Downing Street urges China to respect Hong Kong’s freedom

Daniel Fowler
May 23, 2020

Hong Kong was plunged into its biggest political crisis since the former British colony's return to Chinese rule in 1997, with a wave of protests against a now withdrawn extradition bill which would see people sent to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labelled the proposal as "disastrous".

Reacting to China's plans for a Hong Kong national security law, outspoken media tycoon Jimmy Lai (黎智英) tweeted Saturday (May 23) he would fight to the end because Hong Kong is his home.

Mr Pompeo's intervention is likely to infuriate the Chinese government, whose relations with the United States have been strained recently by disputes over trade and the coronavirus pandemic. Privacy advocates are concerned that the law could lead to increased surveillance and censorship in Hong Kong, hence the rush by residents to download VPNs. "It's clear that the people in Hong Kong feel their freedom is being directly threatened".

Communist Party rulers in Beijing unveiled details on Friday at the National People's Congress.

Pompeo has called the proposal a "decision to bypass Hong Kong's well-established legislative processes and ignore the will of the people of Hong Kong".

The Chinese government conceptualizes "national security" in such a broad manner that people exercising their basic human rights and defending them peacefully, including activists, human rights lawyers, scholars, ethnic minorities, and netizens, are detained and imprisoned for years - sometimes for life - for crimes such as "subversion", "inciting subversion", "splittism", and "leaking state secrets". "That will be the end of Hong Kong".

As local commentators have suggested: "There will be more Liu Xiaobo not only in China, but also Hong Kong".

Activists say the new laws could be a knockout blow for Hong Kong's one country, two systems deal with China.

If these special agents are allowed to operate in Hong Kong according to the law, more and more cases of covert abduction or punishment outside the law can be expected.

U.S. President Donald Trump warned Washington would react "very strongly" if Beijing went ahead with the security law.

What is in Beijing's proposed law?

The "draft decision" - as it is known before approval by the NPC - was explained by Wang Chen, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC.

It consists of an introduction and seven articles. Article 4 may prove the most controversial.

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What does this mean for "One country, Two systems"?

The ministers said the joint declaration provides that rights and freedoms, including freedoms of the press and of people to assemble and associate, be ensured in Hong Kong law.

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The definition of "treason, sedition and subversion" is open to interpretation and is often used very loosely as a pretext to silence opposition voices. Up to now, the worst charge most arrested protesters have faced has been for rioting.

The US reacted swiftly, with US Department of State spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus warning that imposing such a law would be "highly destabilizing, and would be met with strong condemnation from the United States and the global community".

Why is China doing this?

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, meanwhile, said national security in Hong Kong was "purely" an internal affair and "no country has the right to interfere".

While the seven-month-long agitation a year ago in which millions took part subsided during the coronavirus crisis from January to April, protestors returned to streets this month, with the pro-autonomy and pro-freedom legislators grappling with the security officials in local legislature protesting against the curbs.

"This is nearly like a nuclear option, which once you use it, everyone will get hurt, and it will be very hard to build Hong Kong back up again", Kwok told the conservative Heritage Foundation by videoconference.

Beijing has repeatedly alleged that the pro-democracy camp was receiving support from the Central Intelligence Agency in the United States, as well as other foreign governments.

What is Hong Kong's legal situation?

Hong Kong was under British control for more than 150 years up to 1997.

This was enshrined in the Basic Law, which runs out in 2047.

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