GP Insights # 457, 9 January 2021
On 6 January 2021, 53 Hong Kong opposition politicians and activists were arrested in a police raid, on suspicion of violating the national security law. Those arrested include 13 former legislative councillors, academicians, district councillors, student activists, and organizers of last year's mass marches. Li Kwai-wah, a senior police superintendent, also said that they had frozen more than USD 200,000 in funds related to the effort.
On the same day, Hua Chunying, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said that the arrest only impeded the "freedom of some external forces and individuals" in Hong Kong "to collude with each other to attempt to undermine China's stability and security". The Hong Kong democracy activists have called for the release of "political prisoners".
What is the background?
First, China's imposition of National Security Law in June 2020. The law punishes secession, sedition, and collusion crimes with foreign forces with terms up to life imprisonment. Since then, the Hong Kong authorities have detained dozens of pro-democracy leaders, raided media offices, and ousted opposition lawmakers. China has been using the law to curtail freedom by systematically targeting protestors. Young protestors like Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam, and Agnes Chow Ting were convicted. Political leaders, lawmakers and media institutions have also been targeted. Soon after the law was passed, seven pro-democratic politicians were arrested on charges of "contempt" and "interfering" with the city's Legislative Council. In November, China's National People's Congress Standing Committee passed a resolution disqualifying four pro-democracy lawmakers. Jimmy Lai, the founder of an independent media institution Apple Daily, was accused of colluding with foreign powers and was arrested under the new security law.
Second, the pro-democracy protests have largely died down in Hong Kong after Beijing began implementing the law. In June 2019, over a million people took to the streets, clashed with the police, and shut the airports against the law allowing extradition to China. Today, the protests and mass gatherings in public places have ceased.
Third, the international response. The arrest has drawn criticism from the international community. Countries have responded with sanctions and imposed a travel ban on Chinese officials. The US Congress approved a bill in July 2020, penalizing banks doing business with Chinese officials soon after Beijing enacted law in Hong Kong. In July 2020, the UK had offered citizenship to three million Hong Kongers. Citizens with British National (Overseas) or BNO status, will be able to apply from January 2021. In August 2020, the New York Times had announced moving parts of its Hong Kong office to the South Korean capital Seoul.
What does it mean?
First, more than a year after protests started in Hong Kong, it is clear that the protestors have lost out. With these recent arrests, will there be another round of resistance by the young protestors is a question.
The recent arrest will weaken the opposition within the city's political institutions because many leaders could be in prison or their arrests would officially lead to their disqualification.