Note: If you are having trouble viewing the video above, please watch it here.
Has Hong Kong lost its autonomy, as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently announced?
And, how is the Chinese Communist Party expected to circumvent Hong Kong’s legislative council to ultimately enact the law?
In this episode, we sit down with Hong Kong lawyer and Legislative Council member Alvin Yeung, who is also the current Leader of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Civic Party.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Alvin Yeung, so great to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Alvin Yeung: Well, thank you, Jan. It’s a pleasure.
Mr. Jekielek: Alvin, it’s a very difficult time where we’re talking with you. The NPC [National People’s Congress], China’s rubber stamp legislature, just essentially passed the so-called national security law for Hong Kong, or a draft resolution for it. Everyone’s saying this means very, very difficult things. You are at the heart of it in Hong Kong: you’re a legislative council member, you’re the head of one of the pro-democracy parties, the Civic Party. What does this legislation mean for Hong Kong and for you?
Mr. Yeung: Well, to a lot of friends around the world who are watching this program, Hong Kong has been so successful as a trading center [and] financial center, over the past one and a half centuries. There’s one essential element to this success, and that is freedom. This so-called national security law is going to undercut, if not take away, this very important element that is freedom.
Let me explain a bit. So Hong Kong has its own mini constitution, the Basic Law, that guarantees all the fundamental rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people, including freedom of expression, freedom of the press, etc. There’s one article that is called Article 23 that requires Hong Kong governments to have their own national security law that is applicable to Hong Kong only under “one country, two systems.” China has its own jurisdiction and Hong Kong has the common law jurisdiction. And so, Article 23 makes this very clear: it’s the Hong Kong government’s own responsibility to have their own set of rules.
They [the Chinese Communist Party] had their first attempt [to implement Article 23] in 2003. But back then a lot of Hong Kong people, over half a million Hong Kong people, took to the streets, and the legal sector said, “Hey, it’s a bad law because it’s unclear, people could fall into the traps, they could get themselves into trouble because of this unclear piece of legislation,” and so in the end, we overthrew it. The Hong Kong government withdrew that piece of legislation. Since then, no administration has attempted to impose the same law on Hong Kong again.
But when it comes to 2020, Beijing said, “Enough is enough. I’m not going to give you any chance to have your own set of rules. I’m going to impose my own set of national security laws on you Hong Kong people and the Hong Kong legislature is undercut.” We have no say to that; Hong Kong people were not consulted; nobody knew what the details of the law were; it’s just a matter of order. Beijing imposes it on Hong Kong, and that’s it. That is the impact on Hong Kong as a place where we cherish freedom, as a place where everybody can enjoy our own freedom and partial democracy. I fear that by introducing or by imposing, in fact, this new set of rules on the Hong Kong people, not only will Hong Kong people suffer, but also [it’s] international financial center status will be undermined because of that.
Mr. Jekielek: Is this the end of “one country, two systems”?
Mr. Yeung: Well, to a lot of people, if not the end, then this is the beginning of the end. Why? As I mentioned a bit earlier, this new law is threatening the freedom of Hong Kong. This new law is also making Hong Kong people worried about their own conduct, [and] whether that would fall into the categories of the restrictions imposed by this new law. Nobody knows if in the future, you might be charged or you might be arrested by the national security agents sent from China, because this is what they said—they’re going to set up a new national security agent in Hong Kong. Could you imagine that? … They said [that] the local police have no experience in enforcing national security law, so they have to import some sort of mainland agents to Hong Kong to do the job.
If that logic goes, then of course they have to remove their local prosecutors and they have to take up the prosecution themselves. In fact, earlier yesterday or the day before, there was a story that Beijing is planning to restrict foreign judges in Hong Kong from hearing those cases, because they cannot trust foreigners. Can you still call that Hong Kong if that happens to be the case? No! Obviously, foreigners [and] international investors trust our system, because this is a transparent system, because we understand judges could be impartial, because we know they are local judges as well as foreign judges who sit in the courts and they hear the case just the same way the other guys are doing. If they try to remove foreign judges, how are we going to convince the rest of the world that things are still the same? So this is why “one country, two systems” is under strong threat, or in fact, you may just call it the end of it.
Mr. Jekielek: Fundamentally, what you’re describing here is actually the end of rule of law.
Mr. Yeung: That is true. We are not sure when this new legislation becomes law in Hong Kong. As I said, who’ll be enforcing it, mainland agents? And then are they subject to local laws? What would happen if they breach any human rights protections? Is there any remedy to that? We do not know. How will the prosecutor [judge] the cases? Would that be still the same standard beyond reasonable doubt? We do not know. What sort of evidence are they going to adduce? In Hong Kong, you have to obey certain restrictions when it comes to adducing evidence. But what would these mainland agents do … in the name of national security? We do not know. And [there is] also [the issue of] trials when it comes to courts. If foreign judges cannot hear all these cases, what would happen?
