Google Faces No Hong Kong Censors After China Retreat

The article below shows how the “one country, two systems”, under which Hong Kong is governed by China, works.

March 24 (Bloomberg) — Hong Kong says it won’t help China censor Google Inc., after the search engine provider said it would route mainland users through its site in the city.

Hong Kong respects freedom of information and its free flow, a spokesman for the city’s Information Services Department said yesterday, declining to be identified as a matter of policy. There are no restrictions on access to Web sites, including access to Hong Kong-based Web sites from China, he said.

While China regularly blocks content from Web sites outside its borders, Hong Kong’s reaction illustrates the autonomy it enjoys under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy that guided its 1997 return to Chinese sovereignty. Hong Kong’s constitution, the Basic Law, guarantees freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom and privacy of communication.

The government’s response to Google’s move yesterday “highlights Hong Kong’s advantages,” said David Zweig, a political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “It’s worth reminding people that they can come to Hong Kong because of ‘One Country, Two Systems.”

Thirteen years after the Hong Kong handover, Beijing has done little to meddle in management of the city — home to Asia’s third-largest stock market by capitalization, 34 billionaires and the world’s third-highest office rents.

News, Rumors

“One of Hong Kong’s key rationales as a financial center is its freedom of information,” said Michael DeGolyer, professor of government and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. “One reason that fund management is in the city and not in China is freedom of information. If you can’t get either the news or the rumor you’re not going to be able to buy and sell with any accuracy. This is why Hong Kong is still the financial center of China.”

Google decided to direct traffic to the Hong Kong site after a two-month dispute with the Chinese government over censorship. Analysts say China will continue to control content within its borders, blocking content from Hong Kong and beyond.
“It’s very likely that Google.com.hk will be blocked at least as aggressively as Google.com was and, more likely, probably more aggressively,” said Ben Schachter, an analyst at Broadpoint AmTech Inc. in San Francisco.

Google’s Conscience

So instead of censoring itself, Google is placating its conscience by having China do the filtering, Andy Xie, an independent economist, said in a phone interview.

Given that Apple Daily, a mass circulation Chinese-language newspaper, operates in Hong Kong with an editorial line severely critical of the mainland government, the rerouting of searches is unlikely to prompt a crackdown in the city, Xie said.

“Of course, the Chinese government is unhappy about Google’s decision because of the cost” of censoring increased Web traffic, Xie said.

By late morning yesterday, searches for “Tiananmen” on computers in Shanghai and Beijing could not be displayed, suggesting the government had started limiting access.

Since the People’s Liberation Army entered Hong Kong at midnight on June 30, 1997, the city’s 7 million residents have continued to enjoy freedoms far beyond those of their counterparts across the border in mainland China.

In 2003, the local population even overturned planned restrictions on freedom. After about half a million people marched against anti-subversion legislation, then-Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa withdrew the plan and later resigned.

To be sure, Hong Kong lacks fully democratic elections, a target promised in the Basic Law that Beijing has indicated will not occur before 2020. China has criticized the tactics of legislators seeking a faster pace of progress.

Other things prohibited in China remain legal in Hong Kong.

The Falun Gong spiritual movement, banned in China as an “evil cult,” operates openly in Hong Kong, organizing displays in public places such as the Star Ferry pier publicizing allegations of abuse by the mainland government.

And groups, from Trotskyists demanding full democracy and the departure of Chief Executive Donald Tsang to bar workers denouncing plans to limit indoor smoking, demonstrate freely.

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From China bashing to China praising

 

Wen Jiabao comforts a wounded child <img src=

I had previously written on the Tibet issue and criticised the western medias for China bashing. Nevertheless, I did not say the western medias were entirely to be blamed (read more in my blog of 24/04/08 ). I am happy to see that the western medias have overwhelmingly turned to praising China in its handling of the current Sichuan earthquake.

