One week before the centenary of the PC, the shutdown of Pingguo Ribao or Apple Daily, forced by an investigation under the Hong Kong National Security Act instituted less than a year ago, serves as a general warning from the limit imposed by the Chinese government on town and beyond.
Formally, it is by collusion with foreign force, secession, but the action that made the newspaper infeasible, by freezing its financial assets and targeting the content, criminalizing opinion, is too drastic not to target the shock it causes in the environment, not just the media.
The target is a tabloid, characterized by sensational daily coverage, but the post is directed to other outlets, the South China Morning Post, billionaire Jack Ma, the RTHK channel and other state-funded media that , from time to time, show signs of critical journalism.
The commercial encirclement of China, initiated by Donald Trump and maintained by Joe Biden, and the 2019 protests in Hong Kong shook the Chinese government, jeopardizing the city’s very role as a financial center, and ended by serving as a justification for the compression of the country last year.
The European Union has responded to the shutdown of Apple Daily by stressing once again that restricting free expression of opinion threatens Hong Kong’s aspirations as an international business center, but it is unlikely that financial institutions prefer Apple Daily to post-2019 stability.
On the contrary, HSBC, the second bank in Europe, born under the name of Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, has for months been announcing the abandonment of other markets in favor of Hong Kong and China, which has started to accelerate. opening up to American banks as well.
The threat of loss of economic stature, if any, comes more from competition from centers like Shanghai, which have started to offer comparable advantages. In other words, the loss that matters, for the Chinese themselves, centers on freedom of expression – which is not Beijing’s priority.
The fear spread by the actions against the newspaper has manifested itself in the editorial staff itself, with the departure of half of its journalists in this last week of operations. Originally scheduled for next Saturday, the last edition was released Thursday because the production team was starting to run out.
This is an effect that is now spreading to other Chinese journalists, in other media, not just in Hong Kong.
Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai Chee-ying is also a controversial figure in American politics. He was one of the first victims of the new law, last August. He then left handcuffed in the corridors of the newsroom, taken away by the police, on the cover of his own newspaper.
But the image abroad did not resist. His activism and methods are not confined to Hong Kong – and soon came the revelation in the United States that his public support for Trump, then in campaign, included the production of a dossier on the affairs of Joe’s son, Hunter Biden. , in China.
In the meantime, Jimmy Lai has been sentenced, is serving 14 months in prison and has other charges pending. He became a political persecutor, like Julian Assange. In the US agenda of bad deeds in Beijing, however, it was falling into the background.