From Slovakia to Japan, top Hong Kong officials have fired off at least 500 letters blasting critical foreign media coverage, as the city wages a global battle to safeguard its reputation as a liberal financial hub.
At least 174 media outlets in almost 30 countries received missives from city leaders, including its now chief executive, John Lee, since China announced in May 2020 that it would impose a national security law on the former British colony.
The correspondence, often written both in English and the publication’s native language, was uploaded to the “Clarifications” tab of the government’s communications platform known as Brand Hong Kong.
About half of the letters, which responded to a mix of reports and editorials, hit back at criticism of Beijing’s sweeping security law, while roughly a third defended a mandate that only Communist Party loyalists can hold office in the city.
Neighboring Asian nations got 42 percent of the complaints, led by Japan and South Korea, while business publications got the most letters.
Beijing’s security law has prompted authorities to shutter critical media outlets, ban events marking the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and jail dozens of opposition leaders.
Beyond curbing local dissent, city officials are spending time countering views published by organizations based thousands of miles away.
Newly installed Commerce Secretary Algernon Yau said at a Legislative Council meeting last week that Hong Kong’s 14 global trade offices had written about 1,000 letters in connection with the security law and electoral system overhaul to unspecified “stakeholders” over the past two years.
Yau added that the government was pushing to bolster the city’s image in Central Asia, Islamic countries and Africa.
Hong Kong’s government has been “closely monitoring” news reports and social platforms for “false information” about Hong Kong, a spokesman for the city’s Information Services Department (ISD) said.
“The ISD is duty-bound to make clarifications through various channels to curb the spread of rumors.”
Lee, a former top security official who took power on July 1, has said he would dispatch ministers around the world in an effort to restore the city’s global reputation.
“We shall make good use of our discourse power to tell a good Hong Kong story and tell the achievements and real truth about the success of Hong Kong,” Lee said at his inauguration, echoing language used by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
While opposition voices had been suppressed in Hong Kong’s local media, international outlets were problematic for the government, according to professor of law and international affairs Michael Davis at O.P. Jindal Global University in India.
“Press freedom either no longer exists or is hanging by a thread,” said Prof Davis, a former law professor at the University of Hong Kong.
“The only bright spot is that honest foreign coverage can still penetrate the city.”
Hong Kong’s crackdown on freedoms has eroded the city’s reputation among some foreign governments. The United States has sanctioned senior city officials, including Lee, over the erosion of liberties and rolled back preferential trading privileges.
Two British judges this year withdrew from the city’s Court of Final Appeal, with the British government saying their roles risked “legitimizing oppression”.
The municipal authorities in Brussels last month pulled ads celebrating Hong Kong’s 25th anniversary of Chinese rule from the city’s trams, after complaints about Beijing’s human rights record.
The letters often characterized foreign media coverage of such events as being a “grossly biased misrepresentation of facts” and accused them of making “groundless allegations”.
SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES