Apple Daily, the embattled pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, is no more. The board of Next Digital, which owns the publication, announced today that it can no longer stay in the fight, following pro-China officials’ decision to freeze its assets.
The paper has printed its last edition, 1 million copies of which will be distributed tomorrow. If previous print runs are any indication, supportive Hong Kongers will likely purchase them all. (For context, the average daily print run of the New York Times is about 400,000 these days.) After Saturday, it will no longer be possible to view the publication’s website, though many people are making efforts to archive it. Staff members spent the day preparing the final edition and shredding documents inside the newsroom. Supporters of the paper gathered outside, many waving cell-phone lights.
June 24th, last #AppleDaily paper.
“We stand with Apple Daily.” pic.twitter.com/iCo6B1mNWF
— Joey Siu 邵嵐 (@jooeysiiu) June 23, 2021
The shuttering of the newspaper following stepped-up pressure by pro-Beijing forces in the city was viewed by many as a fait accompli. The dam broke with a raid on the publication’s offices and the recent arrests of five Apple Daily editors, including editor in chief Ryan Law. The paper’s owner Jimmy Lai had already been arrested and sentenced to prison.
The elimination of Apple Daily itself is bad enough, but there’s much more to worry about now. Already, the Hong Kong authorities have gone after additional Apple staffers, arresting editorial writer Li Ping today. And Lai confidant Mark Simon warned yesterday that smaller pro-democracy publications, such as the Hong Kong Free Press, could next find themselves in the city government’s sights.
As Ronny Tong, a Hong Kong executive council member, did during a BBC interview this week, Beijing’s defenders in the city will pretend that the National Security Law is not to blame, and that Apple Daily could have continued to operate if it had chosen to. But that is false; the way in which the city’s secretary of security froze the paper’s funds made it impossible to continue operating. This decision was made in Beijing, not in Next Digital’s boardroom.
The depravity of the Chinese Communist Party’s friends in the city was already known, so their gaslighting is hardly newsworthy here. But as Simon remarked yesterday, the significance of Apple Daily’s demise at the hands of Party collaborators, besides the evisceration of Hong Kong’s relative political liberties, is that they’ve also destroyed the welcoming business environment that had for years distinguished Hong Kong as an international financial center. Now Hong Kong is just another city run by China’s communists, and Washington should be unsparing in its use of sanctions against those officials and institutions who have been complicit in making it so.