The Big Ideas

by Malcolm Riddell

The End of 'Apple Daily' - and Freedom of the Press in Hong Kong

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Malcolm Riddell
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Founder of CHINADebate

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June 24, 2021
The End of 'Apple Daily' - and Freedom of the Press in Hong Kong
The End of 'Apple Daily' - and Freedom of the Press in Hong Kong
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Through arrests and freezing of assets, Beijing has forced the closing of Hong Kong’s last pro-democracy newspaper, the Apple Daily.

  • The founder, Jimmy Lai, a billionaire from the garment industry turned media mogul, is already in prison, with more criminal trials to come.
  • Lai, who didn’t really need to take stands for rights in Hong Kong, didn’t need any of this. And that I guess makes him even more of hero.

As this is occurring, I’m reading The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (a Pulitzer Prize winner and not nearly as weighty as the title makes it sound – absolutely fascinating)

  • With this in mind I was struck by an editorial in the Global Times, an organ of the Chinese Communist Party.

‘The role Apple Daily plays contradicts the freedom of the press the West advocates.’

  • ‘It has not been "a media outlet with a political stance," but a newspaper which engages in extreme confrontational politics through media.’

The editorial writer clearly hasn’t read The Ideological Origins (or anything else on the function of a free press).

  • From what I gather, were it not for a free press, there probably would not have been an American Revolution.

While that encapsulates how different China’s idea of a free press and that of democracies’ – and why China stamps out the democratic version – it also points up, assuming (which I do) the sincerity of the Global Times editorial writer, just how different the Chinese and western concept of rights is more generally.

  • And, this is one of the reasons why the relationship between China and the democracies will remain fraught – we both say the same thing, but it what it means to each of us is vastly different.
  • [I learned this lesson negotiating the terms, such ‘management control,’ of Sino-western joint ventures.]

On to bitcoin. China, with a 65-75% pre-crackdown share of the industry, is cracking down harder.

  • When I read reports about this, though, I felt as if I had been living under a rock.

Turns out that China isn’t cracking down just to control financial risk (my understanding) but also because of bitcoin mining’s damage to the environment.

  • “Bitcoin alone consumes as much electricity as a medium-sized European country.”
  • Who knew? Clearly most everyone except me.

‘Local governments are under pressure from Beijing to reduce energy intensity — carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product — as China aims to reach peak output of greenhouse gas by 2030 and achieve “carbon neutrality” by 2060.’

  • And that pressure flows downhill to bitcoin miners.

Now to the U.S. Senate and something else I didn’t realize.

  • On June 8, the Senate passed the United States Innovation and Competitiveness Act. [That I knew].

What I didn’t know and what Scott Kennedy of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (who has been masterfully analyzing Congress and China for years) explains so well in ‘'Congress on China: Then and Now' is that ‘it is safe to say that this is the most comprehensive action by Congress on China policy EVER.’ [That I didn’t know.]

  • ‘What also comes through from the new measure is how Congress’s view of China has fundamentally flipped.’
  • [Flipped since it two prior big moves: 1979, Taiwan Relations Act, and 2000, granting China permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status.]
  • ‘Although major actions, these two still would pale in comparison to the Innovation and Competitiveness Act, should it become law.’

‘This bill reconfirms the fact that the United States has abandoned a strategy of facilitating China’s integration into the international system with the expectation that such efforts would result in a more open, market-oriented Chinese economy, a more liberal political environment, and less aggressive activity internationally.’

‘The language of the bill is about a long-term competition with China as opposed to war with an enemy.’

  • ‘Congress has taken a hawkish turn, but it is still pursuing a multifaceted approach that does not foreclose the possibility that U.S.-China relations could eventually be stabilized and not devolve into violent conflict.’

As I have long counselled in these pages, if you want to understand U.S. foreign policy, don’t just watch the Executive Branch, watch Congress too.

  • Now, as Dr. Kennedy makes clear, that is more important than ever.

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Malcolm Riddell
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'Are you tired of losing yet, America?'

