Freeze Peach | Rotten apples: When trashy foreign tabloids become an international obsession (Part II)
New Cold War
As anti-China sentiment soared in 2020 with Trump and the COVID-19 blame game, a vortex of new cold war propaganda dominated the global information space. Apple Daily more than played its part as a pro-Trump-US proxy mouthpiece, glorifying the growing violence and destruction that rocked the city in 2019. Lai himself funded 2014's Occupy Central movement and was a figurehead of 2019's "black terror" violence.
On August 18, 2019, Lai wrote an Apple Daily editorial:
"Yes! Trump has finally endorsed our protest movement... [he] linked our protest movement to the Sino-US trade negotiations."
Declarations such as these revealed Lai's burning desire for secessionism. Within the whole population, Apple Daily's circulation and influence remained cultish at best. Yet Lai continued to appear front and center of western media coverage. His message aligned with increasingly aggressive right-wing US narratives that seemed to strike profundity within Lai's crusade for personal vengeance.
The Why of Lai
Born in Guangdong in 1948, Lai started working at a young age, coming to Hong Kong as a stowaway in 1960. To westerners, local knowledge of Lai's past and family reputation may seem irrelevant, especially as it doesn't fit the decontextualized image of him as a "pro-democracy" figurehead. But it matters.
Apparently, in the 1940s, Lai's father became a well-known traitor-informant for the Japanese Imperial Army. After China's liberation and fearing prosecution for enemy collusion, Lai senior fled to HK, abandoning Jimmy and his mother. The humiliating experience seemed to have burned a heavy shadow into Jimmy's consciousness. He has squarely blamed China for these early misfortunes ever since.
In an interview with CBS News foreign correspondent Holly Williams, on assignment for "60 Minutes," during the height of 2019's increasingly violent protests, Lai stumbles into a vague exchange about the human soul, revealing his modus operandi.
Lai: The Chinese government taking away our freedom is so obvious that we know if we don't fight, we will lose everything.
Williams: What do you mean, lose everything?
Lai: Well, when you lose the freedom, you lose everything. What do you have?
Williams: I mean, you have a wonderful city, prosperity.
Lai: That's what Chinese think! They think that we just have a body and that we don't have a soul.
"You guys just make money, have a good life, don't think about politics, don't think about freedom, don't think about human right, don't think about world war, just eat, enjoy life."
Williams: Why is that not enough?
Lai: Because we are human being, we have soul, we are not a dog.
The heavy-set gentleman just behind is Mark Simon, ex-CIA agent and personal aide of Jimmy Lai wanted by the HK police at the time. Simon publicly claimed his US intelligence links were in the distant past. His focus was now is on helping Jimmy Lai seek "change."
Capitalism & Friedman
As the Pearl of the Orient, Hong Kong is famous for embodying economist Milton Friedman's theory of unfettered, freewheeling capitalism as the ultimate good in society. A marker of true civilization.
"The great advances of civilization, whether in architecture or painting, in science or literature, in industry or agriculture, have never come from centralized government," he wrote in Capitalism and Freedom (1962).
Except that it has, and China is proof. The most powerful survival story in the history of humankind is the reemergence of the Chinese civilization, more or less achieved through centralized government and economic planning.
But Friedman's argument places economic liberalism at the top of the heap for any "free" society. In his view, free markets and personal economic freedoms are vital for true political freedom to exist.
Except that it doesn't and never has. If in the US, where unfettered capitalism as "true political freedom" supposedly exists, then why the corporate oligarchy, techno-feudalism, endless wars, systemic racism, and lack of universal healthcare? Why then do the whims of wealthy elites influence government policy for selfish gains?
"What use is money if you don't have freedom?"
• Jimmy Lai, CBS News, September 2019
As a self-made billionaire, Lai embodies the definition of winner-at-capitalism, one who believes it is their individual "human right" to use their economic freedom to push narratives that suit their agendas, sometimes to the point of inciting dangerous hysteria leading to social unrest and eventually, calls for secessionism.
