China's media gave minimal coverage last month to a pro-democracy campaign in Hong Kong demanding greater say in choosing the candidates for the city's chief executive election in 2017.
But on Aug. 17, when tens of thousands marched through Hong Kong to protest one group's plans to stage a massive sit-in calling for genuine democratic elections, mainland media was quick to report on the pro-Beijing event.
Official press agency Xinhua called the rally a victory for Hong Kong's “silent majority”:
Opinion of the silent majority should not be kidnapped by a handful of people. So, they stepped forward Sunday and told the extremists that any action or proposal violating the laws, such as occupying Central and civil nomination for chief executive candidates, are not popular in Hong Kong.
Government mouthpiece People’s Daily said the rally represented the wish of most Hong Kongers. It called Occupy Central With Love and Peace and the demand for citizen nomination illegal.
China has promised Hong Kong, a former British colony, a direct vote for the next chief executive in 2017, but insists that a committee approve the candidates. Protesters suspect Hong Kong will only have pro-Beijing candidates to choose from, defeating the purpose of the election.
Local police said the march attracted a crowd of 110,600 people, though researchers at the University of Hong Kong estimated that between 79,000 and 88,000 participated. Mainland media said the rally on Sunday had gathered over 193,000 people.
By comparison, the university estimated that a pro-democracy rally on July 1 drew between 154,000 and 172,000 people, while organizers put the number at more than 500,000. After that rally, more than 500 people were arrested at a rehearsal sit-in for the Occupy movement.
Some participants at the pro-government were paid to join the rally, while from State Corporation were required to participate, according to various media reports. Mainland Chinese were reported among the protesters. South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, said that the rally had “mainland flavor”.
On Twitter, Jeremy Wong from Hong Kong criticized the march:
— Jeremy Wong (@Its_Jeremyyy) August 17, 2014
On China’s popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, some users compared China's attitude towards this rally with the previous pro-democracy protest in July. Lawyer Zhang Zhiyong wrote:
Media reported extensively about the counter protest against Occupy Central! Who can tell us the background about Occupy Central?
“Qing Lijun” echoed the same sentiment:
Do you know why we Occupy Central? Do you know what the election is really about? If you are not sure, why do you assume Occupy Central means to make trouble? Why do you suddenly become so moved and patriotic by the strange counter Occupy movement?
Referring to the 2012 China anti-Japanese demonstrations that were believed to have been “almost certainly sanctioned by the Chinese authorities”, user “Suohua Buliu” wrote:
In fact, the counter Occupy Central movement supported by the Chinese Communist Party has occupied the central district, although not through radical Hong Kong groups, but through mainland political power. Such a protest aiming to fool people happened two years ago. They're so eager, is it the forecast of self-destruction?
Professor He Weifang from Beijing University's law school called for fair reporting:
State media didn't report on the previous Occupy Central movement. When it comes to counter Occupy Central, there are countless articles. It doesn't help solve Hong Kong's problems. Only with comprehensive reporting will Hong Kong people feel treated fairly. It also helps mainlanders understand Hong Kong's situation. When you dare not face the real situation and people's real demands, everyone can see that you don't have confidence.
Web user “Baihua Niuzai concluded:
The so-called confidence is that they have guns and power in their hands, so no one else can meddle with their decisions. They hired people to protest in Hong Kong, but in a world where information is so widespread, the whole world can see their real intention.