Chinese state media remained largely silent Sunday as hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people took to the streets to protest against a controversial extradition bill, with social platforms scrubbed clean of any pictures or mentions of the rally.
Hong Kong’s government has been rocked in recent days by massive demonstrations — and some violence — which forced the city’s embattled leader to indefinitely suspend the passage of the bill.
Critics fear the Beijing-backed law will entangle people in China’s notoriously opaque and politicised courts and damage the city’s reputation as a safe place for business.
Except for a short opinion piece in the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, Chinese state media — which has drummed up support for the bill in recent weeks — remained mum Sunday after the climbdown by Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, avoided the subject in its main news bulletins throughout the day.
The proposed law that would allow extraditions to the mainland was “supported by mainstream public opinion in Hong Kong”, the People’s Daily article said.
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“The general public is looking forward to blocking legal loopholes to prevent Hong Kong becoming a haven for sinners,” it added.
China has blamed the protests on what it says is a small group of organisers who are colluding with Western governments.
The People’s Daily echoed the oft-repeated government line that “it resolutely opposes the intervention of external forces in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs”.
It also supported the option chosen by Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing governor Carrie Lam to put the bill on the backburner, saying it was an opportunity to “further listen to opinions”.
Searches on China’s Twitter-like microblogging site Weibo for “Hong Kong protests”, only yields official Chinese foreign ministry statements that have called such rallies, “riots” or “behaviour that undermines Hong Kong’s peace and stability”.
There were no photos of black-clad protesters walking with banners critical of the bill, or people leaving flowers at the site where a young man fell to his death protesting against the law.
Videos of police using pepper spray and rubber bullets on protesters — that had left Hong Kong public seething — were also absent from Chinese social media.
Websites such as Twitter and Facebook — accessible in semi-autonomous Hong Kong — are blocked on the mainland.
Beijing was already on edge this month as it tightened security and stepped up online censorship to ensure that the 30th anniversary of the brutal June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown would go by quietly.