So why is it important? Because we're told that being free is to embrace systems that support the freedoms of media owners to monopolize and formulate our accepted narratives and discussion points. Even if you believe in democracy as a concept, this setup is problematic.
For example, in November 2019, in the UK, bastion of freedom and human rights, uber-elite Viscount Rothermore, the billionaire owner of the Daily Mail, bought the "i" newspaper for £50m. On cue, Rothermere states in his acquisition press release that "We are committed to preserving its distinctive, high-quality (see Luke's article) and politically independent editorial style."
But he, like another press monopolizer Murdoch present themselves as a pure and unsullied free-market body of entirely subjective morality who simply aren't capable of manipulation. And if you accuse them, they get defended with something platitudinal like "human rights," "democracy," and of course, the classic, "freedom."
No wonder then that the "free press" in the UK likely swayed the vote for Brexit after years of one-sided campaigning. And the debate rages on in spite of whether they reflect or influence majority public views.
Curiously, David Yelland, a former editor of The Sun, admitted:
"All Murdoch editors, what they do is this: they go on a journey where they end up agreeing with everything Rupert says, but you don't admit to yourself that you're being influenced."
Here's a classic example of a BBC journalist, Andrew Marr, unconsciously admitting that he follows the orthodoxy of capitalist class narratives, revealed by American linguist Noam Chomsky.
Truth is complex and rarely pure. It's why different truths always emerge from the same set of facts and data. Who is right and who is wrong is often only a justification of perspective. But western reportage about Apple Daily and Jimmy Lai intentionally leaves many unanswered questions, failing to give a complete, nuanced picture steeped in locale and two-sided understanding.
Did Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily reflect or influence public opinion during the protests? Did Mark Simon help Lai finance and foster the social turmoil of summer 2019? If so, was Hong Kong with no National Security Law a weak spot for Western Powers to exploit for geopolitical gains? Rarely is there such a thing as coincidence when the US Empire — via the CIA and NED — comes to town. Funny things happen. Reality bends. People change, get violent; they wave US flags, set people alight, beat locusts in the street, pregnant or otherwise. Chaos ensues. Fabrications manipulate primal emotions. It's what they want; a societal meltdown, and for a moment, they had it.
But people forget, ALL sovereign states use their power, "elected" or unelected, to quash a rebellion getting out of hand. In the 1860s, the Lincoln administration turned a blind eye to the First Amendment in the interest of national security by censoring and stopping an emerging secessionist movement.
Lincoln was a constant target of the press —notably the pro-Democrat paper The New York Herald—and did his best to censor messages he deemed damaging to the country's morale. It was brutal, but it worked. No one is above it, least of all the west.
There is one final misunderstanding about the Apple Daily debacle, though.
After 150 years as a British colony, Hong Kong returned to Chinese control in 1997 with partial autonomy for 50 years, including an independent legal system and guaranteed freedom of speech, which was held.
But many like Lai, paranoid and scarred from youth, believed the Chinese government was the same as when he left and would start chipping away at those limited freedoms. So instead, they went on the attack demanding full democracy: the right to elect their leaders without ANY interference from Beijing, which was a circumstance that was never on the cards.
Colonial history has a habit of self-aggrandizing moral superiority over stupendous hypocrisy. How can we not be astonished that these same countries who spent much of the past 500 years engaging in mass enslavement, human trafficking, forced dispossession, ethnic cleansing, and genocide are somehow forebearers of "civilization?"
Chinese civilization is premised on entirely different values from a Western settler mindset of "I have rights" to a collective mindset of "We have obligations." That is, instead of thinking we're born with individual rights, we choose to think of living with obligations to serve past, present, and future generations and the planet itself— something the "international community" could learn from.
[throws core into bin]
As he would refer himself, J.B. Browne is a half "foreign devil" living with anxiety relieved by purchase. HK-born Writer/Musician/Tinkerer.
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