No-one can say we don’t have a broad, comprehensive choice of English-language news media. Today’s South China Morning Post reports that China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs boss ‘Wang Guangya says no rush on Article 23 law‘. The Standard, on the other hand, tells us that ‘Wang hints [that] time to enact Article 23 is coming soon‘.
There are several possible explanations. Maybe the mainland official is indulging in traditional-style Communist vagueness, and you can interpret Wang’s comments either way. Maybe one of the newspapers’ reporters misheard the remarks and an incorrect story has now mistakenly appeared in its pages. Neither is unprecedented. Or it could be that one of the newspapers relentlessly puts a staunch pro-establishment/pro-Beijing spin on everything it can, even if the result is the publication of what media experts give the technical term ‘complete crap’.
For a clue, we can look at the adjacent story in the Standard, in which the newspaper – part of tycoon Charles Ho’s Sing Tao group – informs readers that former civil servant whistleblower Jeremy Godfrey is backtracking, changing his tune and, by insinuation, is an untrustworthy slimebag maligning our clean, honest and upright administration. Only the most persistent readers will probably make it all the way to the final paragraphs where it transpires that Godfrey is now saying that he thought the top civil servant in the case shared his misgivings. Contrary to the Standard’s slant, it looks more rather than less likely that the government did indeed rig a bidding process to help political allies.
Similarly anyone reading past the first few paragraphs will find that the Standard offers no evidence to support the gist of its headline. As it and the SCMP report, egg tart fan Mr Wang said that a national security law will be enacted “when society [‘everyone’ in the SCMP] reaches a consensus.” That’s almost tantamount to saying that Beijing will let the radical-chic lawyers of the Civic Party decide on when the ‘sacred duty’ needs to be performed. Thus Article 23 joins health care finance reform, broadening of the tax base and cleaning of the air as one of those pressing issues on which no action will be taken until 7 million fractious people and a pack of rottweiler-like vested interests come to blissful and complete agreement.
This makes practical sense because Article 23, for all the sensitivity, mystique and fear surrounding it, is basically a load of hot air. It is rooted in paranoia about Hong Kong as a source of subversion in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. It became a battle in the war between pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps – a battle lost by the latter. It inspired the people of Hong Kong to topple their last Chief Executive. All this, and the wording of the final proposed bill in 2003 was far lamer than the existing colonial legislation it was designed to replace. If Beijing could drop the whole thing without losing face, they probably would.
Meanwhile, back in the Standard’s fantasy land…