The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on Tuesday noted a social media post from China’s state-run Global Times that in turn quoted the Hong Kong police condemning a demonstration against pro-Beijing legislation as “illegal activities.”
The problem is that the demonstration did not actually occur until a day after the Global Times published the quote.
The demonstration in question was held against a bill that would criminalize “disrespect” for the Chinese Communist national anthem, “March of the Volunteers.” Opponents denounce the bill as an infringement on Hong Kong’s autonomy and the free speech rights of its citizens and a dangerous step down the road toward Hong Kong losing its autonomy altogether. The anthem bill was introduced, and became controversial, long before Beijing announced it would bypass the Hong Kong legislature to impose a heavy-handed “national security” bill that might be used to crush the protest movement altogether.
The Global Times published a tweet on Tuesday evening that described the Hong Kong police response to a protest against the anthem bill: “Hong Kong Police condemned the illegal activities of an online organization on Wednesday, including paralyzing traffic to encircle the legislative council of the HKSAR, and vowed to conduct strict law-enforcement and show no tolerance for illegal acts.”
The protest did not actually take place until Wednesday, leading to some mirth among Internet users who wondered if the Global Times wrote its article about the protest in advance, the police gave the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) its quote about the protest in advance, or someone was using psychic powers or time travel to see into the future.
The HKFP suggested a more prosaic explanation for the gaffe, namely that the Global Times either accidentally or deliberately misquoted the police warning protesters in advance not to engage in “illegal blockage of the roads” or other activities that could jeopardize public safety when they assembled outside the legislature, known locally as LegCo, on Wednesday.
The Global Times deleted its tweet after about an hour. It should be noted that Chinese citizens are forbidden to use Twitter, but the CCP and its media organs frequently use the platform to spread propaganda to foreign audiences, without any apparent interference from Twitter’s “fact-checkers.” CCP activity on Twitter has increased dramatically as China wages a propaganda war to control the global political narrative around the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
As things turned out, the protest against the anthem bill was indeed large and energetic. The original plan to rally outside LegCo changed when demonstrators saw the police had completely cordoned off the building, so the protests flooded into the streets, inevitably blocking traffic as the police had warned against.
The police reported about 300 arrests on Wednesday, most of them on “suspicion of unauthorized assembly” according to the BBC, with some arrests additionally made for “suspicion of possessing offensive weapons, including petrol bombs.”
“Although you’re afraid inside your heart, you need to speak out,” one of the demonstrators explained.
Wednesday’s Global Times article on the Hong Kong demonstrations was not flattering to the demonstrators, applauding the police for cracking down hard on people the CCP views as violent subversives and promising a harder crackdown to come once Beijing’s national security law has been forced upon Hong Kong:
Violent radical activities in Hong Kong that harm China’s national security will come to an end gradually with the progress of the national security legislation. But before the legislation is finalized, resistance from extremists, rioters and foreign forces will be more intense and frequent. So, the pressure on the central government and the HKSAR will remain heavy, analysts said.
The Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR said in a statement posted on its website Monday night criticized the illegal assembly organized by separatists and radical violent rioters on Sunday, which caused serious injuries, including to a female passer-by and a lawyer who tried to stop the rioters from placing an illegal roadblock to interrupt traffic, as well as four police officers.
“Many signs indicated that a group of extremists is planning larger illegal violent activities, and will vainly attempt to make the whole city ‘burn with them.’ We sternly warn these people and the forces behind them: do not underestimate the determination of the central government,” the statement said.
The central government “has been fully prepared to handle any complicated situation, and if these people insist on their acts arbitrarily, the only thing they will get is legal sanction!” the liaison office said.
The Global Times dismissed the entire protest movement as a “fantasy” that will come to an end once the national security law is passed, advising the more “rational” demonstrators to peel away from the rest of the movement and make their peace with CCP domination, especially since their support from sinister “foreign forces” like the United States and Taiwan is about to be cut off. The article quoted Beijing-approved analysts who mocked the protesters for dreaming that the free world might come to their rescue, calling them “hilarious and ignorant” for appealing to America for protection and even needling them for making grammatical errors in their English-language social media posts.