Microblogs take HK's hot contest over the border
Ivan Zhai and Adrian Wan
Excitement over Hong Kong's surprisingly contentious chief executive election has spilled into unfamiliar territory: the mainland's cyberspace.
The race for the top job is at the centre of public attention usually only at home, and is largely ignored by mainland's traditional media. Now, thanks to the popularity of microblogging, the candidates, including possibly pan-democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan, may be heard across the border.
In an unexpected move the popular social-networking website Tencent has asked Ho to open a weibo, or microblog, account, which would let him reach millions of mainland internet users with his message.
Ho, the leader of the Democratic Party, who holds strong views on topics like the June 4 movement, has long been shunned by mainland media.
Representatives of Tencent met Democratic Party representatives on Tuesday to discuss his addition to the site, a person familiar with the situation said. Cheung Man-kwong, Albert Ho's campaign convenor, said yesterday they had no plan at the moment to open an account.
Pro-government candidate Henry Tang Ying-yen, however, has decided to take Tencent up on the offer. Tang plans to start his own Tencent microblog today, a spokeswoman for Tang said.
People close to Tencent said it had invited Ho and Tang to microblog on the firm's site based on the principle of 'fairness', since rival candidate Leung Chun-ying had begun microblogging with Tencent a month ago and attracted an army of followers.
Leung's weibo account with Tencent has won him a big following on the mainland.
Although the 15 posts he has published so far are not very interesting - messages about his work and events widely reported in traditional media - his account attracted more than 20,000 followers on the first day It continues to grow rapidly, with 920,000 followers.
Tencent - a Hong Kong-listed company - is apparently eager not to be seen to be taking sides in the race and therefore hoped to get all three candidates to open microblogs with it.
Foreign social-networking sites, such as Twitter or Facebook, are blocked on the mainland. Domestic equivalents like Sina or Tencent are widely popular, but heavily managed by the authorities. Nonetheless, mainland microbloggers often use them to voice opinions on protests, scandals and major events.
Details of the agreements between Tencent and the candidates are not clear, but it is believed that their microblogs would be limited to campaign-related content.
Political observer Ivan Choy Chi-keung of Chinese University said it was surprising that Ho had been given approval for a platform on the mainland through which to express his views.
'It remains to be seen what he puts up there, but the candidates' entries on the blog should be about their campaigning work,' Choy said. 'Unless Ho censors what he says there, he can't avoid talking about sensitive topics like Article 23 and the democratic quest for universal suffrage in the chief executive and Legislative Council elections. If he doesn't, I believe supporters for his camp will be very disappointed.
Ho opposes the requirement under Article 23 of the Basic Law for Hong Kong to enact legislation outlawing acts of treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the central government.
Internet users on the mainland, according to the China Internet Network Information Centre
- Nearly half opened a weibo last year