‘From 2047 to a Week’

It’s been a month since this was announced, but those of us from Hong Kong are still reeling from the news. Keith Bradsher, Austin Ramzy, and Tiffany May in ”China Moves to Tighten Its Control of Hong Kong”:

China signaled on Thursday it would move forward with laws that would take aim at antigovernment protests and other dissent in Hong Kong. It is the clearest message yet that the Communist Party is moving to undermine the civil liberties the semiautonomous territory has known since the 1997 British handoff.1 […]

In the Communist Party’s view, tightened security laws in Hong Kong are necessary to protect China from external forces determined to impinge on its sovereignty.

“External forces.” Right, because the current protests couldn’t possibly be linked to China’s odious human rights record, megalomanic leadership, party-controlled judiciary, or Orwellian security apparatus.

Security rules proposed by the Hong Kong government in 2003 would have empowered the authorities to close seditious newspapers and conduct searches without warrants. That proposal was abandoned after it triggered large protests.

This time, China is effectively circumventing the Hong Kong government, undercutting the relative autonomy granted to the territory. Instead, it is going through China’s rubber stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, which holds its annual session starting Friday.

As Elson Tong put it, “The countdown timer has been accelerated from 2047 to a week.”

Zhang Yesui, spokesman for the National People’s Congress, said at a news briefing on Thursday that delegates would review a plan to create a legal framework and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong. […]

“National security is the bedrock underpinning the stability of the country,” Mr. Zhang said. “Safeguarding national security serves the fundamental interest of all Chinese, Hong Kong compatriots included.”

Funny how this “security” is making Hong Kong’s citizens — er, compatriots — feel less secure than ever.2

The protests in Hong Kong started in June last year after the local government tried to enact an extradition law that would have allowed residents to be transferred to the mainland . . . Though the Hong Kong authorities later withdrew the bill, the demonstrations continued over broader political demands, including a call for free elections and an independent investigation into police conduct.

The Hong Kong government and protesters have both adopted largely uncompromising positions, and demonstrations often descended into clashes between protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and police officers firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Hold on. “Uncompromising” may be accurate, but it also implies that both parties stand on equal moral footing. To the contrary: the protestors have pushed for five moderate demands and been met with tear gas, torture, and sexual violence at every turn. There is no “both sides” here: an authoritarian superpower is throttling a thriving, democratically-minded city, and its people are struggling — often literally — to breathe.3

The legislation to be put forward in Beijing is . . . “a necessary means to plug some glaring loopholes in Hong Kong’s national security laws,” said Lau Siu-kai, a former senior Hong Kong government official who is now vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, an elite Beijing advisory group. […]

Beijing blames much of the unrest in the semiautonomous territory on interference by unseen foreign forces, and the focus of the upcoming legislation would be to stop that meddling, he said.

I believe the clinical term for this is “blame-shifting.” Also: I’m guessing these “glaring loopholes” include a free press, an independent judiciary, and other constitutional limits on state power, yes?

Almost immediately, the move by the Chinese legislature prompted concerns about the ramifications for Hong Kong and condemnation by the city’s democracy advocates.

On internet forums and chat groups frequently used to organize protests, some people expressed concerns about whether their past conversations could implicate them should the new laws be passed. Others urged users to download virtual private networking services to cloak their identities, while some debated whether to delete their chat histories and disband the discussion groups.

Free speech and critical thinking are integral to Hong Kong’s DNA. That such precautions have become necessary is a tragedy beyond words.

  1. Minor correction: we’ve had these liberties since well before the 1997 handover.↩︎

  2. Also, this ideological fantasy of “all Chinese” as some racialized, monolithic mass is just gross. It’s Aryanism with Chinese characteristics.↩︎

  3. Here the Times falls into the trap that Adam Serwer so eloquently describes. “When those in power are caught abusing that power in ways that are morally indefensible and politically unpopular, they will always seek to turn an argument about oppression into a dispute about manners. The conversation then shifts from the responsibility of the state for the human lives it is destroying to whether those who object to that destruction have exhibited proper etiquette.”↩︎

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