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Hong Kong

Hong Kong License Plate: Macho

A new one for the collection. On a Prius, no less.

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Hong Kong

Hong Kong Officials Quarantined After Covid-19 Case at Tapas Birthday Party

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Friday. It begins:

HONG KONG—As Hong Kong officials were warning citizens to exercise caution after the city’s first Omicron cases emerged last week, senior civil servants joined dozens of other partygoers at a tapas restaurant Monday evening to celebrate the birthday of a China lawmaker.

Now some of them are in a government quarantine center after being classified as close contacts of a party guest who later tested positive for Covid-19. Among them are the city’s home affairs secretary, the director of immigration and some legislators.

Images of the event — held in honor of Witman Hung, a local representative to China’s national legislature — emerged shortly before tough new restrictions on nightlife and other venues across the city came into effect Friday, drawing angry comments from some residents on social media.

Hong Kong has some of the world’s strictest testing and quarantine regimens, and tough border controls had kept the city free of community cases for months. That bubble was punctured last week after an aircrew worker, who was later found to have Omicron, broke home quarantine conditions to eat lunch at a restaurant. Several other diners in the venue later tested positive, and health officials have warned that there are now invisible transmission chains in the city, although recorded cases of Covid-19 transmitted in the community have remained just a few.

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Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Hong Kong Tech Conference Postponed as Pandemic Restrictions Isolate Business Hub

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Thursday. It begins:

HONG KONG—Organizers of a prominent international technology conference are postponing a gathering in Hong Kong that was set for March, the latest disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic to the city’s role as a global business hub.

An executive for the Dublin-based company that was organizing the annual RISE Conference said to a participant in an email, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, that uncertainties due to the pandemic have continued, and after much consideration organizers had decided to postpone it until March 2023. A company spokeswoman confirmed the news.

Web Summit, the company that hosts popular conferences that typically draw thousands and feature global technology executives and startup entrepreneurs, was first held in Hong Kong in 2015. Its speakers have included Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder Joseph Tsai and Stripe Inc. co-founder and President John Collison.

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Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Facebook, Twitter, Google Threaten to Quit Hong Kong Over Proposed Data Laws

That was the headline on an exclusive I had out Monday. It begins:

HONG KONG–Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have privately warned the Hong Kong government that they could stop offering their services in the city if authorities proceed with planned changes to data-protection laws that could make them liable for the malicious sharing of individuals’ information online.

A letter sent by an industry group that includes the internet firms said companies are concerned that the planned rules to address doxing could put their staff at risk of criminal investigations or prosecutions related to what the firms’ users post online. Doxing refers to the practice of putting people’s personal information online so they can be harassed by others.

Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau in May proposed amendments to the city’s data-protection laws that it said were needed to combat doxing, a practice that was prevalent during 2019 protests in the city. The proposals call for punishments of up to 1 million Hong Kong dollars, the equivalent of about $128,800, and up to five years’ imprisonment.

“The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering the services in Hong Kong,” said the previously unreported June 25 letter from the Singapore-based Asia Internet Coalition, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

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Hong Kong

Trip Report: Birdwatching in Hong Kong’s Mai Po Nature Reserve

Despite its urban density and thousands of skyscrapers, Hong Kong is home to significant biodiversity and plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities.

I was surprised, when we moved here last year, to learn about all the hiking available along myriad trails and in the city’s many country parks.

Then early last month we got an opportunity to something I’d never done before: go birding.

Yes, my first organized birding experience took place in a city of more than 7 million people, one of the world’s most densely populated places.

And it was awesome!

Mai Po, just across from Shenzhen

A friend arranged a guided trip, via the Hong Kong WWF, to Mai Po Nature Reserve. As you can see in the map above, this is a large wetlands area near Yuen Long, a town in the north of the city’s New Territories, across the water from Shenzhen.

To get to the the WWF’s Long Ping visitor center, we took the MTR’s West Rail Line, got off at the Long Ping station, and walked from there.

Ours was the aptly-titled “Flap Your Wings” tour, which included transport via shuttle bus to the reserve, a short distance away. Binoculars were provided, as were permits to enter the reserve.

