Hong Kong Apple Daily and Jimmy Lai: pro-democracy newspaper shut down by Chinese regime
The Chinese regime is about to smother a pro-democracy newspaper.
Jimmy lai fled Beijing’s reach, but Beijing followed.
Lai, the flamboyant businessman and founder of pro-democracy Hong Kong Apple Daily newspaper, arrived in Hong Kong at the age of twelve as a stowaway on a boat from the Chinese mainland. The runaway started his business career as a child laborer in a garment factory and ended him as a billionaire – Hong Kong, when it was the freest city in the world, was the kind of place it could happen .
Lai used his fortune, fame, and newspaper to support the cause of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong, and was so reluctant to submit to Beijing rule that he became a British national in 1996 when the island returned to the control of the Communist Party. He is currently a 72-year-old political prisoner in one of Xi Jinping’s gulags. But as Henry David Thoreau argued, prison is the only suitable place for an honest man living under a criminal government, and Lai has described his incarceration as the “pinnacle” of his career.
Lai, a Catholic, sees his situation in the long term. It would be interesting to know what he thinks of the Holy See’s remarkably accommodating policy towards Beijing – there was a time, not so long ago, when a pope knew what to do with a police state. Communist.
Lai’s personal assets have been frozen, and it is likely that Beijing will continue to seek excuses to extend his imprisonment until old age or failing health takes him out of the fight. Apple Daily persevered, but on Wednesday the Beijing junta arrested its editor, Ryan Law, along with other editors, and seized its assets and bank accounts, which, in effect, will dissolve it as ‘business. Although police were seen carrying boxes of papers and scrolling through computer files, Apple Dailythe offense is not to keep secrets but refusing to keep them. Apple DailyThe crime is to say what everyone knows to be true.
The newsroom has been declared a crime scene. Coming from Beijing, this statement is something better and more meaningful than 10,000 Pulitzer Prizes. Li Kwai-wah, who represents the police side of the Chinese police state in Hong Kong, warned the general public not to share Apple Daily stories on social media. “As a law enforcement officer, I would advise you not to arouse suspicion,” he said. The gangsters all speak the same way, “Nice little setup you got here.” Shame if anything happens to him.
Li may be a coward and a tyrant acting on the orders of murderers and thieves, but he’s right in his advice: you can have a country where Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily reporters are free to run around and stir up dust and publish things Xi and Li would rather go unpublished, or you can have a predictable totalitarian state – you can’t have both. The American Bill of Rights is wise in its priorities, because the first business of tyrants is always to disarm the people literally and then intellectually.
And when you decide that you cannot live safe while enterprising journalists and columnists and their rowdy newspapers are on the loose, then you have made an indictment against your own system and its leaders that is far harsher than anything Jimmy Lai stepped forward. To close newspapers is to admit that yours is a kingdom of lies. When the government closes a newspaper, it is the government, not the newspaper, that is judged. All the government has done is show it has more brute force at its disposal – for now. Brute force doesn’t last forever. There was a China before the Communist Party, and there will be a China after the Communist Party.
But the damage caused in the meantime will not be contained in China.
“The great strength of the totalitarian state is that it forces those who fear it to imitate it,” observed Adolf Hitler, who would have known it. And there are those who envy the Chinese state for its brutal power to act, a decisive force Americans have coveted ever since Ezra Pound sang the praises of Benito Mussolini and “totalitarian states, which will not stand still” but reserve the ability to command resources according to a national agenda: Tom Friedman and his “China for a Day” fantasies, Donald Trump and his appalling admiration for the men who ordered the tanks to pass over the protesters in Tiananmen Square, demonstrating thus the “power of force,” etc.
And there are a large number of Americans – maybe even a majority – who think of the press in much the same way as Xi Jinping: “the enemy of the people”, as you may have. heard from time to time. It is highly likely that King George thought the same about the two dozen pseudonymous colonial newspaper polemics that were all, ultimately, Sam Adams. Most likely, the Inquisition thought the same about the enterprising Dutch printers who published these contraband Galileo manuscripts. They had their reasons – they still do: reasons of condition.
As individuals, there is not much we can do for Jimmy Lai – and, as American individuals, not much we can expect our tottering and tottering government to do. on our behalf. But we can cherish what he cherishes and tell the truth that he can no longer speak in public.
And we can at the very least resist the urge to emulate those who put him in prison, the urge to embrace (even if we never acknowledge the truth of it) the principles and techniques of his. tormentors by mistakenly believing that it will give us the power with which we can do good rather than evil. We can’t stay in jail with Jimmy Lai, but that, at least, we can do.