Amid the mounting pressure from Beijing, the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute has recently announced it will shift its tactics and cease to release public sentiment on topics perceived as controversial, including the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown and Taiwan’s independence.
These issues have long been regarded as taboo by Beijing, which has gradually increased its control over Hong Kong following sizable and occasionally violent democratic protests in 2019. The Chinese government has reinforced its stance through a national security law intended to suppress opposition, which was enforced from 2020 onwards. This resulted in a multitude of civil organizations ceasing their operations due to escalating political pressure.
Robert Chung, the Institute president and CEO, recently declared that the group plans to reduce its public data disclosure by around half. This change includes withholding the results to 56 polling questions from 10 separate surveys.
The restricted surveys vary widely, covering topics from the popularity of political factions to ‘national issues’, such as confidence in the Beijing Central Government. Despite criticism, Chung insisted that the move wasn’t driven by self-censorship but rather by the need to “preserve our resources and energy,” and acknowledged the diminished public demand for such data.
Even though certain surveys will continue to be conducted, the results will be stored behind a paywall, expected to go live by September. Notably, these surveys include controversial questions regarding Tiananmen Square, and the independence of Taiwan and Tibet – topics considered sensitive within mainland China.
Starting as a university program in 1991, the Institute began polling during the final years of British colonial rule before the city was returned to China in 1997. One of the city’s most significant polls questioned residents about their identity: whether they identified as “Hongkongers,” “Chinese,” or a blend of the two. The poll is among those deemed ‘restricted’.
A political sciences scholar at John Hopkins University, Hung Ho-fung, stated that the Institute has been the “most dependable source for scientific indicators” of Hong Kong public sentiments. However, he noted that respondents might not express their genuine feelings under the current political climate, fearing their data might be misused.
In light of this shift, those wishing to access the ‘restricted’ polling data will have to acknowledge via an online disclaimer that the information will not be used for unlawful purposes.
(Source: Malay Mail)