SINGAPORE: Access to an article by Singapore Chinese newspaper Lianhe Zaobao, covering how American President Joe Biden called his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping a “dictator,” has reportedly been blocked for internet users in Hong Kong.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong readers attempting to access the June 21 article on Lianhe Zaobao’s website encountered an error message stating, “Sorry, but that page doesn’t exist.” Curiously, other articles on the same website remained accessible during the same period.
Further investigation revealed that articles discussing the anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, as well as recent arrests of Hong Kong citizens commemorating the event in public, were also unavailable on the newspaper’s website for Hong Kong users.
However, readers outside Hong Kong could access the articles on the Singapore Press Holdings-owned website without difficulty.
The geo-block has further escalated tensions between the two superpowers, following a visit to China by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken aimed at easing relations. The issue has also sparked fresh concerns of internet censorship and the potential stifling of dissent in Hong Kong.
It is unclear whether the block was imposed by Lianhe Zaobao or the Hong Kong authorities.
According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), Zhou Shuguang, a network engineer and citizen journalist residing in Taiwan, examined the technical information available on the paper’s website and concluded that the blockage likely originated from Hong Kong-based servers hosting the content, rather than being imposed by the newspaper in Singapore.
Zhou told RFA that while host servers are located in various global locations for faster access, the servers in Hong Kong would fall under the control of local authorities, who could apply provisions from the national security law to restrict content critical of the government.
He also suggested the possibility of self-censorship by Lianhe Zaobao to maintain access to readers in mainland China, where strict media controls are enforced.
On the other hand, Wong Ho-wa, a data scientist and pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong, told RFA that it appeared the newspaper had made a decision to restrict certain content for Hong Kong users.
He explained that if external blockage had been imposed, the entire website would be inaccessible, as seen in previous instances of internet censorship in the region. Wong noted that media organizations often make decisions about content availability based on various factors, such as compliance with local regulations.
Lianhe Zaobao has said that they are looking into the issue but did not provide further comment while Hong Kong government’s Innovation, Technology and Industry Bureau stated that the matter did not fall within its jurisdiction.