Again, Jan, we know when those pro-Beijing people, when those ministers, when those officials from Beijing tried to convince Hong Kong and the rest of the world that “Hey, this is no big deal. We’re simply targeting a very limited group of people,” well, just look at China. There are a lot of cases when they try to demand transparency from the local governments, when they try to go after the wrongdoers on food safety, when people are simply calling for political reform in a peaceful way, but they were all arrested and thrown into jail. One of the most famous examples is the late Liu Xiaobo and who passed away in jail. This is something Hong Kong people are worried about, because we do not know whether we could still exercise our freedom of expression and criticize the state leadership or the local leadership. That’s where the problem is.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m just thinking of this. I saw a clip of a recent CNN interview with [a] pro-Beijing business person—I forget the name right now—basically arguing that this is something that will actually strengthen security in Hong Kong. How does this other perspective fit into all this?
Mr. Yeung: … Do you believe that? Let me try to state my case, my argument, clearly. We all understand what has happened since last June. Last year around this time, the Hong Kong government introduced and passed this highly controversial extradition bill that is fundamentally going to change the system of Hong Kong that allows criminals [to be] sent to China for trial and that has been restricted and prohibited since day one—since the handover. Carrie Lam, the chief executive, tried to impose it and change the system fundamentally, and what did she meet? Well, millions of Hong Kong people took to the streets peacefully trying to stop her. … We had a fight inside the Legislative Council, and so [there were] people blocking LegCo trying to make sure that the bill would not be able to resume second reading, the legislative procedure. Eventually, the Hong Kong people [succeeded].
But afterwards, when people protested again, they [were] met with police brutality. This government tried to turn a blind eye to that and simply stood with the police and said [that] nothing’s wrong. They pointed fingers not only at the opposition members, not only at those people on the street, but also foreigners. They said there was foreign interference. But did you hear any single word from this government saying, “Sorry, I was wrong. I made a mistake; I made a misjudgment. I failed the Hong Kong people, so I’m going to correct my mistakes. I learned my mistake.” No! What they’re trying to do right now is after one year of unrest, after one year of chaos, they introduced another piece of legislation trying to fix the problems [their way]. Logically speaking, does this sound logical? It doesn’t make sense at all, because they are not going to make it, because Hong Kong people are angry, and we can predictably foresee that there will be more unrest in the months to come.
Mr. Jekielek: Alvin, one thing that we realized is that there is some process where the national security law could be implemented bypassing the legislature entirely. Is that right?
Mr. Yeung: That is exactly what Beijing is doing. Of course I do not agree with that. That is completely to the contrary of the spirit of the Basic Law and in fact, to the articles of the Basic Law. According to the Basic Law, only national defense and foreign affairs should be dealt with by Beijing. They could impose laws related to these two areas, and put it into the Basic Law. There is an example, the Garrison Law is one of them, but that doesn’t really concern the Hong Kong people, and that doesn’t harm our rights and freedoms. And when it comes to national laws, there’s the national flag law; there’s the national anthem law. They were put into the Basic Law Annex III by the National People’s Congress, but then these two laws also had to go through local legislation. They had to be scrutinized by legislators in Hong Kong.
When it comes to this national security law that is completely new to this practice, they not only bypass the normal procedures, they bypass the Hong Kong people, and they bypass the local legislature. That is to say, people like me, we have no right to scrutinize the bill, we have no right to understand what’s behind the bill, and officials from the government would not have the obligation or responsibility to come to LegCo and explain the details of the law just like [they did with] any other laws. This is extremely exceptional and in fact, I would say this is contrary to the regulations or the rules as set so clearly in the Basic Law.
Mr. Jekielek: Alvin, you had a tweet just earlier that I actually saw and I pushed forward explaining how much representation Hong Kong people actually have in the LegCo. I’m just wondering if you could break that down for me really quickly.
Mr. Yeung: In Hong Kong, we have roughly 7.5 million people, and in the legislature, we have 70 legislators, although not all of them were directly elected by the people but [let’s] just leave that aside. Today, this groundbreaking, extremely important piece of legislation was passed in the National People’s Congress by 2,878 people. Out of these people, only 30-odd of them [are] from Hong Kong, and the rest of them are just any other mainland citizens or mainland representatives who might not have even been to Hong Kong before [and] who might have absolutely nothing to do with Hong Kong. But then this body of the National People’s Congress passed a law that will fundamentally change Hong Kong’s status. Does it make sense to you? It doesn’t make sense to me, at least.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, there was one dissenting voice, I noticed.
