A billboard in Melbourne has drawn backlash online for spreading Chinese Communist Party “propaganda” about Hong Kong.

The ad in Carlton, featured on a billboard owned by French advertising giant JCDecaux, was spotted by a local who posted a photo to online forum Reddit on Tuesday.

“Is this billboard on the corner of Alexander Parade and Nicholson Street CCP Propaganda?” they wrote.

The ad promoting the 25th anniversary of Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China features the slogan “A New Era – Stability.” Prosperity. Opportunity.”

China regained control of the former colony on July 1, 1997 after 156 years of British rule with a promise to maintain the island’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” principle of government.

But in recent years, the CCP has tightened its grip on the region, culminating in Beijing’s imposition of a national security law in 2020 that was condemned by Western governments and sparked widespread protests.

“Coming from Hong Kong, 28 years old [years] of my life, yes it is a new era – under the absolute control of the CCP, there is no more separation of powers, no more freedom of speech and press, no more freedom to question and doubt”, replied a Reddit user.

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Record numbers of expats and locals have fled Hong Kong since Beijing began its crackdown, with more than 140,000 leaving in the first quarter of this year alone.

Hong Kong’s population shrank by around 23,600 in 2021, Bloomberg reported in March.

The billboard points to a government website promoting this year’s anniversary celebrations, which features a message from Hong Kong chief executive John Lee – the former security chief who oversaw the brutal repression of the Hong Kong democracy movement.

Mr Lee, who was China’s only endorsed candidate in this year’s election, is one of 11 officials sanctioned by the United States in 2020 for his role in undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“As we witness the steady and successful implementation of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ guaranteed by Hong Kong’s national security law and the improved electoral system, the celebrations will further show Hong Kong’s brighter future in embracing national development by leveraging our unique strengths under ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and the unwavering support of the central government,” Mr. Lee’s message read.

“The next five years will be pivotal times in Hong Kong’s development towards governance and prosperity. As we celebrate the joyful occasion commemorating Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, I am fully confident of a bright future where we, under the auspices of our country, can take full advantage of our unique assets as part of ” One country, two systems”. Let’s start a new chapter for Hong Kong together!

In June, similar adverts promoting the 25th anniversary were removed from trams in Belgium after public complaints about Beijing’s human rights record.

The Brussels public transport operator removed the advertisements within 24 hours, the South China Morning Post reported at the time.

“We were warned by a few customers… that it was not as it should be,” said An Van Hamme, spokesman for the Brussels Intercommunal Transport Company (STIB).

“The STIB has an advertising charter which stipulates, among other things, that no advertising may be broadcast with a political connotation.”

She said the ads were taken down because they were considered “political messages”.

In Australia, the advertising industry is self-regulating, with complaints from the public being adjudicated by the Advertising Standards Board.

The Australian Association of National Advertisers Code of Ethics does not prohibit political messaging.

“Ad Standards has received a very small number of complaints about the Hong Kong 25th Anniversary billboard raising concerns about political propaganda,” a spokeswoman told news.com.au.

“While the advertising codes we administer cover a wide range of issues, political advertising falls outside our mandate.”

JCDecaux has been contacted for comments.

It comes after Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong raised concerns about Chinese governance of Hong Kong earlier this year on the eve of the anniversary.

Senator Wong said she was “deeply concerned” about the freedom of Hong Kong citizens to oppose China’s decisions.

Chinese President Xi Jinping also traveled to Hong Kong to mark the occasion – his first trip outside the mainland since the pandemic began.

Official messages from Chinese authorities were generally positive, but this step opened up recent wounds from violent protests in 2019 and 2020 that led to authoritarian crackdowns by Beijing.

“Australia remains deeply concerned about the continued erosion of Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and autonomy, two years after the imposition of the National Security Act,” Senator Wong said.

“The national security law has been widely applied to arrest or pressure pro-democracy figures, opposition groups, media, trade unions and civil society. Electoral reforms imposed by Beijing in 2021 have further eroded Hong Kong’s democratic governance.

President Xi, as well as other officials, have insisted that Hong Kong is doing better now with the ruling structure in place.

However, many observers say it has eroded Hong Kong’s unique independence and seen the arrest and imprisonment of dissidents.

“After the storms, Hong Kong has reborn from the fire and emerged with robust vitality,” President Xi said.

“He can ensure long-term stability and prosperity in Hong Kong and uphold the well-being of Hong Kong people.”

Ignoring China’s urgings of other countries to stay out of what it sees as internal and sovereign affairs, Senator Wong relied on Hong Kong’s many successes since the handover to call for the preservation freedoms.

“We urge the Chinese government and Hong Kong authorities to respect and protect the things that have been so crucial to Hong Kong’s success, including its high degree of autonomy, the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Basic Law and the Sino-British Declaration Beijing has committed to,” she said.

“We reaffirm the importance of those freedoms that have enabled its prosperity and stability.”

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— with NCA NewsWire

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