The pros and cons of an impossible PR campaign

With jails full of politicians, protestors, speech therapists and activists, and professional and protest groups disbanding, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam denies that there is a crackdown on civil society. (Geremie Barme writes on the analogy between the Taliban entering Kabul in 2021 and the CCP taking over in Beijing in 1949. His description of post-1949 crackdowns might tell you something about what more Hong Kong can expect in future.)

Would you expect Carrie to say? Still, her claim highlights Hong Kong’s ongoing image and reputation problems.

HK Free Press offers a crosstalk-style pair of articles on the government’s multi-million dollar PR consultation and the supposedly forthcoming (post-Covid) image relaunch campaign – one pro and one con. At least that’s the theory. In fact, the establishment advocate, Regina Ip, thinks the official PR approach is crap as well – though not in the same way. 

She thinks the consultation’s survey of overseas perceptions should have included the Mainland, which is classic wannabe-CE virtue-signalling. She also says that the eventual messaging should not try to gloss over political ‘sensitivities’ (which she chooses not to detail). This too is designed to please CCP overseers who don’t see anything to apologize for. But it also makes some PR sense.

Why were two million people on the streets in the first place? Why did authorities not listen to public opinion and seek a political solution – as you would expect of an open dynamic cosmopolitan world city – but instead go for the Third World-dictatorship option of tear gas, mass-arrests and a subsequent NatSec dismantling of human rights, rule of law and civil society? If you really want to relaunch Hong Kong as a brand, a PR consultation needs to address these things.

Regina of course still thinks like a local bureaucrat. Beijing’s officials would have none of this ‘public relations’ flim-flam – they just screech their version of the truth at you and throw you in jail if you don’t believe it.

A truly credible positioning of Hong Kong’s brand would be: ‘the world’s best business location run by paranoid Leninists’.

Which brings us to some more recommended reading…

David Shambaugh on how Beijing’s ‘conflicted nationalism’ is a drag on China’s soft power…

Notwithstanding … efforts to project a positive image, Beijing has punctuated them with periodic angry outbursts, accusatory rhetoric, and an aggrieved national persona…

Michael Turton on how China’s propensity to be ‘provoked’ shifts the blame for its aggression onto others, often with the international media’s help, ‘in a move likely to anger Beijing’.

Brilliant analysis of China’s over-the-top anti-Australian trade policies…

…there are some signs that we are witnessing Chinese hubris and overreach rather than Australian contumacy or pigheadedness.

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12 Responses to The pros and cons of an impossible PR campaign

  1. where's my jet plane says:

    The word “Hongkongers” is now anathema to them Up North.

  2. Chinese Netizen says:

    Re: John Lee’s piece on Oz/CCP relationship – in a nutshell – “The Aussies (and the rest of the world) might be more agreeable to the CCP if the CCP weren’t such total cunts”. When all else (manipulative coercion) failed, the crying, stomping and and name calling began, thus exposing the CCP for what it truly is.

    Talk about “meddling in internal affairs”. What a miserable bunch of hateful scum (CCP).

  3. donkey says:

    “She thinks the consultation’s survey of overseas perceptions should have included the Mainland.”

    Can someone in the government please, once and for all, decide whether Hong Kong is or is not a part of China? This strategic ambiguity is driving us nuts.

  4. Low Profile says:

    @donkey – isn’t “strategic ambiguity” another name for “One Country, Two Systems”? In which case, things are becoming less ambiguous by the day.

    As for Regina’s suggestion, I don’t think influencing mainland perceptions was in the PR firm’s brief, so why survey them? Incidentally, how does one go “overseas” by crossing a land border? Or is that the view from Hong Kong Island?

  5. Coal's well that ends well says:

    “There are some signs that we are witnessing Chinese hubris and overreach”
    Like the time they banned Australian coal to cripple their economy, but instead ended up crippling the Chinese economy with rolling blackouts, electricity rationing during a particularly cold winter, and decreasing their steel quality; whilst also single-handedly increasing the price of Australian coal and boosting Australian coal production?
    That right there is the old scientifically correct Xi Jinping Thought at work.

