The international community must not turn a blind eye to China’s campaign to take advantage of the new coronavirus pandemic to crack down on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. The situation in Hong Kong requires close monitoring.
The wave of anti-government protests that shook the Chinese territory last year has waned since the outbreak of the virus, which led to restrictions on public gatherings. No notable demonstrations have been held since the pandemic began.
The authorities in Hong Kong are now making moves to suppress voices calling for democracy in the autonomous region as if under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis.
Last week, Hong Kong police arrested 15 leading pro-democracy figures for their involvement in the demonstrations last year. Police say they violated an ordinance by organizing, publicizing and taking part in protests that had not been permitted by the authorities.
Those arrested were all well-known people, including the founder of a local newspaper, and legislators.
More than 7,000 people were arrested in connection with mass rallies that convulsed the former British colony last year. But it is hard not to be suspicious of the motives behind the latest abrupt arrests of 15 people, more than six months after the demonstrations. It is clear that the roundup was a step in what appears to be a renewed clampdown on the pro-democracy movement.
An election of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council is scheduled to be held in September. Alarmed by the crushing victory of the pro-democracy camp in district council elections last year, the authorities are apparently seeking to stall the momentum of the movement through blatant intimidation before the political climate starts heating up.
In Hong Kong, a gathering of five or more people in public has been banned in principle since the end of March to stem the spread of the virus. Pro-democracy protesters have been staging moderate forms of demonstrations, such as marching in the streets in groups of four or using online games to express anti-government messages, but they have not staged mass rallies.
Beijing’s efforts to press for restrictions that would curb the protests undoubtedly lie behind the Hong Kong government’s fresh crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.
A top Chinese government official stationed in Hong Kong recently called for controversial national security legislation to be urgently passed. The official’s call for a new national security law for Hong Kong, which has been shelved because of strong local protests, shook the local community.
Beijing has also started arguing that its office in Hong Kong has the right to “supervise” the city’s legislature and other elements of its policy making process.
Hong Kong’s “Basic Law” stipulates, “No department of the Central People’s Government may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law.”
But the Chinese government is trying to forcibly change the interpretation of the provision to assert more powerfully what it perceives as its right to intervene in Hong Kong’s affairs.
This is an attempt to eviscerate the principle of “One Country, Two Systems,” which is supposed to give the territory “a high degree of autonomy.”
How do the leaders in Beijing view the meaning of what happened in Hong Kong last year, when hordes of local residents took to the streets, despite police violence and fierce pressure from the Hong Kong government, to protest against the Chinese government’s policies toward their city?
Beijing can only underestimate at its own peril the determination of people in Hong Kong to protect their freedom.
The governments of the United States, Britain and Australia have expressed concern about the arrests of the 15 people in the middle of their own desperate battles against the coronavirus pandemic.
Japan should join them in this call. This is all the more important in view of the international community’s commitment to the values of democracy and freedom.
Nations around the world need to pay attention to the voices of people in Hong Kong and demonstrate their solidarity with them.