Mr. Yeung: Yes, one, and only one, and we have no idea who that person is and whether that person is safe.
Mr. Jekielek: There are so many vantage points here at this point. We’ve been seeing dramatically increased police activity of course, in response to increased protests. [With] this national anthem law that was protested recently, we’re seeing school kids in uniform being arrested, and actually you, yourself, have been working with some of these arrested protesters to try to help them get out of incarceration or protect themselves, since you’re a lawyer. What is the situation with that right now?
Mr. Yeung: … Since the announcement of this national security law, we saw a number of protests on the streets this past Sunday and also on Wednesday, Hong Kong time. Hundreds of Hong Kong people took to the streets. A lot of them were students and even some of them were in uniform. These young men and women were fearless, they were brave, and they knew what’s going on. They knew what was going to meet them. There’s police out there; they were sent to the police station; they were questioned; they were detained for certain hours. All these people understand what’s going on [and] are still trying to do everything they can to save Hong Kong. They’re trying to do everything they can to tell the rest of the world that they’re not giving it up despite the fact that this is an uphill battle, despite the fact that Beijing might not listen. I understand from these young faces that they do not want to give up, because they still call Hong Kong home, and they want to do everything they can to protect this place.
Mr. Jekielek: … A week and a half ago or so, you were actually physically removed by security from the Legislative Council room. That’s something hard to imagine. Despite things getting very aggressive in the U.S. Congress and in the Canadian Parliament, you don’t typically see stuff like that happening. Some people were commenting, “Hey, where was the sergeant-at-arms?” I was thinking, “No, it was the sergeant-at-arms that was basically doing this.” Even today, you and I were trying to talk on the phone several times, but there was all this drama in the chamber. Can you tell us what’s going on here?
Mr. Yeung: Well, in a nutshell, since last year, when lots of people took to the streets, we legislators in Council were trying to speak on behalf of the people. But due to the unfair system, although the democratic camp legislators were the majority in terms of votes, when it comes to the seats, we are still the minority. So there are different procedures that we try to use in order to try to slow down the legislative procedures, and one of them is filibustering. As people understand … filibustering is nothing. A sectional is just a normal tool exercised by the legislators.
But obviously, those in power, the pro-Beijing legislators, try to undercut our rights; they try to use their rules and stop filibustering. Of course, our colleagues were not happy. We were trying to protest against it, we were trying to voice out, we were trying to make sure that people understood what went wrong, but we were not met by our colleagues on the other side. We were met by the security guards, and the security guards were supposed to protect our safety, but obviously, we were removed by these security guards as instructed by pro-Beijing legislators.
Mr. Jekielek: Alvin, how is it that the security can be used to quell what is a sensibly legitimate democratic activity?
Mr. Yeung: Well, unfortunately, these so-called security guards have taken their side when they simply took instructions from their bosses who … are in charge of the Legislative Council. Then that’s what happened.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating, and obviously an incredibly difficult situation. … Do you feel personally safe? I was talking with Emily Lau the other day, and we were asking this question. This national security law certainly would endanger me potentially if I decided to come to Hong Kong. Obviously, it endangers anybody who’s speaking up against it.
Mr. Yeung: Well, there’s nothing much we could fear, Jan. Yes, I’ll be extremely naive if I say, “I have no fear.” I have my concerns too, but then I’m so proud to get the opportunity to serve Hong Kong people as a lawmaker, and I think I’m doing everything I could in the right way. I have done nothing wrong to Hong Kong, to my country. I’m just simply telling the truth. If you tell me that speaking the truth is a crime, then of course there’s nothing much I could do about it. If they have to do something to me, then just do it. What can I say, right?
Mr. Jekielek: I think a lot of people are watching very closely. Again, it’s been a momentous last 24 hours—very significant. We have the Secretary of State Pompeo coming out and basically saying [that] the State Department doesn’t believe Hong Kong is autonomous anymore, and that’s a first in history. What do you make of that?
Mr. Yeung: Well, anybody in Hong Kong will say, even if the high degree of autonomy is promised by Beijing, it is still there, but it is only a slogan. Nobody believes in that anymore because they undercut the legislature, they undercut all the structure here in Hong Kong, and it’s very hard to believe that there’s still a high degree of autonomy. Secretary Pompeo is basically just making a point that is shared by lots of Hong Kong people here.
Mr. Jekielek: Got it. So what do you make of the international response? … Of course, let’s remember back to late 2019, we had the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act that was passed near unanimously. Actually, we have another human rights related legislature focusing on the Uyghurs that was just passed again in the last 24 hours. What do you make of the international response right now to this situation?
