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Populism, Propaganda & Prejudice – Part 1

What happened to liberal, impartial and investigative journalism, in Hong Kong?

In this two-part series, the author uses the crisis in Hong Kong to point out shortcomings in contemporary journalism & international messaging. The current trend for populism, propaganda & prejudice, distorts factual and evidence-based reporting. In this part, he describes how misreporting on National Security Law, aspirations of protestors and 'one country, two systems', diverts attention from PRC’s behaviour as an aspiring world power.

We have many reasons to be angry with the People's Republic of China (PRC). Firstly, the COVID-19 coronavirus, originated from Wuhan, in Hubei Province. Perhaps, it is unfair to hold the Chinese people responsible for the pandemic; which caused, the death of almost 7,00,000 people, disruption of the global economy and mass unemployment. However, the Government of the PRC could be expected to be more graceful and even sympathetic, for the plight that has befallen the world. Secondly, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) was responsible for the death of 20 Indian soldiers, in the cold & desolate Galwan Valley, of the Himalayas. Plummeting soldiers with batons are hardly the behaviours expected from a professional armed force, let alone one belonging to a country, aspiring for world leadership. Thirdly, the PRC could be appreciated for creating the most enterprising manufacturing factories in the world. However, they could have been more circumspect in amassing foreign exchange reserves, which now holds the global economy to ransom. While there may be even more reasons for the global community to be annoyed & concerned with the PRC, there is little reason for the profession of journalism to sacrifice liberal, impartial and investigative journalism; in favour of populism, propaganda and prejudice.

In this article, we examine the truth about the protests in Hong Kong. Since 29 March 2019, when the Hong Kong Legislative Council introduced the bill, called Extradition Law Amendment Bill (ELAB-19), the Special Administrative Region (SAR) has been rocked by violent protests. 16 months on, the protests continue, and multiple messages have been communicated across our globe. Here is an objective analysis to some questions, those messages have raised.

Is the National Security Law (NSL), passed by the National People’s Congress of the PRC, a draconian law intended to suppress the free will of the people of Hong Kong?

The Hong Kong NSL, was passed by the People’s Congress of the PRC, on 30 June 2020; and, it entered into force, the same day. The 66-article document seeks to exercise control over Hong Kong’s 7.5M population, with regard to four felony offences; all related to national security. The offensives are secession, subversion, terrorism and colluding with anti-national elements. Hong Kong has been attempting to pass the NSL, since 1997, when the former British colony was returned to the PRC. There is even an article in the Basic Law (Hong Kong’s mini Constitution) calling upon the council, to do so. However, every time Hong Kong’s legislators attempt to pass the law, protests broke out, as was seen in 2003. 

Analysis: Most nations have national security laws, which empower law-enforcement to suppress, protests seeking independence, waging war against the state, terrorism and collusion with the enemy. In June-July, 2020, during the 44th Session of the Human Rights Council at Geneva, 53 states endorsed China’s new NSL, while 27 states criticized it. US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and EU countries, constituted the main opposition.

Assessment:  Laws which empower law-enforcement, have the potential for misuse.  Wisdom lies in applying state powers selectively and only for limited periods of time. It is, therefore, in the application of national security laws that controversy lies. Human Rights organizations like Amnesty International have a consistent policy to strengthen human rights; and, their criticism is understandable. However, it appears hypocritical, when states having stringent domestic security laws, like the Patriot Act, condemn the PRC for passing Hong Kong’s NSL.   

What do the Protesters Want?

The trigger for the mass-protests was the introduction of the bill for the Extradition Law (ELAB-19), in Hong Kong's Legislative Council. If enacted into law, it would have empowered local authorities, to detain and extradite fugitives wanted in other territories; including mainland China and Taiwan. However, consequent to the protests, the bill was withdrawn and Ms. Carrie Lam, Chief Executive, publicly declared in July 2019 that the bill, was dead. However, after the declaration, contrary to expectations, violence escalated with additional demands such as investigations into police excesses, the release of all arrested persons, the resignation of the Chief Executive and the introduction of Universal Suffrage, amongst others.

Assessment: There are no obvious leaders in Hong Kong's protests, and there appears to be no individual or group, with whom authorities can negotiate. Financial support for arrested protesters comes from little known trusts, like the 612 Humanitarian Fund and the Spark Alliance. However, after 16 months of protests, it appears that funds are now running low. The absence of visible leaders and financial support through trusts lends credence to the PRC’s accusation of external abetment.

What does ‘one-country, two-systems’ really mean?

Hong Kong became a British colony, after the Opium Wars of the 19th Century. In 1898, the annexation of Hong Kong was legitimized by a 99-year lease, which expired on 01 July 1997. Under British rule, the colony prospered becoming a vibrant commercial port, modern metropolis and international financial centre. ‘One-country, two-systems’, refers to the declared PRC policy for the governing of the British colony of Hong Kong and the Portuguese colony of Macao, after they were returned to the PRC. Under the system, these two SARs have their own currencies and economic & legal systems; but, defence and diplomacy are decided by Beijing. The mini-constitutions will remain valid for 50 years (2047 for Hong Kong and 2499 for Macao). It is unclear what will happen thereafter. 

Assessment: As Hong Kong continues to have its own currency and economic & legal systems, the passage of the NSL has not violated the principle of ‘One-country, two-systems’. However, it is certainly an assertion that ‘one-country’ takes precedence over ‘two-systems’.

Author: Maj Gen Moni Chandi (Retd), Chief Strategy Officer Synergia Foundation

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