[WSMDiscuss] China Moves to Tighten Its Control of Hong Kong

Jai Sen jai.sen at cacim.net
Fri May 22 02:58:09 CEST 2020

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Viruses in movement…, China in movement…, Hong Kong in movement…, Freedoms in movement…

·      China plans new national security law for Hong Kong (al-Jazeera)

·      China Moves to Tighten Its Control of Hong Kong (New York Times)

[Huge news, on the resistance front, and perhaps now moving to a countdown stage.  Last year’s historic stage of massive resistance is opening up again.  China’s rulers are clearly now planning to go through the portals that they perceive, internationally and domestically.  Even as they ‘open up’ the economy and country in relation to the pandemic, and even as China fights off attacks from the West in particular about its handling of the corona virus, they are taking this historic and unexpected gift of a moment in world imagination to also ‘deal’ with a festering sore in their side, and to shut that down / tie that up.  But which, given the history of last year – and before - is sure to be met with huge resistance from within Hong Kong :    
China plans new national security law for Hong Kong

Chinese state media confirms Beijing's plan to push through the law in a move likely to stoke more unrest in Hong Kong


https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/china-plans-national-security-laws-hong-kong-200521135932850.html <https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/china-plans-national-security-laws-hong-kong-200521135932850.html>

The Chinese parliament will discuss the controversial new laws at its annual session [Andy Wong/Pool/AP Photo]

China will propose a national security law for Hong Kong in response to last year's often violent pro-democracy protests that plunged the city into its deepest turmoil since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, state news agency Xinhua has said.

The Chinese parliament will discuss the controversial new law at its annual session, Xinhua said, in a move likely to stoke unrest in the semi-autonomous region. The legislation will be introduced at the meeting of the National People's Congress that opens on Friday.


Hong Kong legislators trade blows as China anthem law looms <https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/hong-kong-lawmakers-trade-blows-china-anthem-law-looms-200518040708429.html?utm_source=website&utm_medium=article_page&utm_campaign=read_more_links>
Hong Kong activists charged over last year's demonstrations <https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/hong-kong-activists-charged-year-demonstrations-200518090237615.html?utm_source=website&utm_medium=article_page&utm_campaign=read_more_links>
Hong Kong probe exonerates police over protest handling <https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/hong-kong-probe-exonerates-police-protest-handling-200515102811043.html?utm_source=website&utm_medium=article_page&utm_campaign=read_more_links>
Xinhua said a preparatory meeting for a Chinese parliament session adopted an agenda that included an item to review a bill "on establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to safeguard national security".

The South China Morning Post newspaper, citing unnamed sources, said the laws would ban secession, foreign interference, "terrorism" and all seditious activities aimed at toppling the central government and any external interference in the former British colony.

Reporting from Beijing, Al Jazeera's Katrina Yu said the legislation signifies Beijing taking "into their own hands" the political unrest in Hong Kong that sparked nearly a year of intermittent protests beginning in June of 2019.

Those protests were initially in response to an extradition bill introduced in Hong Kong's legislature that would allow Beijing to extradite accused individuals to the mainland to face trial. The bill was stalled and later withdrawn.

"What will happen, as we understand it, [China's parliament] will make an amendment to the basic law, which is Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, using a legal back door which essentially allows it to bypass the usual legislative processes in Hong Kong," Yu said.

"This is because, as Beijing sees, there's simply too much opposition from pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong, so they're going to have to put this in themselves and make this very strong imposition of their power," she added.

Hong Kong was returned to China from British rule in 1997 under the so-called "one country two systems" arrangement, in which the region maintained some autonomy, including a separate judiciary and more civil liberties for its citizens. The arrangement is set to end in 2047. 

Suspect timing

Emily Lau, a leading member of Hong Kong's Democratic Party, told Al Jazeera that residents of Hong Kong are "very concerned, very alarmed, and very disturbed" over fears the new legislation "will take away our freedoms, will take away our personal safety and the rule of law".

"Now it seems like [Beijing] is breaking up all the promises and they want to legislate for us," she said. 

Meanwhile, Maya Wang, a senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch, described the move as "the end of Hong Kong", tweeting that the development was "alarming not only for its people but also for the world".

"#HongKong has been the safe harbour for dissent; it's the light, the conscience, the voice that speaks truth to an increasingly powerful China," she wrote.

Reporting from Hong Kong, Al Jazeera's Adrian Brown said China's parliament appeared to be seizing on coronavirus pandemic restrictions in the semi-autonomous region, where gatherings of more than eight people are banned.

"Of course the timing of this is very significant. It may well be that a decision was taken by the leadership in Beijing to push through this legislation now because of course it's difficult for people to protest in Hong Kong," he said.

While protests have been smaller since the outbreak began, they have persisted through the pandemic.

