Category Archives: china

the coming colonization of hong kong cyberspace

my latest article covers the government response to the use of the internet by the umbrella movement. it is titled “the coming colonization of hong kong cyberspace” (pdf) and published in the chinese journal of communication.

here’s the abstract:

Governments are increasingly playing catch-up and sometimes even leapfrogging ahead of social movements in the use of digital tactics; government responses to new technologies include surveillance, censorship and demonization of foreign influence. This development has implications for the emancipatory potential of new technologies, in particular for the anonymous, decentralized and autonomous character of the Internet.

Hong Kong’s Occupy protests are far from over. Let’s raise our umbrellas

Small paper umbrellas

‘The umbrella movement is no failure. The protesters went the distance with the government for 75 days straight.’ Photograph: Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images

Is this the end? The police cleared the Occupy sites and protesters on Thursday, arresting 247 people. The continuing occupation was beginning to lose support from the public, and there are still no concrete or clear steps towards electoral reform. But the umbrella movement is no failure.

The protesters went the distance with the government for 75 days straight. They did so peacefully, from the very beginning to the bitter end. There was no looting, no rioting and, most importantly, not a single casualty.

What’s even more impressive is that, through their own hard work and smarts, the students built a community from the ground up. They created many works of art, with the Lennon Wall – a concrete staircase covered in thousands of sticky notes of support – as perhaps its most famous example. The students did homework in a makeshift study hall they constructed, fully equipped with Wi-Fi stations and exercise bikes for generating electricity. As if that wasn’t enough, students in my university classes continued to hand in their assignments on time throughout the protests.

Students also showed that they are not naive. In an unprecedented live debate lasting over two hours, student leaders went toe to toe with high-ranking government officials discussing electoral reform. After the debate, and up to this moment, the government has not given a legitimate answer to a simple question from the students: why can Hong Kong not have open elections?

The students are worried that having the right political connections is becoming a basic necessity for any kind of success. Political success under the proposed election framework is achievable only if you have the approval of Beijing. The students also understand that the right connections to government are a precondition for business success.

There’s no other place in the world where it is more profitable to be a business person with the right political connections than Hong Kong, according to the Economist. It’s also disconcerting that Hong Kong has slipped to its lowest ranking on the corruption index since the handover, in 1997. On top of all this, our chief executive unashamedly warned that poor people would dominate if elections were truly representative, and that young people should consider moving away if they cannot find a job here in Hong Kong.

The students – the next generation of Hong Kong – only want a fair shot at a decent future. They know that open elections are an important step towards making sure the game won’t become completely rigged. They have learned that Hong Kong has always prided itself as a fair and free market where anyone can succeed through hard work and intelligence, and that this is how we became a world leader in manufacturing in the 1960s and 1970s (before everything was “Made in China”, consumer goods tended to be “Made in Hong Kong”.)

And they have learned that this is how we transformed ourselves into a leading economy for services, when our manufacturing industry migrated north into mainland China. A free and fair Hong Kong where anyone can make it by working hard enough: that’s the Hong Kong we know and love, and that’s what we need to continue to fight for.

‘One country, two internets’, and why we need to protect it

Late on Tuesday, a small group of people charged the Legislative Council building and broke a glass panel. Reports indicate they did so because they feared the passing of “Internet Article 23”. The original Article 23 is of course the controversial national security bill that provoked half a million Hong Kong people to protest in the streets in 2003. So what exactly is “Internet Article 23”, and should we be concerned?

“Internet Article 23” is actually more than one bill. Lawmakers and advocacy groups use it to refer to at least two different regulations, both with the potential to seriously undermine the free and open internet we enjoy in Hong Kong.

One is the Copyright Amendment bill, a much needed update to the otherwise outdated copyright bill. But many fear that it will punish citizens for remixing original content with social or political commentary as parody or satire. To understand why people are concerned, you only need to take one quick lookonline or walk by the Occupy areas: among the many art pieces, one of the most popular is a life-size cutout of president Xi Jinping holding a yellow umbrella that many people take selfies with.

The other regulation in question is the Computer Crimes Ordinance. Originally intended to battle computer fraud and hacking, it has been drafted in such a way that it has serious potential for abuse. The most recent case involves the arrest of a citizen for “inciting” others to commit an offence. His crime? Posting a message on an online forum asking others to join him in the pro-democracy protests; the original post has been removed and the police have so far declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

Let’s not forget what is at stake. We only need to look across the border to see a tightly monitored, closely controlled internet where citizens have to watch what they say to each other, even on seemingly private messenger apps such as WeChat. Then they might find themselves at a dead end if they try to find out what is going on; Sina Weibo and Baidu have been filtering search results for “Hong Kong students”, “Hong Kong tear gas” and “true universal suffrage”. And because people started sharing yellow umbrella pictures, Instagram is now the latest member to the club of global internet platforms that are blocked in China, joining Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, amongst others.

In contrast, we have a free and open internet in Hong Kong. Anyone can share their story and decide for themselves what is meaningful or not; no longer does a small and powerful elite determine this for the rest of society. Let’s be clear: a free and open internet doesn’t mean that people can say whatever they want without any consequences; all countries regulate speech to some extent. But it does mean that the conversation is open and inclusive: whether you are a yellow, blue or red ribbon supporter, you don’t have to ask anyone for permission to speak.

Whether you agree with the protesters or not, it is undeniable that they have breathed new life into a conversation that most people had given up on, a conversation about the future of Hong Kong and the status of “one country, two systems”. Sometimes we disagree or even yell at each other, but that’s what it means to have a honest, frank and real conversation, warts and all.

To my knowledge, the Hong Kong government hasn’t censored anything related to the protests. This is surely a good thing. But if the last few weeks have taught us anything, it is that our “one country, two systems” setup isn’t sacrosanct or set in stone. That is why I am asking all of us to keep a close eye on “one country, two internets” and to make sure we preserve and protect the free and open internet in Hong Kong.

The author is an assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.