A protester is seen holding up an umbrella while he walks through tear gas during a protest in Hong Kong on July 28, 2019, Photo: AFP Forum via NurPhoto/Vernon Yuen

Since demonstrations broke out in Hong Kong three months ago against an extradition bill, the protests have largely been peaceful. Despite stern comments from Beijing in support of the Hong Kong government and rebuking the protesters, the resilience of the movement shows the substantial support it commands in Hong Kong.

While China’s state media have been very hostile toward the protest movement, other international media have been highly sympathetic toward it.

Numerous articles and videos have been produced to express support for the movement. Prominent Western politicians like US Senator Marco Rubio have written op-eds to criticize China over its handling of Hong Kong affairs.

At the end of the Group of Seven Summit in France, a statement was put out by G7 leaders to call on China to honor the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 on Hong Kong. China rebuked the statement and called on outsiders not to interfere in its internal affairs.

For years since 1997, many people in Hong Kong have felt threatened by the tightening grip of Beijing over their city and feared the erosion of their precious freedoms and liberties as guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” policy. The people have made their voices heard, and they have done so in the signature Hong Kong way, by taking to the streets.

While foreign supporters of the protest movement have every right to make their views heard, it is deeply concerning to see how slanted the international coverage has been. For example, an article in The Guardian is titled “Hong Kong protests: brutal undercover police tactics spark outcry.”

This clickbait headline no doubt attracted many to read the article, and while police violence should indeed be condemned, this article has in essence associated the action of a few with the entire Hong Kong Police Force. The image of the Hong Kong police has taken a huge beating since the protests erupted in the city.

Violence should certainly be condemned, whoever commits it. The unfortunate thing is that there has been selective reporting in which the Hong Kong police have been excessively blamed. The Washington Times even called the protesters “freedom fighters.” Yet when Hong Kong police officers were beaten by pro-democracy protesters, no articles appeared to condemn their actions.

As well, when pro-Beijing protesters attacked pro-democracy protesters, a flurry of articles condemned the former. Terms like “thuggish proxies” and “vicious triads” were used to describe them.

This kind of slanted reporting ironically hurts the very same movement the international media set out to support and hardens sentiments within China against the protesters.

The overwhelmingly favorable international coverage of the protests has given credence to the Chinese government claims that the world is biased against China.

China is a rising power and has become substantially wealthier and more powerful in the last 40 years. However, the Chinese still have a sense of insecurity and feel the world has been very harsh toward them.

China endured a century of humiliation during the Qing Dynasty and was forced to concede Hong Kong to the United Kingdom in the aftermath of the second Opium War. China may be a strong power in the eyes of many countries, but it still haunted by the memories of its former weak self.

Therefore, it is paramount for the world to understand this. Journalists at international publications should be more objective in reporting the events in Hong Kong. The role of the media is to provide facts and strive to bridge differences to bring about change. Taking an activist stance and giving labels does not achieve this, but ironically makes The New York Times, The Guardian and other respected publications no different from the Global Times.

The slanted coverage of the Hong Kong protests may have made waves internationally but it has changed nothing on the ground. On the contrary, it has proved Beijing’s worst fears that the Western world, especially its media, is out to get it. This will only strengthen Beijing’s desire to double down on its efforts to control Hong Kong and in the end, the people of Hong Kong will pay the price.

Maa Zhi Hong

Maa Zhi Hong is a political analyst in Singapore who has written for Today, Asia Times, the South China Morning Post and Nikkei Asian Review. His official Instagram account is @maazhihongofficial.

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