Nationalist Chinese tabloid editor blasts Hong Kong’s Harbour City mall for ‘kowtowing’ to protesters

Echo Xie

The editor of nationalist state-run tabloid Global Times has lashed out at a popular Hong Kong shopping mall for “kowtowing” to protesters and not doing enough to protect the Chinese national flag, as Beijing grows increasingly intolerant of any ambiguity from tycoons on the issue.

Hu Xijin took aim at Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui in a social media post on Saturday night, saying the mall had been weak for allowing “rioters” to remove the flag from a flagpole outside the mall on two occasions in three days. Both times, protesters threw the flags into the sea, causing outrage in mainland China.

The editor’s criticism came after the Civil Aviation Administration of China barred Cathay Pacific Airways aircrew who supported or took part in protests from operating flights to mainland China or flying through Chinese airspace – a move that could deal a heavy blow to the carrier’s business.

Hu also attacked notices banning police from entering Harbour City unless a crime was being committed inside, which were put up by its owner Wharf Real Estate Investment. “Are you trying to turn Harbour City into a lawless land that is subject to the will of the rioters?” he wrote on Weibo, China’s Twitter.

A notice at Harbour City says that unless a crime is being committed, police are asked not to enter the shopping mall. Photo: Facebook

At a press conference last week, Stephen Ng Tin-hoi, chairman and managing director of Wharf Holdings, dodged questions on whether the company had plans to protect the flag. The area where the flagpole stands is also managed by the firm.

But Ng said the notices had been put up at the company’s malls out of consideration for the safety of everyone. “We see some things happening in some places,” he said. “We think we need to protect people who come here as patrons or workers. We need to be responsible for their safety. For everything else, it will be done in accordance with Hong Kong’s law.”

According to Hu, there was “serious suspicion” about Harbour City “kowtowing” to what he described as extreme protesters in Hong Kong. Hu wrote that the mall’s operator “hasn’t shown any effort to fight evil forces”.

“We care about Harbour City because mainland tourists often visit there. The current status of Harbour City has seriously offended mainlanders,” he said. “A place where the national flag cannot fly – how does this make mainland tourists feel?”

He continued: “Harbour City has made a lot of money from mainland tourists, and this situation must be stopped. On one hand it has gained a lot from the ‘one country, two systems’ framework, but on the other it has failed in its basic responsibility to the arrangement.”

Harbour City is a popular shopping destination for mainland tourists, but now many are vowing to boycott the mall. Photo: Edmond So

The Chinese government has not officially denounced Harbour City over the flag incidents.

But Hu’s criticism was echoed across Chinese social media, with many people vowing to boycott the shopping mall.

“Harbour City is the most comfortable shopping mall I’ve visited in Hong Kong, but I’m extremely chilled and disappointed by how the shopping centre is dealing with this issue,” one person said in a comment on the mall’s official Weibo account. “Even though my personal consumption won’t influence your company’s turnover, I won’t be visiting [Harbour City] in the future.”

Hong Kong has been rocked by social unrest since early June, triggered by a now-shelved extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to jurisdictions including mainland China. The anti-government protests have continued for another weekend, with activists and riot police clashing in districts across the city.

The Chinese government is now pressing the city’s tycoons to fall into line. Pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao last week urged Hong Kong’s business leaders to “say no” to violence.

Meanwhile, Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily said in an editorial on Sunday that the violence in Hong Kong was not helping to solve problems or handle the city’s economic slowdown.

“The top priority for Hong Kong is to stop the violence and restore social order as soon as possible … and to concentrate on economic development and improve people’s livelihoods,” the editorial on the newspaper’s front page read.

It also ran an opinion piece with a plea for young Hongkongers to “take off their black T-shirts and masks” and stop gambling with the best years of their life for something that was destined to end in tragedy.

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