Hong Kong, June 10 (ANI): Hong Kong, despite assurances to the contrary from its government and Beijing, is facing an oppressive future as a satellite city of China, one where secret police operate with impunity and the territory's residents live in perpetual fear.
This stems from China's sudden and unexpected decision in May's National People's Congress (NPC) to unilaterally impose national security legislation on Hong Kong. It comes after the territory failed to introduce such an article to its Basic Law mini-constitution in the 23 years since the handover. Ironically, that national security law supposed to be passed by Hong Kong itself is called Article 23.
Now, to complete the numerological symmetry, this law foisted onto Hong Kong by Chairman Xi Jinping is likely to be unanimously passed and implemented before the end of this month.
This "National People's Congress Law Concerning Establishing and Strengthening the Safeguarding of National Security for Hong Kong" proscribes any action of "treason, secession, sedition or subversion". Of course, interpretation of these cardinal sins will be ambiguous so China can interpret them according to its whim.
The events of last year, where masses took to the streets to express their displeasure at Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her puppet-like compliance with Xi's dictates, alarmed Beijing. Somewhat absurdly, there is nothing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) fears more than the will of the people.
This new law is likely to be more draconian than any Article 23. Frighteningly, the draft law stated, "When needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People's Government will set up agencies in the HKSAR to fulfill relevant duties to safeguard national security in accordance with the law." This means the Ministry of State Security, China's version of the Gestapo, will become legally resident.
China will doubtlessly also see fit to "improve" Hong Kong's legal system, where the rule of law still prevails and courts are not yet subservient to the government. Already, peaceful avenues for Hong Kong people to air discontent are rapidly diminishing - whether protests, polls, vigils or in the legislature. These opportunities will be further constricted and crushed under the new law.
Journalists, protestors, human rights activists, pro-democracy political groups, NGO activists, missionaries and religious groups all have much to fear. They are liable to be treated the same way in Hong Kong as they are in China, which is detention and imprisonment.
Joshua Rosenzweig, Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for East and South East Asia, warned, "This dangerous proposed law sends the clearest message yet that it is eager to do the same in Hong Kong, and as soon as possible. The Hong Kong government has progressively embraced the Mainland's vague and all-encompassing definition of 'national security' to restrict freedom of association, expression and the right to peaceful assembly."
Responding to a question from ANI, Dennis Kwok, a Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker, was asked to envision what Hong Kong might soon look like. A chilling scenario could see Chinese security agents breaking down citizens' doors, all protests banned, extradition of dissenters to China, reporters detained, people with business or personal contacts overseas come under intense scrutiny to counter the vague notion of "foreign interference", and children being brainwashed at school.
When presented with such a scenario, Kwok responded: "I don't think you have to wait five years. I think it could be next year when what you described becomes reality. We know national security agents are already in Hong Kong. They're not operating openly but they're here; we all know that. Will they start arresting people and taking them across to China? I don't know. I wouldn't want to make that kind of prediction, because a lot of people would have to leave Hong Kong."
Kwok continued, "There's talk about whether the national security law will have retroactive consequences, but we don't know. Because if there is going to be a retrospective effect of criminal sanctions, which is a breach of all human rights that we have in Hong Kong, this means Hong Kong people will be living in fear and will have to leave. Millions have protested or joined peaceful assemblies or said things on Facebook that could be used against them. So that will really drive fear through the whole community and there may be a mass exodus. I don't know."
Another question is whether Hong Kong courts will oversee these laws or will they become the jurisdiction of harsh Chinese puppet courts, which are controlled by the CCP and where convictions for political offense are a foregone conclusion.
Kwok fully expects to be barred from running in upcoming Legislative Council elections, if they go ahead, as part of a crackdown against pro-democracy candidates and leading lights. Once considered a moderate pro-democracy candidate, Beijing has blacklisted him.
Participating in a webinar hosted by the Lowy Institute in Australia, Kwok complained that "they're making this law in Beijing with almost zero input from people in Hong Kong, bypassing all our institutions and the Legislative Council".
He said China's decision to impose this law on Hong Kong makes a mockery of One Country, Two Systems. "If they can enact laws like that, they won't stop at national security. It'll be national education next month and then something else the other ... Everyone in their right mind sees this as the end of One Country, Two Systems if they do it this way. I don't have to tell you how they interpret national security in the Mainland."
Kwok lamented: "We all knew from the beginning that One Country, Two Systems is an inherent contradiction, and it will only work if there is respect between the two systems ... They have torn down that respect for difference and only emphasize One Country; you hear from Mainland officials saying all the time in the past few years that One Country trumps Two Systems. Now if they insist on that mentality, they are not only deviating from the original idea that was founded by Deng Xiaoping, but if there's no respect for the two different systems, it's never going to work.
