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China Swallows Hong Kong

Anti-government demonstrators sit while being detained by riot police during a lunch-time protest as a second reading of a controversial national anthem law takes place in Hong Kong, China, May 27, 2020. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

The Chinese Communist Party, through what it portrays as its legislature (the “National People’s Congress”), has enacted a law crushing democracy in Hong Kong.

Under the guise of protecting “national security,” the new law criminalizes as “subversion” and “terrorism” various expressions of protest and political dissent. It further endeavors to cut off Hong Kong’s support lines by criminalizing, as conspiracy to endanger national security, sundry exchanges with other countries and outside groups.

The people of Hong Kong have been protesting against Beijing’s increasingly overt repression for over a year. President Trump, however, has prized what he claims is a strong personal relationship with China’s CCP strongman, Xi Xinping; he has thus been reluctant to pressure Beijing or lend rhetorical support to democracy activists — in stark contrast to President Reagan’s support for the anti-Communist democracy movement in Poland.

More recently though, with Beijing’s cover-up of the origins and seriousness of the novel coronavirus having contributed mightily to a deep U.S. economic downturn and the wounding of his reelection bid, the president has reversed course. “China claims it is protecting national security, but the truth is that Hong Kong was secure and prosperous as a free society,” he recently asserted. “Beijing’s decision reverses all of that.”

The Trump administration has indicated that some sanctions would be imposed on some Chinese officials responsible for strangling Hong Kong, though not on Xi. It has further vowed to revoke Hong Kong’s preferential customs and trade status — a move that makes sense if Hong Kong is now like any other Chinese city, but that will hurt Hong Kong more than it does China. All in all, however, the U.S. has done nothing with much bite, certainly nothing that has dissuaded Xi from his course.

The law imposed by Beijing effectively overrides Hong Kong’s independent legal system. Essentially, it establishes a category of national-security cases. Hong Kong’s nominal chief executive, currently the CCP’s puppet Carrie Lam, is to set up a national-security commission dominated by Beijing, and Chinese intelligence operatives will operate inside Hong Kong to “advise” local officials on national-security threats.

New national-security units will also be embedded in Hong Kong’s police and prosecutorial offices. To the extent there are inconsistencies, national security will trump local laws. Lam gets to handpick judges to preside over particular national-security cases. While most prosecutions will thus maintain the fig leaf of adjudication by “independent” Hong Kong authorities, cases of importance to the CCP could be transferred to the mainland for what there passes for a trial.

The new law was unanimously enacted by Beijing, ignoring Hong Kong’s legislature. Jamming a thumb in the Western eye, the law — all six articles and 66 clauses — will go into effect immediately, in time to mark tomorrow’s July 1 anniversary of England’s 1997 transfer of Hong Kong to China, under the 1984 Sino–British Joint Declaration. That transfer came with a purported guarantee of the “one country, two systems” arrangement. It was heralded by the West as assurance, for at least a half century, that China would abide Hong Kong’s comparative liberty and autonomy — including the territory’s cherished Western-style legal system, free press, free assembly, and other civil liberties denied on the mainland.

Predictably, in marking the twentieth anniversary of the transfer in 2017, the Chinese foreign ministry declared: “Now that Hong Kong has returned to the motherland for 20 years, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any realistic meaning.” The ministry admonished that the Declaration “does not have any binding power on how the Chinese central government administers Hong Kong,” because the “reality” is that “Britain has no sovereignty, no governing power and no supervising power over Hong Kong.”

China has long planned to swallow Hong Kong. And now it has.

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