As I write this, Taliban forces have entered Kabul and are reportedly occupying the Presidential Palace.
8/15/2021

Bloomberg

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'China Signals More Regulation for Businesses in Coming Years'

‘The State Council’s statement provides a guiding context to interpret current regulatory thrusts. The blueprint as an attempt by Chinese authorities to help investors understand the motives behind the regulatory push.’
8/15/2021

The Wall Street Journal

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George Soros
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'Xi’s Dictatorship Threatens the Chinese State'

‘Mr. Xi is determined to bring the creators of wealth under the control of the one-party state.’
8/15/2021

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Malcolm Riddell
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CHINADebate

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Don't Say Xi Jinping Didn't Warn You

‘Global investors are shocked to have discovered that China is run by Communists.’
8/5/2021

Bloomberg

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Matthew Brooker | Bloomberg
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‘Global investors shocked to have discovered that China is run by Communists.’

‘Global investors are shocked to have discovered that China is run by Communists.’
8/5/2021

Bloomberg

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'Shocked Investors Scour Xi’s Old Speeches to Find Next Target'

‘While China’s policy moves can feel ad hoc particularly to foreign investors, the changes are quite targeted on certain sectors.’
8/5/2021

The Wall Street Journal

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Greg Ip | The Wall Street Journal
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'China Wants Manufacturing—Not the Internet—to Lead the Economy'

‘Social media, e-commerce and other consumer internet companies are nice to have. But in his view national greatness doesn’t depend on having the world’s finest group chats or ride-sharing.’
8/5/2021

Bloomberg

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'China Plans to Exempt H.K. IPOs From Cybersecurity Reviews'

‘China plans to exempt companies going public in Hong Kong from first seeking the approval of the country’s cybersecurity regulator, removing one hurdle for businesses that list in the Asian financial hub instead of the U.S.’
7/18/2021

The Wall Street Journal

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The Editorial Board | The Wall Street Journal
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'Biden’s Warning on Hong Kong'

‘The pretense of Chinese and Hong Kong authorities is that their crackdown on the rule of law and dissent will have no effect on Hong Kong’s viability as an international center for trade and finance.’
7/18/2021

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Malcolm Riddell
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CHINADebate

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Why the U.S. Lacks Leverage over China

During the celebration of the Chinese Communist Party’s Centennial celebration, Mr. Xi stood in the same place on the balcony facing Tiananmen Square where Mao Zedong stood when he announced the founding of the PRC; Mr. Xi wore a gray Mao suit, among a sea of blue western suits; and he centered himself right above the portrait of Mao, who is similarly attired.
7/18/2021

Foreign Affairs

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Kurt Tong | Asia Group
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Hong Kong and the Limits of Decoupling

‘The United States’ inability to make China regret—much less reverse—its transgressions in Hong Kong suggests that financial separation, sanctions, and economic barriers are less reliable tools than many in Washington believe.’
7/18/2021

Nikkei Asia

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'I will aim for Mao's Status.'

‘There on the gate was Xi Jinping, Chinese president and party general secretary, in a gray Mao suit. Just below his feet was the portrait of Mao Zedong, also dressed in a gray Mao suit.’
7/18/2021

Financial Times

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'US warns companies of risk of doing business in Hong Kong'

“In the face of Beijing’s decisions over the past year that have stifled the democratic aspirations of people in Hong Kong, we are taking action,” said Antony Blinken, US secretary of state. “Today we send a clear message that the US resolutely stands with Hong Kongers.”
7/18/2021

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Malcolm Riddell
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The Chinese Point of View

Here are a few of my thoughts on the importance of Wang Jisi’s ‘The Plot Against China.’ Yuen Yuen Ang’s ‘The Evolution of Chinese Corruption’ speaks for itself - but note especially how Mr. Xi's anti-corruption campaign could hurt China's economy. I have now lived long enough that when a friend complains about his or her spouse, I say to myself, ‘There are no doubt two sides to this story.’
7/4/2021

Foreign Affairs

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Wang Jisi | President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University
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'How Beijing Sees U.S.-China Relations'

‘In Chinese eyes, the most significant threat to China’s sovereignty and national security has long been U.S. interference in its internal affairs aimed at changing the country’s political system and undermining the CCP.’
7/4/2021

Foreign Affairs

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Yuen Yuen Ang | University of Michigan
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'How Corruption Powers China's Economy'

‘China has managed to sustain four decades of economic growth despite levels of corruption that even Xi has described as “grave” and “shocking.” Why does it seem to have bucked the trend?’
7/4/2021

Harvard Magazine

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Ed Steinfeld | Brown University
Tony Saich
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Harvard Kennedy School of Government
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'From Rebel to Ruler': Tony Saich on Chinese Communism at 100

‘At so many points during its century-long existence, the CCP appeared to be in its death throes, whether as a result of external attack or self-inflicted internal strife.’
7/1/2021