Hong Kong Formally Reprimands Journalist for Asking WHO Official About Taiwan

Yvonne Tong, interviewer (L), and Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s assistant director-general (R)
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The government of Hong Kong officially reprimanded Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) reporter Yvonne Tong on Thursday, accusing her of violating the “One China” doctrine by asking World Health Organization (WHO) assistant director Bruce Aylward about Taiwan in an interview that became a viral sensation, and a global outrage, when Aylward refused to answer the question.

Tong interviewed Aylward by video conference for a segment of RTHK’s news show The Pulse on Saturday that focused on Taiwan’s remarkably effective response to the coronavirus. 

When Tong noted that Communist China used its influence with WHO to block membership for Taiwan and asked if WHO might reconsider that decision in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Aylward sat silently for ten seconds, then pretended he didn’t hear the question.

Tong offered to repeat the question, but Aylward responded, “No, that’s okay, let’s move to another one, then.” 

Tong persisted and asked about Taiwan again, at which point Aylward abruptly terminated the video conference call. Tong got Aylward back on the line and asked about Taiwan again, but he demurred by saying, “We’ve already talked about China,” echoing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) position that Taiwan is merely a province of China ruled by Beijing.

The BBC, like many other observers, viewed the encounter as “indicative of the awkward relationship the WHO has with Taiwan, which is not allowed to be a member state.”

Taiwan is barred from participating in important WHO events, a political game that clearly hurt the rest of the world more than Taiwan during the coronavirus pandemic set loose on the world by the CCP’s dishonesty and paranoia. Taiwanese officials see their exclusion from WHO as outrageous, but have also indicated it might have helped them formulate their extraordinarily effective coronavirus response because the CCP fed so much false information to WHO.

Hong Kong’s government – controlled by Beijing as a “Special Administrative Region” (SAR) with limited autonomy, but rigged so that only politicians loyal to China can wield executive power – issued a statement on Thursday through its Commerce and Economic Development Bureau reprimanding Tong for asking questions that embarrassed the Chinese and threatening consequences if RTHK doesn’t toe the line.

The reprimand said Tong’s interview “breached the One-China Principle and the purposes and mission of RTHK as a public service broadcaster as specified in the charter.”

“It is common knowledge that the WHO membership is based on sovereign states. RTHK, as a government department and a public service broadcaster, should have proper understanding of the above without any deviation. As the Editor-in-chief of RTHK, the Director of Broadcasting should be responsible for this,” the statement read.

The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said RTHK and its management “must handle all programs in a professional and vigilant manner as required of them.”

Firebrand pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho, who was once ejected from the legislature for making lewd sexualized comments about a female pro-democracy lawmaker, said it was “dangerous” for RTHK to jeopardize “One China” policy by asking WHO about Taiwan because such questions drag an international organization into a Chinese “domestic issue.”

Pro-democracy lawmakers – including Claudia Mo, the woman Ho used sexual slurs against – responded that it was “shocking” for the Hong Kong government to suppress free speech, defended Tong’s questions to Aylward as “reasonable and sensible,” and argued that Ho’s reasoning would forbid any Hong Kong media coverage of Taiwan at all.

Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Chris Yeung said the official reprimand of RTHK would “cast a long shadow on journalists for them to think twice when they ask similar questions next time because that could cross what officials deem as a political red line.”

RTHK itself on Thursday rejected the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau statement as an assault on its editorial freedom, saying Tong’s interview with Aylward “did not violate the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle, nor did it violate the Radio Television Hong Kong Charter.”

“When you look at the interview done by the Pulse reporter, it is about the coronavirus issue, it is about health. I don’t really understand why when a reporter is asking something relating to health, she or he has to remember there is ‘One Country, Two Systems’ … in line with the government or China,” said RTHK advisory panel member Fermi Wong.

“I believe the government statement may come after some kind of pressure from the Foreign Ministry or the Chinese Communist Party, I don’t know. But I think the statement is the biggest nonsense,” Wong added.

The Taiwanese government complained this week that WHO is still refusing to share information it provided on the coronavirus with other nations, including key details of how Taiwan’s response plan worked. 

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said over the weekend that WHO should “continue to review and improve upon some unreasonable restrictions imposed on Taiwan based on political considerations.”

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen announced on Wednesday that Taiwan will donate ten million protective masks and other medical supplies to countries hit hard by the coronavirus – supplies Taiwan can spare because it has logged only 329 coronavirus cases and five deaths to date. Two million of those masks will be sent to the United States.

“We want everyone to not only see that ‘Taiwan can help,’ but that ‘Taiwan is helping,’” Tsai said.

“We cannot stop the spread of COVID-19 simply by preventing an outbreak within Taiwan. All members of the international community must pool their capabilities and work together to overcome this challenge,” she urged.

“Over the past months we have seen countless acts of bravery and sacrifice from medical workers from around the world. It is our duty as global citizens to give them our full support,” she said.

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