2013: the year of talking dangerously

Controversial voices were raised, spying secrets revealed and once-powerful men jailed or executed in a year that saw many turbulent moments

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 5:11am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 3:51pm

Outspoken personalities from all walks of life dominated the pages of the South China Morning Post during 2013. There was the former American spy agency contractor turned whistle-blower who broke cover in Hong Kong, sparking a global fallout over US government spying; and the Chinese princeling whose public trial for corruption and abuse of power riveted the nation.

At home, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying saw his approval ratings slide to record lows - as he learned the skill of ducking from flying objects at public meetings - while pan-democrats fought it out with the pro-Beijing camp over universal suffrage for the 2017 CE election.

Natural disasters made their impact in the form of two super typhoons - Usagi, which side-swiped Hong Kong in September, mercifully causing limited damage, and Haiyan, which wreaked havoc in the southern Philippines in November, killing more than 5,000 people.

Here are some of the people who made the news in 2013:


Jackie Chan

Love or loathe him, almost half a million page views got Jackie Chan's rant at the start of 2013 the most hits for a single online story for the entire year.

The article quoted the action star as saying the US was the world's most corrupt country. Chan told Phoenix TV that while China has a corruption problem, so do other nations, including America. "If you talk about corruption, the entire world - America - has no corruption?" the actor said rhetorically.

Chan declared that America was "the most corrupt [country] in the world" - not China. "Where does this great breakdown [of corruption] come from? It started exactly from the [rest of the] world, the United States ... If our own countrymen don't support our country, who will?" he said.

During the same show, Chan claimed that Chinese people should only criticise China among their own people, and not to foreigners. "We [can] talk about it when the door is closed. To outsiders, [we should say], 'our country is the best'," he advised.

The same article also garnered the most online comments by readers (308), well ahead of 135 for an article quoting whistle-blower Edward Snowden as saying the US has been hacking into mainland and Hong Kong computers for years.

Chan put his foot in his mouth in October when he said he wished more countries would expeience natural disasters. What he was trying to say was that countries often drop their enmity only when disasters such as a tsunami or an earthquake strikes one of them. He hoped more countries could work together without having to wait for a disaster to occur.


Edward Snowden

The front-page headline on June 11 said it all: "World's most-wanted man breaks cover in Hong Kong". Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor revealed his identity to the world after landing in Hong Kong and passing to the media classified documents about a top-secret US surveillance programme.

Snowden, 29, said he chose Hong Kong because of its "commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent".

"People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location, misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality," Snowden said in an exclusive interview with the Post.

Snowden arrived in Hong Kong on May 20 and left on a flight to Moscow 34 days later. The whistle-blower had found safe passage to Russia and avoided extradition to the US because Hong Kong was a stickler for the letter of the law.

In his wake he left explosive details of the US National Security Agency's electronic surveillance programmes in Hong Kong and the mainland.

Elsewhere, the topic of Snowden topped the list in the world news category, with an article quoting Russian President Putin saying Snowden was a "strange guy" who has chosen a "difficult life". Second most popular world news story was the report that Snowden had received a marriage proposal, via Twitter, from ex-spy Anna Chapman.


Bo Xilai

For most of October, China-watchers were riveted by the trial of former Politburo member Bo Xilai , who was charged with corruption and abuse of power. The Post's coverage, which received more than 415,400 page views, included exclusive reports from our reporters on the mainland, while the central government made the unprecedented decision to use online Weibo feeds to broadcast court proceedings.

After the trial - which nobody expected would end in anything but a guilty verdict - 64-year-old put on a final act of defiance during an appeal against his life sentence, declaring: "I am not guilty".

Bo, handcuffed and wearing a blue jacket for his last public appearance before going to jail, constantly interrupted the judge's reading of the ruling during the 40-minute session, according to two court witnesses.

However, the high court said that after "careful deliberation" of the appeal case, it decided that the lower court's verdict was based on "clear facts, ample evidence and lawful procedure" and the sentence was "accurate and appropriate", according to the full text of the ruling posted on the court's website.

Bo is serving his life term at the relatively luxurious Qincheng Prison in north Beijing, which houses offenders from the political elite.


Kim Jong-un

North Korea's young dictator was never far from the headlines. In January a public appearance by his wife Ri Sol-ju, minus a "bulging stomach", fuelled speculation she had just given birth. Things turned more serious later in the year when Kim issued threats to wage nuclear war with South Korea and its ally the US.

Cooler heads prevailed but then Kim sent shock waves around the region this month with the execution of his once powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek on charges that included plotting a coup and corruption.

The execution, amid the biggest political upheaval since Kim took power two years ago, sparked speculation that Jang had lost out in a power struggle with hardline army generals.

But Nam Jae-joon, the head of South Korea's National Intelligence Service, said Jang's attempts to secure control of state-run natural resources, including the country's lucrative coal export business, played a big part in his downfall.


The 'rude' Chinese tourist

Why are Chinese tourists so rude? This headline on Amy Li's column in June drew almost a quarter of a million page views.

"It seems that every time a 'rude Chinese tourist' story is published on it goes straight into the site's top 10 most-read articles - one such article even managed to crawl back to the top months after it was posted," she wrote.

Li concluded that a combination of factors helped give the impression that Chinese tourists were rude. These included lack of education among the older generation, a disregard for local customs and rules (tipping helps, but mainland Chinese don't tip), and the "survival" instinct - living in China, where the rule-of-law is looser means everyone has to look out for their own interests.

One reader who posted one of the almost 100 comments on the article noted that American tourists used to have the same problem. Back then they were called "Ugly Americans". There's hope for mainland tourists yet.


Agnieszka Radwanksa

When is a sport story not a sport story? When it's about a female tennis star posing nude, perhaps.

In July, Polish tennis player Agnieszka Radwanksa defended her decision to pose nude on the cover of a magazine. It was the most popular "sports" story of the year with 56,500 views.

In comparison, the story of Manny Pacquiao's November "Clash in Cotai" victory over Mexican-American boxer Brandon Rios got 24,700 views.