HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) – From Slovakia to Japan, top Hong Kong officials have fired off at least 500 letters blasting critical foreign media coverage as the city wages a global battle to safeguard its reputation as a liberal financial hub.
At least 174 media outlets in almost 30 countries have received missives from city leaders – including Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee – since China announced in May 2020 that it would impose a national security law on the former British colony.
The correspondence, often written both in English and the publication’s native language, was uploaded to the “Clarifications” tab of the government’s communications platform known as Brand Hong Kong.
About half the letters, which responded to a mix of reports and editorials, hit back at criticism of Beijing’s sweeping security law, while roughly a third defended a mandate that only Communist Party loyalists can hold office in the city.
Neighbouring Asian nations received 42 per cent of the complaints, led by Japan and South Korea, while business publications including the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Economist got the most letters. Bloomberg received seven.
Beijing’s security law has prompted the authorities to shutter critical media outlets, ban events marking the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and jail dozens of opposition leaders.
Beyond curbing local dissent, city officials are spending time countering views published by organisations based thousands of miles away.
Newly installed Commerce Secretary Algernon Yau said at a Legislative Council meeting last week that Hong Kong’s 14 global trade offices had written about 1,000 letters in connection with the security law and electoral system overhaul to unspecified “stakeholders” over the past two years.
Mr Yau added that the government was pushing to bolster the city’s image in Central Asia, Islamic countries and Africa.
Hong Kong’s government has been “closely monitoring” news reports and social platforms for “false information” about Hong Kong, a spokesman for the city’s Information Services Department (ISD) said.
“The ISD is duty-bound to make clarifications through various channels to curb the spread of rumours.”
Mr Lee, a former top security official who took power on July 1, has said he would dispatch ministers around the world in an effort to restore the city’s global reputation.
“We shall make good use of our discourse power to tell a good Hong Kong story and tell the achievements and real truth about the success of Hong Kong,” Mr Lee said at his inauguration, echoing language used by Chinese President Xi Jinping.