Once Free Hong Kong Now Forced to Fit into China’s Repressive Mold

Hong Kong’s social system, which was previously based on freedom and democracy, has been forcibly turned by Beijing into a Chinese-style framework in which dissent is not allowed. Japan and Western countries must continue to challenge China’s violations of its international commitment.

Three years have passed since the national security law came into force in Hong Kong. The law is intended to crack down on dissident activities.

The law prohibits any act to “split the country” and “overthrow the government” as well as “terrorist activities” or behavior that “endangers national security by colluding with foreign forces.” It does not provide specific details, making it unclear what acts are illegal.

The Hong Kong government initially stated that the law would be implemented in a restrained manner. What has actually occurred, however, is the imposition of Chinese-style rule that has stifled society and resulted in the forced removal of residents who resist.

Key pro-democracy figures have been arrested one after another. Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper, known for its critical stance against the Chinese Communist Party, was forced to cease publication. Over the past three years, more than 250 people have been arrested for allegedly threatening national security.

Last month, a polling organization in Hong Kong stopped releasing the results of its annual public opinion survey on the Tiananmen Square incident. The organization is likely to have decided to withhold the information out of fear of falling foul of the law. A pro-democracy movement was suppressed in a violent crackdown in the Tiananmen Square incident, which China has labeled a “counter-revolutionary insurrection.”

Hong Kong’s electoral system has also been changed to allow only those recognized by the authorities as “patriots” to run for office.

This spring, a Hong Kong expatriate studying in Japan was arrested during a visit to Hong Kong on suspicion of posting messages in support of the city’s independence on social media while she was in Japan. The arrest is likely to be aimed at intimidating pro-democracy activists and others who have continued to criticize the Chinese government while based overseas.

It cannot be overlooked that the online messages of Hong Kong expatriates based in Japan are being monitored and used as a reason for detaining them under the national security law. Japanese nationals could also face charges under the law. The Japanese government needs to keep strongly urging Hong Kong authorities to protect freedom of speech.

The introduction of the law is contrary to the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which states that a “high degree of autonomy” will be maintained in Hong Kong for 50 years. It makes no sense that China has responded to international criticism by calling it “interference in internal affairs.”

Hong Kong residents are reportedly moving overseas in droves in disapproval of the city’s Chinafication. If Hong Kong’s standing as an international financial hub continues to decline due to an exodus of people in the financial sector, it is likely to work against China’s national interests.

As long as China’s “one country, two systems” has become a principle in name only in Hong Kong, there is nothing persuasive in Beijing’s claim that this principle would be adopted in the unification of Taiwan. The growing rejection of reunification in Taiwan and the increasing involvement of Japan and the West in Taiwan affairs are the result of China’s own actions.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 1, 2023)