22 October 2016
Despite a supportive Global Times editorial (inset), the Hong Kong outlets of Lancôme and its L'Oréal stablemates closed for the day on Wednesday.
Photos:, Facebook/Lancôme
Despite a supportive Global Times editorial (inset), the Hong Kong outlets of Lancôme and its L'Oréal stablemates closed for the day on Wednesday. Photos:, Facebook/Lancôme

Why aren’t government officials speaking up for Denise Ho?

It’s sad for Hongkongers that their government officials don’t have the courage to speak out in support of pop singer Denise Ho Wan-see after Lancôme cancelled a promotional event where she was to perform.

The French cosmetic brand announced the decision Sunday after a mainland Chinese state-owned newspaper criticized Ho, describing her as “a poison of Hong Kong”, for her open support of the Occupy movement in 2014.

On Tuesday, acting chief executive John Tsang Chun-wah refused to comment on the incident, saying, “I don’t know what happened.”

Tsang told reporters he will try to understand the issue before making a response.

His remarks surely disappointed many Hongkongers, as Tsang enjoys the highest approval rate among the government’s senior officials.

Hongkongers would expect Tsang to show support for Ho either on his Facebook page or in front of the cameras.

From a political perspective, it might be a foolish move for Tsang to speak out for Ho given that she was criticized by a high-profile state-owned newspaper.

Its labeling of Ho as “poison” means Beijing is treating Ho as an enemy of the communist regime, so any support offered by Hong Kong officials could trigger a political storm between the city and the central government.

Although Tsang enjoys great public support, he is still a government official without the ability to speak as he wishes.

He may also be insufficiently aware of how Hong Kong artists who have not knuckled under to the mainland authorities suffer from an invisible boycott by a wide range of brand owners, movie companies and directors under pressure from Beijing to engage in political censorship.

As Ho said in a statement Monday, “It is about freedom and justice. Because the reality is that if we opt to stay mute and do nothing, the freedoms will all be stripped away from us before we notice.”

In fact, the criticism by the Global Times of Ho’s political stance may have violated the Basic Law, which prohibits the mainland government or its subordinate organizations from intervening in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.

What Global Times wrote on its Weibo is surely a direct interference with the career of Ho, a Hong Kong resident.

So, Hong Kong government officials from Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying to Tsang to Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung do have a responsibility to voice support for Ho, but they have kept their mouths shut to avoid embarrassing Beijing.

And Ho is not the only victim of indirect bullying by the ruling Communist Party.

Without support from the government officials who are paid to serve them, Hongkongers can only rely on their own efforts to inform people overseas about what is going on.

TVMost, the online television channel of satirical magazine 100Most, produced a video news program in French featuring the statement issued by Ho late Monday to respond to Lancôme’s cancellation of her gig.

The French version of the program was supported by Sony Chan, a Hong Kong artist living and working in Paris.

The video has received more than 317,000 views on Facebook since it was posted Monday night, with more than 7,000 “reactions” and more than 2,500 “shares”.

It is difficult to quantify how many French internet users and reporters might pay attention to the issue.

But given Chan’s media connections in France, the video could raise some awareness of the issue and give rise to the hope that Lancôme’s parent firm, L’Oréal Group, will respond to it.

Hongkongers’ discussion online of the incident has also caught the attention of the editors of leading global media outlets, such as CNN, the BBC and The New York Times.

Ho appeared on BBC’s World News program Tuesday night to tell her story to a global audience.

Then on Tuesday, Lancôme was praised by the Global Times for making a smart business decision to cancel the event featuring Ho.

The newspaper said the French company has given more consideration to the sentiments of the mainland public, because the mainland boasts “a much larger market than Hong Kong”.

“As a commercial company, it is bound to seek commercial gains, a wisdom it is supposed to have under complex situations,” it said.

From a business perspective, there is nothing wrong in Lancôme or L’Oréal trying to please Chinese consumers in exchange for huge profits.

But that doesn’t mean the French company can give the back of its hand to a Hong Kong artist who has a different political view from that of China’s  Communist Party regime.

What Lancôme has done is demonstrate to the world that foreign firms must follow China’s rules of the game in exchange for the green light to access its 1.3 billion-strong market.

China is now one of the world most important powers, but it has failed to catch up with universal values such as the freedom of speech.

The world has witnessed how Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi responded with a tirade to a Canadian reporter’s question to the Canadian foreign minister about human rights in China.

And now, Lancôme has exposed China’s nasty bullying of a Hong Kong pop singer, of all things.

Clearly, China has still a long way to go to be seen abroad as a great nation.

And if Lancôme can hold its head high after making the decision to cancel the event, why is L’Oréal shutting its Hong Kong office and the retail outlets of Lancôme and its sister brands, including Shu Uemura and Body Shop, for the day on Wednesday?

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EJ Insight writer

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