Hong Kong is secure from China’s Nice Firewall—for now

This story first appeared in China Report, MIT Know-how Evaluate’s publication about know-how in China. Join to obtain it in your inbox each Tuesday.

We lastly know the results of a authorized case I’ve been monitoring in Hong Kong for nearly a yr. Final week, the Hong Kong Court docket of Attraction granted an injunction that allows the town authorities to go to Western platforms like YouTube and Spotify and demand they take away the protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong,” as a result of the federal government claims it has been used for sedition.

To learn extra about how this injunction is particularly designed for Western Massive Tech platforms, and the impression it’s prone to have on web freedom, you possibly can learn my story right here.

Other than the miserable implications for pro-democracy actions’ decline in Hong Kong, this lawsuit has additionally been an fascinating case examine of the native authorities’s sophisticated relationship with web management and censorship.

I used to be following this case as a result of it’s an ideal instance of how censorship might be constructed brick by brick. Having reported on China for thus lengthy, I typically take as a right how highly effective and all-encompassing its censorship regime is and must be reminded that the identical can’t be mentioned for many different locations on this planet.

Hong Kong had a free web previously. And in contrast to mainland China, it stays comparatively open: nearly all Western platforms and providers are nonetheless out there there, and only some web sites have been censored in recent times. 

Since Hong Kong was returned to China from the UK in 1997, the Chinese language central authorities has clashed a number of occasions with native pro-democracy actions asking for common elections and fewer affect from Beijing. In consequence, it began cementing tighter and tighter management over Hong Kong, and folks have been worrying about whether or not its Nice Firewall will ultimately prolong there. However really, neither Beijing nor Hong Kong might wish to see that occur. All of the current authorized maneuverings are solely needed as a result of the federal government doesn’t desire a full-on ban of Western platforms.

Once I visited Hong Kong final November, it was fairly clear that each Beijing and Hong Kong wish to make the most of the free circulate of finance and enterprise by means of the town. That’s why the Hong Kong authorities was given tacit permission in 2023 to discover authorities cryptocurrency initiatives, regardless that crypto buying and selling and mining are unlawful in China. Hong Kong officers have boasted on many events concerning the metropolis’s worth proposition: connecting untapped demand within the mainland to the broader crypto world by attracting mainland buyers and crypto corporations to arrange store in Hong Kong. 

However that wouldn’t be doable if Hong Kong closed off its web. Think about a “international” crypto business that couldn’t entry Twitter or Discord. Crypto is just one instance, however the issues which have made Hong Kong profitable—the nonstop alternate of cargo, capital, concepts, and folks—would stop to operate if fundamental and common instruments like Google or Fb turned unavailable.

That’s why there are these calculated offenses on web freedom in Hong Kong. It’s about looking for management but in addition leaving some respiratory house; it’s as a lot about trying powerful on the surface as negotiating with platforms down under; it’s about displaying its willpower to Beijing but in addition not displaying an excessive amount of aggression to the West. 

For instance, the specialists I’ve talked to don’t count on the federal government to request that YouTube take away the movies for everybody globally. Extra probably, they might ask for the content material to be geo-blocked only for customers in Hong Kong.

“So long as Hong Kong continues to be helpful as a monetary hub, I don’t assume they’d set up the Nice Firewall [there],” says Chung Ching Kwong, a senior analyst on the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an advocacy group that connects legislators from over 30 international locations engaged on relations with China. 

It’s additionally the rationale why the Hong Kong authorities has not too long ago come out to say that it received’t outright ban platforms like Telegram and Sign, regardless that it mentioned that it had acquired feedback from the general public asking it to take action.

However coming again to the court docket resolution to limit “Glory to Hong Kong,” even when the federal government doesn’t find yourself implementing a full-blown ban of the music, versus the extra focused injunction it’s imposed now, it might nonetheless end in important hurt to web freedom.

We’re nonetheless watching the responses roll in after the court docket resolution final Wednesday. The Hong Kong authorities is anxiously ready to listen to how Google will react. In the meantime, some movies have already been taken down, although it’s unclear whether or not they have been pulled by the creators or by the platform. 

Michael Mo, a former district councilor in Hong Kong who’s now a postgraduate researcher on the College of Leeds within the UK, created a web site proper after the injunction was first initiated final June to embed all however one of many YouTube movies the federal government sought to ban. 

The area identify, “gloryto.hk,” was the primary take a look at of whether or not the Hong Kong area registry would have hassle with it, however nothing has occurred to it to this point. The second take a look at was seeing how quickly the movies can be taken down on YouTube, which is now straightforward to inform by what number of “video unavailable” gaps there are on the web page. “These movies have been just about intact till the Court docket of Attraction overturned the rulings of the Excessive Court docket. The primary two have gone,” Mo says. 

The court docket case is having a chilling impact. Even entities that aren’t ruled by the Hong Kong court docket are taking precautions. Some YouTube accounts owned by media based mostly in Taiwan and the US proactively enabled geo-blocking to limit folks in Hong Kong from watching clips of the music they uploaded as quickly because the injunction software was filed, Mo says. 

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the way forward for web freedom in Hong Kong? Let me know what you assume at zeyi@technologyreview.com.

Now learn the remainder of China Report

Meet up with China

1. The Biden administration plans to lift tariffs on Chinese language-made EVs, from 25% to 100%. Since few Chinese language vehicles are at present offered within the US, that is principally a transfer to discourage future imports of Chinese language EVs. However it may decelerate the decarbonization timeline within the US.  (ABC Information)

2. Authorities officers from the US and China met in Geneva right this moment to debate how you can mitigate the dangers of AI. It’s a notable occasion, given how uncommon it’s for the 2 sides to seek out frequent floor within the extremely politicized area of know-how. (Reuters $)

3. It is going to be dearer quickly to experience the bullet trains in China. A 20% to 39% fare improve is inflicting controversy amongst Chinese language folks. (New York Occasions $)

4. From government management to office tradition, TikTok has extra in frequent with its Chinese language sister app Douyin than the corporate needs to confess. (Remainder of World)

5. China’s most indebted native governments have began claiming troves of knowledge as “intangible property” on their accounting books. Given the insatiable urge for food for AI coaching information, they might have some extent. (South China Morning Publish $)

6. A crypto firm with Chinese language roots bought a bit of land in Wyoming for crypto mining. Now the Biden administration is obstructing the deal for nationwide safety causes. (Related Press)

Misplaced in translation

Lately, following an order made by the federal government, inns in lots of main Chinese language cities stopped asking visitors to undergo facial recognition throughout check-in. 

In response to the Chinese language publication TechSina, this has had a devastating impression on the business of facial recognition {hardware}. 

As inns across the nation retire their facial recognition kiosks en masse, gear made by main tech corporations has flooded on-line secondhand markets at steep reductions. What was offered for hundreds of {dollars} is now resold for as little as 1% of the unique value. Alipay, the Alibaba-affiliated cost app, as soon as invested a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} to analysis and roll out these kiosks. Now it’s one of many corporations being hit the toughest by the coverage change.

Another factor

I needed to double-check that this isn’t a joke. It seems that for the previous 10 years, the Louvre museum has been giving guests a Nintendo 3DS—a well-liked handheld gaming console—as an audio and visible information. 

It feels bizarre seeing folks holding a 3DS as much as the Mona Lisa as in the event that they have been in their very own personal Pokémon Go–type gaming world reasonably than simply having fun with the museum. However apparently it doesn’t work very effectively anyway. Oops.

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