We never expect The People’s Daily to interview anyone with a view that opposes the official party line in China. Yet, for a brief moment it did just that.
The issue was about what kind of person Beijing will “allow” to be elected once Hong Kong gets universal sufferage.
Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the Law Committee of the National People’s Congress laid down a “bottom line” about Hong Kong’s next chief executive. Qiao said he or she must “love the country, love Hong Kong” and must not “confront” Beijing.
The overseas edition of the People’s Daily ran a story about the statement and — GASP — included quotes from Hong Kong democrats who were critical of Qiao.
As Tammy Tam points out in the South China Morning Post, the article included a quote from one of Beijing’s most vocal critics, Emily Lau. Ms. Lau is so disliked by Beijing that despite regular applications she has not been able to get a visa to visit mainland China to see family members. She is seen as one of those “undesirables” the Chinese communist party likes to keep out of their country.
Netizens in China saw what happened and immediately commented on it in numerous social media sites. And that woke up the Chinese censors. Soon, the piece was deleted from the People’s Daily website.
At tam points out, Beijing has moved from “everything is wonderful in Hong Kong” articles to “be careful about being cheated in Hong Kong” to “there is a lot of diversity in Hong Kong.”
Of course, it really had not choice.
Hundreds of thousands of mainland Chinese have visited Hong Kong ever since Beijing eased the exit visa restrictions on its people. All those visitors — many of whom were cheated by Hong Kong businesses (hence the “cheating” articles) — saw the good and bad in Hong Kong. They also saw demonstrations against the handover. They saw demonstrations honoring those who fought for democracy in Tiananmen Square. And they saw media outlets quoting people with wildly differing views.
No matter how hard the rulers in Beijing try, they cannot ignore that the free press and civil liberties the residents of Hong Kong enjoy is in sharp contrast to the thought police in mainland China.