China 2.0

Death Of Apple Daily, What It Really Means For Hong Kong

Was this the last media ready to take on the regime in Bejing?

An employee stacks freshly printed papers onto a pallet in the printing facility of the Apple Daily newspaper offices in Hong Kong
An employee stacks freshly printed papers onto a pallet in the printing facility of the Apple Daily newspaper offices in Hong Kong
Tse Tsz Fung

HONG KONG — After the National Security Police raid on its headquarters on June 17, Hong Kong's biggest pro-democracy paper, Apple Daily, had announced its closure and published its final edition on Thursday, ending its 26 years of publication. But what exactly does the death of Apple Daily mean?

First, some history: Ever since its creation in 1995, it is the first full color paper in Hong Kong, and the only high-profile paper that published political dissent. Achieving commercial success with erotic entertainment content in its early days, Apple Daily has become the third most credible newspaper in Hong Kong by gaining public recognition with its firm stance against the total regime. Its final chapter has brought about a sharp narrowing of Hong Kong's mainstream discourse toward a moderate middle ground, where political dissent has been shut out of the public discussion.

Apple Daily was a successful business being a market driven paper, but for the founder Jimmy Lai it was never only about business. Lai escaped from the mainland when he was 12, built himself up from nothing in Hong Kong and became firmly anti-communist. In recent years, he has been actively involved in Hong Kong's democratic movements. Upon founding Apple Daily in 1995, two years before the UK's handover of Hong Kong, Lai wanted to create a newspaper that defies the power, supports democracy, and of course, belongs to Hong Kong.

Apple Daily was founded with a clear pro-democracy stance and became an important public opinion forum for Hong Kong residents.

At the end of British colonial rule, many Hong Kong citizens were nervous about the handover in 1997, and there were growing calls for democratization. The last British governor, Christopher Patten, had reformed the electoral system and introduced general elections, with the growing development of civil society. Apple Daily was founded with a clear pro-democracy stance and became an important public opinion forum for Hong Kong residents.

This made Apple Daily an anomaly. Before the handover, Beijing had been eagerly reaching out to Hong Kong media, hoping to dilute critical attitudes towards the China Communist Party and the handover. Such projects are still ongoing, even while hiccups such as the pro-democracy movements disturb society: the central government has continued to codify and regulate the media, and it has worked effectively to date.

Parallel to the political codification, Hong Kong media has been under economic pressure to move closer to Beijing in terms of attitude and content. As Hong Kong's economy has become more intertwined with China before and after the transfer of sovereignty, the influence of mainland companies operating in Hong Kong has increased. As a result, the business community as a whole had to rely on the Chinese market. To avoid irritating the Chinese government, the business community avoided "China-unfriendly" media when placing advertisements. This in effect makes the media, which relies on advertising revenue, more politically cautious and conservative.

People line up to buy the final edition of Apple Daily newspaper at newsstand in the Central district of Hong Kong — Photo: Ivan Abreu/SOPA Images/ZUMA

But Apple Daily has remained pro-democracy and anti-CCP, not only because of Lai's stands, but also thanks to its early commercial success and demands from a loyal readership that keeps the paper going. The political critical nature of Apple Daily has had important implications for the press, the public's right to know, and for the democratic movement in Hong Kong, maintaining a critical voice in Hong Kong society.

In the 2010s, social conflicts under the "One Country, Two Systems' began to erupt. Hong Kong has experienced major political events such as the Anti-National Education Movement (2012), Umbrella Movement (2014) and the Anti-Extradition Law Movement (2019). In addition, the culture clash between Hong Kongers and Mainlanders has intensified, even while Hong Kong society itself has entered an era of political polarization, where various ideologies and political claims are competing with each other.

We are at a crossroads of history, as the regime blatantly rewrites laws and norms.

The upheaval naturally affects media coverage, making it difficult for newspapers to maintain an objective and neutral posture. In times of political turmoil, when social consensus is fractured and the public itself is on the verge of collapse, it is not uncommon for the media to have difficulty in maintaining credibility in the minds of the general readership.

Entering the 2020s, Hong Kong society is standing at a crossroads of history, as the regime blatantly rewrites the laws and norms that the society relies on: Legislative Council, right to civic participation, the right to protest, civil associations, education, media… layers of institutions are being loosely reconstructed, and the foundations of Hong Kong's civil society, the space for freedom, are rapidly collapsing. The public's choice to endorse Apple Daily — not meaning ignoring its problems —is both a political statement and a defense of freedom of the press and speech.

The end of Apple Daily means the loss of a critical edge in Hong Kong"s public discussion space. The remaining mainstream press is generally pro-establishment or moderate, while the suppression of voices like the Apple Daily is bound to induce self-censorship. Will other traditional media carry on political dissent in Hong Kong? The answer: not likely.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!