About Those Free Tickets to Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s skyline and harbor.


Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Chief Executive

John Lee

wants the world to believe Hong Kong “always bounces back, better than ever.” And as an incentive to prove it, his government beginning this week is offering half a million free plane tickets to lure visitors.

Last year Hong Kong recorded 604,564 visitor arrivals, down from more than 65 million in 2018—the last year of normalcy for the city. Hong Kong recently lifted its Covid mandates, which were among the most restrictive in the world and a deterrent to travel.

But there’s no such respite from Communist Party repression. Millions of Hong Kongers marched for freedom in 2019, and a year later Beijing imposed a national-security law that outlaws dissent. The maximum sentence is life in prison. Foreigners can be targeted, including for speech outside Hong Kong.

In announcing the free flights, Hong Kong Tourism Board Chairman Pang Yiu-kai said Hong Kong has “more excitement to offer than ever before.” The tourism board also claims visitors can enjoy “innovative encounters at world-class museums and art venues.” But Hong Kong’s cultural scene was more vibrant before artists, performers, theaters, galleries and museums were forced to self-censor.

Since 2020 authorities have removed a famous sculpture, forced the closure of a museum, banned films that offend Beijing’s political sensibilities, and arrested a pro-democracy pop star under the national security law. Hong Kong has also shut down two pro-democracy publications and arrested journalists, including publisher

Jimmy Lai.

Will the free ticket include a prison tour?

Hong Kong nonetheless has its Western media cheerleaders. A Bloomberg article on “how to get a free flight to Hong Kong” didn’t mention Beijing’s assault on liberties while discussing why tourism has plummeted. Time Out called the free trip “too good to pass up” and attributed the tourism decline in part to “the civil unrest in 2019,” which is also the Communist Party’s preferred explanation.

Visitors who take the free ticket should beware that if they’ve ever said or written anything critical of Hong Kong or Beijing, Mr. Lee’s security forces will be watching.

Review & Outlook: More evidence that the coronavirus may have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology catches up to those who derided the possibility of a man-made Chinese origin. Images: AP/Reuters Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the March 4, 2023, print edition.


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