Hong Kong’s descent started in 1997 when the Chinese Communist Party took over the city from the British government. Since then, for more than two decades, Hongkongers have witnessed the CCP’s gradual erosion of their freedoms. The pandemic presented the CCP a perfect opportunity to accelerate its control of the city and its 7.5 million residents.
Last summer, Beijing imposed a draconian National Security Law on Hong Kong, bypassing Hong Kong’s local legislature. Dennis Kwok, a pro-democracy legislator in Hong Kong, said Beijing’s action “basically means the end of ‘One Country, Two Systems.'” Hong Kongers and the rest of the world didn’t even know what the law entailed until the Hong Kong government posted it on its website on midnight of June 30, 2020, as the law went into effect.
The NSL criminalizes any act of “secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with a foreign country or external elements,” with a maximum penalty of life in prison. The definition of each supposed “crime” and even what constitutes “national security” is so vaguely defined, however, a mere tweet supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement could land one in jail.
To enforce the NSL, Beijing established a new security agency in Hong Kong with broad power, including taking over certain Hong Kong police cases. This agency is exempt from complying with Hong Kong’s Basic Law — a de facto constitution. All those it arrests will be tried in the mainland, meaning the accused won’t have due process, adequate legal representation, or a fair trial.
The NSL also grants Hong Kong police unprecedented power, including “the ability to conduct warrantless searches, seize property, investigate suspects, intercept communications, freeze assets, and prevent people from leaving.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, eight months since NSL went into effect, Hong Kong “has all but been brought to heel.” Beijing has applied the law on multiple fronts to crack down on dissents and dismantle institutions established to protect the liberty of Hong Kongers and ensure the rule of law.
Jailing Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Leaders
Last August, Hong Kong police arrested prominent activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, media tycoon Jimmy Lai, and others for their involvement in 2019’s anti-extradition bill protests. Wong, Chow, and Ivan Lam received their prison sentences in December, while Lai fought his charge.
In the same month, mainland China’s coast guard arrested a group of 12 activists, known as “HK12,” who tried to flee Hong Kong via speed boat. Their ages range from 16 to 33. Under the NSL, the HK12 were detained in a mainland jail and received up to three-year prison sentences by a mainland court, despite their families’ repeated requests to have them tried in a Hong Kong court.
Hong Kong police arrested another group of 11 Hong Kongers, accusing them of assisting the HK12 in escaping the city. Another group of nine activists, including Lai and 82-year-old pro-democracy veteran Martin Lee, are currently under trial in Hong Kong and could be sentenced to prison for up to five years.
Eliminating Opposition in the Hong Kong Legislature
Last summer, Hong Kong authorities used the NSL to disqualify a dozen pro-democracy candidates, including sitting opposition legislators and activists, running in the city’s upcoming legislative elections. Beijing then issued a decree that demands the Hong Kong government bypass local courts to expel legislators who “support independence for the territory, endanger national security and refuse to recognize China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong.”
A block of 15 opposition lawmakers quit the legislature in protest. Citing the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse, Beijing-appointed Hong Kong chief Carrie Lam postponed Hong Kong’s legislative election for a year. Then, on Jan. 6 of this year, more than 1,000 Hong Kong police were deployed to arrest 53 people — including six organizers and 47 participants of an unofficial democratic primary — and to identify candidates for the next legislative election.
Just last Sunday, Hong Kong authorities formally charged 47 former lawmakers and activists with conspiring to subvert state power under the NSL. Some of them could be sentenced to life in prison. Apparently, to the CCP and Hong Kong’s puppet government, practicing the democratic process is a threat to national security.
The CCP is not satisfied with jailing candidates. At its March meeting, China’s rubber-stamp legislature will pass a new law to change the Hong Kong’s legislature’s composition permanently. It’ll take away “117 seats assigned to Hong Kong’s district councilors, a bloc now dominated by opposition groups” and reassign these seats to “true patriots,” people who will take orders from Beijing.
Attacking Hong Kong Judiciary’s Independence
With Hong Kong’s executive branch in firm control of Beijing loyalists and Beijing’s successful elimination of any opposition in Hong Kong’s legislature, Hong Kong’s judiciary is the last line of defense of Hong Kongers’ freedom.
Yet, for several years now, Beijing has interfered with Hong Kong’s judiciary, including sending mainland Chinese police to Hong Kong to arrest Hong Kong booksellers and a Chinese tycoon, bypassing Hong Kong’s judicial system. The extradition bill of 2019, proposed by pro-Beijing legislators and supported Lam, was another attempt to weaken Hong Kong’s judiciary by attempting to make Hong Kong surrender anyone Beijing wanted to the mainland. Lam only withdrew the bill after facing mass protests for months.
Mainland state media and officials often openly criticize Hong Kong’s judges, the criticism becoming so vicious that Hong Kong’s chief justice Geoffrey Ma has taken a very unusual move by issuing a statement warning against attacks on the city’s judiciary. Since NSL went into effect, only Beijing-approved judges are allowed to take on any cases related to the NSL.
While some independent-minded judges chose to retire rather than kowtow to Beijing’s pressure, The Wall Street Journal reports Beijing is determined to make Hong Kong’s judiciary more like that in the mainland because “an independent justice system is incompatible with that of the mainland, where judges are considered part of the political apparatus that implements the party’s ruling.”
Brainwashing Hong Kong’s Youths
This February, Hong Kong authorities announced mandatory “patriotic” education starting in kindergarten that will teach kids in elementary schools to obey the NSL. According to The Wall Street Journal, Hong Kong authorities are rewriting textbooks so Hong Kong youth as young as six years old will learn “there is no room for debate or compromise” regarding national security, and teachers should “cultivate students’s sense of responsibility to safeguard national security.”
Hong Kong’s second executive, Donald Tsang, attempted to introduce similar education in 2010, seeking to mold Hong Kong school children into the loyal citizens Beijing wants. Even he eventually withdrew his plan amid protest more than a decade ago. No one dares to protest this time due to the fear of facing severe punishment under the NSL.
Additionally, Hong Kong authorities have tightened their control of local media and the internet, including blocking Hong Kongers from accessing specific sites, something that never happened in Hong Kong in the past. No wonder Hong Kongers complain the crackdowns under NSL have been “as effectively as guns and tanks did in Beijing in 1989 when crowds of student protesters were cut down around Tiananmen Square.”
Hong Kong’s transformation from a free society into an authoritarian state demonstrates the CCP’s true nature: it is hostile to liberal values. It is bent on destroying them when it has the power and opportunities to do so. If leaders in Western democracies continue to ignore this reality and fail to effectively push back on the CCP now, Taiwan may well be next in line.