[WSMDiscuss] China’s crackdown on Hong Kong threatens the city’s status as a haven for human-rights groups (Nathan VanderKlippe)

Jai Sen jai.sen at cacim.net
Tue May 26 16:52:02 CEST 2020

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

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

[This article raises an important additional dimension to the main story about what is unfolding in Hong Kong : The simultaneous assault on free thinking, and on Hong Kong as a world centre of free – and often radical – thinking.  This – the ‘world’ nature of the city - is an important dimension to this article that is there but yet not quite there, and perhaps needs to be spelt out.  On the one hand, though it doesn’t quite say this, it seems to be primarily referring to “activists who had fled China” – and even though it also refers to “… groups pursuing social justice, labour rights and democracy”.  To my understanding anyway, Hong Kong is and has long been a key location for ‘international’ civil organisations, for whom the geographic location of Hong Kong – a location of free thinking right at the centre of Southeast Asia, and also providing (as the article does say) “an operational base on the fringe of the [Chinese] mainland” – has surely been a very important reason why the city is now what it is for international civil society, and just it is (in a highly ironic way) also for international (read ‘western’) finance capital. 

[In short, I think the qualifier ‘international’ – and here signifying ‘western’ - is therefore missing in this article, and where this surely must also be a factor, even if secondary, in the Chinese state’s calculations for its present moves.

[In relation to this, it’s interesting – and important - to also see here the analytical lens through which such groups are seen by one pro-China person who was interviewed : “Groups that involve themselves in politics – I don’t think they can be regarded as NGOs or charitable groups at all.”  In short, this is exactly the way that such organisations are now seen by the establishment so widely across the world, and again reveals the fuzzy edges of the concept of so-called ‘civil society’ and of terms such as ‘NGOs’; and where my sense is that this fuzziness itself is now widely under assault, and it’s time that such organisations all over the world wake up to this if they / we want to be part of the process of redefinition, and not just the casualties.

[And where in the case of Hong Kong anyway, this assault will surely also be on educational institutions and what they do, and where as last year showed, the students they produce were a key part of the resistance that broke out… 

China’s crackdown on Hong Kong threatens the city’s status as a haven for human-rights groups

Nathan VanderKlippe

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/world/article-chinas-crackdown-on-hong-kong-will-end-its-status-as-a-haven-for/ <https://www.theglobeandmail.com/world/article-chinas-crackdown-on-hong-kong-will-end-its-status-as-a-haven-for/>

A masked anti-government protester holds a flag supporting Hong Kong independence during a march against Beijing's plans to impose national security legislation in Hong Kong, China, May 24, 2020.  (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Beijing’s looming imposition of a security law on Hong Kong has spread fear through charities and advocacy groups in the city, as China prepares to go after foreign-backed organizations deemed to interfere in local affairs or carry out “destructive” or “subversive” activities.

For decades, Hong Kong was a haven for civil society, a safe place for activists who had fled China and an operational base on the fringe of the mainland for groups pursuing social justice, labour rights and democracy.

Now those groups are contemplating whether they can continue to exist as China prepares a national security law for Hong Kong that will take aim at what Beijing deems “foreign interference.” It’s a charge mainland authorities already routinely level against advocacy groups in the city.

“Hong Kong has been a refuge to Chinese activists and civil society groups. And the law would likely eliminate that refuge,” said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

A draft order released by China’s National People’s Congress, the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, says the new law should oppose “any foreign or overseas forces interfering in the affairs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in any fashion,” according to an English rendering by China Law Translate. The draft also pledges to “stop and punish foreign and overseas forces’ use of Hong Kong to carry out separatist, subversive, infiltrative, or destructive activities.“




Chief executive Carrie Lam tried to reassure people China's new security law will not hurt Hong Kong's rights and freedoms, as the city prepared for more protests Wednesday. Reuters

The law itself has yet to be made public, and the Hong Kong Department of Justice said Monday that “it is inappropriate for anyone to make unwarranted speculations on the content of the legislation.” On Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing will target ”a very narrow category of acts that seriously jeopardize national security,” while leaving unaffected “the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents or the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong.”

But the draft directive follows Beijing’s sustained attacks on some non-governmental organizations operating in Hong Kong, particularly those that focus on human rights.

In December, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying singled out five organizations for playing an “egregious role” in the violent protests that swept Hong Kong last summer and fall. The National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House “have supported anti-China plotters who messed up Hong Kong through various means,” Ms. Hua alleged.

The Hong Kong Police Force has also rebuked Amnesty International after it documented police brutality toward protesters, including torture in detention. In September, Chief Superintendent John Tse accused Amnesty of distributing “malicious rumours” that “have affected the citizens’ confidence in the Hong Kong police.”

“The potential impact of this national security legislation could be very damaging to the work that we and others are doing,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, who leads Amnesty International’s China team. For now, Hong Kong remains a viable place for Amnesty to do its work, he said. But “the tone of the language in the NPC decision is worrying and forces us – along with many other organizations based in Hong Kong – to keep a watchful eye,” he said.

But there is little cause for concern, said Wang Zhenyao, founding dean of the China Global Philanthropy Institute, which is dedicated to cultivating generosity in China. The new security law will make Hong Kong’s NGOs “more healthy,” said Mr. Wang, a former official in China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs. Most of Hong Kong’s charitable organizations have nothing to fear – even those  that operate with money from overseas. “If we can see that the source of the foreign funding has never been involved in activities that could harm national interests,” then the flow of that money “won’t be affected by this law at all,” Mr. Wang said.
Still, he suggested certain groups should not be considered NGOs.

“Groups that involve themselves in politics – I don’t think they can be regarded as NGOs or charitable groups at all.” After all, ”what country would allow its people to destroy subway exits and burn everything up?”

Those most at risk in Hong Kong are groups that operate with money from what Christine Loh, the chief development strategist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, called a “politically connected funder,” such as those backed by the U.S. State Department. “There may also be other funding bodies where the funding of projects come from state-sponsored sources,” said Prof. Loh, a former politician who has operated a think tank in the city and has founded several non-profits.

A national security law passed in 2009 by Macau, which holds similar legal standing in China to Hong Kong, criminalizes links with foreign political groups for donations or for “the collection, preparation or public dissemination of false or grossly distorted news.” In China, strict laws place NGOs under official control and have made it difficult for groups to operate with foreign funding.

In Hong Kong, further worry has arisen over a provision in the draft security law order that says organs of the Chinese government “relevant for the protection of national security are to set up institutions” in the city. Such a security apparatus “could have very penetrating investigative power,” said Albert Ho, a former legislator with Hong Kong’s Democratic Party. “That itself is already very scary. It could create a lot of intimidation and harassment on Hong Kong NGOs.”

The fear is that “the scope of the new legislation could affect a very broad spectrum of business, civil society and educational institutions in Hong Kong,” said Geoffrey Crothall, the director of communications for China Labour Bulletin, which is dedicated to workers’ rights in China.

International human-rights conventions “require a safe, enabling environment for civil society,” said Mi Ling Tsui, the communications director for Human Rights in China, a Hong Kong-based group. “If Beijing claims that foreign support for Hong Kong NGOs and rights advocates is foreign interference, how would it characterize foreign investments in Chinese-owned companies?”

But if Beijing does take a strict approach to civil society in Hong Kong, it could force major change.

To adapt, some groups may “learn from their counterparts in China by operating under the radar,” Mr. Adams of Human Rights Watch said. Some may “stop being critical of the government. Others would relocate.”

With reporting by Alexandra Li


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) 

CURRENT / RECENT publications :

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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