Saturday, 25 July 2020

Chinese ‘Imperialism’ in Hong Kong Concerns US Media; Puerto Rican, Palestinian Colonies, Not So Much

When China passed a national security law for Hong Kong on June 30, criminalizing terrorism, secession and subversion of the Chinese government, as well as collusion with foreign governments, massive condemnations resounded all over Western media.

Vox (5/21/20) described it as an “official death sentence” for the “one country, two systems” model of governance in Hong Kong. Business Insider’s headline (7/1/20) described China’s national security law as having “killed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement in less than a year.” The Washington Post (7/3/20) ran an op-ed mocking China’s actions as “nothing less than imperialism with Chinese characteristics.” The Atlantic (7/1/20) described Hong Kong as a “colony once more,” equating the Chinese government with previous British and Japanese “overlords in a distant capital” making “decisions on Hong Kong’s behalf.”

Of course, while Western media describe the national security law as something China “imposed” on Hong Kong, these same outlets rarely if ever present the “one country, two systems” model of governance in Hong Kong as something that was imposed on China by British imperialism, when London refused to unconditionally return the former colony to China. Hong Kong was violently seized from China with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, after the British waged a war to impose the opium trade on China, causing about 90 million Chinese people to develop an addiction by the end of the 19th century.

FAIR studies (10/26/20, 12/6/20) have found that Hong Kong protests received dramatically more media attention than contemporaneous protests in US client states like Chile, Haiti and Ecuador. FAIR found that the disparity in coverage couldn’t be explained by the protests’ size, significance, number of casualties or response from the authorities, as police crackdowns in US dependencies have been far more brutal and lethal than the crackdown in Hong Kong. The disparity is better explained by corporate journalists considering Hong Kong protesters “worthy victims,” more deserving of coverage because they are protesting against an Official EnemyTM of the US, rather than a government friendly to Washington.

While one cannot describe China’s national security law as an act of “colonialism” or “imperialism,” since Hong Kong is part of China, FAIR conducted a study comparing media coverage of Hong Kong’s national security law and actual colonialism by the US in Puerto Rico, and by its ally Israel in Palestine. From June 16 to July 14, FAIR searched for all relevant results for “Hong Kong+security law,” “Israel+annex” and a general search for “Puerto Rico” on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal’s websites, as well as a Nexis search for CNN’s coverage. FAIR included all relevant results, except reposted content from newswires like Reuters and the Associated Press. Full documentation, including links to all the articles in the sample, can be found here.

In total, there have been 113 articles on China’s new national security law in Hong Kong, 12 on Israel’s plans to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank on July 1 (which have currently been stalled), and six altogether on Puerto Rico.

NYT: Leading Homeland Security Under a President Who Embraces ‘Hate-Filled’ Talk In nearly a month of coverage, there were only six stories on Puerto Rico in three leading outlets, despite the island’s ongoing crisis. One was a New York Times story (7/10/20) that reported that Trump had asked then-Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, “Can we sell the island? You know, or divest of that asset?”

Puerto Rico is currently the world’s oldest colony, incorporated into the US empire as spoils of war following the Spanish/American War of 1898, and it currently enjoys less political participation than it did during the Spanish monarchy (Washington Post, 12/13/17). The US has consistently exploited Puerto Rico’s economy for over a century, and has denied the colony representation in Congress or the right to vote in presidential elections (CounterSpin, 8/2/19, 3/18/20). Washington has imposed neoliberal shock doctrine on the island, withholding aid following the devastation left by Hurricane Maria, earthquakes and coronavirus (, 2/9/18; Common Dreams, 1/9/20).


While Israel’s settler colonialism has been going on for decades, FAIR’s search focused on Israel’s plans to annex the West Bank on July 1, because it was a contemporaneous measure taken by a US ally that would permanently end prospects for Palestinian independence under a two-state solution (, 1/31/20, 2/7/20). While some of the disparity in coverage could be explained by the postponement of the planned annexation on July 1 due to coronavirus and international condemnation, even if we confine coverage from the Times, Journal and CNN from June 16 to July 1, there are still 44 articles on China’s national security law for Hong Kong, compared to 12 on Israel’s planned annexation of Palestinian territory.

If, as Israel’s annexation asserts, the West Bank is not an independent nation deserving of self-determination, than Israel/Palestine is an apartheid state where millions of Palestinians are denied democratic rights due to their ethnicity. The denial of these rights has a heavy human cost: According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem (1/1/20), Israeli security forces killed 133 Palestinians in 2019, including 28 children. Fifty-six of the people killed took no part in hostilities against Israel, making them victims of Israeli state terrorism.

Corporate media’s particular interest in Hong Kong protests cannot be explained by the Hong Kong police force’s crackdown being exceptionally brutal. After Chinese revolutionaries waged what Chinese people call the War of Liberation against Western and Japanese colonizers, Communists in Hong Kong led uprisings against British colonial rule in 1967, during which colonial police shot to death or otherwise killed at least 17 people. In contrast, while instances of police brutality have been documented during the current Hong Kong protests, none of the four deaths of protesters reported so far in the current unrest have been directly and credibly attributed to police violence. Hong Kong protesters, meanwhile, have set a man on fire, bombed subways, beaten elderly people and young women, and murdered a 70-year-old man by hurling a brick at his head (South China Morning Post, 11/12/19, 6/3/20).


More by FAIR.

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