The Sudden Death of Apple Daily: Interpreting the Hong Kong National Security Law and “Hostage Diplomacy”

Hong Kong’s Apple Daily is officially closed, and all other publications of Next Media Group, including Next Magazine and Men & Women, which have not been arrested or seized by the Hong Kong National Security Law, are also closed. All traces of the media’s online presence have also disappeared. This is not only much faster than the estimated time frame of several years of operating expenses for Next Media Group, but also a few days faster than the dead line that the board of directors of Apple Daily had said they would wait for the government’s official response to unfreeze their bank accounts. Why can’t it last even a few days? What is going on?

This is the time to apply the knowledge of international relations “hostage diplomacy” to read the Hong Kong National Security Law.

According to the Law, the National Security Police can arrest anyone at will and refuse to release them on bail; they can also freeze any account at will and override labor laws. What is even more outrageous is that it turns out that any government department can override other conditions to “warn” if something is “tantamount to a violation of the National Security Law. For example, Secretary for Security Lee Ka-chiu, who had just been promoted to Chief Secretary for Administration, sent a letter to seven banks after freezing the accounts of Apple Daily, warning them that any assistance in solving the operating expenses of Apple Daily would be “tantamount to a violation of the National Security Law. According to the same warning, if Apple Daily’s internal employees or other members of the group provided funds to help Apple Daily avoid closing down, it would already be a violation of the National Security Law.

Having set such a large net, it is natural to close it. The Hong Kong government arrested five senior executives of Apple Daily last week, and “only” formally prosecuted two of them (both without bail), that is, to keep a “hostage”: if the Apple Daily executives think of a way to maneuver, or continue to publish after July, naturally need and be frozen If the Apple Daily executives think of a way to get around, or to continue publishing after July, they will naturally need to “conspire” with “outside forces” other than the frozen accounts, and the other executives may immediately get into trouble – those who are prosecuted will have a harder time getting bail and will be charged at any time; those who are arrested and not prosecuted will be charged at any time, and then Those who have not been arrested can be arrested at any time, and their future is uncertain.

In other words, the remanded executives are hostages in jail; the arrested and confiscated passport executives cannot leave Hong Kong anyway are hostages; the unarrested Apple employees who have not been given food are hostages and may be arrested at any time. The whole of Hong Kong, in fact, is a hostage. If you are the top of Apple Daily or the top of Next Media Group, any decision to resist or help the group to survive may be immediately replaced by the regime taking hostages according to the “Hong Kong National Security Law”. Hands to speed up the death of the group, the emotions are certainly painful, but also to bear the pressure of the initiative to kneel down. But a little resistance, in the face of totalitarian power, all normal means will not help, and may also drag the hostages to suffer more miserable situation, and how can you bear?

Finally, the regime, fearing that people are not fully aware of the nature of “hostage diplomacy”, arrested Li Ping, the chief writer of Apple Daily, who is not a senior official of the newspaper; and then announced that a large number of police cars were prepared to search the Apple Daily building for employees. The signal was so clear that Apple Daily should disappear as soon as possible to ensure that there would be no noise on July 1, the Communist Party’s centennial celebration. Since any online files can be used as “evidence” for prosecution by the State Security Law, Next Media deleted all files in the hope of rescuing the hostages. This is a very radical breakthrough: with no more business, Next Media’s natural next step as a public company is to be delisted.

According to the ethics of international relations, usually when one side completely surrenders, the hostages will be released. But what about this time? Hard to say.

Times different and the same: In the old days, Hong Kong and Britain dealt with leftist media, but also will fight without breaking ……

When Apple Daily was forced to bid farewell to Hong Kong, many pro-government supporters argued that the power must be exhausted. But the fact is that after the June 7 riots, the British had not used those harsh laws and archaic laws, so several generations of Hong Kong people had good feelings toward Britain. Even for patriots who have personal memories of the pre-1967 era, do they really think that the British were “unforgivable” and “had all the power”?

I am afraid not.

For example, during the June 7 riots, the British also seized three leftist newspapers, but they were very different from the thunderous tactics used today to ban the Apple Daily. At that time, the British strategy was to “shake the tiger from the mountain” by leaving Wen Wei Po, Ta Kung Pao, and New Evening Post, which were directly affiliated with Beijing, alone, but banning three peripheral leftist tabloids: Tianfeng Daily News, Hong Kong Evening News, and New Noon News. They arrested and charged three of their leaders and two representatives of printers. All five of them ended up in jail for two to three years and became “patriotic heroes” of the leftist camp.