On Monday, 15 veteran pro-democracy activists appeared in a Hong Kong court for the beginning of their organising and taking part in last year's assemblies.

The arrests sparked criticism from the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United Nations' human rights body, the latter saying non-violent activists should not be prosecuted for attending unsanctioned rallies.

Warning from US

Beijing's latest move prompted a swift warning from the United States, with President Donald Trump, who has ramped up criticism of China as he seeks re-election in November, saying Washington would react "very strongly" against any attempt by Beijing to gain more control over the former British colony.

US Department of State spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus added that "any effort to impose national security legislation that does not reflect the will of the people of Hong Kong would be highly destabilising, and would be met with strong condemnation from the United States and the international community".

The proposed legislation could be a turning point for China's freest and most international city, potentially triggering a revision of its special status in Washington and likely to spark more unrest.

Online posts have already emerged urging people to gather to protest on Thursday night and dozens were seen shouting pro-democracy slogans in a shopping mall as riot police stood nearby.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

China Moves to Tighten Its Control of Hong Kong

New security laws would allow Beijing to take aim at the protests that have roiled the semiautonomous city and posed a direct challenge to the Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping

Keith Bradsher <https://www.nytimes.com/by/keith-bradsher>, Austin Ramzy <https://www.nytimes.com/by/austin-ramzy>, and Tiffany May <https://www.nytimes.com/by/tiffany-may>, New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/21/world/asia/hong-kong-china.html?referringSource=articleShare <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/21/world/asia/hong-kong-china.html?referringSource=articleShare>

Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, arriving at a gathering of a top advisory body to the central government in Beijing on Thursday.Credit...Pool photo by Andy Wong

BEIJING — China signaled on Thursday it would move forward with laws that would take aim at antigovernment protests and other dissent in Hong Kong. It is the clearest message yet that the Communist Party is moving to undermine the civil liberties the semiautonomous territory has known since the 1997 British handoff.

The proposal to enact new security laws affecting Hong Kong was announced ahead of the annual meeting of China’s legislature, which is expected to approve a broad outline of the plan. While specifics of the proposal were not immediately disclosed, the rules could be harsher than anything Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government has done to curb opposition to the mainland.

The freedoms that have distinguished Hong Kong from the mainland, like an unfettered judiciary and freedom of assembly, have helped the former British colony prosper as a global city of commerce and capital. But the proposal raised the possibility that the Beijing government would damage the “one country, two systems” policy that has ensured such liberties since the territory was reclaimed by China.

The plan also revives the threat of violent demonstrations that convulsed the city for months <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/06/world/hong-kong-protests-resume-after-carrie-lam-offers-olive-branch.html>, and risks worsening China’s deteriorating relationship with the Trump administration, which said the United States would respond strongly to any crackdown in Hong Kong.

In the Communist Party’s view, tightened security laws in Hong Kong are necessary to protect China from external forces determined to impinge on its sovereignty. The legislation would give Beijing power to counter the Hong Kong protests, which are seen as a blatant challenge to the party and China’s leader, Xi Jinping.

Security rules proposed by the Hong Kong government in 2003 would have empowered the authorities to close seditious newspapers and conduct searches without warrants. That proposal was abandoned after it triggered large protests.

Protesters clashed with riot police after a march in Hong Kong last August (2019).  Credit...Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

This time, China is effectively circumventing the Hong Kong government, undercutting the relative autonomy granted to the territory. Instead, it is going through China’s rubber stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, which holds its annual session starting Friday.

Zhang Yesui, spokesman for the National People’s Congress, said at a news briefing on Thursday that delegates would review a plan to create a legal framework and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong. He did not elaborate on the details of the plan.

“National security is the bedrock underpinning the stability of the country,” Mr. Zhang said. “Safeguarding national security serves the fundamental interest of all Chinese, Hong Kong compatriots included.”

In a clear effort to head off international concerns, China’s Foreign Ministry sent a letter on Thursday night to ambassadors posted to Beijing, urging them to support the legislation and laying out the government’s position.

“The opposition in Hong Kong have long colluded with external forces to carry out acts of secession, subversion, infiltration and destruction against the Chinese mainland,” the letter stated.

It drew criticism from Morgan Ortagus, the State Department spokeswoman in Washington. “Any effort to impose national security legislation that does not reflect the will of the people of Hong Kong would be highly destabilizing, and would be met with strong condemnation from the United States and the international community,” she said.

The protests in Hong Kong started in June last year after the local government tried to enact an extradition law that would have allowed residents to be transferred to the mainland to face an opaque and often harsh judicial system. Though the Hong Kong authorities later withdrew the bill, the demonstrations continued over broader political demands, including a call for free elections and an independent investigation into police conduct.

