The idea that Hong Kong might be a potential target for a terrorist attack may seem like pure speculation. As far as this article is concerned, it is just that. But given the magnitude of the possible ramifications, it’s a possibility well worth considering. The thought has occurred to some local individuals following the recent violence and upheaval in Xinjiang, which has resulted in nearly 200 deaths and provoked anger among a number of Muslims overseas, including members of one of Islam’s most militant factions, Al-Qaeda. One of the sources of the worries is a report released earlier this month by London-based risk analysis group Stirling Assynt, which stated that Al-Qaeda’s north-African wing—Al Quaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)—has threatened retaliation against China for the deaths of Muslims in Xinjiang. According to Justin Crump, Stirling Assynt’s head of terrorism, the threats are limited to Chinese projects and workers in the Middle East and Africa, and an attack on Hong Kong soil is not something to worry about. But others are already beginning to disagree. Simon Shen, associate professor in the division of social sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, believes Hong Kong could be a possible target for terrorists just like any other cosmopolitan city. For the first time since the Japanese occupation, the idea of a violent attack on Hong Kong from outside forces is a source of worry to some. Why might Hong Kong be a target for terrorists? The answer comes down to how terrorism works in the first place. Well before today’s ubiquitous post-9/11 coverage of groups such as Al-Qaeda, terrorism expert Brian Jenkins described terrorism as “theater,” arguing that it is truly aimed at those who watch it through the media rather than the actual victims. More recently, in his book “Inside Terrorism,” Professor Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University has written of terrorist acts saying, “without the media’s coverage the act’s impact is arguably wasted, remaining narrowly confined to the immediate victim(s) of the attack, rather than reaching the wider ‘target audience’ at whom the terrorists’ violence is actually aimed.” Social commentator Malcolm Gladwell believes that terrorist groups use the media as a tipping point to galvanize and spread their agenda. Speaking in advance of his seminar tour which comes to Hong Kong on August 7, he says: “Using the media has been some part of any strategy of groups involved in battles against bigger foes. They try to use public opinion as additional lever to gain additional stature.” So far on the mainland, media participation hasn’t been fully forthcoming, because it lacks an open media to start with. Bus explosions across different parts of the country frequently go unreported in local news and, where they are reported, the reasons behind them are often obscured. For example, last year the Xinjiang separatist group, the Turkestan Islamic Party, claimed direct responsibility in a video for buses blown up in Shanghai and Yunnan, but authorities moved quickly to deny the incidents were acts of terrorism. The one place in China that does have an open media, however, is Hong Kong. Professor Shen believes this relative transparency makes us a more suitable target for terrorists hoping to get their anti-China message across publicly. “A terrorist attack in a Chinese village could be covered up, but that’s not possible in Hong Kong,” he says. On top of having greater transparency, Hong Kong also boasts a sizeable expat community, and is the preferred location for numerous business transactions involving western interests. Thus terrorists hoping to deliver a message to the west as well could effectively do so in the same blow. Shen draws a comparison here with the bombings of tourist spots in Bali. Of course, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As mentioned, Sterling Assynt’s Crump does not see Hong Kong itself as a likely site for a terrorist attack. However, he believes the commercial interests of Hong Kong in places such as northern Africa “definitely are” potential targets. “If you’re a Hong Kong company with interests overseas, that’s where you need to beef up your security,” he says. When asked about the matter, a spokesperson for the Security Bureau stated, “there is at present no intelligence indicating that Hong Kong will be subject to any terrorist attack.” Nonetheless, they mention in the same breath that “the Government will remain vigilant,” adding, “we keep close monitor of terrorist incidents happening world-wide and maintain close contact and liaison with law enforcement agencies and intelligence services overseas for effective threat assessments.” Also according to the Security Bureau, the police have “established mechanisms, contingencies and specially trained operational units” to respond to any major incidents. So even though the authorities say they are prepared for any contingency, we can now add one more thing to the long list of complaints we have against the mainland media policy: it puts our city and our freedoms in danger to terrorists upset at greater China.