State-controlled media in China on Monday downplayed the landslide electoral victory claimed by pan democrats in Hong Kong with an editorial calling the race an “unfair… manipulation.”
But such pro-Beijing propaganda and narratives were snubbed by many Chinese netizens, who urged Beijing to wake up to the reality that anti-China sentiment in the former British colony is real and rising.
With a record 71% turnout rate, nearly 3 million Hong Kongers cast their votes on Sunday. Poll results on Monday showed that the pro-democracy camp claimed more than 380 seats out of a total of 452 seats in 18 local district councils while the rival pro-Beijing camp retained only 58 seats, according to local media reports.
Vote of no confidence
The results were widely seen as a vote of no confidence in the city’s chief executive Carrie Lam and the Beijing government behind her.
Nevertheless, Global Times, China’s nationalist tabloid, said in an editorial that “it is crucial to rationally interpret” the elections results, “lest mobs should be emboldened by misreading them,” citing the narrower-than-expected gap between actual votes won by the pan democratic and the pro-establishment camp at a total of 1.66 million versus 1.22 million votes.
The mouthpiece paper argued that the city’s political unrest in recent months is conducive for pro-democracy activists to rally support, which then triggered irrational political energy and exerted pressure on pro-Beijing candidates.
The West had also weighed in to fuel the city’s anti-Beijing sentiment, it noted, pointing figures at Australia media and the U.K.’s BBC for having respectively unveiled a defecting Chinese spy’s infiltration work and the torture story of a former staff of the British Consulate in Hong Kong.
“They are intended to influence public opinion,” the paper said, adding that the U.S. Congress’s speedy passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act also targeted at Sunday’s elections.
The paper concluded that “whatever the ups and downs in Hong Kong polls…they can’t impact the basic framework of ‘one country, two systems.”
The West’s manipulation?
Sharing similar views, another veteran pro-Beijing paper Ta Kung Pao further called Sunday’s race “unfair and unjust,” “politicized” and “highly manipulated by the West.”
It then concluded that “the election won’t alter the fundamental landscape of Hong Kong society… neither will it change the fact that Hong Kong is a special district under China,” urging Hong Kong citizens to be patriotic.
Both editorials have attracted hundreds of online comments on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging site.
But readers’ feedback was apparently censored as the only message that remains on both editorials’ comment page is “apologies, the content currently can’t be viewed.”
In spite of China’s censorship, some Chinese netizens managed to have their comments about the city’s election results heard in other postings.
A Weibo user wrote: “CCTV and Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong keep saying that the ‘one country, two systems” scheme is successful. Indeed, [the part about] two systems work, but [the part about] one country has completely failed.”
Rising anti-China sentiment
One user wrote “Hong Kong has become another Taiwan. Anti-China sentiment has reflected mainstream public opinion in Hong Kong. [China should] stop fooling yourself” while another said that the results have proved that “the majority of people there dislike violence, but they dislike China more.”
Nationalist views toward the election results were also available on Weibo with users giving comments such as “I love my country, but I don’t love Hong Kong” or “I’m really disappointed at Hong Kong. What a white-eyed wolf [ingrate]!”
Wake up to reality
If viewpoints expressed by Chinese state media reflect the thinking of the Beijing government, authorities in China should wake up to see the reality, said Richard Tsoi, vice chairman of Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement of China.
He said that Beijing “definitely continues to have a kind of misunderstanding about the attitudes of Hong Kong people. [Election results show] Hong Kong people are very disappointed at the government’s performance.”
“Fundamentally, it’s about the illusion of the implementation of one country, two systems, and the failing promise of keeping Hong Kong a full democracy,” he added.
With the latest mandate from the people, the pan democratic camp will strive to push Lam’s administration to meet key demands proposed by protesters, which includes universal suffrage to elect members of the city’s legislative council and the chief executive, Tsoi said.
He also urged Beijing to ease its grip of control in Hong Kong, or, the city’s political unrest will continue — a tall order that Beijing appears to find it hard to accept.
Speaking in Tokyo after a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that “any attempt to mess up Hong Kong, or even damage its prosperity and stability, will not succeed,” the South China Morning Post reported.
“It is clear that no matter what happens, Hong Kong is a part of China,” the minister was cited as saying. He had previously accused the U.S. of interfering with China's internal affairs.
Also reacting cautiously, Hu Xijing, editor-in-chief of Global Times, tweeted to say “it’s hoped that they [pan democracts] will… stop radical street politics. It’s also hoped the election will be a turning point in ending the riots.”