Near the entrance to the reserve
Near the entrance to the reserve

During the five-hour tour, conducted by an expert volunteer guide, we walked along boardwalks built into the mangrove swamps, and stopped at various blinds to look out at the birds on the mudflats.

Many of the creatures, as I understand it, stop over in Hong Kong as they migrate south for the winter, stopping for rest in the wetlands area. I was shooting photos with my iPhone, so didn’t get any good close-ups, but our guide had a spotting scope that we used.

Walking through the mangroves
Walking through the mangroves

I just flew in from
A hint at where birds are heading, or have come from

Looking out from a blind
The view from a blind, looking out at the wetlands

Socially distanced birding
Socially distanced birding

Mudflats
Mudflats

The weather was gorgeous
Fine weather and blue skies

A far cry from skyscrapers downtown
A far cry from skyscrapers

Yours truly
Yours truly

Hard at work
Concentrating

Here’s a list of the birds we saw. I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

  • Northern Shoveler
  • Tufted Duck
  • Great Cormorant
  • Little Grebe
  • Black Wing Stilts
  • Western osprey
  • Saunder’s Gull
  • Wimbrell
  • Chinese Pond Heron
  • Grey Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Little Egret
  • Western Osprey
  • Pied Avocet
  • Whimbrel
  • White Breasted Water Hen
  • Greater Spotted Eagle
  • White-throated Kingfisher
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Black-winged Stilt
  • Oriental Stork
  • And the highlight, due to their rarity: Black Faced Spoonbill

That’s 22, by my count.

An excellent trip. Highly recommended.

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Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Facebook Drops Plan to Run Fiber Cable to Hong Kong Amid U.S. Pressure

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleague Drew FitzGerald, out Wednesday. It begins:

A Facebook Inc. consortium withdrew its bid to build a new internet conduit between California and Hong Kong after months of pressure from U.S. national-security officials, the latest sign of a deepening rift between the two governments.

The social-media giant told the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in a filing it would withdraw its application to land the Hong Kong-Americas project, known by its abbreviation HKA, pending a new request for “a possibly-reconfigured submarine cable system.”

Facebook and several telecommunications-industry partners first filed for permission to build the fiber-optic cable in 2018. It would have connected two sites in California with branches to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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Hong Kong Journalism Newley's Notes Tech

NN226: Scoop — WhatsApp, Tech Giants Stand Firm in Hong Kong

Sent as an email newsletter (sign up here) Thurs., July 9.

👋 Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

This week’s NN is late. I’d meant to send it Monday evening, but then this happened. See image above.

🚨 I got the exclusive that WhatsApp – quickly followed by Facebook, then Twitter and Google – was suspending its processing of requests for user data from Hong Kong.

WhatsApp and its tech peers were prompted to do so by China’s imposition here in the city of a wide-ranging new national security law.

I’m proud to say we had the news for our subscribers before anyone else, and it was followed by outlets around the world.

🗞 The story also ran on the front page of Tuesday’s WSJ:

🎧 I was on our The Journal podcast to talk about the story (listen here), and I was also on our Tech News Briefing show (listen here).

The Journal podcast

For more on China, Hong Kong, and the new law, read on…

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🇨🇳 1) What’s Hong Kong’s new national security law all about? “Experts say its provisions fundamentally alter the legal landscape in Hong Kong, carving out space within the city’s Western-style rule-of-law system for mainland Chinese methods of enforcing Communist Party control,” my colleague Chun Han Wong reports.

⏲️ 2) Things are happening fast here in HK, my colleague Dan Strumpf wrote in a story out Wednesday about the inauguration of a new home for China’s security agents:

“First the construction signs went up, then a flagpole appeared and police officers started to swarm the streets. Within hours, a skyscraper hotel in a cozy neighborhood of bars, apartments and boutiques was transformed into something new: the headquarters of Beijing’s powerful new security agency for the city.”

🧙‍♂️ 3) And in non-China/Hong Kong news: “How J. K. Rowling Became Voldemort”:

“Younger Millennials – those born around 1990, the same time as Harry Potter’s lead actors Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson – feel just as strongly about transgender rights. To many of them, it is the social-justice cause, their generation’s revolutionary idea.”

