It is no exaggeration to say that the actions of the Chinese Communist Party and the Hong Kong Executive in the past twenty four hours might mean the end of Hong Kong as we know it. We must now do our duty and stand up to China.
National security legislation in Hong Kong — tied to Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law — has been one of the most controversial issues in the territory’s politics since handover in 1997. All the way back in 2003, 500,000 people marched from Victoria Park to the Government of Hong Kong’s Central Offices. Draconian provisions had been mooted that undermined the principles of free speech and other civil liberties that we take for granted every day in the West.
That protest, now nearly two decades ago, led to the legislation being dropped. Today, after a year of protests against increasing mission creep from Beijing in the internal workings of Hong Kong the Chinese Communist Party is now opportunistically using the West’s distraction with their domestic health crises. National security legislation is set to be introduced to Hong Kong via Annex III of the Basic Law. Hong Kongers are left worried, angry, and calling for help.
The way in which China is attempting to ram these so called “security laws” makes a mockery of Hong Kong’s legislative system. By passing it through the National People’s Congress, little other than a reflexive rubber-stamping organ of the CCP, China is attempting to manoeuvre around Hong Kong’s Basic Law that is intended to ensure Hong Kong has autonomy over its own security legislation.
It is hard to fathom that the CCP could bring itself any lower than it had through its shameful treatment of Uighur Muslims and the unforgivable way it tried to silence coronavirus whistleblowers.
And yet as we battle this pandemic, likely at a huge disadvantage given the CCP’s reticence to be open and transparent, it has found a way to stoop even lower: it is now attempting to deliver a killing blow to the principle of “One Country, Two Systems” in Hong Kong while it thinks the world is looking the other way.
The West has spoken up, with the US Secretary of State Pompeo saying the imposition of this law by Beijing would be the “death knell for the high degree of autonomy Beijing promised for Hong Kong under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.” Britain’s Dominic Raab spoke out in tandem with Australia and Canada in a joint statement saying that “making such a law on Hong Kong’s behalf without the direct participation of its people, legislature or judiciary would clearly undermine the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’.”
Bold words, but talk is cheap. Hong Kongers want to know what the reaction is going to be in concrete terms. That the West won’t condemn Beijing’s actions while standing idly by at a distance.
So the real question is what we do about it. How do we confront China’s encroachments on Hong Kong’s freedoms?
The UK is obligated under the Sino British Joint Declaration to uphold the rights of Hong Kong citizens until 2047. While it can’t act within the territory itself, it can and must fight to uphold and improve the rights of Hong Kongers.
By extending British National Overseas status to all Hong Kongers born before and after the 1997 handover and an extension of residency rights, the UK can offer itself as a haven for those civil liberties here that are becoming increasingly jeopardised in Hong Kong itself. As highly educated, English speaking and uniquely cognisant of democratic process, the UK could serve as a more than adequate home away from home.
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Democratic freedom in Hong Kong is at breaking point. If we do not stand with Hong Kong now, then the spirit of democracy will be lost to the barbarous and authoritarian urges of the Chinese regime.
John MacDonald is Head of Government Affairs at the Adam Smith Institute.