Apple Daily is Hong Kong’s primary newspaper. It announced today that it would print its last issue, ending a 26-year run. The website of the “pro-democracy” publication was also stopped updating.
Although the paper is cash-rich $2.3million of its funds are frozen by the National Security Law that China imposed on the territory on June 30, 2013. Apple Daily cannot meet its financial obligations.
Beijing has been moving steadily to end any public criticism in Hong Kong. The paper’s closing should be seen as the end of freedom within the territory, now part of the China’s People’s Republic of China.
About 500 police officers raided the offices of the paper last Thursday. They also arrested Ryan Law, Editor-in-Chief, and three other people. The police also detained CEO Cheung Kimhung, Next Digital’s publisher, at the same time. The National Security Law allowed for these arrests and one of the opinion writers yesterday. The paper was also the target of a large-scale raid in August last year.
Apple Daily is currently in Hong Kong serving a 14-month sentence for his participation in peaceful protests in 2019. Six additional charges are pending against him, including two under the National Security Law. Lai, 73 years old, could be sentenced to life if convicted.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 stated that Britain “transferred” Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997. Beijing pledged the territory, now called the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region 50 years of autonomy in that 1984 treaty. Beijing asserts that the city is governed by the “one country” and “two systems” formula.
China’s attempt to impose a harsh extradition law in 2019 sparked mass protests. One of these protests, which took place in June, attracted nearly two million people. Beijing quickly reacted to the threat and took control of the territory home to 7.5 million people. Hong Kong is now nearly indistinguishable from mainland China.
Beijing was able to force Apple Daily from the business. It will be much more difficult to figure out what to do with Hong Kong now.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as its name suggests, aims to make the city prosper so it can demonstrate to the world that it is a global financial center. Although Shenzhen and Shanghai are large financial centers on the mainland, they only serve China and do not have an international reach.
Hong Kong’s international financial services dominance was maintained because it had key advantages, including the rule of law. The National Security Law gives China complete power and can be described as the end of Hong Kong law.
Mark Simon, a long-serving deputy to Jimmy Lai, said that Beijing was able “to strangle cash-rich Apple Daily” because it froze the paper’s accounts using a national security order, which is not judicial. He claims that the Hong Kong authorities “destroyed” a company and destroyed property rights.
These authorities also banned the free flow of information, which is vital to any financial center. CCP leaders will now face a new challenge with the closure of Apple Daily. They cannot censor political thoughts, but they can resist the temptation of censoring business information.
This is the first instance of the National Security Law being violated by Hong Kong authorities in the Apple Daily case. Simon points out that Apple Daily appears to be guilty of creating 120 articles that are not identifiable. “No one knows what the crime is or it’s content. Analysts, bankers, and traders, as well as international journalists, must now guess which information is infringing national security.
Simon points out that Apple Daily has been a real hindrance to Beijing’s true goals: “One-country. Two economies.” CCP hopes it can have Western-style financial markets in a small part of China but not the freedoms that make these markets possible.
China is seeking extraordinary control and long-term prosperity. This is something that no other state has achieved. Yes, China was able to generate growth in the so-called reform era (the period that began in December 1978), but this was only possible through a combination of market liberalization with continued outside investment.
Many believe that Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, can keep Hong Kong prosperous by allowing mainland parties money to come to the city. This has been happening for decades but it is not necessarily a net benefit for China. This does not help the city’s status as a global financial center.
Due to the deteriorating economic conditions, foreign businesses are leaving Hong Kong. The exodus will be accelerated by the closing of Apple Daily.
Even though the CCP is powerful, it cannot have everything.