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HK demos throw Beijing propaganda machine into overdrive
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Oct 01, 2014

Thousands rally in Taiwan to support Hong Kong protesters
Taipei (AFP) Oct 01, 2014 - Thousands of slogan-chanting Taiwan residents rallied late Wednesday to support the growing pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, with one saying the city faces a "life-and-death" moment.

The crowd, many of them Hong Kong students studying in Taiwan universities, raised their fists and sang "Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies", a song by the 1980s Hong Kong band Beyond which has become a theme tune of the protests.

Protesters demanded China immediately halt what they called its suppressive policies towards Hong Kong, and honour its commitment of Hong Kong being ruled by Hong Kong people.

Demonstrators also called for Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying to step down to shoulder responsibility for the police use of tear gas against crowds.

Demands for unfettered democracy have sparked the biggest civil unrest in Hong Kong for decades.

"I feel I have to stand up as Hong Kong is now moving to a life-and-death moment," Lun Hon Wing, a Hong Kong student from the National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan, told AFP.

He and his friend each held up high a yellow umbrella, a symbol of Hong Kong's protests.

Organisers put the turnout at 4,000 but no police estimate was available.

Among the big names at the rally was Wu'er Kaixi, one of the most wanted student leaders from China's 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. He fled to Taiwan after the bloody Chinese army crackdown.

"'One country, two systems' was already dead for some time. Only the name exists: again what the Chinese communists are doing show they are liars," he told AFP.

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou said Monday the protesters' call for free elections had his full backing.

Ma's administration watches events in Hong Kong closely as China wants Taiwan to reunite with it under a "one country, two systems" deal similar to Hong Kong.

The deal, agreed when former colonial power Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, grants civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and the right to protest.

China and Taiwan split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

In Singapore a crowd of around 80 people attended a candlelight vigil in support of the Hong Kong demonstrators.

The hour-long event was held at Hong Lim Park, the only area where protests are allowed in the tightly-controlled city-state.

Organisers set up a mini-shrine for a poster of the "Goddess of Democracy" once displayed in Tiananmen Square, lighting candles around it. Yellow ribbons which have become a symbol of Hong Kong's "Umbrella Revolution" were also given out to participants.

"We felt it was important to show our solidarity with the movement in Hong Kong, " Singaporean human rights activist Rachel Zeng, one of the organisers, told AFP.

"The people of Hong Kong should be allowed to pick a leader who fully represents them, not just someone picked by China," she said.

Fearful of comparisons to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, Beijing has launched a dual effort to suppress news of swelling pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong while giving a heavy spin to what information it allows to get through, analysts say.

Scenes of the massive, yet peaceful, protests that have taken over the streets of the former British colony are being flashed around the world, where the reaction has been mostly supportive.

On the Chinese mainland, however, the story is being spun to match a different narrative -- one in which the demonstrators are "violent", "extreme" and being manipulated by foreign forces.

A front-page story on the protests in Monday's Chinese-language edition of the Global Times tabloid showed not scenes of demonstrators being tear-gassed at close range, but rather rows of police officers trying to keep a surging crowd of protesters at bay.

And in what experts say is a record clampdown on social media, news has adhered strictly to the party line, with the ruling Communist Party's censors working to erase social media postings from protesters in Hong Kong or any criticism -- at home and abroad -- directed at Beijing.

Viewers watching international broadcasters CNN and BBC in Beijing have seen their screens go dark as soon as the Hong Kong protests are mentioned, for as long as five minutes at a time.

"There's very little information aside from the official point of view that you can find that lasts very long," said Jeremy Goldkorn, the founder of Danwei, a Beijing-based firm that tracks Chinese media and Internet.

"That doesn't mean that people don't know what's going on, but the messaging is being controlled quite strictly," he added.

The photo-sharing app Instagram has been blocked in mainland China since Sunday night when the protests escalated.

That put the popular platform in the company of other foreign social media including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube already banned in the country's tightly controlled cyber space.

- Spectre of 1989 -

Fu King-wa, assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Centre and founder of the censorship-tracking website Weiboscope, said that the number of posts deleted from the popular microblogging site Weibo by mainland censors since Saturday has hit a record high.

Fu's website -- which tracks a daily sample of 50,000 to 60,000 postings from popular microbloggers -- found that 98 posts per 10,000 were blocked on Saturday, 152 on Sunday at the height of the Hong Kong clashes, and 136 on Monday.

"This is the highest in 2014 -- even higher than June 4 (the Tiananmen Square anniversary), even higher than some of the trials of the human rights lawyers, and also higher than some of the other social movements in China," Fu said, referring to the past year's civil society clampdown under President Xi Jinping.

The main driver behind Beijing's concern, Fu said, is likely the flurry of comparisons between the current Hong Kong demonstrations and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, during which hundreds -- by some estimates, more than a thousand -- people died after authorities sent tanks to crush demonstrations in the heart of Beijing.

"That triggers the nerves of the censors, of the government."

In an editorial this week, the Global Times blasted such comparisons as "groundless" and argued that China "now has more feasible approaches to deal with varied disturbances".

- Great Firewall of China -

In addition to targeting social media, Beijing also has recently added to a growing list of websites now blocked in the country, including the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, which has reported extensively on the protests.

Free speech advocates have voiced alarm over the recent clampdown, which the anti-censorship group said represents possibly the highest-ever volume of new website blocks in China.

"I imagine not since the launch of the Great Firewall itself have so many sites been added to the blocked list over such a short period of time," said a co-founder who goes by the pseudonym Charlie Smith, referring to China's Internet censorship regime.

Whether China is able to continue keeping a lid on the developments in Hong Kong largely depends on whether authorities use force to end the protests, analysts said.

"It would create a need to explain what happened -- they're very good at that -- but the international outrage and coverage if there were a violent end to these protests would be very difficult to contain," Goldkorn said.


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