Not only does it point to China’s already outsize regional influence, it also underscores America’s own waning ability to do much in the face heavy-handed tactics aimed at civil society. The United States has lost so much of its moral authority in recent years, and our defense of press freedom as a global ideal has been an obvious casualty in this struggle.
For media freedom to flourish in Asia again, though, it will require regional powers with democratic traditions, such as India and the Philippines, to return to the values that their current leaderships have abandoned.
In the current vacuum, China sees a chance to further extend its hold on the guiding principles of governing in Asia. Free expression has no place in that agenda, which is why the attack on Apple Daily matters.
“It’s obvious that no one can do anything to stop this. China is feeling its oats, and they’re doing whatever they want,” Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists told me. He said governments in the region “are not afraid of the U.S anymore. They are looking to China and saying ‘we can do this, too.’ ”