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Hong Kong’s Lam hits out at US threat of sanctions

Carrie Lam, then-Secretary for Administration of Hong Kong. (Voice of America/Wikimedia Commons)
June 03, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam hit out at recent moves by the United States to reevaluate the city’s special status as a separate legal jurisdiction and trading entity, saying any sanctions would hurt U.S. interests.

The Trump administration announced on May 29 it would begin the process of taking away the special trade and investment status it grants Hong Kong, in response to China’s decision to impose a national security law that ends the city’s status as a separate legal jurisdiction.

Beijing last week ratified a plan to impose draconian sedition and subversion legislation on Hong Kong that will enable its feared state security police to operate in the city, which was promised the continuation of its traditional freedoms under the 1997 handover to China.

In a move that likely signals the end of Hong Kong’s promised autonomy and traditional freedoms of speech and association, the ruling Chinese Communist Party says the law is needed owing to “notable national security risks” following months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

The powerful National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee will now draft the legislation and insert it into Hong Kong law without going through the city’s own legislature.

Chinese and Hong Kong officials “directly or indirectly involved in eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy” will face sanctions, U.S. President Donald Trump has warned.

Lam said there was “no justification whatsoever” for any government to impose sanctions as a result of the new law.

“My stance is to point out to the American government and indeed to other governments, should that occasion arise, that they will be hurting their own interests in Hong Kong,” Lam said, citing a trade surplus in goods between the U.S. and Hong Kong in Washington’s favor, and visa waivers offered to U.S. citizens, which aren’t reciprocated.

“I point out the facts and the figures so that they will do their own calculations,” Lam said.

She said she believes that Hong Kong will retain its judicial independence even after the law enters the statute books.

Many fear for their freedoms

But a recent opinion poll showed that more than 63 percent of respondents are worried that the national security law will affect their rights and freedoms as residents of Hong Kong.

A similar proportion said they believe the national security law will undermine the city’s status as a global financial center, while 64 percent said it would destroy the city’s separate legal jurisdiction, commonly known as “one country, two systems.”

Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) politics professor Ma Ngok said the ruling Chinese Communist Party, in foisting the national security law on Hong Kong without bothering to go through the provisions set down in Article 23 of the city’s Basic Law, has violated the city’s mini-constitution.

Ma Yue, an associate professor in the Department of Politics and Administration of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told this station that Article 23 of the Basic Law states that Hong Kong can legislate on its own. This time the Beijing authorities forcibly passed the “Hong Kong version of the National Security Law”, which was a violation of Hong Kong’s laws.

“Article 23 of the Basic Law states that Hong Kong is to legislate on its own account,” Ma said. “This has been the understanding for more than 20 years.”

“The Chinese government can say that the National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee has the power to modify the Basic Law, but I think … [this move] has violated Hong Kong’s right to make its own laws.”

Ma said Beijing’s actions would make people doubt that Hong Kong’s judges would be able to maintain neutrality, fairness, and impartiality when hearing cases under the law.

“We have already had a great number of political cases [linked to last year’s protests and the Occupy Central movement], and many people in Hong Kong already feel that they weren’t tried in a fair and impartial manner,” Ma said.

“Their confidence in Hong Kong’s judicial independence has been severely damaged, so it will be even more difficult to win people’s confidence in the judiciary if even more high-profile cases are brought under the national security law,” he said.

‘Call to step back’

The United Kingdom called on Beijing to step back and fulfill its international obligations over the former British colony.

“It can cross the Rubicon and violate the autonomy and the rights of the people of Hong Kong or it can step back, understand the widespread concern of the international community, and live up to its responsibilities as a leading member of the international community,” foreign secretary Dominic Raab told parliament.

“To be very clear and specific about this, the imposition of national security legislation on Hong Kong by the government in Beijing rather than through Hong Kong’s own institutions lies in direct conflict … with China’s international obligations freely assumed under the Joint Declaration.”

“There is time for China to reconsider, there is a moment for China to step back from the brink and respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and respect China’s own international obligations,” Raab said.

“This is a question of specific undertakings, which were made at the time of the handover, to the United Kingdom and, more important, to the people of Hong Kong—and, indeed, to the world,” he said in a separate remark.

“We will, with our international partners, press rigorously and robustly to try to require China to live up to its obligations and, frankly, the responsibilities that come with wanting to be treated as a leading member of the international community.”

The Hong Kong opinion poll, commissioned by the Ming Pao newspaper and carried out by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), also found that 37 percent of Hongkongers are willing to emigrate, an increase of 13 percent compared with the last survey in March.

The survey found that many of the younger generation are now looking at democratic Taiwan as a possible destination, after the island’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, announced a fast-track immigration package for Hongkongers fleeing retaliation for last year’s protest movement.

Among people identifying as being from Hong Kong, rather than as Chinese or other identities, the percentage of those wanting to emigrate rose to more than 63 percent.

Immigration consultant Hui Tak-wai said his company has been getting around 100 calls a day, compared with 20 to 30 requests daily prior to the announcement of the national security law.