Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2014.10.08

Japanese Media Oddly Silent on Hong Kong

JBpress on October 03, 2014

Another pro-democratic epidemic seems to have infected the Chinese youth on September 26, this time, in Hong Kong. As early as September 30, the Sankei Shimbun, Japan's conservative daily, criticized Beijing in an editorial. The Washington Post and New York Times published similar editorials on the same day, while, oddly enough, the liberal Asahi Shimbun kept silent until October 3.

These American and Japanese editorials are almost unanimous in warning Beijing that a possible use of force in Hong Kong, "could erode the reputation for freedom and good governance upon which investment into Hong Kong depends," and "would severely damage - if not obliterate - the political stability that multinational corporations have long relied on for doing business there."

The silent majority of Japanese, however, know that this is just another dream fever for democracy in mainland China, including Hong Kong, which will never come true in the foreseeable future. They vividly remember the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4 1989, in which Deng Xiaoping cold-bloodedly ordered a crackdown on pro-democracy university student protesters there.

Beijing is consistent and determined, and considers it an internal matter for China. Its leaders know that they cannot tolerate any exception to their rules, even in Hong Kong, and will not allow free elections for the Hong Kong chief executive in 2017, despite Beijing having promised just that upon the island's reversion to China in 1997. They have reason enough to worry about a "domino effect" inside their modern Chinese empire.

So the pro-democracy dream of the Chinese youth will not be realized this time either, period. The Hong Kong government has no independent and spontaneous options. Beijing will never miss an opportunity to physically remove the youth from the streets in central Hong Kong. How will it happen? The students seem to know how to behave themselves in this sensitive political game.

It could be triggered, for example, by "radical illegal violence" on the part of the students either out of miscalculation and desperation, or out of a destabilized situation set up by secret pro-Beijing operatives in Hong Kong. Either way, it is just a matter of time, although it may take weeks, if not months.

This is what the silent majority of Japanese may instinctively have in mind. They know China very well. They don't seem to be particularly interested in or alarmed by the events in Southern China. For them, the casualties on Japan's Mt. Ontake seem to be more alarming and shocking, when the volcano suddenly erupted for the first time in 35 years killing at least 47 people.

This may be one of the reasons why major liberal newspapers in Japan have been so slow in expressing their views on the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. It had already been a week after the events started in Hong Kong when the Asahi Shimbun finally carried an editorial to warn and request China to "review the election system and consider a way for everybody to run."

Other liberal Japanese dailies, such as the Mainichi Shimbun or the Tokyo Shimbun, are worse and still silent as of October 3. Even the Nikkei seems to be voiceless. Why are they so silent? Do they believe that this is an "internal matter" not worth commenting on as Beijing claims? Hardly. Is it because the Japanese media don't carry much international news in the first place? No, they carry plenty.

Then, are they no longer liberal anymore? No, they were never truly liberal in the first place. If they were, they should have published an editorial criticizing Beijing as early as the New York Times did on September 30. This editorial episode only shows that those dailies are not liberal and are just reluctant to criticize China in order not to antagonize Beijing. This is not journalism.

As the Washington Post stated at the beginning of its editorial, "China's leaders find themselves in a trap of their own making." And so do the Japanese media. The Post continued that "Denying residents authentic democracy has not led to stability nor peace [in Hong Kong]," and "Crushing the demonstrations would do even more harm to the international reputation [there]."

The same can be said of the Japanese liberal media. Denying readers authentic journalism will not lead to the formation of mature public opinions in Japan. Crushing the voices of young Hong Kong demonstrators by remaining silent would do even more harm to the international reputation of the Japanese news media.