Wanted by Beijing: An American Citizen Is Charged under Hong Kong National-Security Law

Anti-government demonstrators are detained by riot police during a protest in Hong Kong, China, May 27, 2020. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)
Samuel Chu on what the new law means for Hong Kong, China, and the world

The Chinese Communist Party’s implementation of a new “national security law” in Hong Kong has been as draconian as expected, if not worse. In recent weeks, Beijing has worked swiftly to quash the burgeoning pro-democracy movement in the city, disqualifying candidates, delaying elections for the Legislative Council, and arresting participants in a memorial commemorating the June Fourth Massacre.

The new law’s implications for Hong Kong are worrying enough, but it also contains the CCP’s claim of jurisdiction over the whole world: Article 38 of the legislation allows Hong Kong authorities to target anyone in violation of the law, including non-Chinese nationals outside of China. Observers and activists have paid close attention to how Article 38 would be enforced. This became clearer at the end of July, when Samuel Chu, an American citizen of 25 years who leads the U.S.-based Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC), was reportedly charged under the law along with five other activists. As is typical of the Chinese regime, however, the charges are murky; in an interview with National Review’s Jimmy Quinn last week, Chu, who has lived in the U.S. since 1990, said that he still has not seen them himself.

Jimmy Quinn: Can you tell me a little bit about the charges? How did you hear about them? I read that the Hong Kong government never actually reached out to you directly. What are they alleging?

Samuel Chu: I actually to this day still have not received any communication. There’s been no notification or official communication from any Hong Kong authorities or Chinese authorities. So just like the rest of the world, I learned about it from media reports. And I think one of the early media reports was [from] Chinese state media. And so I think that I essentially just learned about it the same way that everybody else did. I was actually sleeping, since I was here in the States. And while I think it’s definitely a provocative move for China and for Hong Kong to target foreign citizens, I’m also not surprised. I think that this is consistent with the CCP playbook, and I think, as you now see, the tactics that they’re now using with the NSL [national-security law] in Hong Kong. And so it’s consistent with what they’re doing.

JQ: What were your thoughts when you initially heard about the national-security law and then when you eventually read the version that the National People’s Congress promulgated? What was your initial reaction to Article 38?

SC: The HKDC — the organization that I direct — we were one of the first to put out our analysis, and we had a number of public discussions. We were obviously very surprised by Article 38, particularly, because it’s sort of unprecedented to have this extraterritorial jurisdictional claim.

Back to your first question, I think that the charges I am allegedly being charged under, besides using Article 38, is allegedly Articles 20 and 29 about inciting or planning to incite secession, which is not true. Neither I nor HKCD as an organization has ever advocated or talked about Hong Kong independence.

And [charging me under] Article 29, which [criminalizes] colluding with foreign powers, obviously is crazy — I guess I am both the foreign power and the one who’s colluding. It’s the fact that I’m only advocating in my own country with my own government. That’s not a crime. It’s certainly not. I’m simply exercising my American constitutional rights. So I think that the idea of extraterritorial jurisdiction is laughable. They can go out [and try to] arrest anybody — any members of Congress or anybody in the White House, or just any regular, everyday Americans who say anything in support of Hong Kong.

JQ: How likely is it that other Americans and non-Chinese nationals would be charged under the law for their activism?

SC: I might be the first U.S. citizen to be targeted. I don’t think there is any doubt that I’m not going to be the last. There’s an estimated 85,000 Americans who are living and working in Hong Kong right now, and this presents a real immediate threat to their safety and freedom. I think the real intent behind this is by targeting me, they’re sending a message — not just that they can target anybody, but I think that contact with people like me, anyone who’s associated in any other way, could be targeted. And I think that is part of the intent as well. It’s to create a chilling effect on anybody who’s either personally or professionally or publicly connected to me.

JQ: Have you witnessed the impact of that chilling effect yet? Have people been reluctant to speak out after the national-security law was imposed?

SC: I have not seen any immediate effect yet. I think that we were already fairly conscious about not putting people in Hong Kong at direct risk after the national-security law was implemented. I have not spoken to my family who are still in Hong Kong. I have family members who are there. I think we were already pretty aware that they might use the national-security law as a way of harassing and targeting people in Hong Kong. The arrest warrant didn’t really change the way that we were operating. And even stepping back a year ago, when I founded HKDC, this was something that we anticipated. We knew that there could come a time where China and the Hong Kong government authorities would try to completely cut things off. We had anticipated this, and we knew this could happen. And the reason why we created HKDC in the first place was to ensure that we have a base of operations in a place for free voices for Hong Kong, regardless of what their control in Hong Kong might be.

JQ: Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law went as far as officially announcing that he was cutting ties with his family to make sure that they were not targeted. What did you think when you heard that? Is that a really drastic measure? Is it similar to what you did?

