One of the more dubious privileges of the social media era in China is that all users, regardless of position, profession, nationality or geographic location, can experience the maddening process of censorship. Engaging means accepting that chats or posts may disappear in a matter of hours, minutes or days. The Chinese Communist Party’s massive project of engineering public opinion, and thereby securing the regime, is now more personal and more international than ever before.

Just ask the British Embassy in Beijing.

Last Friday, the embassy made a Chinese-language post to its verified account on WeChat. The post tackled four assertions about Hong Kong that have been made in Chinese state media, offering factual rebuttals of each. The post was public long enough for users to actively share it on the platform, but by evening it had been removed, yielding a message that the post violated regulations.

Below is a screenshot of the post, made shortly before it disappeared.

The British Embassy’s post is organized into four responses to specific state media reports and assertions, for which links are provided. The first report, dated June 6, is a piece from Beijing Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Beijing city leadership, which was shared through the Shanghai news site The Paper (澎湃). The article responded to a June 3 commentary by Boris Johnson appearing in The Times, in which the prime minister said the UK would “not walk away” on the Hong Kong issue.

The assertion in the Beijing Daily piece refuted by the embassy post is that the UK supports Hong Kong Independence. The UK’s response:

This is not true. The UK has clearly said that under one country two systems Hong Kong is a part of  China. The UK hopes that this framework can continue, and this is also the crux of peace and prosperity in Hong Kong.”

The next assertion with which the embassy takes issue is that the Sino British Joint Declaration does not have “real significance.” This comes from a June 10 piece published online by the official China News Service, China’s second largest state-owned media outlet, seen below.

The UK’s response:

The Sino British Joint Declaration is a legally-binding international treaty registered  with the United Nations, and it has been in effect since June 12,  1985. This international treaty between China and the UK makes clear the high level of  autonomy in Hong Kong, and aside from matters of foreign relations and defense, these rights and freedoms so enjoyed do not change for 50 years. The Declaration states: The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style.” This includes “rights and freedoms. The pledges made by the Chinese side, including those concerning rights and freedoms, independent judicial power and rule of law, are critical to the guarantee of Hong Kong’s prosperity and its way of life.

Dominic Raab
Dominic Raab. Photo: GovUK.

The exchange comes at a tense time for Hong Kong, and a tense time for bilateral relations between China and the UK. News came last Thursday that Beijing has put a draft of the proposed national security law before the standing committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), and Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post has reported that language in the draft specifies “collusion with foreign forces” as a crime, adding to fears the legislation could be used to target dissent. The British government has exchanged barbs over the proposed legislation with both the Hong Kong government and Beijing, with Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Dominic Raab saying it “raises the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes, which would undermine existing commitments to protect the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.”

Republished with permission from the China Media Project.

david bandurski

David Bandurski

David is the co-director of the China Media Project, a research and fellowship program with the Journalism & Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong. A frequent commentator on Chinese media, his writings have appeared in Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, Index on Censorship, the SCMP and others.