"We can see it now where they're basically saying, 'Enough is enough, our patience is running out, you've crossed the red line of the Central People's Government' ... but they never bother to think about the bottom line of the Hong Kong people." Kwok was referring to the promise of universal suffrage when voting for the city's leaders.
"And now they even say to the international community that the Sino-British Joint Declaration is just a piece of paper, that there's no obligation, no promise arising from it and that the British government should just back off. This is how they see their international obligation..."
Indeed, China's treatment and dismissal of a signed treaty deposited with the United Nations says a lot about its attitude to other formal commitments as well. For example, China eviscerated the Permanent Court of Arbitration's decision on a case brought against it regarding Beijing's excessive claims in the South China Sea.
Kwok has no illusions as to the trustworthiness of his mother country. "China is showing its true colors to the world. Ten years ago they still paid lip service to human rights, the rule of law, but now they're not paying lip service anymore. They're saying, 'This is who we are. If you don't like it, get out of our way or, if not, we're going to threaten you with consequences."
"The whole strategy of Beijing has changed," Kwok declared.
The USA is likely to enact sanctions and remove Hong Kong's favored status. Many are encouraging countries like Australia, the UK and USA to open up ways for Hong Kong people to emigrate. However, the large wave of emigration from Hong Kong in the period leading up to the 1997 handover is unlikely. Kwok said, "A lot of people around me are thinking about having options, having an exit plan, but a lot of them don't want to leave because it is not easy to leave your hometown."
Yet any country that does offer sanctuary must encounter bullying from China. "A lot of people are realizing this is the consequence of having an assertive global power which is an authoritarian regime ... You have to choose fighting for your values of democracy, freedom and rule of law ... You need to make a choice as a people and country."
As part of the media blitz bolstering Beijing's plans, the Officer of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on 25 May: "In short, here are five key messages. First, national security legislation for Hong Kong is right and proper and of greatest urgency. Second, it is just and legitimate for the Central Government to safeguard national security, which is both within its power and its obligation. Third, national security legislation will ensure the enduring success of 'One Country, Two Systems'. Fourth, the international community can rest assured about the legislation for Hong Kong. And fifth, the Chinese government is rock-firm in upholding national sovereignty, security and development interests."
Lam and other Hong Kong leaders insist that ordinary citizens have nothing to fear from the law,but there is a curious irony in all this. She said, for example, "The legislation to be enacted for the HKSAR to safeguard national security aims to prevent, curb and sanction an extremely small minority of criminals who threaten national security, safeguarding the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and maintaining 'One Country, Two Systems'. It will not affect the legitimate rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents."
Yet at the same time, Lam admits she has not seen the law nor knows any of its intimate details. Thus, she is reassuring everyone not to worry about a law that she knows nothing about. This is absurd, and simply reflects her toeing the party line.
It needs to be asked, why now? Of course, with the NPC having met last month, this was the first opportunity for such a law to be tabled and rubberstamped.
However, beyond that, two key reasons are likely. One is that the world is currently distracted by COVID-19, so there is less international scrutiny. The Chinese government is reluctant to let a good crisis go to waste, so Beijing obviously felt now was a good time to rush the bill through. Another factor is the steadily worsening US-China relationship, so China may as well do it now because there is not that much to lose given the current deterioration.
With Legislative Council elections scheduled for September, Beijing is rightfully fearful of a defeat at the ballot boxes. It is thus doing all it can to regain a lead by arresting or disqualifying opponents, and the term "terrorist" is being freely applied to protestors. Luo Huining, renowned as a disciplinarian, took up the post of director of the Liaison Office in January, and he is exerting a strong hand too.
Already, more than 9,000 protestors have been arrested since mid-2019, with more than 1,200 charged. Yet every time Beijing and the Hong Kong government un-glove their iron fist, it further deepens the divide that has beset society. Beijing does not understand that the more it squeezes Hong Kong, the more it crystallizes and solidifies resistance. What Beijing sought to eliminate - grassroots criticism and resistance to the CCP - it has singlehandedly helped to instigate.
China will be going all out to indoctrinate the new generation of Hong Kong youth too. It is already lining up teachers to go to there to sing the CCP's praises and inculcate "patriotism".
The reality is that protestors are fighting a rear-guard action. They have little hope of stemming the inexorable tide of an incensed authoritarian China. Hong Kong's exclusive connections with the West, and the people's aspiration for greater autonomy, have turned it into a battlefield against Xi's xenophobic policies.
Xi has prioritized his nationalist and authoritarian agenda above Hong Kong's value as a financial center. The territory has entered a countdown, never to be the same again. Xi no longer wants or needs it as a buffer zone, and instead he senses the danger of foreign ideas such as democracy diffusing from there into China. (ANI)