SC: I feel a sadness for the rest of the folks who are targeted, because unlike me they had to make a snap decision, or at least a quick decision — in recent days, in the last few months, or since the start of the protests — to leave Hong Kong and to cut ties. Nathan did that publicly. Simon Cheng did that when he left Hong Kong to go to the U.K. I have been away for a long time, and I made a decision knowing that this could be something that affects me and also my family. I have not officially made any comments renouncing or severing ties with my family. I haven’t actually directly spoken to them. This is also not new to my family, as you might know. My father was tried and convicted in his own right. It’s not new. And I feel like that is something that both my family and I have chosen, knowing the risk. I do feel for not just Nathan and others, but thousands and thousands of Hong Kongers who didn’t ever get to choose for themselves what threat they are willing to take on.

JQ: What would be your message to other Hong Kong activists who are based abroad, other people like you who might be targeted under this law?

SC: First of all, back to your other questions about family: This is very common. It’s consistent with typical Communist tactics. Historically, the broader idea of using your family, your clan, as a controlling mechanism is not a new thing. In the past it’s been effective, which is why they keep doing it. We also see them using this in very provocative ways. There are cases of American citizens who are currently in China who are being denied the ability to leave, with the same logic of trying to hold them hostage to pressure either foreign nationals or foreign governments.

As I’ve said publicly, the fact that they’re trying to target a U.S. citizen makes this threat real and personal for everybody in the U.S. and anywhere outside of Hong Kong. And I think that you have seen already the kind of public outrage from American government officials. This is a really helpful part because now it is really personal and real for Americans. It’s not just something that is happening in Hong Kong, but it’s actually being brought to their front door.

As you saw this morning, there were additional arrests today or charges today against 25 Hong Kong activists for participating in the June Fourth Memorial. What this is showing — and I think people in Hong Kong see this — is that the Chinese government and the Hong Kong authorities are getting more and more desperate and they’re escalating faster and faster. And by delaying the election and disqualifying candidates and arresting [activists] in Hong Kong and issuing arrest warrants overseas they show that they are losing the battle on trying to control and quash the opposition in Hong Kong.

They’re not going to be able to arrest and ban us all. There are millions of Hong Kongers and millions of people across the world. We continue to step up, and even if they were to target and arrest, or even to imprison, people like me, there would be hundreds of thousands of others who would step up.

JQ: Would you be able to talk about your conversations with officials since you have been charged? What have U.S. officials been telling you in conversations since you were charged? Have you been in touch about your safety and things like that?

SC: Consistently there are three things that I would say I’ve heard in every conversation I’ve had with congressional offices and other administration officials. One is their assurance that this is outrageous and outlandish and there’s no legal risk. The Chinese government cannot come and get me, and there’s no way that the U.S. would ever entertain a request for actual extradition. I’m in no legal danger. The second thing that was also consistently told to me is that obviously there was concern about my family and others who are in Hong Kong. I appreciate it, and everybody understands that that is part of the scare tactic that is trying to isolate and cut off communications.

But I think thirdly, most of them just share in my outrage that [China] has really stepped out of line to target a foreign citizen. I’m not a U.S. official, I don’t work for the government, I’m not a diplomat. I’m not in any way, shape, or form appropriate for them to target. Especially since, again, I have been in the U.S. for 30 years. All of what I’ve done and said has been done on American soil as an American citizen. And so I have received very clear assurances about the support that the U.S. gives to me and how outraged the U.S. is in general and each individual lawmaker is as far as what this really means for everyday Americans. I’ve told all of them, if China can come after me, China could come after you.

JQ: What would you say to the CCP? What would you say to the officials who charged you in Hong Kong?

SC: Let me again clarify that nobody has seen any official notification or documents. The police department in Hong Kong has refused to comment even until now. And I think this potentially might expose one of the key provisions in the new national-security law: Rather than just having Hong Kong police, you now have a new agency, a department in Hong Kong run directly by the CCP. It is conceivable that the new national-security office or whatever it’s called could be something that is almost outside of Hong Kong authorities and Hong Kong government and police control. This is the kind of secret, opaque operation that is so alarming.

I’m fortunate enough to be in the U.S. and outside Hong Kong, but think about what this means for Hong Kongers, to have an agency that can just basically operate without any kind of transparency or any accountability. That is the really scary part for people in Hong Kong.

As far as what I want to say to the CCP, it’s that I think this is a mistake. By trying to criminalize or target me individually for speaking out on Hong Kong and speaking out against the CCP under the new national-security law, they have transformed every person who has ever cared about Hong Kong and supported Hong Kong into a Hong Konger. They have made this threat real for everybody. And I think that this will have the opposite effect of what they want. Instead of trying to silence the opposition, they have now just made us even more compelling and meaningful as far as speaking for Hong Kong.

The second thing is I would say that they are also mistaken, if they think that targeting me would be cutting off the head of a snake of an organization and effort like HKDC and what we’re doing in the U.S. They’re going to find that even if they — they’re not going to be — but if they were able to silence me, there would be 100, 200, 1,000 other people just like me. And that’s the nature of what this movement has become. It is not just a single person, or six of us, or twelve of us, or the 25 whom they’re targeting in Hong Kong today. There are hundreds of thousands of people who will step up and who are already doing the same, as committed as I am. And China is not going to be able to ban us all.


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