DISCLAIMER : This is a piece written by Canadian Chinese Political Affairs Committee (CCPAC)’s summer student. All rights reserved.
In the fight against fear in Hong Kong, there are no easy answers. Western governments like Canada must use every tool in their belt if they seek to influence China’s Hong Kong policy. Regardless of the outcome, countries like Canada owe it to their citizens in Hong Kong to stand up for their human rights.
When Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang signed The Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, Hong Kong’s share of China’s GDP was over 25%. China’s motive for securing the British colony was clear to Margaret Thatcher, UK Prime Minister at the time, China needed the economic benefits associated with the coastal islands resident to now nearly 3 million persons. Today, with nearly 3% of China’s GDP being on account of Hong Kong, the Chinese Communist Party is much freer to assert authoritarian controls there as well.
Beijing has been steadily eroding the Hong Kong system since signing the Declaration. Despite the Declaration enshrining that China would not practice the socialist system in Hong Kong until 2047, in 2017 Beijing declared the legally binding handover treaty has ‘no practical significance’. That same year the European Commission’s Annual Report cited concerns over democratic freedoms in Hong Kong due to a prominent pro-democratic reporter being reportedly arrested and extradited to the mainland by secret police and other pro-democratic activists being denied entry to Hong Kong.
Beijing has been planning the enactment of the National Security law for quite some time. In 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about national security legislation in China and “using national security measures to restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.” It won’t be easy to undo what Beijing has so insidiously planned.
Regardless, Western nations have been coming forward with policy statements. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now offering asylum to almost 3 million residents of Hong Kong. The Trump administration recently sanctioned 11 Chinese Communist Party leaders, including Hong Kong’s chief executive officer Carrie Lam. But these actions ignore the reality of life for many in Hong Kong.
Rarely has any mainstream media talked about the demographic shift in Hong Kong since 1997. Over the past 20 years, mainland Chinese have poured into Hong Kong, in search of the “Hong Kong Dream”. Close to 1.5 million mainland Chinese immigrants have moved to the city since Hong Kong became part of China in 1997, and now make up about 20 percent of Hong Kong’s population. This problematic immigration policy is intended to dilute Hong Kong identity and make the island more pro-Beijing. Thousands of pregnant women from mainland China have migrated to Hong Kong because it allowed their children to obtain permanent residency there — including access to public housing and free health care and education. Tensions between mainland immigrants and local Hong Kong residents have been rising steadily for the past few years already. These people’s priorities differ markedly from those in Hong Kong.
Research on China’s middle class repeatedly demonstrates a lack of political opposition to the regime resulting in a clash among those living in Hong Kong about the right way forward — through democracy or through the Communist Party. The passage of the National Security Law encourages people to “snitch” on each other for having dissenting views from the Chinese government. This law has far reaching effects beyond the border of Hong Kong — and well into the Chinese Diasporas everywhere around the world.
The law creates a toxic culture that is similar to that of the Cultural Revolution where the Chinese Communist Party encouraged institutionalized “squealing”. Colleagues, family members, classmates frequently reported on each other during the Cultural Revolution to prove their loyalty to the Communist Party. This is a roll back to the fragile improvement civil rights activists had made prior to 2012. The National Security Law also aims to undermine the rich, vibrant, liberal and pluralistic identity of the Chinese Diaspora everywhere else in the world. Therefore, it is detrimental to the livelihood of our collective Chinese identity.
There are about 500,000 people of Hong Kong descent in Canada according to the 2016 Census and a 2011 study suggests that 300,000 Canadians live in Hong Kong. The new National Security Law is curtailing the freedom of speech in Hong Kong and around the world. It legalizes a system whereby more people will be thrown in jail by secret police, with secret trials, and given life sentences for advocating Hong Kong’s democratic system. The signs of Hong Kong falling into autocracy are appearing at an alarming rate and, as the process continues, the targets are becoming international. However, the recent announcement of 6 arrest warrants for overseas democracy activists, including one in the US, is just the tip of the iceberg. All Canadians should care about what happens in Hong Kong before it is too late to help.