Beijing’s Information War may Experience a Backlash

Hang Liu

Editor’s Note: This article first appear in Chinese at Borderless Movement

In addition to batons, tear gas, beam bag rounds, pepper spray, water cannons and rubber bullets, the protesters in Hong Kong are also facing attacks from the official and unofficial propaganda machineries of the totalitarian state.

In August, The New York Times published an article saying China is waging a disinformation war which ‘has clearly been aimed at undermining sympathy for the Hong Kong protesters’ goals’. The war is still ongoing even after Carrie Lam had announced formal withdrawal of the extradition bill. However, it is no help in resolving the current dilemma faced by the CCP, and may even cause counteractions.

The most recent attacks are particularly underbred. For example, Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, who is a member of the Executive Council of Hong Kong government, said that teenage girls involved in the protest movement were misled into offering free sex to frontline demonstrators. This scuttlebutt is so rudimentary that even Carrie Lam warned that government officials ‘have to be extremely cautious in ascertaining whether it is accurate’. Nevertheless, the notorious mouthpiece of CCP, Global Times, reported Fanny Law’s claim in both its Chinese and English websites as fast as possible.

At the same time, more detailed stories and ‘evidences’ are spreading in the Chinese social media. But netizens have found that some of the most circulated pictures are either from porn sites or forged from the image of a protester holding a placard condemning police atrocities.

Although Hong Kong is small, its cyberspace is connected to the vast ocean of the World Wide Web without any barriers. People here can easily dismantle this kinds of oversimplified ‘rumor bombs’. Nevertheless, CCP just keeps dropping such ‘bombs’ in this disinformation war: ‘mobs cut off the finger of a police officer with pliers, which is a provocative mean commonly used by CIA’ (the picture of the wounded hand is from a Taiwan news report four years ago); ‘the young woman who was shot in the eye by a suspected beam bag round previously distributed money to protesters’ (again, the evidence is a picture of another woman); ‘the CIA commander in Hong Kong was arrested’ (seriously, can the CIA employ someone better to execute its conspiracy in Hong Kong than a man who got himself drunk on the subway and deliberately challenged the police on his own?). Is this because the propagandists of the CCP are incompetent? Indeed there are many idiots in the bureaucracy, but I have other conjectures.

Firstly, the major target of these ‘rumor bombs’ may be the mainland Chinese who can mainly access to censored information sources. When refutation and clarification are not allowed, why take an effort to fabricate sophisticated lies?

At the beginning of the anti-extradition, CCP’s propaganda strategy was blocking the news about the protests outside the mainland. But the censorship and fire wall is far from invulnerable when people both in Hong Kong and the mainland strived to spread the news. For example, after the word ‘Hong Kong’ was censored in the social media, people then referred this city as ‘Pearl of the Orient (东方之珠, which is the name of a famous song wrote by Taiwanese singer Lo Ta-yu)’.

Obviously, if this trend continued, there would be more and more anti-extradition movement sympathizers in the mainland. And millions of mainlanders — such as the veterans who demand higher pensions, the workers who are forced to work a 996 schedule, the victims of financial frauds, the residents who do not want garbage incineration plants to be built next to their houses, the parents who are migrant workers but whose children do not enjoy fair education rights in cities — have already been angry enough to hit the streets. They might by inspired by and copy the movement in Hong Kong. For the rulers of China, the anti-extradition movement is like a spark outside an oil depot. After they found that it had become too big to ignore and too strong to extinguish, they decided to stigmatize it.

I have to admit that so far this strategy is successful. It made a large number of Chinese people — including many living in western countries, believe they are part of a glorious struggle against rioters, separatists, terrorists and rapists in Hong Kong and the American imperialism behind them. Those mainlanders who dare to show solidarity or sympathy publicly with the Hong Kong people are now facing both repressions from the state and Internet violence from the bigoted groups of reactionaries.

But how long could this nationalist fanaticism work if the fundamental causes of the current problems in Hong Kong and the mainland continue to exist? What happened after the formal announcement of the withdrawal of the bill has showed that the unyielding spirit of the Hong Kong youth is far from burning out. Meanwhile some hot-blooded youth in the mainland also have expressed their dissatisfactions with Beijing after Carrie Lam’s slight gesture of compromise (below are some comments posted in the mainland social media).

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So is this a way to compromise with terrorists?

This shows the weakness and compromise nature of the bourgeoisie.

Can such a rubbish government govern Hong Kong?

Only the crying child gets milk to drink?

Rubbish central government, rubbish Hong Kong government, they should all step down!

Some people may say that the young people in China are tame lambs who will never dare to confront the CCP in action. If this is the case, why has not the government organized young people to demonstrate in the mainland to show their patriotic passion to the world, just like the anti-America demos in 1999 and the anti-Japan demos in 2012? If the rulers genuinely believe the vast majority of the Chinese youth are on their side, why don’t they rally millions of them in the streets of Shenzhen to deter the protesters in Hong Kong, instead of gathering tanks and troops over there?

Interestingly, the CCP thinks it’s safer to rally the Chinese international students in western countries to intimidate the supporters of the Hong Kong movement. These events have also been widely circulated in the Chinese social media. Probably this is because many of the participants are truly the children of the regime. But the danger is — the average mainland youth may realize one day that they actually share more similar class position with the protesters in Hong Kong than those Ferrari-driving patriots in Vancouver and Toronto.

Another contradiction is that some tricks that played for the purpose of stigmatization actually stirred the situation up. For example, letting cops dress like protesters and instigate the actions of ‘riot’. This leads to my second conjecture — Hong Kong is also a heated battleground of CCP faction fight at this moment.

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On September 3rd, the Liaison Office stated again that some of the radical protesters had showed the clear features of ‘color revolution’ and ‘terror’ in its fourth press conference since June. However, these terms were omitted in the subsequent news reports of some CCP official media platforms. And the Hong Kong government even accepted one of the demands of the so-called ‘terrorists’ on the next day!

This abnormal development naturally makes people to think that the propaganda institutions of the CCP are not concerted and some of the inexpedient attacks in the disinformation war are actually intentionally implemented by certain faction/factions in order to sabotage the rival agenda — just like the unnecessary police brutality.

There are many speculations: using the chaos to destroy the rival faction’s financial resources in Hong Kong; pushing the rival faction to implement heavy-handed suppression and then let them bear the consequences; guiding the masses to think that the rival faction is incompetent; etc.

Of course ordinary people cannot verify these speculations. Nevertheless, for people who long for genuine freedom and democracy in both Hong Kong and the mainland, the discords and conflicts within the CCP are undoubtedly good things to see.

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