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China blocks news of Hong Kong mass protests, blames foreign interference

A June 9 demonstration, at Central Government Complex (Hong Kong), capturing Harcourt Road, Admiralty. The confrontation. (Hf9631/Wikimedia Commons)
June 18, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

China reacted to mass protests in Hong Kong at the weekend by boosting censorship among its more than 800 million internet users, while blaming the United States for using the unrest as a “bargaining chip” in an ongoing trade war.

References to Sunday‘s two million-strong demonstration–against planned changes to extradition laws that would allow the rendition of alleged criminal suspects to mainland China–have been blocked from social media platforms in the country.

Authorities in the northern province of Shaanxi detained one person for forwarding video footage of the demonstration, RFA has learned.

“Media inside China aren’t allowed to report on it, and people who have forwarded video [of the protests] have been called in for questioning,” Li Weijie told RFA, citing the case of a friend of his from Shaanxi’s Yuncheng city who was detained by police after forwarding photos of the march.

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“His cell phone was confiscated; I sent off proof of the confiscation to a journalists’ group … a scan of the [police document],” Li said.

A rights activist from Changde city in the central province of Hunan, who gave only his surnamed Zou, said he was emotionally affected by Sunday‘s protest after viewing footage using circumvention tools to get around China’s Great Firewall of government censorship.

“There’s no way that domestic media would report this,” Zou said. He said Beijing is highly unlikely to just forget about the extradition law.

“Beijing is now watching to see the attitude of the general public in Hong Kong,” he said. “The [ruling] Chinese Communist Party isn’t going to drop its entrenched ideas: maybe they’ll drop it for a while, by postponing it for example, or delaying it for a while, but my guess is that they will still want to go ahead with it after that.”

He said Beijing is unlikely to allow Lam to resign for the time being, as the Chinese leadership isn’t given to compromises.

Instead, they would employ stopgap measures to make it look as if they were backing down, then use other means to implement the change, Zou said.

A former democracy activist surnamed Zhu from Hunan’s Huaihua city said he had seen reports on a number of protests in cities around the world, in support of Hong Kong’s anti-extradition campaign.

“I read online that more than 10,000 people in Taiwan supporting them, while Toronto was said to have 1,500 turn out. Hundreds of people also came out in Vancouver, even in Malaysia,” Zhu said.

“I have never heard of Malaysians supporting democratic demonstrations in Hong Kong or anywhere else before,” he said.

‘External forces’ blamed

He too said demands for Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam’sresignation are unlikely to be heeded.

“If the protests intensify, they could possibly to throw her under the bus as a scapegoat, if it would calm things down in the short term,” Zhu said. “But it may be possible to leave her in her post for a while, and wait until the time is right to replace her.”

Meanwhile, the Global Times newspaper, a tabloid published by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, laid the blame for the recent protests on “external forces.”

“Heightened interference by external forces including the U.S. and Europe in fomenting unrest in Hong Kong has encouraged protesters to create more trouble in the city,” the paper said in an editorial on Monday.

“Washington apparently wants to use Hong Kong to strong-arm Beijing,” it said, in a reference to the power of the U.S. President under the 1992 U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act to revoke Hong Kong’s status as a separate trading entity, should the city cease to enjoy sufficient autonomy from mainland China under the terms of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration governing the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

The Act provides for Hong Kong to enjoy special trade, immigration and economic privileges, and allows buyers in the city to acquire sensitive technology from U.S. suppliers.

The editorial blamed widespread public opposition to the extradition amendments on a “lack of quality national education.”

A drive to introduce more “patriotic education” into Hong Kong’s schools sparked a mass civil disobedience movement led by Joshua’s Wong’s Scholarism group in 2012.

“Due to Hong Kong’s colonial history of more than 150 years and a sense of superiority complex, most Hongkongers don’t have the urge and opportunity to visit the mainland and thus don’t really know about it,” the paper said.

The article repeated accusations that the protesters had “resorted to violence,” when it was police use of tear gas, rubber bullets, batons and pepper spray on unarmed protesters that drew widespread international criticism.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters that foreign countries should stop interfering in China’s internal affairs by commenting on recent events in Hong Kong.

“China resolutely opposes anyone who interferes in its internal affairs — including the events in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong just alluded to — using one-sided views and baseless … unwarranted accusations,” Lu told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.