Chinese officials have slammed YouTube for taking down the account of a politician expected to become the next leader of Hong Kong, accusing the video sharing company of interfering in the country’s internal affairs.
YouTube said it had suspended the official campaign channel of John Lee, the sole candidate to become Hong Kong’s next chief executive, on Wednesday. Google
(GOOGL), which owns the platform, has said that it is simply complying with US sanctions.
A Google spokesperson told CNN Wednesday that it had “terminated the Johnlee2022 YouTube channel” after reviewing US laws and YouTube’s terms of service. It did not elaborate.
China’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday accused “certain US companies” of being “political tools” for the US government, claiming that the United States had “malicious” intentions to “disrupt” Hong Kong’s election.
“No ploys of pressure or sabotage can affect the smooth chief executive election or hold back the overwhelming trend of a turnaround from chaos to stability in Hong Kong,” Wang Wenbin, a ministry spokesperson, told reporters when asked about the subject at a press briefing.
In a statement Thursday night, a Hong Kong government spokesman also said that he had expressed “strong opposition” to a US “social media company” over the removal of Lee’s campaign channel.
The government “and all sectors of society strongly opposed and expressed extreme outrage at any form of interference in the internal affairs of Hong Kong by foreign forces,” which include matters related to the city’s election of its next top leader, the spokesperson added.
Google declined to comment Friday on Chinese official objections.
In 2020, the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on nearly a dozen Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials — including Lee — for their involvement in the introduction of a new national security law on the city.
The legislation — which was hugely controversial — bans any activity Beijing deems to constitute secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces, and allows Chinese state security to operate in the territory.
Lee, a former policeman who worked his way up to become the city’s security chief and subsequently its chief secretary, the second highest political post, addressed YouTube’s restriction against him on Wednesday.
“I am disappointed at not being able to use the platform, but this won’t affect my campaign and my outreach efforts,” he told reporters.
Lee also scoffed at the sanctions, calling them “unreasonable” and “acts of bullying.”
Asked whether he would penalize companies that comply with US sanctions, such as Google, if he becomes chief executive, Lee said he will “act in accordance with the law of Hong Kong.”
YouTube’s move has raised questions about whether the politician will be cut off from other Western social networks, too.
On Wednesday, Meta addressed the issue, saying that Lee could remain on its platforms, Facebook
(FB) and Instagram, but wouldn’t be allowed to use their advertising tools.
Lee “can maintain a demonetized presence on Facebook and Instagram, and we have taken steps to prevent the use of payments services,” the social media giant said in a statement, adding that “as a US company, we operate under the constraints of US laws, which vary by circumstance.”
“If we identify accounts maintained by or on behalf of people on the US Government’s list of Specially Designated Nationals, we have a legal obligation to take certain action,” it said, referring to a list of individuals sanctioned by Washington.
Hong Kong’s government spokesman said Thursday that “the so-called ‘sanctions’ imposed by the US are blatant interference in the internal affairs of the People’s Republic of China.”
He added that the government was opposed to any action that could undermine “the freedoms of speech and of the information dissemination, as well as the fairness and impartiality of the internet.”
Lee is poised to be selected as Hong Kong’s next leader by a largely pro-Beijing committee of lawmakers and industry representatives on May 8.