Well before the coming into force of the NSL on July 1, the special administrative region had already become a more dangerous territory for many people. Now Beijing has sealed the deal.
In my 2016 book Convergence or Conflict in the Taiwan Strait, I argued (echoing many voices before mine) that Hong Kong was a “canary in the mineshaft” for Taiwan. Later in the same book, I described Taiwan as “the last refuge” in Asia for those who continue to believe that liberal democracy, for all its foibles, remains the least bad form of governance. Little did I know that half a decade after I wrote those lines, the process of Hong Kong’s integration, and the neutralization of its liberties, would take a gigantic leap with the entry into force of the draconian National Security Law.
The far-reaching implications of that law, imposed on the special administrative region by the central authorities in Beijing, are now compelling many residents of Hong Kong to consider exodus in a way that, for many Taiwanese across the Strait, has troubling similarities with the White Terror era in their country. The extraterritorial elements of the NSL, meanwhile, will have a chilling effect on people abroad — NGOs, journalists, intellectuals, activists, and ordinary citizens — wherever they are. Mere transits in Hong Kong now comport risks: and the NSL is vague enough that anyone, really, could be accused of having violated its spirit and end up under arrest in Hong Kong — and potentially spirited to the subjectivism of the “legal system” in “the Mainland.”
In a nutshell: besides the threat of imprisonment for residents of Hong Kong, whose “crimes” can be as simple as the display of a flag or calls for the government in Beijing to respect a bilateral agreement with the UK, we are now all at risk of becoming the next Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor or Lee Ming-che. Even journalists are exposed: as Hong Kong Chief Executive and CCP puppet Carrie Lam indicated earlier this week, reporters with “ulterior motives” in their journalism could also get into serious trouble with the authorities. This is the kind of language that one would expect to encounter in the fantasies of Philip K. Dick (“Minority Report”) or George Orwell (“thoughtcrime”).
Bad as the situation has become, the signs were there already. Early last year, when talk first began of plans to implement a new system whereby criminals could be extradited from Hong Kong to China proper — sparking the very protests that ultimately led to the imposition of the NSL — the government of Taiwan was already urging its employees and those employed by government-affiliated institutions, to refrain from visiting Hong Kong. This also meant avoiding transiting in the SAR, resulting in time-consuming reroutings to, say, Singapore, for people returning to Taiwan from visits to South Asia (it was also recommended that employees of the Tsai Ing-wen government avoid transits in Cambodia, whose ruler, Hun Sen, has completely embraced Beijing).
We are now all at risk of becoming the next Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor or Lee Ming-che.
Well before the implementation of the NSL, Hong Kong had become dangerous territory for many Taiwanese, largely over Beijing’s fears that the civil societies on both sides were linking up to challenge the CCP. From 2014, a number of Taiwanese saw their electronic visas to Hong Kong be denied by immigration authorities in Hong Kong, which undoubtedly were acting in concert with, or at the direction of, the central government in Beijing. Some Taiwanese were detained incommunicado for several hours before being sent back to Taiwan. Morrison Lee, a Taiwanese national, went missing during a transit in Hong Kong in August last year. It was later confirmed that his arrest was due to his “committing criminal activities that jeopardize national security.”
There is also, for me, a more personal angle to Hong Kong, which I believe highlights how the risks of visiting it preceded the implementation of the NSL. Two years ago or so, I was invited by a foreign government to participate in a human human rights forum held annually — and quietly — in Hong Kong. Carefully kept under the radar, the organizers have been able to hold the event, which brings together activists from across the region, without Beijing’s objections (the NSL has probably put an end to this initiative). Upon receiving the call, my initial reaction was to agree to be one of the speakers. After all, this was Hong Kong, not China proper. It was, then, still a SAR, and it was still possible to speak one’s mind and defend one’s principles there. Then more astute minds weighed into my calculations. More senior officials from the government that had extended the invitation had second thoughts, as did, eventually, officials in the Taiwanese government and, most peremptorily, a family member — my spouse. They had a point: it was sheer nonsense on my part to consider going to Hong Kong to give a talk that would be highly critical of the CCP: from 2014-2016 I had been employed at a foundation created by Tsai Ing-wen and had subsequently done some work for the Tsai administration; I had already come to the attention of retired PLA generals (e.g., Wang Hongguang) who had attacked me in CCP-controlled publications; and more importantly, I was the target of a lawsuit filed by Patrick Ho Chi-ping, secretary-general of the China Energy Fund Committee “think tank” in Hong Kong, a subsidiary of the Shanghai-based CEFC Energy. People who opposed my visit to Hong Kong couldn’t have known at the time that their fears would one day become reality: that I could be nabbed by security agents upon landing in Hong Kong, even before I had made it to the immigration line. And all that was before the two Canadian Michaels were taken hostage in China, retaliation for the arrest, and potential extradition to the U.S., of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.
Well before the coming into force of the NSL on July 1, Hong Kong had already become more dangerous territory for many people, my case being just one minor example among many. Beijing was already cooking the frog and making it more difficult for INGOs and activists to operate in the SAR. Last year’s protests accelerated that process and gave Beijing, along with its minions in Hong Kong, the “justification” to seal the deal.
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