UK-Based CCTV Reporter Accused of Assault Released

Kong Linlin, a London-based reporter with Chinese state broadcaster’s English-language China Global Television Network (), was taken away by police after assaulting a volunteer during Sunday’s annual UK Conservative Party conference in Birmingham where an event looking at “the erosion of freedom” in Hong Kong was held. Kong heckled the speakers, calling them “puppets and fake Chinese” before slapping a volunteer when he asked her to leave. Kong was released without charge on Monday, pending an investigation, after diplomatic pressure from the Chinese embassy. From Matthew Weaver at The Guardian:

She had been arrested on suspicion of common assault after allegedly slapping Enoch Lieu when he asked her to leave a conference fringe event on the “erosion of freedom” of Hong Kong under Chinese rule.

Video of Sunday’s incident appeared to show Lieu gently pushing Kong away as she heckled a speaker at the event. “Leave me alone,” she told Lieu before appearing to slap him, the video showed. “You have no right, I am a journalist,” she was heard to say.

The incident threatens to escalate into a diplomatic row as the Chinese embassy in London ratcheted up its condemnation of the way it was handled. First it said the organisers of the event, Hong Kong Watch and the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, should apologise to Kong.

[…] Benedict Rogers, deputy chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, was the speaker whom Kong was heckling at the event. He accused her of abusing her position as a journalist “by trying to intimidate those of us who are exercising our legitimate right of freedom of speech”. [Source]

On Twitter, Enoch Lieu gave a detailed account of the confrontation:

The event focused on China’s continued suppression of Hong Kong human rights and China’s breach of the Joint-Deceleration. @nathanlawkc told the audience how he was jailed and ousted from HK parliament, @yttai talked about sharp and hard power of China in HK. #CPC18 2/8

— Enoch Lieu (@enochcafe) September 30, 2018

At the end of the event, a woman with a press pass, later learnt she works for Chinese state-controlled #, shouted at @benedictrogers from her seat, accusing him of trying to separate China, and the rest of the panel were puppets and fake Chinese. #CPC18 3/8

— Enoch Lieu (@enochcafe) September 30, 2018

Fiona Bruce MP asked her to calm down, that woman obv can’t, then Fiona asked her to leave. I approached her, and tried to tell her she had made her point and she was no longer welcome #CPC18 4/8

— Enoch Lieu (@enochcafe) September 30, 2018

The reporter continued her shouting and whilst I was trying to escort her out, she accused me of trying to silence her. Then I said no miss you have to go. All of a sudden, she slapped me in my face #cpc18 5/8

— Enoch Lieu (@enochcafe) September 30, 2018

The audience was shocked and some brave men and women came and tried to escort her out. During the struggle, she continued her shouting and refused to leave, then out of the blue again, slapped me again #CPC18 6/8

— Enoch Lieu (@enochcafe) September 30, 2018

Eventually she was being removed by police. Sources said while the police tried to control her, she attempted to slap the police. Defo not tame #CPC18 7/8

— Enoch Lieu (@enochcafe) September 30, 2018

She was arrested and the assault case is now handling by @WMPolice
Her action is a direct assault on free speech right at our party conference. Her action cannot be tolerated. We will not be silent by force #CPC18 8/8

— Enoch Lieu (@enochcafe) September 30, 2018

The incident quickly became one of the top trending topics on Chinese social media, where many commentators expressed support for Kong and applauded her as China’s “modern-day Mulan.” Xinyan Yu at Inkstone reports:

[…R]eaction on Chinese social media mostly supported her. Many questioned the intent of the conference, asking if it was set up to promote Hong Kong independence.

Bai Zhou Xiong, a popular current affairs blogger on China’s popular social media platform WeChat, posted an article hailing Kong Linlin as “modern-day Mulan” for putting “Hong Kong separatists” in their place.

[…] Hong Kong pro-democracy activists who attended the event, including Nathan Law and Benny Tai, were labeled as “Hong Kong separatists.” Both have denied being separatists or supporting outright independence.

[…] “We should praise Kong Linlin. Her protest has embarrassed the Hong Kong separatists,” Wu Fatian, a popular blogger, wrote on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. “China is no longer a weak country waiting to be exploited. We have to resolutely fight back separatism.” [Source]

At Foreign Policy, James Palmer writes that the altercation may have been a deliberate performance staged by Kong to impress her state employer and win career advancement for her nationalist posturing.

At another TV station, this bizarre and embarrassing event would probably get the reporter fired. As several foreign correspondents in China pointed out, a foreign reporter who did the same at a Chinese press conference would have their credentials revoked and be kicked out of the country—as happened to French journalist Ursula Gauthier for writing an opinion piece on China’s oppression in Xinjiang.

But instead, CGTN promptly circled the wagons, claiming that Kong had been “asking questions” and “suffered a physical attack” at a panel of “Hong Kong separatists.” Within hours, the network had a statement from the Chinese Embassy on its site, defending the reporter’s freedom of speech and attacking the event itself as “meddling in Hong Kong affairs.”

That points to the peculiar truth of the whole matter. Kong’s behavior may not have been a spontaneous outburst of outraged patriotism but a deliberately performative event, intended to boost her own career. And the twisted incentives that made that a good idea for her are also the ones that, as I learned in my own time in Chinese , continue to hold back CGTN’s attempts to become an effective international propaganda organ.[Source]

The row is the latest in a series of incidents involving disruptive behaviors by Chinese officials and individuals abroad that have been actively defended by China’s Foreign Ministry and state media outlets. These developments signal China’s growing willingness to assert itself overseas and have its way beyond its borders. From Bill Birtles at ABC News:

In September, a Chinese envoy stormed out of a Pacific Islands forum session after clashing with the President of host nation Nauru — one of the few countries that has diplomatic ties to Taiwan.

Last year in Perth, Chinese officials disrupted an international blood diamond conference to demand invited guests from Taiwan be excluded.

More recently, a Chinese family visiting Sweden created a diplomatic stir when they accused Swedish police of brutality for removing them from a hostel when they’d turned up the night before their booking.

[…] Just this week, Thailand apologised to China for a security guard who was accused of hitting a Chinese tourist who didn’t offer a tip while passing through customs.

In all cases, China’s Foreign Ministry and state-run media moved quickly to support the Chinese nationals involved and David Bandurski, from the Hong Kong-based China Media Project, said it often seemed to play the events up. [Source]

Last month, the U.S. Justice Department ordered two Chinese state-run media organizations including CGTN to register as foreign agents and comply with U.S. disclosure requirements. It is part of a broader effort by Washington to counter foreign influence operations.