China Mobile gift sheds light on laser pen row

August 09, 2019 12:33
China Mobile chairman Yang Jie said a laser pen is not an offensive weapon per se; it depends on how one uses it. Photo: HKEJ/Reuters

You gotta love China Mobile (00941.HK): it really knows how to cheer up local media.

The state-owned telecoms operator on Thursday gifted each reporter attending its interim results announcement with a laser pen. 

Of course, it has become customary for companies to offer small tokens of appreciation to journalists, analysts and other guests during such occasions. In fact, China Mobile gave the same presents to media people when it announced its annual results in March.

But the situation now is different from what it was, say, four or five months ago. And we don't mean the company's earnings, which declined in the first half.

Few of those in attendance really cared about the results, including a 15 percent drop in profits during the six-month period.

What caught their fancy was the gift.  As you know, laser pen – or laser pointer – has become a controversial subject after police on Tuesday arrested Keith Fong Chung-yin, the head of the student union at Baptist University.

Fong was found in possession of 10 laser pens, which police considered as offensive weapons as they were used by protesters during recent street clashes with law enforcers.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, an officer even demonstrated how the pen, when pointed at a piece of newspaper, could scorch it and make it emit smoke. 

But Fong insisted the pens were to be used for "star-gazing". Besides, he was not using them when he was accosted and apprehended.

To protest against Fong's arrest, hundreds of people rushed to Sham Shui Po to stock up on laser pens and gathered at the Space Museum in Tsim Sha Tsui, where they pointed their lasers at the dome in an impromptu laser-light show.

Fong's arrest also fueled fears that police might soon target people who buy eggs because protesters had pelted officers with eggs during recent clashes.

Eventually, police decided to release the student leader without filing charges against him. They had searched his apartment to look for any incriminating evidence related to rioting, but had found nothing. They had kept Fong in custody for 46 hours.

With all this wrangling in mind, people couldn't help but wonder why a state-owned company would choose a laser pen for a gift. It's either China Mobile people didn't bother to read the news about laser pens or simply ignored it.

It's highly unlikely that the Chinese firm would dare incur the ire of the establishment at a time when Beijing and the SAR government are taking a hardline stance against the protests.

The state's propaganda machine has gone into high gear to put down the pro-democracy movement, accusing it getting support from foreign powers. It has also asked business heavyweights such as the Real Estate Developers Association to come out and condemn the violent protests.

When asked about the laser pen, China Mobile chairman Yang Jie said he saw nothing wrong with the gift.

Deviating from the position of the Hong Kong police, Yang said a laser pen is not an offensive weapon per se; it depends on how one uses it.

He even cited the uses of a laser pen, including as a torch, a pointer, and a tool to write on a digital screen.

So would the Hong Kong police still insist on their view of the laser pen?

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EJ Insight writer