An antigovernment protest in Hong Kong last October (2019)  Credit...Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

The Hong Kong government and protesters have both adopted largely uncompromising positions, and demonstrations often descended into clashes between protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and police officers firing tear gas and rubber bullets. While the protests have been muted during the coronavirus pandemic, the frustrations in the city have simmered.

And as the protests have persisted, Beijing has become increasingly vocal in its objections.

China has denounced the protests as acts of terrorism and accused Western nations of fomenting the unrest. The party’s Central Committee, a conclave of about 370 senior officials, set the legislative measures in motion in October when it announced after a four-day meeting <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/31/world/asia/hong-kong-protests-china.html> that it would roll out new steps to “safeguard national security <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/06/world/asia/hong-kong-protests-china-national-security.html>” in Hong Kong.

Mr. Xi, one of China’s most powerful leaders in decades, warned in December that the party would not allow challenges to its authority or the interference of “external forces,” a veiled rebuke to the protest movement in Hong Kong.

One month later, the party signaled it was taking a harder line when it replaced its top representative in Hong Kong <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/04/world/asia/china-hong-kong-wang-zhimin.html> with a senior official with a record of working closely with the security services. Whereas the party had until recently left the handling of the crisis to the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, Beijing is now weighing in more directly with warnings not to test its patience.

On Thursday, the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, and Xinhua, the state-run news agency, ran commentaries calling for the “tumor” of pro-independence sentiment in Hong Kong to be excised. Neither specified how this might be done.

Chinese officials have long been frustrated that the Hong Kong government has been unable to pass its own security legislation. Article 23 of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution governing Hong Kong’s status under China, requires the territory to “enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition and subversion” against the Chinese government.

The protests have only intensified the calls for such rules. Pro-Beijing leaders in Hong Kong have said that stringent laws are needed to prevent further street violence and protect China’s national sovereignty.

The legislation to be put forward in Beijing is “not necessarily a stopgap measure but a necessary means to plug some glaring loopholes in Hong Kong’s national security laws,” said Lau Siu-kai, a former senior Hong Kong government official who is now vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, an elite Beijing advisory group.

Mr. Lau said that the legislature would pave the way for its top committee to draft security laws specific to Hong Kong. Beijing blames much of the unrest in the semiautonomous territory on interference by unseen foreign forces, and the focus of the coming legislation would be to stop that meddling, he said.

“The main purpose is to demonstrate Beijing’s determination and ability to safeguard sovereignty and national security and to end the turmoil in Hong Kong,” he added.

Almost immediately, the move by the Chinese legislature prompted concerns about the ramifications for Hong Kong and condemnation by the city’s democracy advocates.

On internet forums and chat groups frequently used to organize protests, some people expressed concerns about whether their past conversations could implicate them should the new laws be passed. Others urged users to download virtual private networking services to cloak their identities, while some debated whether to delete their chat histories and disband the discussion groups.

“Hong Kong independence is the only way out,” chanted a group of protesters gathered in a luxury shopping mall on Thursday.

Users flocked to LIHKG, a Reddit-like forum popular with protesters, to trade jokes about how the impending legislation would change life in the city. Some users said they would swear allegiance to China with oaths laced with references to the protests, while others bid farewell to the city as they knew it.

Nathan Law, a pro-democracy advocate, urged protesters not to give up. “At this time last year, didn’t we believe that the extradition law was sure to pass? Hong Kongers have always created miracles,” he wrote on Facebook.

The imposition of security legislation in Hong Kong also represents a fresh blow to the confidence of investors, tourists and others who have helped propel the city to prosperity over the past half century.

The streets of Mong Kok, in Hong Kong.  Credit...Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Retail sales started dropping last summer during the city’s street protests and further slumped as the coronavirus epidemic took hold. Rents and real estate prices have started to fall. Some of the city’s citizens and expatriates are looking to more politically stable islands, like Singapore and Taiwan, to live and park their cash.

Hong Kong has long served to channel money between China and the outside world. But a broader security crackdown by Beijing may prompt more investors to worry that Hong Kong is no longer beyond China’s authoritarian reach.

“This is the end of Hong Kong,” said Dennis Kwok, an opposition lawmaker. “I foresee that the international status of Hong Kong as a city — an international city — will be gone very soon.”

Keith Bradsher reported from Beijing, and Austin Ramzy and Tiffany May from Hong Kong. Elaine Yu and Ezra Cheung contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Edward Wong from Washington.


Jai Sen

Independent researcher, editor; Senior Fellow at the School of International Development and Globalisation Studies at the University of Ottawa

jai.sen at cacim.net <mailto:jai.sen at cacim.net>
Now based in New Delhi, India (+91-98189 11325) and in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded and unsurrendered Anishinaabe territory (+1-613-282 2900) 

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Jai Sen, ed, 2018a – The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance. Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
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