City Beat

Another rabid editorial - but is it really from Beijing?

When CY dismissed a Global Times column, it showed just how little influence the paper has

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 June, 2014, 5:06am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 1:02pm

If Hongkongers had ever taken seriously comments on the city in the fiercely nationalistic state-run Global Times newspaper - assuming they represent the views of Beijing's policymakers - now is the time to think twice before reading too much into them.

It seems Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying thinks so, at any rate. Last week he voiced his disagreement with a strongly worded editorial in the newspaper, which dismissed Occupy Central's so-called referendum on electoral reform options for the 2017 chief executive poll as an "illegal farce". The editorial declared that no matter how high the turnout rate, it was "no match" for the mainland population of 1.3 billion.

By the time the poll ended last night, 787,767 people had voted, organisers said.

Leung told reporters last Tuesday it was wrong to "put the people of Hong Kong and mainland China on confronting sides". He added that those who had voted merely wanted to express their hope for universal suffrage in 2017 - a hope shared by him and the governments of Hong Kong and Beijing.

But the pan-democrats were unimpressed, saying it was just Leung trying to defuse the situation ahead of tomorrow's pro-democracy march.

A government source, however, said Leung felt compelled to speak out because he thought the editorial was wrong, since Hongkongers are part of the 1.3 billion Chinese population, and because of simmering tensions between the city and the mainland.

But if Leung was trying to ease the situation, it may have backfired. While the Global Times declined to comment on Leung's remarks, internet users on the mainland were more vociferous, with some attacking the chief executive for trying to please only Hongkongers.

And many in Hong Kong wondered why Leung had made the rare move, questioning whether perhaps the newspaper was not so "official" after all.

After the Leung remarks, Professor Joseph Man Chan, of Chinese University's School of Journalism and Communication, shed some light on how the newspaper fits within the mainland media landscape. He told an RTHK show that although the Global Times is part of the People's Daily Group, financially it is not an official mouthpiece. While the People's Daily receives state funding and is seen as a must-subscribe for all key government agencies, the Global Times relies heavily on its own advertising and circulation revenue.

This puts it a rung below the People's Daily and other high-level government mouthpieces, such as the Xinhua News Agency, in terms of its "official" status.

Then there's the leftist editor-in-chief of the Global Times, Hu Xijin - a controversial figure known for his bellicose approach and seen in Western media as the man behind "China's Fox News". His rabid editorials, Hu says, are all designed to draw readers from the conventional state-run newspapers.

And he's got Hong Kong in his sights. On a visit to the city a few months ago, Hu told local media of his plan to expand the newspaper to Hong Kong in the run-up to 2017. Protesters disrupted his speech at Chinese University, during which he admitted that the People's Daily Group, which appointed him to the job, could exert influence on him, but claimed the newspaper was market-oriented.

Under Hu's direction, the newspaper's provocative style will continue - whether it represents any official message from Beijing or not, and whether the chief executive of Hong Kong disagrees or not. But one thing is for sure: extreme views from either side aren't the answer for the city's political reform.