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June 28, 2017

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Hong Kong fears 'mainlandization'

HONG KONG -- The unusually tight security thrown around China's Vice Premier Li Keqiang during his recent visit left Hong Kong citizens furious that their freedoms were being eroded, and fearful of more "mainlandization" to come.

Mainlandization — perhaps a twist on the term "Finlandization" — refers to the gradual acceptance of values and norms prevalent in mainland China but alien to Hong Kong. Put another way, it means the erosion of freedom, plurality, tolerance, respect for human rights and the rule of law — core values embraced by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR).

Hong Kongers accuse the city's politicians and police of compromising these values in deference to Beijing.

They pointed to the security arrangements for Li, who is widely expected to be promoted to the premiership next year.

For example, Hong Kong police threw a 200-meter cordon around the Chinese leader, which effectively prevented anyone, including journalists, from approaching him. Those who breached it found the police at the ready to stop them.

A man wearing a "June 4th" T-shirt, which is not an offense in Hong Kong, was stopped near his home and removed from the scene by police. Three students were wrestled to the ground at the University of Hong Kong and prevented from attending a ceremony there.

Such rough treatment by Hong Kong police during visits by other Chinese leaders, including Premier Wen Jiabao, is unheard of. Many recalled that during Wen's visit in 2003, people were allowed to get close to him.

Local journalists complained that they could not do their job properly because they were kept so far away from the Chinese leader. They could not report on many of Li's activities because nearly half of them were not open to the media.

Instead, for the first time, they were told to use articles, TV scripts and photos provided by the Hong Kong authorities.

After Li's visit, more than 300 journalists wearing black shirts marched to the police headquarters to protest against infringement on press freedom.

Chief Secretary Henry Tang, the No. 2 official in Hong Kong, defended the security arrangements and admitted that it would become the norm.

Ming Pao Daily News immediately pointed out in an editorial that this was a major step backward for press freedom.

Many people saw the SAR's police force morphing into China's gong an (public security) or wei wen (maintain stability) force, and practice of government-supplied news as being borrowed from China's propaganda department.

Security Secretary Ambrose Lee and Commissioner of Police Andy Tsang were taken to task at a special session of the Hong Kong legislature.

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