Beijing’s Assault on Hong Kong’s Freedoms Poses Global Threat: Activists

July 1, 2020 Updated: July 2, 2020

Beijing’s latest move to suffocate Hong Kong via a national security law should prompt the world to unite in confronting the authoritarian power, Hong Kong activists told U.S. officials during a July 1 congressional hearing. They warned that if not stopped, the Chinese regime would be emboldened to take more aggressive actions further out from its shores.

“We are actually facing a global fight,” Nathan Law, a prominent Hong Kong activist currently studying at Yale University, said at a House foreign affairs committee hearing on July 1, just hours after Hong Kong police began making arrests of protesters under the new law.

“We should hold hands together and to suppress these authoritarian expansionists,” he said, adding that “fighting for democracy” in the foreground of Hong Kong is “helping the world preserve its democracy and its values.”

Chinese influence has already permeated American society through covert agents, coercion, and open threats, the activists said.

Popular conferencing platform Zoom, which has Chinese servers and employs hundreds of R&D staff in China, recently suspended three activists’ accounts in the United States and Hong Kong over events commemorating the 31st anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Lee Cheuk-yan, a Hong Kong union leader and social activist who testified at the hearing, was among them.

Zoom quickly reinstated the accounts after mounting backlash. The company admitted that it did so under instructions from Chinese authorities because it has to comply with “requests from local authorities.”

The sweeping national security law, implemented just an hour before the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, will allow the Chinese regime to exert more influence over people in Hong Kong and around the world, the activists said.

Experts have worried that the law’s broad terms leave ample room for Chinese authorities to go after its critics. “Provoking hatred” toward Chinese or Hong Kong authorities, according to Article 38, would constitute grounds for prosecution—whether the individuals reside in Hong Kong or overseas, or hold foreign passports. The maximum penalty for offenders is life imprisonment.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has briefed Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), a staunch critic of the regime’s human rights record, that he would be one of the officials targeted under the new law, the lawmaker said during the hearing.

Meanwhile, Demosisto, a pro-democracy group that Law helped found, was one of several organizations that dissolved on Tuesday after multiple core activists withdrew their membership over fears of repercussions under the new law.

A police officer raises his pepper spray handgun as he detains a man during a march against the national security law at the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from Britain in Hong Kong
A police officer raises his pepper spray handgun as he detains a man during a march against the national security law at the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China from Britain in Hong Kong, on July 1, 2020. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Commenting on the national security law in a press briefing earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called China “one of the world’s most unfree countries.”

“Free Hong Kong was one of the world’s most stable, prosperous, and dynamic cities. Now it will be just another communist-run city, where its people will be subject to the party elite’s whims. It’s sad,” he said at a Wednesday press conference.

The law’s stipulation that it would apply to non-residents of Hong Kong is “outrageous and an affront to all nations,” he said, adding that the State Department will continue working to end the city’s differential trade privileges to recognize its loss of autonomy from mainland China.

The United States has planned visa restrictions to punish Chinese Communist Party officials involved in eroding Hong Kong’s human rights and freedoms. On Tuesday, 27 countries, including the U.K., France, Germany, Japan, and Australia, released a joint statement before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, rebuking China’s move.

Brian Leung, a doctoral student at the University of Washington who fled to the United States following his participation in last year’s protests, urged the global community not to fall into the regime’s strategy of political control.

“The division between business and politics is only a political expediency in the eyes of China,” Leung said, which makes it all the more important for the United States to unite with other nations to counter its threat.

Pompeo, in his remarks on Tuesday, expressed a similar sentiment, saying that the United States will “continue to build out a global coalition that understands the challenge that the Chinese Communist Party threat places on freedom-loving peoples all across the world.”

“This isn’t a U.S-China challenge, this is a challenge that is between freedom and authoritarianism,” he said. “And so long as we keep that foremost in our minds, I’m confident that the freedom-loving peoples of the world will prevail.”

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