✍️ 4) “In an era that fetishizes form,” Joyce Carol Oates “has become America’s preëminent fiction writer by doing everything you’re not supposed to do.”

🚷 5) A Japanese city has passed a draft ordinance aimed at stopping people from using their smartphones while walking.

💬 6) Social media first brought about “context collapse” (people talk to everyone all at once, rather than distinct people or groups), and now, writes Nicolas Carr, it has created something more serious: “content collapse.” “A presidential candidate’s policy announcement is given equal weight to a snapshot of your niece’s hamster and a video of the latest Kardashian contouring,” he says.

⏳ 7) Shot: “Back to the Future” was released 35 years ago last week. Here are 30 facts about the great film, one of which – you’re telling me they started filming with Eric Stoltz instead of Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly?! – I find mind-blowing.

🎹 8) Chaser: The Nostalgia Machine is a website where you enter a year, click a button, and jam to some sweet tunes from yesteryear.

✏️ 9) Gary Larson, creator of “The Far Side,” has started cartooning again (this time on a tablet).

🐶 10) Dog-related video of the week: You rang? (Thanks, Anasuya!)

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

“If your choices are beautiful, so too will you be.” – Epictetus

•••

🤗 What’s new with you? Hit reply to send me tips, queries, random comments, and videos of adorably attentive pups.

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

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Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Facebook, Twitter, Google Face Free-Speech Test in Hong Kong

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleague Eva Xiao, out Friday. It begins:

U.S. technology titans face a looming test of their free-speech credentials in Hong Kong as China’s new national-security law for the city demands local authorities take measures to supervise and regulate its uncensored internet.

Facebook Inc. and its Instagram service, Twitter Inc. and YouTube, a unit of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, operate freely in the city even as they have been shut out or opted out of the mainland’s tightly controlled internet, which uses the “Great Firewall” to censor information.

In Hong Kong many citizens have grown accustomed to freely using their accounts to speak out on political matters, voice support for antigovernment protests, and register their anger at China’s increasing sway over the city.

Now the U.S. tech companies face a high-wire act, analysts say, if authorities here ask them to delete user accounts or their content. Refusal could invite Beijing’s scrutiny and potentially put them at risk of legal action under the new national-security law. Complying would alienate longtime users in the city, some of whom continue to speak out on their platforms, and leave the companies open to criticism from politicians in the U.S. or U.K.

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Hong Kong

Most U.S. Firms in Hong Kong Say China’s Security Law Will Hurt Business

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Wednesday. It begins:

The vast majority of U.S. firms in Hong Kong are worried about China’s new national-security laws for the city, according to a new survey that highlights rising concerns among executives in the global financial hub.

Some 53% of American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong members said they were “very concerned” about the new laws, while 30% said they were “moderately concerned,” the survey found. Some 60% of members said they expected the law to harm their business operations in the city.

After China last week approved a plan to implement new national-security laws in the city, President Trump said the U.S. would no longer treat Hong Kong as a separate entity from China and would roll back policy exemptions for it.

“Hong Kong has been hit by a double whammy in the past week,” Tara Joseph, the chamber’s president, said Wednesday in a statement accompanying the survey results. “Not surprisingly, these are emotive issues.”

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Hong Kong Journalism

U.S. Businesses Brace for Damage as Tensions Grow Over Hong Kong

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Sunday. It begins:

HONG KONG—Rising tensions between the U.S. and China over Hong Kong have American businesses caught in the crossfire.

Companies in the global financial and trading hub, already battered by a year of violent protests and the coronavirus pandemic, face a long period of further uncertainty amid a fight that they fear could disrupt their operations and that casts doubt over their long-term future here.

After China last week approved a plan to impose new national-security laws on Hong Kong, President Trump on Friday said the U.S. would no longer treat Hong Kong as a separate entity from China and would roll back policy exemptions for the city. They could include measures such as export controls, tariffs and visa restrictions, according to analysts, but businesses will have to wait for details and the timing of any moves.

“It’s going to be a challenging week ahead as there are no firm details on how this special economic relationship will be untangled,” said Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. More clarity is “essential because our business here is large and important,” she said.

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