During the June 7 riots, the British Hong Kong Emergency Law was indeed harsh, and according to the existing law, it was sufficient to “publish seditious writings”, “publish false information”, “publish textual images to arouse the discontent of the police force”. “The old law of “pulling people to seal”. But in addition to not destroying the propaganda machine of the leftist camp (Wen Hui and Ta Kung Pao, according to the same standard, both editorials and reports were 100 times more inflammatory), the British Hong Kong also sent a message: only the periphery was banned to leave room for hope that we would meet later, and to make it clear that this was only an extraordinary tactic at an extraordinary time, really a “crackdown on a small group of people “. You can see that even Wen Hui and Dagong did not move, which shows that we still hope for peace and respect for pluralism.

During the June 7 riots, leftist organizations were responsible for accountability, unlike today’s national security law, which can classify all the employees, shareholders, and readers of Next Media Group as “potential accomplices” to crack down on. The British Hong Kong Government did not deliberately create a sense of insecurity, hoping that everything would return to the law as soon as possible, let alone threatening the “fighting committee” of the June 7 riots with the livelihood of its employees. On the contrary, it was the latter who wanted to threaten industrial action.

More senior seniors will probably refute when they hear this: The British Hong Kong also censored the Ta Kung Pao. Yes, so be sure to revisit it fully.

In 1952, Ta Kung Pao reprinted an article from the People’s Daily that attacked the British Hong Kong government for refusing entry to a Chinese delegation to console the victims of the fires in its territory. As this turned into a leftist mass riot, the British Hong Kong government arrested the printer, editor-in-chief and printer of Ta Kung Pao for “incitement”. After a court trial, the former two were found guilty. The penalties were “a fine of 4,000 or nine months’ imprisonment” and “a fine of 3,000 or six months’ imprisonment,” which meant that they did not need to be remanded in custody and the fines were not large (and could not have been paid out of their own pockets), so this part was obviously symbolic.

What was more serious was that the court ordered Ta Kung Pao to suspend publication for six months. Later, the Ta Kung Pao responded in accordance with British legal procedures by appealing to the Queen’s Counsel, but the appeal was rejected on the one hand, and the court ruled that “the purpose of upholding the law has been achieved and the Ta Kung Pao is no longer required to enforce the suspension order. As a result, Ta Kung Pao was only suspended for a symbolic period of twelve days, and none of the staff lost their jobs as a result.

The result was a symbolic suspension for twelve days, and no staff member lost his or her job. Compared to 2021, when the Hong Kong government banned Apple Daily, the British Hong Kong in 1952 at least allowed legal proceedings to occur and actually allowed Ta Kung Pao to change the outcome through legal proceedings, while both sides had a step down. Before the case was tried back then, the Ta Kung Pao supervisor and editor-in-chief would not be “remanded before trial”; even after the verdict, they only formally “chose to go to jail”, which deliberately maintained the dignity of the other side and respected the big boss behind the other side.

It is important to understand that the Dagong at that time was not the Dagong of today, with a large number of front-line intellectuals from the south. Fei Yimin, a long-time chief agent of Zhou Enlai and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong, was a gentle and elegant man who was fluent in French and good at dealing with foreigners; Li Zongying, the editor-in-chief, was also a former member of the international section with an international perspective. If they were jailed by the British Hong Kong, there would be international solidarity. Unlike today’s Hong Kong government, the British Hong Kong government respected both intellectuals and international public opinion.

As for the long-term suspension of Ta Kung Pao, which was controlled by “foreign powers” in the eyes of the British Hong Kong Government at that time, the British Hong Kong Government did not even think about it, otherwise it would not have decided to “shorten” the ban on publication, and was not even willing to undertake a sensitive period of six months. Such a treatment, naturally, could not be without the Chinese and British negotiations behind the emergence. This also reflects that in those years in Hong Kong, although all the forces gathered, but still respect the basic rules of the game. Unlike today, when Apple Daily wants to disappear completely and leave no corpse, it is indeed “beaten to death” and “fast, hard and accurate”, probably because it has learned the lesson that Hong Kong and Britain are “not tough enough”. It is probably because the British Hong Kong Government has learned the lesson of “not being tough enough” that it wants to return the favor.

In 1952, those who fought for the Ta Kung Pao were all barristers, and today, Lee Chu-ming, the number one ranked senior barrister in the “pan-democratic camp”, was the one who was awarded the prize by Beijing for fighting for the leftist trade unions in the 1960s. It was only after years of fighting for the leftist trade unions in the 1960s that he won Beijing’s favor and was accepted into the Basic Law Drafting Committee. But today, the Apple Daily has been extinguished, and even the teachers who buy the newspaper have to suspend their classes as a result. This kind of white terror has naturally made Hong Kong and the United Kingdom subservient.