A distinct extra whiff of shoe-shine is in the air, as Chinese Communist Party apologists plead for the Foreign Correspondents Club to see sense and bar Hong Kong National Party activist Andy Chan from speaking there.
The South China Morning Post op-ed writer takes a cringe-inducing (‘as a Gweilo…’) approach and says we must respect China’s limits on free speech and its ‘culture and identity’ and not impose Western values on it. Spurious comparisons: terrorist beheadings on YouTube and death threats against UK politicians on Twitter.
The China Daily contributor robustly recites the ‘red line’ line, which means whatever we say it means, but in this case: separatist opinion = national-security threat = absolutely impermissible. He also suggests that an evil lurking foreign power might be engineering the FCC event in order to embarrass China (the NYT, Guardian, Time and others are already covering this story, so the ‘embarrassing China’ bit is probably right). Spurious comparisons: corruption, drugs and terrorist group ISIS.
The key point both make following their hackneyed ‘free speech has limits/ISIS’ blather, is that the FCC is in the wrong. (The subtle distinction is that the SCMP columnist says it’s because Andy Chan is perceived as a national threat, while China Daily is pretty sure he just is one.)
Neither examines the reason the press might consider Andy Chan newsworthy in the first place – that if the authorities succeed in their actions against his group, they will weaken the rights of Hong Kong people to assemble and to express opinions, and it will set a major precedent. This is potentially the biggest repressive step Beijing has taken in Hong Kong so far – a ‘red line’ indeed.
So both these columns (and probably others out there) are aimed at making the story about the FCC (‘located in publicly owned premises’, etc) rather than about the degradation of Hong Kong people’s rights.
You can see why Beijing and the local-administration minions – especially when combining their different PR skill-sets – would spin the story like this. It’s a diversion.
The problem is that the FCC and the media are to a great extent the same thing. The spin-doctors are trying to shift the media’s attention away from Andy Chan onto… the media. In other words, from Threat to Freedom of Speech to Threat to Freedom of the Press (in guise of Threat to Lease on Clubhouse).
Did they think this through?