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When Hong Kong reverted to China in 1997, the Chinese government promised “one country, two systems.” Beijing said the Crown Colony’s traditions and policies would continue. The pledge was designed to reassure all that the unique blend of East and West that made the special administrative region an economic marvel would not be diminished. It was also intended to prove to the Taiwanese that reunification with the mainland would not force them to sacrifice all that they had accomplished in the last half-century.

Last week, “the second system” came under attack. Mr. Wang Fengchao, the second-ranking Chinese official in Hong Kong, said the Hong Kong media should not report views on Taiwan different from those held by Beijing. He spoke after a Hong Kong TV station broadcast an interview with the newly elected vice president of Taiwan, Ms. Annette Lu, in which she said Taiwan had independent sovereignty.

That statement infuriated the Chinese and prompted Mr. Wang’s intervention. According to him, the principle of “national unity” should trump freedom of the press. “Hong Kong’s media has the responsibility to uphold the integrity and sovereignty of the country,” he said.

His comments sparked an uproar. Virtually all of the media in Hong Kong rejected the idea. Ms. Anson Chan, the top bureaucrat in the city, promised that the media was “free to comment and report on all matters of current interest.”

Freedom of the press in Hong Kong is guaranteed under the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that governs relations between the city and the mainland. Mr. Wang’s comment shows a blatant disregard for that document. The statement by a Chinese spokesman that Western countries have legislation requiring the press to regulate itself when dealing with national dignity shows the problem is not just Mr. Wang. China’s disregard for a free press and the system that safeguards it is disturbing. It undermines Beijing’s promises to respect Taiwan’s own system after reunification.

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