Beijing retorts

Mainland Chinese press critical of HK protests

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying delivers a speech during a news conference in Hong Kong

Embattled leader: CY Leung

“Stability is bliss and turmoil brings havoc,” was the People’s Daily latest warning on the crisis in Hong Kong on Wednesday, shortly after police made new efforts to clear protesters who have been occupying some the territory’s busiest streets since late September.

China’s media has generally published Xinhua’s official line on the situation in Hong Kong, although a few newspapers including the Global Times have broken ranks by penning their own articles.

Predictably, they have hotly condemned the protests claiming they have been catastrophic for the city. One headline on Monday, for example, exclaimed: “Occupy Central Will Not Stamp Its Name in History, But Only Leave a Stink That Lasts 10,000 Years”.

“Who is providing ‘black money’ for it?” the newspaper also asked. “Which people should be held criminally liable?”

References to the malign influence of “external forces” have featured in commentary elsewhere, while Chen Zuo’er, former deputy of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Council, told reporters in Beijing that the protests were a clear attempt to undermine China’s political system. Even the description of the demonstrations as the “umbrella revolution” proved the point, Chen thought. “It follows the same formula. The name may sound pretty, but underneath it is one ugly conspiracy”

Netizen reaction to events in Hong Kong has been generally critical, although pro-protest comments have soon disappeared from cyberspace. One gripe is that Hong Kong residents seem to expect special privileges. “You were overly spoiled in the past,” admonished one weibo contributor. “So when it was a colony of the UK, Hong Kong behaved very well but now it wants a referendum?” queried another. “How naïve you are to think you can overturn the Chinese Communist Party by holding up a few umbrellas,” a third chided. “Never forget the Party walked thousands of miles through hails of bullets on its Long March.”

Many overseas-educated Chinese are also unhappy about the protests, according to Peng Jingchao, a Chinese graduate student in Tokyo interviewed by the New York Times. “For a lot of them it’s hard to shake their patriotic syndrome, in that they view any critique of the government as an attack on the nation,” he claimed.

Another key message from the Chinese media is that the protests are hurting Hongkongers in the pocket, with China Daily focusing on how a “few political hotheads” are disrupting the city’s economy, warning that the damage to shops and local businesses “can hardly be measured”, and estimating losses on the stock market of at least HK$350 billion ($45 billion).

Most of the newspapers also mentioned a study from the Hong Kong Retail Management Association suggesting that turnover at 30 retailers close to the main demonstration areas had dropped by as much as half.

But how damaging has the disruption really been? Despite the restrictions on mainland Chinese group tours, tourist numbers from China during Golden Week actually rose nearly 5% to 1.2 million, according to data from the Hong Kong Tourism Board. And although some luxury stores have clearly suffered, there was evidence of a slowdown even before the protests began in earnest (see WiC255).

Hong Kong’s stock market has fallen about 2.5% since students first stormed government buildings three weeks ago. But 12 out of 15 economists interviewed by Bloomberg stuck to their 2014 GDP forecasts for the city, and one investment bank is suggesting that the drag on its economy isn’t likely to be much worse than the impact of a typhoon hit.

Perhaps that’s why some of the Chinese media is talking more about how Hong Kong is risking its reputation over the longer term, with grim warnings in the China Daily that the “chaotic social order” is already discouraging investment. In fact, the damage is apparent, it believes. “The activation of the pan-democrat movement in recent years has caused Hong Kong to witness actual economic growth not only much lower than the Chinese mainland and other emerging Asian markets but much lower than Singapore, its direct competitor in Asia,” the newspaper claims.

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