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Hong Kong: It’s China, Stupid

CHINA LAW BLOG - Aug 12, 2020 -

Say what you will about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) but, when it comes to repressing Hong Kong’s democratic aspirations, it means business. Having concluded local authorities were not up to the task of ruling Hong Kong by its iron-fisted standards, Beijing made short work of the “one country, two systems” framework and imposed a national security law (NSL) that formalized its direct intervention in Hong Kong’s policing. See Requiem for Hong Kong for the NSL’s dystopian details.

Not that things were hunky-dory before the NSL. The new law is simply speeding up a process of overall deterioration in Hong Kong, which is hitting its business sector very hard. Exactly one year ago, in Hong Kong for International Business: Stick a Fork in It, we wrote that “Hong Kong as an international business and financial center is no more” and predicted much of what we are seeing today (and, yes, COVID-19 has exacerbated some of the problems):

  • Companies reducing their hiring in Hong Kong.

  • Companies moving personnel from their Hong Kong office to other Asia offices.

  • Fewer contracts being drafted with Hong Kong as the venue for arbitration.

  • Companies moving their Hong Kong bank accounts elsewhere.

  • Travelers choosing somewhere other than Hong Kong as their Asia stopover.

  • Many Hongkongers going elsewhere.

  • The new state of affairs under the NSL will kick these trends into overdrive. Far from “symbolically asserting its authority over the city,” the CCP is acting out its deepest authoritarian fantasies. Within hours of the NSL’s enactment, the Hong Kong public security bureau police were out arresting people for carrying flags with pro-independence (gasp!) slogans. Since then:

"A sense of fear and uncertainty has taken hold in Hong Kong, where anything seen to provoke hatred against the Chinese government is now punishable with up to life in prison. Some people have redacted their social media posts and erased messaging app histories. Journalists have scrubbed their names from digital archives. Books are being purged from libraries. Shops have dismantled walls of Post-it Notes bearing pro-democracy messages, while activists have resorted to codes to express protest chants suddenly outlawed."

Despite this immediate chilling effect, Beijing is just getting started. On August 10, Hong Kong’s finest arrested media mogul Jimmy Lai, “one of the most outspoken critics of Beijing,” for “colluding with foreign forces.” Two of Lai’s sons, not involved in his media business, were also arrested. Later in the day, pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow Ting was arrested on charges of “inciting secession.” Also picked up were freelance journalist Wilson Li and activist Andy Li.

These are all terrible developments. Journalists and activists arrested. Their family members arrested. Snide assurances of compliance with legal niceties by the police. Regime toadies and mouthpieces voicing support. Textbook authoritarianism.

Yet Hong Kong’s descent into an authoritarian nightmare, dramatic as it is in the city’s context, is simply bringing it in line with Mainland China. As we noted when we first decried the travesty of the NSL, “the reality is that from Beijing to Xinjiang to Tibet to Hong Kong there is now one system of repression.”


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