pretty damn sure it'd be as difficult to keep a secret as a faked moon landing.

    "People like Jackie Chan and John Woo seemed to be very much opposed to Chinese rule in the 90s, but after moving to the US they went back and started making suspiciously patriotic Chinese movies."

    China has changed a lot since the 90's. To the point where it's a well-worn meme. In the '90's China was a developing nation with the international reputation of being the place where all the cheap plastic shit was made, and insofar as anything was heard or shown about how people lived it was in the form of a smog-riddled urban hellscape of vintage 1950 soviet-styled prison-chic apartment blocks or 18th century pig and duck farmland.
    Today China is a land of prosperity and opportunity for around 90-95% of the population, with a booming economy, massively expanded nationwide infrastructure, and all the bells and whistles the US wishes they still had.

    As long as you aren't an unfortunate part of the 5% of the citizenry Beijing has it in for, life is good. I don't think leverage is required, when the chinese expat comes home to visit his relatives in Tianjin and has to suffer the assumption that he's been toughing it out for years in the savage lands of the barbarian outback.
    The cage is very well gilded and provided with all the creature comforts you could ask for.

    If you are chinese today I'd argue there's more to be proud of about your nation than there would be for an american, with more or less the same caveats. Today we're outraged about Xinjiang, but a few years back we were looking at half a million Iraqi needlessly dead, a quarter of whom possibly purely civilian.

    We can argue about the demerits of a feudal bureaucracy (and there are many) elsewhere but at this stage in history, at least, China has successfully implemented the old formula which held their empire together as a nation for two and a half millennia. Too many people just look at China being a "communist" autocratic regime and immediately think of the USSR and DDR. And that's wrong. The average chinese person believes in the benevolence in the state, and for the vast majority of them, that belief will always prove correct. It's how China remains stable. By making sure the citizenry as a whole has little cause for grievance.

    I found your assertion about Jackie Chan surprising...if you have a link or decent google query about Jackie Chan's anti-chinese sentiments I'd appreciate it, because at least his wiki page and most other source I could find indicate he's been very much pro-China for a long time, and at least in public has always been an avid supporter of the chinese government.

    I found nothing at all about John Woo's political beliefs, so again, if you have any information, please share.


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