We discussed with him about the recent wave of arrests in Hong Kong, the failed punitive expedition of the Chinese trolls against Thailand, and the censorship in the video games.
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15 democratic representatives were arrested yesterday in Hong Kong. What are the prospects for Hong Kong’s democratic movement at this point?
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It’s clearly a retaliation from the Chinese government. The only reason they’re doing it is that they believe the world is busy at tackling the pandemic, with the coronavirus problem. So they think no one would care. No one would have extra energy to pay attention to Hong Kong’s situation at this moment.
The other day, the new mainland liaison officer was giving a speech that is quite an iron fist on the so-called national security of Hong Kong. This massive arresting is directly connected to his speech, I believe.
The Basic Law has not been respected by China. Why this silence from Britain?
I think this has been a big issue, not just for the UK but for the rest of the Western civilization for a very long time. Even for the very issue that could endanger the u.k.’s national security like the Huawei 5G establishments the UK still hesitate to say no to it because they want a short term profit from the Chinese market and the Chinese government, this is weakening their position and it’s no wonder why they wouldn’t show a very strong reaction on Hong Kong’s problems.
I mean, Britain has put itself into this mess with Brexit, for recent years already. Maybe that is why they do not feel confident to tackle China at the moment. They also want to have access to the big Chinese market.
I was talking to some politicians from Britain, and some of them are very concerning. Some of them are showing support to Hong Kong. And you can see politicians there from time to time giving a speech to discuss a matter of Hong Kong. But you rarely see real action. It’s always just empty words. You know, “we condemn”, “we demand”, “blah, blah, blah”. But there’s no real sanction or punishment to China’s human rights violation.
What does the failed punitive expedition of the Chinese trolls against #nnevvy and Thailand demonstrate?
It’s definitely a very fascinating episode. This is not the first time the Chinese trolls go outside of the Great Firewall, the censorship and attacking another country about the issue of Taiwan or Hong Kong or Tibet, but this time it seems like they really got hit back by the netizens of Thailand.
I think it resembles the sentiment against the Chinese government and China, especially after the coronavirus outbreak. Before the outbreak, China maintained a good face. But after the pandemic, we all saw the Chinese government’s cover-up. So that makes people feel anger about China. I feel they have a good reason to fight against the bully from China and that thing is reflected in this online campaign.
The thing that really makes me interested in these so-called netizens who want to challenge other groups of people from other cultures and nations, is that their way of trolling is so dated, boring and repetitive, that it can simply be summarized by four letters, NMSL (Ni Ma Si Le ), which basically is initial for Chinese pinyin or pronunciation of your mom is dead. Let’s compare them with Thailand’s netizens, they created a lot of memes. It’s about creativity, even for trolling or for this kind of online fighting. It will require an environment that does not stop people to think and criticize freely. Apparently, there is any environment in China for people to even criticize creatively. It is very limited.
But even in Thailand, which is not entirely a free land, a democratic country and it has its own problems, with the monarchy, with the government, but still, the netizens enjoy much larger space than the Chinese people. And because of that, the diversity of the trolling or the diversity of the meme, they’ve developed a different kind of users and that’s how the world has been seeing it. Interestingly it’s not just about Thailand. We saw other countries in Asia come to join them. They even have this so-called Milk Tea Alliance, which is symbolizing Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and other countries.
So it’s definitely a very interesting phenomenon, which we haven’t seen before.
Usually what happened before was China making a fuzz or Chinese netizens making a fuzz, then maybe a star would apologize, maybe a company would apologize, maybe they would have taken down their speech, which they felt was hurting the Chinese feeling. But this time is different. This time is fighting back directly. And it actually makes China looks like an idiot.
What do you think of Joshua Wong’s call for new pan-Asian solidarity against all forms of authoritarianism?
I think it’s a very smart move because for Hong Kong, as a city or as a group of citizens to fight China alone is very hard. I think it’s very smart for him to do that. There will be a lot of help coming from international solidarity. I think it’s very smart for him to do that.
And he always says that it’s not about left. It’s not about right. It’s about wrong and right.
I think Hong Kong people should really thinking as much as international support as they can, as much as bipartisan support as they can. It’s just essential for the protesters to continue and for the Chinese government to do not abuse its power because they know that the world is watching.
Doesn’t the Chinese government risk giving the idea of being rather insecure and weak by censoring a videogame like Animal Crossing? Are Chinese young people even more isolated now that they can no longer communicate with their peers through video game platforms?
Animal Crossing is not the first game China censors due to sensitive information being circulated online and I don’t think it’ll be the last game. The Chinese government is doing that either. But the problem is the video game companies are also collaborating with the censorship. It makes censorship less problematic. Imagine if Nintendo said, “OK, If you want to censor my game, then you will not have it in the Chinese market.” That will create a huge impact in the gamers community in China.
Instead, they would collaborate with the Chinese government,they say, “OK, if that’s a problem, then we will individually establish a protocol for the Chinese market”. And that is very problematic. Chinese gamers cannot play with other players around the world, but they can still play within China or sometimes even the game company would develop something like an inner censoring system.
Those companies only care about the Chinese market, they do not care about the value or the spirit of the message behind the game. They try to convey to their consumers, then this problem will not be solved.
Once the coronavirus crisis is over, will the perception of Xi Jinping abroad be strengthened or weakened? And in China?
When Dr. Li Wenliang passed away a lot of people expressed their anger. But after that, the Internet in mainland China remained silent again. Most recently a writer from Wuhan, Fang Fang, has been attacked because she wants to publish her quarantine diary in Western countries.
Well, China is very good at playing or twisting the narrative. It’s still very good at smearing campaign against the people who are speaking the truth.
So it’s very hard to tell if after this Xi Jinping will have less power or more power. But so far, I would say China did a good job in changing the narrative, at least domestically. Inside China, they are actually using this hatred creating a sentiment against foreign forces. Domestically, it’s still very hard to tell.
CHINA-UNDERGROUND. Matteo Damiani is an Italian sinologist, photographer, author and motion designer. Matteo lived and worked for ten years in China. Founder of CinaOggi.it and China-underground.com.