Beijing's propaganda site, People.com.cn opened a branch in Hong Kong yesterday at a time when the discrepancies between Hong Kong and the mainland are widening on topics ranging from livelihood to politics. "We would like to serve as a platform for opinion exchanges from both sides in a bid to mitigate the gap between Hong Kong and mainland people," Pan Jian, the vice-editor-in-chief of People.com.cn said yesterday. But he said narrowing the gap was not the sole goal of setting up a branch in Hong Kong. Pan also set a target for People.com.cn's Hong Kong and Macau news channel to double the daily hit rate to 400,000 by the end of the year. "By setting up a branch here, we would like to tune into the preferences of Hong Kong viewers directly and promote our brand name here," he said. The general perception is that the People's Daily and its affiliate People.com.cn are the mouthpieces of Beijing, putting the portal's editorial independence into question. "Mainland viewers also have such labelling on us," Pan said. "That's the reason why we want to closely monitor our viewers' feedback and learn from Hong Kong's media." One of the gauges to test the independence of People.com.cn would be its news coverage, such as whether it would cover sensitive news like the Occupy Central campaign, held by several organisations in Hong Kong to call for a genuine referendum for the next chief executive in the city. "We will report the news that our viewers think is important," Pan said. Hong Kong is the ninth offshore branch of People.com.cn following Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, Seoul, London, Moscow, Johannesburg and Sydney. There are 29 mainland branches in operation. People.com.cn publishes in 15 languages, attracting viewers from more than 200 countries and regions. The news portal was founded by the People's Daily in 1997 and listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in April last year. Its market capitalisation is reportedly twice as much as that of the New York Times . Net profit for last year would grow more than 50 per cent from 139 million yuan (HK$171.74 million) in 2011, the company said. On top of the revenue from selling advertising space on its webpage, the firm also generates income from selling analyses to companies on how they have been rated on social media. Pan said social media analysis was a growth business as companies were eager to know how bloggers, or the netizens, viewed them. "It is an integral part of the crisis management service we sell to commercial clients," he said. Correction: this story was updated at 8.40am March 20 to correct, throughout the story, the domain name of People's Daily website to people.com.cn.