During a special parliamentary committee on Canada-China relations Thursday, American citizen Samuel Chu was asked to test the reach of Beijing’s draconian new national security laws for Hong Kong.
Conservative MP John Williamson was demonstrating a point hammered repeatedly by hearing witnesses such as Chu, a Hong Kong democracy advocate who woke up in Los Angeles on Aug. 1 to discover Beijing had charged him under Article 38 of the law (inciting secession and colluding with foreign powers).
Williamson read this statement to Chu: “I support a democratic China. I believe the People’s Republic of China should embrace democracy.”
“Have I broken the new law?” Williamson asked.
“Welcome to the club of international fugitives,” Chu said. “The implication is having this hearing and talking about any sort of Canadian policy towards Hong Kong that involves sanctions, is apparently something that will trigger (the new laws). It definitely will subject you to an arrest.”
Chu and other witnesses including Prof. Michael Davis explained that the law places Chinese Communist Party leaders and secret Chinese police on the ground in Hong Kong above all prior laws in the jurisdiction. And Chu said the new laws are deliberately expansive, vague and chilling. Committee members said it’s an open question as to how Beijing will use extradition laws to go after those charged outside of China and Hong Kong.
“The design of the law is to implicate everyone and anyone,” Chu said. “Anyone even connected to people speaking out about Hong Kong is implicated. Now I can’t travel to Hong Kong or China, or even any country that has friendly relations with China.”
Davis said court processes in Hong Kong will offer no protection from arbitrary decisions made by elite Chinese political figures, which means anyone that travels to Hong Kong is in danger.
“Under the new law it doesn’t matter that what we are saying here today is not violating Canadian law and exercising freedom of expression,” Prof. Davis said. “We could be charged if we advocate sanctions against China now. And there is a kind of secret police now. If security officials from Mainland China want to, they can render you to the Mainland for trial. So Hong Kongers, or foreigners in Hong Kong including Canadians, if they are arrested they can be taken to China.”
Jody Chan of the Alliance Canada Hong Kong, an umbrella group for democracy advocates, said testimony on Thursday should be a wakeup call for all Canadians of Beijing’s “stunning overreach.”
Members of the Alliance testified earlier this week and monitored the hearing Thursday.
“Any Canadian, or anyone in the world who is highly critical of the Chinese Communist Party can be charged and arrested for ‘subversion,’” Chan said. “Article 38 does not only target people of Chinese heritage. The accusation against and detention of former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor showed Beijing’s willingness to use similar legislation against any foreign entities.”
The committee also heard from Cheuk Kwan of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China. Kwan said he believes nothing can be done to save democracy in Hong Kong now.
“We can talk about Hong Kong all day, but we have to protect our own citizens in Canada,” he said.
Kwan said that all democracy rallies for Hong Kong in Canada have been countered by actors directed by Chinese consulates. Kwan claimed that Chinese international students are compelled to target Hong Kong democracy rallies or face repercussions for their families in Mainland China. He said Chinese consulates are directing so-called United Front operations in Canada, including organizing press conferences and rallies for detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. And Alliance members testified earlier this week that Chinese dissidents are targeted with threats and harassment by Chinese Communist Party operatives in Canada.
New York University School of Law Prof. Jerome A. Cohen said Ottawa is not doing enough to protect Chinese-Canadians from Chinese intelligence operations aimed at securing support for Beijing.
“Your government should be more vigorous,” Cohen said.
Earlier this week the Canada-China Relations Committee members heard the concerns of activists who have been calling on Ottawa to respond with targeted sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials and to offer safe harbour to activists at risk of arbitrary arrests in response to the sweeping national security law that critics say aims to crush political dissent.
Last month, Canada ended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and moved to restrict the export of sensitive military items. In response, Beijing, accusing Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia “gross interference.”