Has the Hong Kong trade office pressured Australia’s cultural festival to drop the umbrella display?


The Hong Kong trade office in Australia has sought to distance itself from an emerging controversy over allegations it has exerted political influence over the country’s largest Asian-themed festival to host a cultural workshop featuring yellow umbrellas – a local protest emblem.

The fury over the workshop’s cancellation was such that Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne jumped into the fray during a Senate hearing on Thursday, saying Canberra would follow the issue.

At the center of the allegations is a workshop offered by the Adelaide-based Hong Kong South Australia Cultural Association allegedly held at the OzAsia Festival, which began last week and will run through November 7.

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The Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Sydney is listed as one of the “festival executive partners” for this year’s event, according to the OzAsia festival website, as is the Australian government. The Confucius Institute at the University of Adelaide is one of its “program partners”.

The association had planned an interactive workshop that would have taken visitors through Hong Kong’s culinary and cultural scenes and illustrated a century of transformation, from a humble fishing village to an international financial center. The association told local media that it intended to hold the workshop last weekend.

How Lennon Walls presents the art and design of Hong Kong protests

The event also reportedly included a “Lennon Wall”, another common local symbol of protest during the “umbrella movement»In 2014 and anti-government unrest of 2019. Umbrellas – a staple of city protests for years – in the color associated with Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, yellow, were to be used as decorations.

But last month, the association said festival organizers told it the use of yellow umbrellas would not be allowed.

“As for the yellow umbrellas, we found this online,” the organizer said in an email referring to the Umbrella Movement Wikipedia page, according to a report by the Australian SBS Network.

“Unfortunately, we cannot endorse the use of yellow umbrellas as props or decor. Thank you for your kind understanding. “

Yellow umbrellas were a symbol of the Occupy campaign in 2014. Photo: EPA-EFE

Organizers also later said they could not provide the association with audio equipment. Then, late last month, organizers said the association’s show, along with others scheduled to take place in the Lucky Dumpling Market section of the festival, had to be completely canceled due to Covid restrictions. -19.

Association spokesperson Janet Leung said she was “shocked” by the development.

“Obviously, the organizers of OzAsia directly linked the yellow umbrellas to the umbrella movement of 2014… that was not our intention at all,” she told local media.

“We believe the yellow umbrella is a symbol of contemporary Hong Kong culture… and it catches the eye. We respect the fact that the event is meant to be family and not political. “

Leung called the move an act of censorship and questioned the role the Hong Kong government and the Confucius Institute could have played in the organizers’ decision.

She also told SBS that a member of the organizer’s staff told her that if the “Chinese group or others are not happy with your yellow umbrella display, we’ll be in trouble.”

A Lennon wall near the seat of government in the Admiralty in 2014. Photo: SCMP

A Lennon wall near the seat of government in the Admiralty in 2014. Photo: SCMP

In an e-mail to To post On Thursday, the association said: “Regarding the OzAsia festival umbrella ban incident, a lot has been reported in several Australian mainstream media. [outlets] already. As such, we have no further comments.

The Hong Kong Cultural Association of South Australia was founded last year by a group of transplant recipients from the city, according to its website. The group describes itself as a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the city’s culture and universal values, and helping state Hong Kongers and new migrants to integrate into local society. .

When asked to comment on the situation, the Hong Kong trade office only said that “the festival’s programming is taken by the organizer.”

In a Facebook post, however, OzAsia said the association’s event “was one of six different workshops canceled at the Lucky Dumpling Market.”

Citing the intensification of Covid-19 restrictions, he added that “unfortunately we did not have the capacity to safely operate the workshops planned at Lucky Dumpling Market over the weekend”.

Earlier Thursday, Elly Lawson, Australia’s first deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for East Asia, told a Senate hearing that she was aware of allegations of censorship and external influence on festival programs.

“We have no information from the festival indicating that this was indeed the case. They told us that some items were canceled during the festival. They told us it was about distancing from Covid and other measures, ”she said.

“However, of course, if there was any indication that any articles were canceled due to the influence of third parties, we would take that very seriously and we will in fact enter into further discussions with the festival organizers.”

The Lucky Dumpling Market at last year's festival.  Photo: OzAsia Festival

The Lucky Dumpling Market at last year’s festival. Photo: OzAsia Festival

Payne, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, added that the government would follow up, telling the hearing: “The government’s position is very clear. Any political interference or censorship in artistic and cultural events is unacceptable. “

In a response to To post, the University of Adelaide said it was not involved in the management of the festival and questions about programming decisions should be directed to the organizers.

A statement from the university said it was a partner of the festival’s program, with activities including “a musical performance involving our Elder Conservatorium of Music, music workshops featuring Asian and Australian artists. from all over Asia, and participation in the Moon Lantern Trail and in the calligraphy and paper cutting workshop, in which the Confucius Institute participates ”.

The university’s pro rector also participated in the writing and ideas program, with panel discussions on South Asian literature and depictions of racialized women. The activities were funded by the institution’s arts faculty, the statement added.

As of Friday afternoon, the organizers of the OzAsia festival had not responded to inquiries from the To post.

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Darcy J. Skinner

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