U.S. Consul General highlights internet censorship concerns in Hong Kong

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Gregory May

1st May 2024 – (Hong Kong) U.S. Consul General Gregory May has articulated serious concerns over the increasing measures of internet censorship in Hong Kong, indicating that such developments could undermine the city’s stature as a premier global financial hub. In a candid conversation with Bloomberg, his first interview since his appointment in 2022, May pointed to the challenges faced by American businesses operating in Hong Kong due to the emerging digital constraints.

May’s remarks come amid growing disquiet about China’s expansive control over the freedoms in Hong Kong, which was once celebrated for its laissez-faire approach to the internet. He noted that the creeping internet restrictions are compelling US companies to adopt temporary communication devices, such as burner phones and laptops, to safeguard sensitive information during their stays in the city.

“Hong Kong is starting to go down the slope of trying to take certain content off the internet and blocking certain websites,” May told Bloomberg. He cautioned about the pernicious effects of internet censorship, suggesting it sets a precedent with potentially far-reaching consequences.

The campaign to erase digital traces of the protest anthem ‘Glory to Hong Kong’ exemplifies the type of content being targeted, signalling risk to global technology firms like Google and Meta Platforms Inc. The Hong Kong government, while justifying such censorship on national security grounds, has also barred access to certain websites, including the U.K.-based rights group, Hong Kong Watch.

While the city’s internet is still predominantly unrestricted, the initial restrictions have sparked fears that the stringent internet control prevalent in mainland China could gradually be instituted in Hong Kong. Such a shift would represent a stark contrast to the open internet environment to which businesses and residents have been accustomed.

These concerns emerge as Hong Kong attempts to reinvigorate its international business reputation and stimulate its economy through tourism. However, the city’s image has suffered from the dual impact of prolonged pandemic-induced isolation and a comprehensive crackdown on political liberties, which have placed Hong Kong at the center of the tense geopolitical theatre between China and the United States.

In a striking statement reflecting on the city’s tarnished global image, May suggested, “Releasing Jimmy Lai and these other people facing jail for political expression would do more to improve Hong Kong’s image than all the financial summits and tourism promotion campaigns put together.” Lai, a 76-year-old pro-democracy activist, faces potential life imprisonment under the stringent national security law imposed by Beijing.

A seasoned diplomat with a journalistic background and prior service in mainland Chinese cities such as Shenyang and Guangzhou, May asserted the necessity for the Hong Kong government to provide assurances to the business community about its commitment to maintaining a free internet and reasonable data regulations.