By Fr. Gianni Criveller, PIME
Even after SARS – in 2003 – Beijing tried in vain to introduce a “national security law” that would gag Hong Kong’s democracy. Today, Xi Jinping is trying to empty the local parliament, where the opposition will have a majority in September. Carrie Lam says she will help implement the law.
An unfortunate historical appeal is taking place in Hong Kong. After the SARS outbreak in 2003, the government attempted to introduce a national security law, which is happening today following the Coronavirus impact. Though, this time, we fear that there will not be a happy ending. It is difficult to find more words to write about the danger to which Hong Kong is currently exposed. Some think that we are alarmists; there were no tanks in Hong Kong, so you might think that things have not gotten out of hand. The world has its head elsewhere.
On May 18th, fifteen well-known leaders of the democratic opposition appeared in court. Their case will be resumed on June 15th, for five of them the charges have been widened, including for our friend Lee Cheuk-yan, with very severe sentences of up to five years in prison.
The worst news comes from Beijing, where the National People’s Congress, the most important annual political event in China, is taking place. The discussion within this Congress is entirely fictitious. It only serves to formally endorse what has already been decided in the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the real body that governs China. The Central Committee counts less since President Xi Jinping has concentrated all his power on himself, as only Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping had done in the past.
A bill has been tabled that sends shivers down the spine of those who love Hong Kong its youth, people, freedom, and democracy. The new law introduces empirical rules for national security in Hong Kong. It will be incorporated as a new “third annex” to the Basic Law. This mini-constitution governs the city’s “high degree of autonomy.”
The law, which consists of seven articles, includes provisions punishing crimes such as treason, secession, sedition, subversion, and foreign interference. It is not difficult to imagine how the regulations will be conveniently used to suppress the popular protest that began on June 9th, 2019, and any other form of opposition. With such laws in China, all types of dissent are condemned, with the death penalty a possible outcome.
Particularly disturbing to us is the fourth article: “If necessary, the central government will establish bodies in Hong Kong to implement national security safeguards.” This provision would lead to the depletion of the power of parliament and local government in favor of an all political office that has never been seen in Hong Kong’s history. The drastic downsizing of the parliament is particularly worrisome because the opposition parties are predicted to win out in the elections next September, as they did for the district elections last November.
It will be the end of “one country – two systems” and the “high degree of autonomy,” the two principles that govern Hong Kong today. We will have important tests in the coming weeks: the vigil for the massacre in Tiananmen Square on June 4th, the first anniversary of the beginning of the protest demonstrations on June 9th; and the traditional protest march on July 1st.
In the summer of 2003, an attempt was made to introduce a national security law; it happened in the aftermath of the SARS outbreak. The chief executive at the time, Tung Chee-Hwa, had the reasoning to withdraw the law after a single mass demonstration on July 1st of that year. Several ministers resigned, and Tung himself paid the political price with his exit. A choice that restored some dignity to the man; Hong Kong was saved for many years to come.
Today’s government, led by Carrie Lam, has had hundreds of demonstrations against it, and more massive than that of July 1st, 2003. Now, there is a new pandemic, and attempts are once again made to introduce the law of liberticide. This law would prevent Hong Kong from having the progressive democratization that it had been promised, and it would also take away what it already has. Lam has rushed to say that the Hong Kong government will “cooperate fully” in the implementation of this law. The Minister of Education said that students would have to study it thoroughly. Carrie Lam, I write with pain, will go down in Hong Kong history as the political figure that has done it the most damage.
In the past few days, Allan Lee, a long-time politician from the business world, founder of the Liberal Party, and a member of the pro-Chinese camp (a communist as a boy) has died. Internationally he was perhaps little known, but in Hong Kong, he was a familiar face. I remember him well. He cared about Hong Kong’s welfare. After the demonstration on July 1st, 2003, he committed himself to convince Beijing to stop the implementation of the national security law. He dared to be heard. Allan Lee spent his last years as a right-wing, moderate man as he had become, demanding full democracy and freedom for Hong Kong. Today, the pro-government camp lacks Allan Lee’s hardened men. Only people without political dignity are in power; people without courage, opportunists, enslaved to the power of the strongest. It is not only the “reckless young people” that want democracy in Hong Kong. Democracy and freedom in Hong Kong is a serious matter, wanted by the best people in our beloved city.
As I have written in the past, things are not difficult to understand: they are what they seem. The threats of a regime that is an enemy of freedom, democracy, and human rights are not bound to strike a blow. As long as we can, we will say that the end of Hong Kong is being prepared.