A sweeping new Chinese security law that critics warn will dismantle the last vestiges of Hong Kong‘s autonomy came into effect Wednesday in what one Chinese official called a “birthday gift” for the city.
The contentious new bill criminalizes dissent and criticism of the Chinese regime, including from those abroad, and came into effect on the anniversary of the former British colony’s 1997 handover to China.
For Canadians with family in Hong Kong, the crackdowns already taking place on the law’s first day are driving home the reality that exercising the freedoms they have here in the hope of helping those still in Hong Kong might mean they themselves can never go back — or that their families could face risk.
“We’ve seen that kind of tactic employed against Chinese dissidents over the years,” said Cherie Wong, a Hong Konger Canadian who is executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong.
“With that in mind, I decided to send out the tweet: a personal statement to say I will not be returning to Hong Kong, I will not be returning to China and that my political opinions and advocacy have nothing to do with my family, to proactive — hopefully — be able to protect my family.”
The tweet Wong references was one she sent out on Tuesday, the day that Beijing’s rubber-stamp legislature approved the contentious law it claims will restore stability to Hong Kong.
Wong spoke to Global News from Canada and said her decision comes despite the fact she hasn’t been back to Hong Kong in four years.
But she said the risks posed by the broad new language and powers under the new law are too much of a risk, not only to her but to anyone living or even travelling through Hong Kong.
“Canadians who are in Hong Kong right now are not safe. Canadians who travel through Hong Kong are not safe,” she said.
“Any people who step foot onto Hong Kong right now are not safe.”
The former British colony has witnessed waves of pro-democracy protests over the last year in response to Chinese interference in Hong Kong’s political system and law enforcement.
Hong Kong was returned from British governance to China under a legally-binding international treaty that declared its residents would continue to enjoy certain rights not available to those on mainland China: specifically, democratic rights.
But Beijing has been tightening its grip on Hong Kong in recent years and experts have warned the national security bill is the latest and more threatening attempt to crush both dissent and the last vestiges of the one country, two systems principle that served as the foundation of the handover.
Julian Braithwaite, the U.K.’s ambassador to the United Nations, issued on Tuesday a joint declaration signed by 27 countries, including Canada, that condemned the implementation of the law.
“Making such a law without the direct participation of Hong Kong’s people, legislature or judiciary of Hong Kong undermines ‘one country, two systems,'” he said in the declaration.
“We urge the Chinese and Hong Kong governments to reconsider the imposition of this legislation and to engage Hong Kong’s people, institutions and judiciary to prevent further erosion of the rights and freedoms that the people of Hong Kong have enjoyed for many years.”
Police in Hong Kong arrested more than 200 people on the first day of the new law.
Former Hong Kong lawmaker and pro-democracy activist Emily Lau warned during a recent interview on The West Block that without help, the people of Hong Kong face the very real danger of becoming refugees as a result of the crackdowns.
But she said those fighting against Chinese interference will not stop.
“We’re not trying to fight for independence or secession,” she said. “We just want China to keep the promise in the 1984 joint Sino-British declaration — leave us alone.
“While we are here, we will fight.”
The Canadian government, so far, has updated its travel advisory for Hong Kong to say that given the enactment of the law, Canadians travelling there “may be at increased risk of arbitrary detention on national security grounds and possible extradition to mainland China.”
There are 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong and roughly 500,000 Canadians of Hong Kong descent.
Wong also said her organization and others working to promote democracy in Hong Kong will not stop.
But she said she suspects many in Hong Kong will have to adjust because of the threat of the new law.
“I think slowly but surely we will see a shift in the Hong Kong activism from being on the streets of Hong Kong to being more underground,” she said when asked what the future of protest looks like there.
“This law has really encouraged overseas activists like me to step up our game and say, if people in Hong Kong can no longer speak up and can no longer express their political opinion freely, then I must.”