Canadian businesses and workers need to understand there is a new set of risks to working or travelling in Hong Kong in light of the national security law imposed by Beijing on the region this past summer.
And while Canada’s consul general to Hong Kong and Macao said diplomatic staff haven’t yet had Canadians show up at the consulate seeking protection from arbitrary detention, plans and resources for a potential emergency evacuation remain in place in case they are needed.
“We have resources identified to cover a range of situations, including where the urgent departure of a large number of Canadians would be necessary,” Jeff Nankivell said in testimony before the special committee on Canada-China relations on Monday.
“The likelihood of that kind of extreme scenario seems right now to be very low but it’s our job to plan for the most extreme situations.”
Hong Kong is a former British colony that was handed over to Beijing in 1997 under a legally binding international agreement that stated it would be allowed to keep operating democratically for 50 years.
This agreement is often referred to as the one country, two systems principle.
However, China violated that agreement this summer when it imposed a secretive and draconian new law it claimed would protect Chinese national security. The terms of the law were only announced once it went into effect, and it authorizes Chinese law enforcement to operate in Hong Kong.
The law also is unprecedented in the scope of how it attempts to criminalize actions outside Hong Kong as well, claiming criticism or dissent from abroad against Chinese handling of what it deems its own affairs constitutes a crime.
China does not have an independent judiciary and routinely prosecutes political opponents of the Chinese Communist Party without fair trials.
Nankivell said the imposition of the law has “significantly” changed the way consulate officials talk about Hong Kong and how they communicate the risks of operating there to Canadian businesses.
“I spend a lot of time talking about our concerns with the national security law and the risks,” he said.
“When we talk to audiences in Canada about Hong Kong, it’s our responsibility to give an accurate picture … we are giving what we hope is an accurate representation.”
“We have warned Canadian businesses that there are new risks since the national security law came in.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has faced criticism for a lack of action in imposing consequences on China for violating the one country, two systems agreement.
While his government suspended the extradition treaty with Hong Kong and restricted sensitive exports to the region in light of China’s crackdown, he has so far refused to impose Magnitsky sanctions on any Chinese officials despite repeated calls to do so from pro-democracy activists, human rights advocates and even a broad swath of Canadian senators and political leaders.
China has detained two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — for two years on charges of endangering national security that are widely viewed as arbitrary and politically motivated.
Chinese officials have repeatedly raised the detentions when pushing for Canadian officials to politically interfere in the extradition trial of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, giving credence to the suspicions that their detentions are retribution for Canada adhering to its extradition treaty with the United States.
American prosecutors have charged Meng and her company with dozens of counts related to allegedly skirting sanctions on Iran and stealing corporate secrets.