Nathan Law: “Erosion of Hong Kong’s freedom has reached a new height”

The pro-democracy activist on Beijing’s latest crackdown and how foreign powers should respond.


When the exiled Hong Kong activist Nathan Law woke up in locked-down London on Wednesday morning (11 November) he was met with yet more disturbing news from his former home: four pro-democracy MPs had been banned from the territory’s parliament after new rules imposed by China deemed their behaviour “unpatriotic”. By the following day, the rest of the legislators in the opposition camp felt they had no choice but to resign en masse. “The erosion of Hong Kong’s freedom has reached a new height,” said Law of the crackdown.

The news quickly sparked condemnation in the West, with the US, UK and Europe all threatening to introduce further sanctions on China. But in some ways, Law told me, he is “not very shocked” by Hong Kong’s continuing slide away from semi-autonomy. The principle of “one country, two systems”, which China promised to uphold when the territory was transferred from British control in 1997, has seemed increasingly void for months.

Rumours of Beijing’s intolerance of the banned members were already rife, Law notes. This is not the first time Hong Kong’s legislators have been affected by arbitrary rulings from above. Protesters have been locked in jail, news outlets are increasingly censored, and parliamentarians “are not allowed to say anything that violates the rhetoric of the [Chinese Communist] party or the way the party acts,” he warns. “I think Beijing will turn Hong Kong increasingly into just another Chinese city.”

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Law would know. The articulate, bespectacled 27-year-old has long been at the forefront of resistance against Beijing’s authoritarian creep. Raised in state housing by parents who emigrated from mainland China in 2014, he emerged as a key face of the pro-democracy Umbrella movement and was later elected to serve as the city’s youngest-ever lawmaker. Since then, he has himself been barred from the legislature for failing to properly read the oath of office, thrown in jail for two months, and in July this year fled to London after the introduction of a new national security law by Beijing criminalised most forms of protest.

[See also: What I learned from the Hong Kong refugee who came to stay] 

The difference in this latest case, however, Law says, is that the dismissed legislators are “not seen as very provocative, aggressive activists”, but rather as “mainstream, moderate” politicians. Their expulsion “shows that the tolerance of Beijing towards opposition has really deteriorated”.

So what more can international governments do to stem the relentless erosion of Hong Kong’s democratic rights? On Thursday morning, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the move represented a “clear breach” of the 1997 Sino-British joint declaration. The government also summoned the Chinese ambassador in protest.

Law describes the UK’s response as “a very strong signal”. But he notes that the British government also described the implementation of the national security law back in June as a similar “breach”, to little discernible effect.

More is now needed than simple “name and shame tactics, or lip service”, he argues. In their place, …read more

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Source:: New Statesman


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