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China is trying to extend anti-free speech security law beyond its borders

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves to deputies at the 13th National People's Congress in Beijing on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. (Lan Hongguang/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)
July 24, 2020

A new security law from Beijing that was forced on Hong Kong on July 1 includes an article that makes it illegal for anyone in the world to support democratic reform for Hong Kong.

Article 38 of the law states, “This Law shall apply to offenses under this Law committed against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region.”

Offenses and penalties listed in the law include secession, subversion, terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country.

Titled “The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” the move is part of China’s years-long campaign to stifle organized dissent in Hong Kong and abroad.

“It literally applies to every single person on the planet,” Wang Minyao, a Chinese-American lawyer based in New York, told Axios. “This is how it reads. If I appear at a congressional committee in D.C. and say something critical, that literally would be a violation of this law.”

If someone advocates for democracy in Hong Kong, or criticizes the government in Hong Kong or Beijing, it could lead to legal consequences if they enter Hong Kong, or have assets or family members there.

“One of the main purposes of having the national security law is to quash the international front of the movement,” Nathan Law, a Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker, told Axios after fleeing the city last week. “For Hong Kong, we have to understand that it is the foreground of a very global fight, authoritarianism versus democracy.”

The application of a country’s domestic anti-free speech laws abroad is unprecedented, Axios reported. The law “codifies and extends” to non-Chinese citizens’ rules that the Chinese Communist Party has forced on its own citizens abroad. In January, a Chinese student at the University of Minnesota returned home only to be sentenced to six months in prison for a tweet criticizing General Secretary of the CCP Xi Jinping that he posted while in the U.S.

According to Axios, Beijing has used its market access to silence foreign companies and organizations for years. Marriot fired an employee who used a company social media account to like a post about Tibet after Beijing complained. Tactics of this nature are not uncommon from the CCP; but what was once informal coercion is now law.

According to Donald Clarke, a professor of Chinese law at George Washington University, the purpose of the law is “to put the fear of God into all China critics the world over.”