Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Ivison: Ottawa cautiously considers opening Canada's doors to Hongkongers fleeing their 'Tiananmen moment'

Ivison: Ottawa cautiously considers opening Canada's doors to Hongkongers fleeing their 'Tiananmen moment'

People detained by riot police during a march against national security law at the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from Britain in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2020. Reuters

The new security law claims human rights will be respected and 'freedom of speech, of the press, of publication and of association… shall be protected.'

Hong Kong has just experienced its “Tiananmen moment,” according to China watcher Margaret McCuaig-Johnston.
One of the world’s great cities is having its autonomy, dynamism and creativity leeched from it by the Communist Party of China, following the introduction of a draconian new security law.
The law, introduced on June 30th,  subjects everyone in Hong Kong to a strict ban on political activity that Beijing deems a danger to national security.
Canada’s response has been limited to expressions of concern, at least until Friday, when Justin Trudeau announced the suspension of this country’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong; a new travel advisory, warning of a “increased risk of arbitrary detention” in the territory; and, the revocation of export permits for “sensitive goods,” like crowd-control equipment used by the Hong Kong Police Force.
Trudeau said Canada is joining the international community in expressing its growing concerns. That’s not strictly true. When the United Nations Human Rights Council took a vote, 53 countries supported China’s crackdown, while only 27 countries criticized the law. The voting pattern shows how effective China’s debt-trap diplomacy has been: Support came from a mix of autocracies like North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Syria, and countries deeply indebted to China as part of its Belt and Road infrastructure project.
Francois-Philippe Champagne, the global affairs minister, said Canada is in good company criticizing the law, alongside a number of liberal democracies.
Champagne said Ottawa is considering additional measures around immigration, in conjunction with the U.K. and Australia, which have already talked about a “pathway to citizenship” for Hongkongers who want to leave the territory. (Three million Hongkongers born before the 1997 handover hold British National (overseas) passports, which will allow them to settle in the U.K. for five years before applying for citizenship.)
Champagne said freedom and liberty are the “pillars” on which Hong Kong was built. “I went there for the first time in 1986 and anyone who has ever been in Hong Kong realizes that there is something special there. This is a significant step back,” he said in an interview.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne gestures as he responds to a question at a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday, April 2, 2020. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
The new security law claims human rights will be respected and “freedom of speech, of the press, of publication and of association… shall be protected”.
“Time will tell,” said Champagne.
The new law applies life sentences for crimes of terrorism, subversion, secession and collusion. Even the U.N. says the law includes “poorly defined crimes,” easily subject to abuse and repression.
What remains to be seen is how strictly those provisions are applied, but the early signs are not encouraging. The law was introduced at 11pm on June 30 and there have been 10 arrests already, with one person detained for carrying a pro-independence flag. Subversion could mean simply “disrupting or undermining” the government. The protesters slogan: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” has already been deemed seditious, since it condones Hong Kong independence.
A new Office for Safeguarding National Security will be created under the legislation, gathering information and handling “complex” cases that may end up being prosecuted on the mainland. The office, which is not subject to Hong Kong law, will “strengthen the management” of relations with international organizations, NGOs and foreign news agencies.
The Department of Justice will establish a specialist prosecution division. Trials will be presided over by judges picked by the government, who may decide to dispense with jurors. The package of 66 articles is much worse than anyone had anticipated.
A string of Chinese and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) flags are seen on Lamma Island in Hong Kong, China, on Thursday, July 2, 2020. Ivan Abreu/Bloomberg
The Chinese government has gambled that its clampdown will not kill the golden goose. Hong Kong accounts for just three per cent of Chinese GDP, down from around 25 per cent at the time of the handover in 1997. But the prospect that any criticism of the regime might be interpreted as subversion or collusion with a foreign country will, inevitably, kill the magic that made the territory a magnet for talent and money.
McCuaig-Johnston, senior fellow at the China Institute at the University of Alberta, said the dilemma for many people who live there is not about promoting Hong Kong independence, but whether they can protest to protect the level of democracy that already exists. Prominent Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law has already fled the city for his own safety.
McCuaig-Johnston said Canada should take in Hongkongers who want to come here, if China permits them to leave. Champagne confirmed the government will have more to say in the coming days and weeks. But Ottawa has to weigh the impact of such a move on its efforts to free Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig from Chinese jails. China has called on Britain and Australia to “remedy their mistake,” following their announcements of possible help for Hongkongers. Champagne said “the world is watching” what happens in the territory.
But China is oblivious to shaming and impervious to pressure. Xi Jinping simply has no incentive to conform to international rules, as he tries to upturn the status quo in the western Pacific through stealth and intimidation.
Chinese national flags are seen on the ground during a march against national security law at the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China from Britain, in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2020. Tyrone Siu/Reuters
I write this with immense sadness, knowing that these views could leave me open to arrest if I ever re-visit Hong Kong, a city I love.Carrie Lam, the territory’s puppet chief executive, said Hong Kong will remain an international city for international businesses and international media to come and carry out their activities as normal. That is wishful thinking. Who in their right mind is going to risk their liberty doing business in what is now a surveillance state?
It’s a tragedy. Rudyard Kipling wrote that East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.

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