The mainland media today lifted the veil on the protests in Hong Kong, with detailed reports of their impact on public order, government services and normal business activities.
On its front page, the Shanghai Morning Post (SMP) had a headline from a Hong Kong resident: “I beg the protesters, let my child go to school.”
“The illegal gathering of Occupy Central has already entered the fifth day. It has had a clear impact on the retail, tourism and service sectors. It has seriously affected the work and ordinary life of the common people of Hong Kong,” the story said.
“The cancellation of class in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools in Wan Chai, Central and Western districts has made many parents anxious over the impact on their children’s education.”
It quoted a housewife in Causeway Bay as saying that fresh fruit and vegetables were in short supply at her local supermarket because delivery vans could not reach it.
This coverage represents a change in policy. Until now, the mainstream media, radio and television have avoided mentioning the protests.
Yesterday the front page story of the SMP was about a ceremony for the raising of the national flag in Hong Kong, with a photograph – but not a word about the protests.
Today it also had comments by three mainland scholars saying that the protest movement is illegal, based on violence and anarchy and has no logic. “Its illegal methods have forced the SAR and central governments to take strong measures. Its harm is too great, it cannot last.”
The Oriental Morning Post today had a report of Foreign Minister Wang Yi meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington and telling him that foreign countries have no right to interfere in Hong Kong.
“No country, no society would tolerate this lawless behaviour which harms public order,” Wang told Kerry. These reports did not explain the details of the protests or the issues over the chief executive election in 2017.
This change of policy results from the belief in Beijing that the peak of the protests has passed and that public opinion in Hong Kong is turning against them. The HK government has agreed to hold talks with the protesters.
It is also a sign of Beijing’s confidence that foreign governments are unable to influence events on the ground and do not wish to jeopardize their relations with China over the issue. Wang is in Washington to prepare a visit by President Barack Obama to China in November; he is not ready to sacrifice this for the sake of Hong Kong students.
“The British are in a weak position,” said one diplomat in Hong Kong. “Their only recourse would be to lodge a complaint at the United Nations over China’s unwillingness to implement full democracy in Hong Kong. But what would this achieve? Beijing would not change its decision and be enraged against Britain. It would retaliate in areas of investment and trade, which David Cameron desperately does not want. So Britain will not take this step.”
A majority of people in Shanghai remain unaware of the protests. This is a week of holiday, with millions of people travelling at home and abroad and paying little attention to the news. The number of people buying newspapers is declining every year; most receive news from radio, television and the Internet.
“I have heard nothing of the protests,” said Liu Qing, a taxi driver. “We are too busy to follow the news. In any event, Beijing will not allow a real election in Hong Kong. If it did, we in Shanghai would want the same thing. So it is out of the question.”
Wang Meiling, a business consultant, said that she had been following the protests on WeChat, an Internet site on which people had posted images and comments about them. “A limited number know. They include people who have returned from studying abroad and those who do international business. They need to follow foreign news. The majority of people do not know and are not concerned.
“In general, people in the mainland believe the citizens of Hong Kong are privileged, with more civil rights, freedom to travel and better housing, health care and living standards than other Chinese. What do they have to complain about?” she said.
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