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Hong Kong Forced to Choose Sides; Freedom of Silence Deprived


This is translated from CitizenNews' weekly digest tracking Hong Kong's political news over the past week. (一周政情:香港被迫選邊站 沉默自由也剝奪

In the past week, some prominent political news include:
the M+ Museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) was under political attack because its collection included Ai Weiwei's satirical paintings of China; RTHK, after Administrative Officer Patrick Li took over as its Director, repeatedly withdraws about-to-be-aired current affairs programmes, appointed a DAB member to replace the original programme host, and instructs programme producers to interview more pro-Beijing figures. Also, the Xinjiang cotton controversy has escalated quickly, with the mouthpieces in the PRC naming and criticising a number of international clothing brands, causing a wave of boycotts. Hong Kong politicians and artistes chose their stances and expressed their support for Xinjiang cotton. This series of events shows that the political frenzy has flooded Hong Kong like a flood from the dike. The original environment of pluralism and freedom is quickly disappearing, and even the freedom to remain silent is quickly swept away.

The M+ Museum is under unjustified political attack. Ai Weiwei's paintings are part of the entire Sigg collection, which is internationally recognised as the largest, most diverse and important collection of contemporary Chinese artists, comprising 1,510 works of art by 325 artists. Most of them were donated to the M+ Museum and a small number of which were purchased by the museum, making it the flagship museum of West Kowloon. The WKCD Authority and the museum's director hastened to explain that no decision had been made on the collection to be exhibited, suggesting that no Ai Weiwei's paintings or works related to Tian’anmen Massacre (June 4) would be displayed at the opening. The controversy has had a major international impact, as it is a symbol that art and politics become inseparable in Hong Kong, and that internationally recognised artwork can be forced to disappear due to political censorship.

Ai Weiwei – Study of Perspective, Tiananmen, 1997. M+ Sigg Collection

For many years in the past, what can and what cannot be aired in RTHK's current affairs programmes were determined by experienced producers with their professional knowledge. Such criteria were set out in the RTHK Staff Charter. Members of the public who have comments on the programme can complain to the Communication Authority and the matter will be considered in accordance with the provisions of the Charter. In the past, the management would meet with the producers and discuss the matter in accordance with the provisions of the Charter. Now, the new management no longer cares what the Charter says, nor does it bother to discuss it with the producers, but simply orders the programme to be taken off the air and frequently replaces the time slot with other programmes on an ad hoc basis. The new management simply ordered to replace any host they did not like, and specified that pro-Beijing politicians should be sought out and that more interviews should be conducted with the pro-Beijing side.

In fact, when Leung Ka-wing's contract was suddenly terminated prematurely and Patrick Li, who has no broadcasting experience, was appointed as the Director, the public had already expected the worst-case scenario: Professional journalism and current affairs production has been brutally interfered with, curbed and distorted. The freedom of speech and editorial independence that RTHK has struggled to maintain through its efforts to protect its professionalism, credibility, public support and political neutrality have been torn apart by the political tide, all at the hands of department heads.

It is not surprising that a number of Hong Kong artistes responded quickly to take a political stance on the Xinjiang cotton controversy. After all, this has happened many times before. However, it is unusual for political party leaders to follow suit, and for Regina Ip, the Chairman of the New People's Party (NPP) and former Administrative Officer, to publicly stop using Burberry clothing.

Regina Ip posting her Burberry collection on her Twitter and Facebook. 

The international clothing brands named this time include a number of companies in market leadership positions. To avoid consumer boycotts in Europe and the United States, these large companies followed the Better Cotton Initiative, an alliance within the industry, to stop using cotton from Xinjiang after it was allegedly used to be made by forced labour. Now these brands are named and shamed by official bodies such as the Chinese Communist Youth League and the People's Daily and boycotted by mainland netizens. Swedish brand H&M has been the first to be hit, with shops in several Chinese cities forced to close, and multinational corporations such as Adidas and Nike, which sponsor Chinese national sports teams greatly, have also been named and shamed. Even if they don't say anything about the political problems in Xinjiang, and try to show that they are politically neutral and have made great contributions to China in the past, all these practices are no longer useful. If they don't take a stand in favour of Xinjiang cotton, they are guilty of the worst crime and will have to withdraw from the Chinese market.

What can international companies do with such political frenzy? If they do not take a stand, they will offend China, if their stance is for Xinjiang cotton, they will offend Western consumers. They do not even have the right to remain silent. What should they do?

The dilemma that multinational garment companies find themselves in today is a reflection of what has happened to Hong Kong as an international city in recent years, where they often have to choose between being internationally oriented and being close with China. Hong Kong can neither be neutral nor remain silent, and will be doomed to lose its international character and become an ordinary Chinese city.


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