The Los Angeles Times reported that “Amid Tragedy lies opportunity:”

“Within a few hours after the quake, the Communist Party’s central propaganda department issued an order that Chinese news organizations not send reporters to the scene, but instead only use material from CCTV or from the official New China News Agency. What happened next, however, indicates how much China has changed… And Chinese media broadly ignored the propaganda department’s order. Many newspapers and regional television stations sent reporters to the scene. By Tuesday, the propaganda department appeared to have given up, and simply instructed that journalists “implement the spirit of the central government and use a reporting tone stressing unity, stability and positive publicity,” according to a journalist who had read the order

In The Wall Street Journal, Chinese born, raised and educated reporter, Li Yuan reported that “Sichuan Quake Shows Changing China:”

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Sichuan within hours, accompanied by the state press corps. State media, from the Central Television Station to the Xinhua News Agency (my former employer), covered the disaster vigorously. ”

The New York Times reported that “A Rescue in China, Uncensored

Dali Yang, the director of the East Asian Institute in Singapore, said the [Chinese] government might have come to the realization that openness and accountability could bolster its legitimacy and counter growing anger over corruption, rising inflation and the disparity between the urban rich and the rural poor. “I think their response to this disaster shows they can act, and they can care,” he said. “They seem to be aware that a disaster like this can pull the country together and bring them support…

“Mr. Shi [a professor of media studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing] said he was surprised by the government’s candor and the vigor of the state-run Chinese press… like many experts, he said the Olympics were pushing China to experiment with a greater degree of openness. “This is the first time the Chinese media has lived up to international standards,” he said, adding, “I think the government is learning some lessons from the past.””

The Times magazine and the Washington Posts made similar comments in the respective articles entitled “China Quake Damage Control” and “China Expedites Vast Rescue Operation.

At the centre of all these media mania is none other than the people premier, Wen Jiabao. Within 2  hours of the earthquake, Wen was already on the plane flying from Beijing to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. Wen then immediately proceeded to the epicenter of the earthquake, Beichuan, overseeing the rescue operation. Wen of course knew the seriousness of a scale 7.9 earthquake as his training was in geology. Wen had promptly mobilised the military forces and medical staff to the scene. If China were to proscrinate (like Mynamar), the casualties would have been more serious than the 50,000 deaths currently estimated.

We could see Wen at various cities around the epicenter of the earthquake directing the rescue units, comforting and lending support to the victims and their relatives. In the photo above, Wen was personally comforting a child wounded in the earthquake. What Wen did not only won the praises of the western medias but also touched the hearts of over 1.4 billion Chinese all over the world. 

What is more important is that China did not blame the disaster on “heaven” (which Chinese (the race) would traditionally do on such occasion). As a matter of fact, the country tries to get to the root of the problem. The state run newspaper, China Daily, said in its Editorials that “we cannot afford not to raise uneasy questions about the structural quality of the school buildings“. A large number of school children died as a result of the collapses of the schools. The central government of China announced that it would launch a full scale investigation into whether some local officials had violated state policies with regard to the construction of schools. It was said that some of the schools were built of shoddy quality and some violated the height restrictios. The government had made it clear that any officials, if found guilty of wrongdoings, would be seriously reprimanded.  

I think the same investigions should be extended to other buildings in the affected cities as well as throughout the nation. Personally, I think, due to the rapid economic growth of the country, China has been laxed in its approval of building constructions, especially at the local level.

On 15 May, China, in a news conference, welcomed assistance in the form of medical aids from other countries, which is quite unusally as China tends to keep things of such nature as its internal affairs. Financially, China should have no diffiulties in meeting the huge expenses to be incurred in this disaster. However, China lacks experience, resources and expertise in dealing with earthquake of this magnitude. As a matter of fact, volunteers from the United States and Japan are giving their helping hands to China. This certainly helps ease the tension between tbe Chinese people and foreigners, which made headlines news recently.

The Sichuan earthquake is a real tradegy. The only good thing comes out of it probably is the apparent change of attitude of the western medias towards China and verse versa.  Let’s hope that this crisis would live up to the true sense of this word in Chinese,  “危机 “, which semantically means “to every danger there is an opportunity”. Let’s make it an opportunity that China would view the western medias and foreigners in a more positive light.