Test ball, warning shot, attack dog: is Hong Kong witnessing a rebirth of the “spokesperson for the continent”?
Hans Yeung Wing-yu feared the worst when journalists from pro-Beijing newspapers, Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po called him on May 13 of last year. Earlier today, Orange news, an online news site linked to the main Beijing office in Hong Kong, had published an article in which the former head of history assessment development at the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) was accused of distorting history.
The “evidence” was a 10-year-old “friends only” Facebook post in which Yeung told the story of a man from Henan arrested for showing up at a wedding dressed as an Imperial Japanese Army soldier with the commentary : “Without the Japanese invasion of China, would there be a new China?”
The government immediately ordered the HKEAA to investigate.
The next day, Yeung found himself in the front page Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao, labeled as a “yellow” (pro-democracy) examiner and criticized him as a “black hand” in the HKEAA. The stories were published under the banner of an “Education SOS” series in Ta Kung Paoand the series “Yellow Circle Brainwashing” in Wen Wei Po. In one interview with digital plug Citizen News, Yeung said he knew the timing was no coincidence. On May 14, Hong Kong students took their DSE Chinese history exam and one of the questions asked them to discuss whether Japan had done “more good than harm” to China. between 1900 and 1945.
Sure enough, the newspapers were splashed with news of the exam question, accusing him of glorifying the Japanese invasion and leading the students to become “Han traitors”. The Education Bureau withdrew the question, overturning thousands of responses, and after sustained pressure, Yeung resigned in August.
For seasoned and former journalist Wen Wei Po Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Ching Cheong, the episode carried all the hallmarks of a planned and coordinated campaign. “The day the exam question came out, they had already done [Yeung] – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Bureau and the Liaison Office with China could react immediately, ”said Ching.
“It is possible that the intelligence services have noticed [of Yeung’s] comments some time ago, gathered all the data. Once they discovered the exam question, they could present it on the same day. Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao played a functional role in the process. When [Beijing] wants to publicize something, they use their tools, the Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao.“
Historically, the so-called left-wing (pro-Beijing) media in Hong Kong have served two main purposes: spreading propaganda and helping the work of the united front. The latter refers to the practice of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of conquering and co-opting individuals, networks, and groups both inside and outside of China to expand their influence and control. At their peak in the 1950s and early 1960s, there were five left-wing dailies in Hong Kong, each targeting a specific readership.
Ching says Wen Wei Po was “the reddest of all,” and was aimed at readers in organizations directly run by the CCP, such as Beijing-backed unions, schools, and businesses. Ta Kung Pao was responsible for convincing businessmen and intellectuals. The now gone New evening message mission was to broaden a base of left-wing readers, while the united front targets of Ching Po Daily (also disappeared) and Daily Commercial were ordinary residents of Hong Kong with no strong partisan affiliations.
Loss of market relevance
Unlike their mainland counterparts, the CCP-backed media in colonial Hong Kong had to compete in the marketplace. To Yiu-ming, retired journalism professor from Baptist University, explains, “Hong Kong was useful to the CCP, had a role as a place where they could attract talent, resources, engage in activities. diplomatic and economic. [leftist] papers had more flexibility … some of them – like the Ching Po Daily and Daily Commercial – offered entertainment and horse racing… Jin Yong’s martial arts novels were first published in Ta Kung Pao.“
They succeeded. Left-wing newspapers held up to a 30% market share before the violence of the riots inspired by the Cultural Revolution of 1967 – of which the publisher at the time Ta Kung Pao was a leader – hijacked readers en masse.
The publications lost their relevance in the marketplace, but they continued to be read by those who needed to keep abreast of political developments as they often carried the first indications of central government policy decisions regarding Hong Kong. . This function has become more pronounced since Beijing tightened its grip on Hong Kong in recent years, and especially after the implementation of the National Security Law.
Ching points out that Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po were and are “100% Party Organ Journals,” CCP spokespersons under the direct control of propaganda officials from the CCP’s Hong Kong apparatus.
Control is also reflected in ownership. In 2015, a Next magazine investigation revealed company registration documents which showed that a company controlled by the Chinese Liaison Office, Guangdong Xin Wenhua, held 88.4% of the Wen Wei Po and 99.9% of Ta Kung Pao. In turn, Guangdong Xin Wenhua controls a company that owns local publishing giant Sino United Publishing, which also controls the online platform. Orange news as well as the largest publishing and bookstore chains in Hong Kong.
In 2016, Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po have been merged to pool editorial and technical resources, although they continue to publish separate journals. In terms of editorial direction, not much separates the titles.
To the cultural revolution
For individuals and organizations that find themselves in the crosshairs of publications, the consequences can be worrying. Ching says this is especially the case for people who can be elevated to positions of power and influence. He cites the example of Johannes Chan Man-mun, former dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). Chan, a respected lawyer known for his liberal political views, had been considered a candidate for the post of vice-chancellor for personnel and resources after being recommended by a search committee headed by the vice-chancellor in November 2014.
In January 2015, Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao launched a series of articles attacking him. Among other things, they accused him of interfering in politics, of having “housed” Occupy Central official Benny Tai Yiu-ting in his faculty and of being responsible for a deterioration in the quality of the teaching. research in the faculty under his direction – a charge based on a report by the then embargoed University Grants Commission. In one Ming Pao In the article, Chan described the campaign against him as “a fight against Cultural Revolution-style criticism.”
“They classified him as being in the ‘enemy’ camp,” Ching said. “Once they found out that Chan could become pro-vice-chancellor, Wen Wei and Your kung started to ride it. Then you can see that once they targeted him, many different people came out to criticize him. This created a very strong public opinion that HKU was forced to take it into consideration.
The HKU Council ultimately rejected Chan’s appointment in September 2015.
In addition to pro-democracy politicians, activists and activist groups, the education sector and universities, sections of the Hong Kong media are also often the target of attacks. The Hong Kong Journalists Association and RTHK are frequently criticized, but the most vitriol is leveled at Apple Daily and its founder Jimmy Lai.
These attacks have intensified in recent weeks, with Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao publish several pages denouncing the proliferation of “fake news” in Hong Kong by pro-democracy “yellow media”, a trend which she says has been started Apple Daily. The dailies amplified calls for legislation banning “fake news” and Ta Kung Pao opinion piece written by a senior commentator Apple Daily to be banned.
Ching says that doesn’t bode well for Hong Kong’s only openly pro-democracy newspaper. “When I was at Wen Wei Po, many of these opinion papers were in fact written by the staff of the New Chinese News Agency (NCNA) political departments. They reflected the position of the NCNA and were intended to guide opinion and reflect the intentions of management. The NCNA was Beijing’s de facto representative in colonial Hong Kong which was replaced by the China Liaison Office in 2000.
Today, Ching sees Beijing using its Hong Kong proxies to “release test balloons” to gauge public opinion and hint at politics. And officials and politicians are taking note. “Does that mean people have to adjust their positions based on their editorials? I do not know. Maybe we haven’t reached that stage yet, ”he says. “But what we can say for sure is that their editorials carry a lot more weight after the NSL [National Security Law] than before. ”
With the national security apparatus firmly in place and the lines constantly redrawn on what is allowed in Hong Kong, it is not just senior officials who are paying attention to Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po.
“In the past, people didn’t want to give them a second thought. They have very few readers and what they say is totally out of line with Hong Kong values, ”says Ching. “But now, the CCP’s influence is everywhere and inescapable. He has global governance and when he has global governance you have to listen to what his spokesperson in Hong Kong is saying. “