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China's decision to expel journalists to Hong Kong is now blowing up in its face

A photographer tries to work amid tear gas in Hong Kong
A photographer tries to work amid tear gas in Hong Kong
XAUME OLLEROS/AFP/Getty

You're probably going to be seeing and hearing a lot about the unprecedented protests and police crackdowns in Hong Kong this week, and the primary reason is that they're a hugely momentous confrontation for the future of this semi-autonomous, semi-democratic Chinese city.

But there's another reason: Hong Kong must have one of the highest rates of Western journalists per capita of any non-Western city in the world, including a number of the best foreign correspondents in the business. Over the last two or three years, China has been making it much tougher for Western journalists to get into the country, blocking a number of them from entering, and even booting some out. A lot of those journalists end up in Hong Kong instead.

This means that Hong Kong isn't just full of extremely talented foreign correspondents (Beijing has been the most prestigious posting in the business for a few years now), it's full of extremely talented foreign correspondents who have a history of reporting on the Chinese Communist Party and its abuses. And many of them have personal experience with the Party's heavier-handed tactics.

Given that what's happening in Hong Kong is in part about the Communist Party throwing around its weight, as well as popular suspicion and fear toward the Beijing government, the fact that on-the-ground reporters are directly experienced with those issues has some salience for how it's covered. I'm not suggesting that coverage will be biased by any means. But it's still important to note that there will be a lot of people covering this story who are deeply experienced in smelling out the Beijing government's abuses.

That's good news for our ability as new consumers to understand what's happening, and it's bad news for the Chinese government's ability to control the story in Hong Kong or internationally. Finally, it's a reminder that, while China can restrict the press within China itself, it's still got to live in a world where a free press is the default, and that censorship has costs.

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