  6. steve says:

    A couple of observations on Regina’s article:

    1. She mentions Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” as an example of the soft power, feel-good, chamber of commerce-pleasing promotional media that can be used to restore Hong Kong’s mutilated image. Thing is, in Bourdain’s last episode on Hong Kong, while not focusing on political unrest, he paid explicit, respectful attention to the Umbrella Movement and the fight for democracy. Don’t think combining an exploration of “exotic” cuisines with people talking about getting their heads bashed is what Ms. Ip has in mind. Just shows (yet again) that, for all of her confident bloviating, she literally doesn’t know what she’s talking about a fair measure of the time.

    2. She makes the usual noises about how peace and order has been restored to Hong Kong with the enactment of the NSL, and that “[m]ost Hong Kong people sigh a big breath of relief that they can roam the city without fear of road blockages, MTR service disruption, or violent disruption caused by people in black hurling petrol bombs or battling the Police.”

    This is an explicitly fascistic reading of the reality of life in NSL-era Hong Kong. Unmentioned is the fact that “most Hong Kong people” experience a tightening of the sphincter muscles whenever they come across a member (much less a phalanx) of the local police, who still often enjoy dressing up in their combat fatigues and long guns just to remind everyone that state violence is the key to maintaining order in an occupied city.

    Also, Ms. Ip’s analysis of what a PR operation should be saying about the present and future of Hong Kong is blinkered and reductive in ways that we should expect from a reflexively compliant apparatchik. She bravely states that the promotional narrative of Hong Kong should include discussion of the recent political unrest, but she does not address the NSL’s goal of permanently eradicating free speech in the city–those same “most Hong Kong people” are now well aware that they have to be careful about how they go about their public lives, especially if they work in a “sensitive” area such as education, social welfare, or the media.

    I used to teach a class in surveillance studies at a Hong Kong university, in the course of which we watched and discussed the German film “The Lives of Others,” which is set in the last decade of the German Democratic Republic and focuses on the operations of Stasi, the government’s secret police. I included the film in the syllabus in part because most of the students in this postgraduate class were from the mainland, but these days, it’s become an acutely relevant educational tool for Hongkongers as well. The problem is that showing this rather conventionally liberal film today could easily be construed as a violation of the NSL.

  7. Kwun Tong Bypass says:

    Ever noticed that whenever our Dear Leader CEINO speaks on TV she NEVER looks straight into the camera.
    Rather, her eyes go wild from left to right, and right to left, and up and down – all over the place, just not to the audience.
    I guess as a devote Christian and Catholic she must be too embarrassed about all the CCP induced lies she has to tell “her people”.
    If she, and many others in the Hong Kong Government had any decency, and balls, they would resign.
    But then – would we be better off with mainlanders installed by the CCP?
    God help Hong Kong!
    God help us!

  8. Chinese Netizen says:

    Reading anything by the Vag is 5 minutes of your life you’ll never get back.

  9. Mark Bradley says:

    @steve

    “I used to teach a class in surveillance studies at a Hong Kong university, in the course of which we watched and discussed the German film “The Lives of Others,” which is set in the last decade of the German Democratic Republic and focuses on the operations of Stasi, the government’s secret police. I included the film in the syllabus in part because most of the students in this postgraduate class were from the mainland, but these days, it’s become an acutely relevant educational tool for Hongkongers as well. The problem is that showing this rather conventionally liberal film today could easily be construed as a violation of the NSL.”

    The comments once again on Big Lychee are as good as the original article. Thank you for the movie recommendation. I am torrenting it now. I love movies about life in Communist regimes. I guess it’s good that I have such a “healthy” attitude about it considering the fact that I live in one now post NSL.

  10. Gromit says:

    @Steve – I spent 1984-85 (the period in which the film is set) teaching in the GDR. The Lives Of Others was a very accurate portrayal of life there; I came out of the cinema in a sweat, as it brought all sorts of memories flooding back. Perhaps it could still be shown in a Modern European History course…

  11. YTSL says:

    @Mark Bradley — If I may add to your growing list of German movies to watch: recommend “Never Look Away” (2016), also directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and containing messages pertinent to contemporary Hong Kong.

  12. Mark Bradley says:

    @YTSL

    I’m downloading it now!

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