HONG KONG, CHINA — A Hong Kong polling group said Thursday it will “change with the times” and cease publishing public opinion responses to topics such as the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown and Taiwan’s independence.
These issues are deemed taboo by Beijing, which has tightened its grip on Hong Kong after the city saw huge and sometimes violent democracy protests in 2019.
A national security law designed to quell dissent has also been in place since 2020, with scores of civil society groups shutting down citing political pressure.
Last month the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute — one of the city’s few independent pollsters — cancelled the release of Tiananmen-related survey results following “suggestions” from an unspecified government department.
Institute president and CEO Robert Chung announced Thursday the group will slash its public data output by around half starting this month, with the results to 56 polling questions in 10 different surveys being made private.
The affected surveys range from the popularity of political groups to “national issues” — a poll that featured the question, “do you trust the Beijing Central Government?”
Denying that the move was due to self-censorship, Chung said the institute has to “conserve our resources and energy”, citing decreasing public demand for data as another factor.
“We did not consult the government… but we were aware of the so-called risk assessment made by some government departments in the past,” Chung told AFP, referring to when the release of the Tiananmen survey had to be cancelled due to the government’s “risk assessment”.
Among the 56 questions was one about Tiananmen Square, asking respondents whether Beijing did the right thing during the 1989 bloody crackdown.
Other questions gauged support for Taiwan and Tibet’s independence — both considered untouchable issues within mainland China.
Chung stressed that the affected surveys will still be conducted, but the results will be kept in a paywalled database expected to be operational by September.
First established as a university programme in 1991, the Institute started polling in the final years of British colonial rule before the city was handed over to China in 1997.
One of the city’s most closely watched polls would ask residents if they identified as “Hongkongers”, “Chinese”, or some combination of the two.
That poll was among the “restricted” surveys announced Thursday, as was a question about public satisfaction with the police.
“Some of those questions might have generated some unwarranted political disputes, which we did not intend,” Chung said.
The Institute will continue to publish popularity ratings of top government officials, including city leader John Lee — whose rating dipped to a new low this month.