Mr. Yeung: The Hong Kong people have been fighting so hard since last year. I’m sure a lot of us are extremely grateful to the fact that a lot of friends around the world are paying attention to us, so that we understand we are not alone in fighting this fight. … In the days to come, when Hong Kong is under challenge again, when Hong Kong is facing the gigantic communist China imposing this evil law on us, we wish the rest of the world will stand with Hong Kong and speak up for us—not only because a lot of countries have strong interest in Hong Kong and strong investment in Hong Kong, not only [because] there are lots of expats from different countries living in Hong Kong and even calling it home, but also [because] Hong Kong has been a member of the free world for so long. A lot of us here in Hong Kong share the same values that a lot of friends around the world are sharing and enjoying. In fact, when we are fighting this fight, I’m sure lots of friends around the world can really sense that this is a fight that we are fighting together. And so I wish in the days to come, the rest of the world would stand with us [and] speak up for us, so that we know Hong Kong is not an island.
Mr. Jekielek: Speaking of islands, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has announced that she’s going to be opening the doors to Hong Kongers that would like to come to Taiwan. I’ve seen people arguing for legislature in other countries. We of course have the people who are BNO [British National Overseas] passport holders or potential BNO passport holders, I think it’s up to almost 3 million or something that could be, so there’s this relationship with the U.K. There are people predicting there will be a mass exodus, so to speak. What do you make of this situation? What do you suggest?
Mr. Yeung: Well, Jan, since the announcement of this new legislation last week, people Google it—that makes perfect sense. But equally popular was another phrase on Google in Hong Kong, that is “immigration.” The people are thinking about moving away from this place. I can’t blame them, because a lot of people are having strong concerns about their safety and the future, especially their kids. Is entirely up to different countries if they truly stand with Hong Kong, if they are truly trying to support the Hong Kong people, then that means there should be some different measures or different ways for Hong Kong people to try to move. The Hong Kong people are extremely smart [and] resourceful. I’m sure Hong Kong people could be beneficial to different societies.
Mr. Jekielek: Alvin, I realized that part of what we expect with this national security law is the foreign influence element. I don’t want to put you in jeopardy here, because I don’t want anyone to be putting that on you. But broadly speaking, do you have some sense of how the international community can best help?
Mr. Yeung: At the end of the day, what we wish the international community to do is to speak the truth. When they see that this new law is not doing any good to Hong Kong, this international financial center, then they have to speak up. They have to tell Beijing. If they see that this new law is threatening the fundamental rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people, they have [inaudible], they have to tell Beijing. They have to tell Beijing, “Look, this is not only about Hong Kong and Beijing’s relationship, this is also about Hong Kong’s reputation among the world.”
If the rest of the world stopped investing in Hong Kong, if the rest of the world started calling their citizens back home to stop investing here, then what would be left to Hong Kong? It will not only harm Hong Kong, not only harm Hong Kong people, but also Beijing, and of course different countries. I wish different countries would stand up to tell Beijing the truth, because that is something that is lacking in Beijing, I’m afraid.
Mr. Jekielek: Numerous people including here at The Epoch Times have argued that Beijing is basically using this time of coronavirus. Essentially most nations’ focus is very, very [much] on their own internal realities because of the disasters in all sorts of ways that have manifested in these countries. So what do you make of this particular timing right now?
Mr. Yeung: Obviously, the rest of the world is so busy with fighting against the coronavirus. When Beijing is having a relatively low time on that, when they have done their part in fighting the coronavirus, when Hong Kong people are still restricted by social distancing laws, they introduced this so that they wish, by taking advantage of this busy moment, the international community will stay quiet. But obviously, they have forgotten that Hong Kong is not like any other ordinary city of China. The world is paying attention to Hong Kong, and so I’m grateful that friends around the world are paying concerns and attention to us.
Mr. Jekielek: Alvin, it’s the middle of the night for you, and I really appreciate you taking the time to interview. I saw photos from what happened in the Legislative Council today. Obviously, it was a very busy day for you. Any final thoughts that you might have before we finish up?
Mr. Yeung: I just want to say and repeat the same thing again, which is [that] the Hong Kong people will not easily give up. In fact, I don’t think anyone will say [that] they will let go of that. Keep watching us, keep sending your support to us, because the Hong Kong people need all this support from friends around the world. That is extremely important to us.
Mr. Jekielek: At the Epoch Times, we promise we’ll keep reporting on everything we can, we will make sure the Hong Kong people’s voices [are] heard in the world. I wish you the best of luck and the best of success.
Mr. Yeung: Thank you so much, Jan.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.