Chinese ‘Firewall’ payment puzzles HK

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US taxpayer's $30m answer to non-existent question

HONG KONG’S TECHNOLOGY community is puzzled over a payment of US$30 million (HK$234 million) signed by the US senate last week to be sent to this city to fight for “internet freedom” and create “Great Firewall circumvention tools for the people of Hong Kong”.

Hong Kong already has internet freedom and is not within the mainland Chinese web system, nor is there any plan to change this, knowledgeable sources told this publication.

So why pretend there is? And what will the money actually be used for?

POSTURING

Local tech experts said the move was posturing and bore no connection to reality.

Hongkongers had unrestricted internet freedom, so the move was empty political rhetoric, Lento Yip Yuk-fai, chairman of the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association, told the South China Morning Post. “I can’t see any real impact the clause will have on Hong Kong. I think it’s purely a political gesture without any meaning,” he said.

But the cash itself, if and when it arrives, will be real enough, others point out.

GENUINE DANGERS

The US hostility to Hong Kong carries genuine dangers with it, Michael Gazeley of Network Box told Friday magazine.

Most of Hong Kong’s security infrastructure uses American equipment and services “which are almost certain to include backdoors and vulnerabilities”, he said.

Both the government and businesses need to be aware of the dangers and stop being so trusting, he said. Gazeley recommends urgently phasing out US equipment and using locally developed tools.

SIMILAR ANNOUNCEMENTS

Observers note there had also been a spate of similar announcements by local opposition politicians and Western media that the Chinese firewall had been or would soon be introduced in Hong Kong, in 1997, 2003, 2013, 2019 and last year. None of them were true, and all coincided with periods of political unrest.

The myth appears to have reappeared as part of a concerted effort to portray Hong Kong in a negative light.

For example, the headline of a July 2020 piece in the UK’s Guardian newspaper (below) said: “China’s Great Firewall descends on Hong Kong internet users.”

An article by Mary Hui on Quartz (below) was headlined: “China’s Great Firewall has finally come to Hong Kong’s internet”.

LightReading, an online tech magazine, was equally straightforward: “China extends the Great Firewall to Hong Kong”.

Some of the blame for the error can be attributed to opposition politician Charles Mok who has been widely quoted saying that Hong Kong’s new US-style security law, introduced in June of 2020, would usher in a mainland-style internet firewall.

He turned out to be wrong, but we found no examples of publications running corrections. (Mr Mok recently said he is leaving politics to focus on business.)

PUZZLE REMAINS

Since there is no firewall to circumvent, a puzzle remains: There will likely be a huge sum of US taxpayer money heading this way, earmarked for the anti-China opposition – and nothing to spend it on.

This follows a similar cash payment in December in which an identical sum – US$30 million – was approved at the Capitol Building in Washington DC to be passed for the use of Hong Kong’s anti-government movement.

Add this to payments from other US groups and it means that HALF A BILLION HK dollars are arriving in this city from the United States for use by anti-government groups, just this year.

Michael Gazeley: picture by Network Box

Several people we spoke to said that Hong Kong was misrepresented to an astonishing degree. Michael Gazeley gave an example: “The people leaving Hong Kong for the United Kingdom are actually running from somewhere without mass government surveillance directly to somewhere with mass government surveillance!”

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Main picture: Alex Nesetril/ Unsplash

Related news: UK surveillance violates rules, says EU court

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