Home Tourism Opinion | Hong Kong’s tourism marketing campaign can’t disguise retreat from democracy

Opinion | Hong Kong’s tourism marketing campaign can’t disguise retreat from democracy



Say hey to the brand new Hong Kong.

This former freewheeling British colony, now subjugated to Communist mainland China, has turn out to be a metropolis of contradictions. Take into account: Chief Govt John Lee was within the Center East on Tuesday making an attempt to drum up enterprise. Days earlier, he had launched a pricey international (and broadly panned) advert marketing campaign, known as “Hi there Hong Kong,” declaring the town open and able to welcome vacationers and traders.

In the meantime, again at dwelling, the long-awaited trial started of 47 pro-democracy politicians and activists accused of conspiracy to commit subversion. What was their allegedly nefarious plot? The defendants carried out an unofficial main election to decide on the strongest candidates amongst them, with the purpose of successful a majority of seats within the native legislature. They hoped this would possibly give them the ability to dam authorities payments. In a lot of the world, that’s known as democracy. Right here, it’s a violation of nationwide safety.

The “Hi there Hong Kong” marketing campaign goals to persuade the skin world that the political turmoil and pandemic restrictions of current years are up to now. It’s an expensive rebranding effort that features sporting occasions, live shows, exhibitions and exhortations to “inform good tales” about Hong Kong. However no quantity of spin or rebranding can disguise how this as soon as free and vibrant metropolis has been irreversibly reworked.

Hong Kong presents 500,000 free aircraft tickets to lure vacationers again

Civil society has been decimated. Professional-democracy politicians and activists are largely in jail, in exile or too fearful to talk out. Press freedom has been eroded. Extra individuals are leaving, or planning to, than coming in. Legal professionals going through intimidation and threats have fled. The million individuals who defiantly marched in 2019, and the 600,000 who voted within the democratic camp main a 12 months later, have been silenced; even peaceable protest has withered.

Then there are the grim statistics and destructive headlines that maintain pushing “good tales” off the entrance pages. February introduced information that the economic system shrank by 3.5 p.c in 2022, worse than anticipated. Some 3,500 academics resigned within the final educational 12 months, withdrawing greater than a billion U.S. {dollars} in collected financial savings and stoking a wave of emigration that has left some faculties struggling to search out replacements. And the top of the Airport Authority warned that passenger ranges wouldn’t return to pre-2019 regular for no less than 18 months.

Even the a lot anticipated reopening of the border with mainland China, largely closed for 3 years, didn’t produce the financial enhance anticipated. Mainland vacationers have largely stayed away, preferring as an alternative to journey to neighboring Macao, a playing hub.

Additionally, the draconian nationwide safety legislation imposed by Beijing in 2020 continues to point out pernicious attain. In January, safety police raided a stall at a Lunar New 12 months e book honest and arrested six folks for publishing and promoting a supposedly “seditious” tome that chronicled the 2019 anti-government protests. Police known as the six detainees “members of an anti-government group.”

In the meantime, one other high-profile trial is ready to renew — that of editors of the now-disbanded on-line outlet Stand Information, who’re accused of publishing seditious supplies. Nonetheless to return: the trial of jailed media tycoon and democracy advocate Jimmy Lai, whose widespread newspaper Apple Each day was shut down and its funds frozen in mid-2021.

The Put up’s View: Hong Kong’s Jimmy Lai goes on trial quickly. So does freedom of speech.

This month, the revered Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index confirmed Hong Kong sliding to 88th place out of 167 international locations, under Liberia and Ukraine. Related indexes have proven Hong Kong slipping steadily downward.

Even with most pandemic restrictions lifted, Hong Kong has not returned to pre-covid regular. The town stays one of many final locations on earth the place everyone seems to be required to put on a face masks, even open air, regardless of the recommendation of well being specialists that the masks mandate is now not wanted. Against this, financial rival Singapore introduced on Thursday that every one remaining covid restrictions are being scrapped earlier than Valentine’s Day, together with a requirement to put on face masks on public transportation.

The Beijing and Hong Kong governments’ response to criticism has been to lash out. The Economist Intelligence Unit report was blasted as “politically-biased, untruthful and deceptive.” Critics of the nationwide safety legislation are routinely accused of “smearing.”

This hypersensitivity to criticism led to an uncommon change just lately between native police and a staunchly pro-Beijing newspaper, Oriental Each day. The police criticized a video that took subject with police ways within the current taking pictures of an unarmed Filipino man on Peng Chai island. In a letter, police complained concerning the paper’s “unprofessional, irresponsible, and biased criticism made in a mocking method.”

Oriental Each day printed the letter alongside an editorial that boldly asserted “the media has the proper to observe” a drive paid by taxpayer cash. “How is it press freedom if solely reward is allowed and criticism is banned?” the paper wrote. “Do the police wish to silence the patriotic Oriental Each day after the anti-China Apple Each day was swept into oblivion?”

Finally, the town’s marketing campaign could reach some respects: Vacationers is perhaps lured in by free aircraft tickets. Traders will return, enticed by the huge mainland market. The property market, now in a doldrums, will finally bounce again. And Hong Kongers will little question once more discover the resilience to climate large modifications.

However Hong Kong won’t ever be the identical because it was. And that’s precisely what Beijing needs.