John Cushnahan: While the world has been distracted, China has ruthlessly tightened its grip on Hong Kong

While the international powers were distracted by the Covid 19 crisis, the US presidential election and the EU-UK Brexit negotiations, China took advantage of the situation by continuing to ruthlessly turn Hong Kong into a puppet state of Beijing, writes JOHN CUSHNAHAN.

By John Cushnahan
Wednesday, 16th December 2020, 12:53 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th December 2020, 12:58 pm
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai is escorted to a prison van before appearing in a court, in Hong Kong, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. Lai, who founded the Apple Daily tabloid, has been charged under the city's national security law (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai is escorted to a prison van before appearing in a court, in Hong Kong, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. Lai, who founded the Apple Daily tabloid, has been charged under the city's national security law (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Having effectively torn up the 1984 Joint Sino-British Declaration and destroyed the ‘one country, two systems’ concept. China has in the last few days turned its focus on smashing the Democracy Protest movement.

In mid-November, China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed a resolution stating that those who support the city’s independence or refuse to acknowledge China’s sovereignty over the city, as well as commit acts that threaten national security or ask external forces to interfere in the city’s affairs should be disqualified.

In implementing this edict, the Hong Kong government disqualified four of the most moderate pro- democracy legislators in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council – Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kenneth Leung and Kwok Ka-ki.

China and its puppet regime in Hong Kong must be confronted by the global community, writes John Cushnahan, above, who was the European Parliament Special Rapporteur on Hong Kong. Issuing words of condemnation is totally insufficient

None of them had ever advocated independence. In fact, they all accepted China’s sovereignty. Their primary objective was to defend what remained of Hong Kong’s autonomy, its fundamental rights and freedoms and the rule of law.

Their ‘crime’ apparently was that in the past they had talked to foreign parliamentarians and the media.

Their disqualification was followed by the resignation of all pro-democracy politicians in the Legislative Council.

Announcing the decision, the Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said. “There is separation of powers under the Basic Law, but today, the central government’s decision means separation of powers will be taken away. All the power will be centralised in the Chief Executive – a puppet of the central government. So today is the end of ‘one country, two systems’.”

Joshua Wong, the student activist, who said it would be "unbelievably scandalous" if Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill had backed China in Hong Kong, which they denied, has been jailed for 13 months over a protest

The mass resignations also meant that the Legislative Council is now composed entirely of pro-Beijing lawmakers, who would now pass legislation that China wanted without any opposition.

China’s action was strongly criticised at the time by the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States secretary of state who in a joint statement called on the Chinese authorities to re-instate the legislators said:

“China’s action is a clear breach of its international obligations under the legally binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration … We call on China to stop undermining the right of the people of Hong Kong to elect their representatives in keeping with the Joint Declaration and Basic Law.”

However, the hypocritical behaviour of the two key governments who were signatories to this statement seriously undermined the moral authority of any such message. They were both guilty of calling on China ‘to do as we say but not as we do ourselves’.

John Cushnahan, a former Alliance Party leader then Fine Gael MEP, who was European Parliament Rapporteur for Hong Kong from 1997 to 2004 after Hong Kong was handed back to China. Pictured in about 2002 with Martin Lee, leader and founder of Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Movement and Chris Patten, EU External Relations Commissioner and before that the last governor of Hong Kong

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had initially introduced legislation in the UK Internal Market Bill which would override the Northern Irish Protocol part of the Brexit divorce agreement despite the fact that his government would knowingly breach international law which he had criticised China for doing in relation to Hong Kong.

Thankfully this has now been abandoned.

Additionally, US President Donald Trump gave a ‘two finger’ salute to the democratic right of US voters to elect his successor by still refusing to recognise the legitimacy of the successful election of Joe Biden.

Hopefully he may also now change his mind.

Having ignored the statement of the five foreign ministers, China and those that do its bidding have now turned their attentions to leaders of the Democracy Protest movement and its allies.

On December 2, Hong Kong’s democracy activist Joshua Wong, aged 24, was jailed for 13 months for his part in an alleged unlawful anti-government rally outside police headquarters demanding the Hong Kong government withdraw a now shelved extradition bill.

In the summer, Wong responded angrily to a claim by the Chinese consulate in Northern Ireland that Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill had told China’s consul in Belfast that the Stormont executive “understands and respects” what Beijing is doing in Hong Kong (something the first and deputy first minister denied and the consulate later retracted).

Wong told his then 650,000 Twitter followers that it would be “unbelievably scandalous if it is really the case that the First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland have said they ‘understand and respect’ Beijing’s human rights abuses”.

Also jailed with Wong were Agnes Chow 23 and Ivan Lam,26 for 10 months and seven months respectively for their part in the rally.

The severity of the sentences provoked an international outcry and questions have been raised about the independence of the Hong Kong judiciary.

On Monday last week a further eight people were arrested who were involved in an unauthorised protest at the Chinese University of Hong Kong last month as Hong Kong authorities continue to impose the controversial National Security Law.

Three of these have been detained on suspicion of inciting secession because they allegedly shouted political slogans.

Breaches of this law can result in a sentence of life imprisonment.

On Tuesday December 8 another eight people were arrested relating to another anti-government protest in July this year.

It is speculated that former pro-democracy lawmaker and veteran activist Leung Kwok-hung who is known as Long Hair is among them.

All these recent arrests are indicative of a new sustained campaign by Hong Kong authorities to cripple the protest movement.

Additionally, Jimmy Lai aged 73 who is a Hong Kong media tycoon and pro-democracy supporter and owner of the tabloid ‘Apple Daily’ appeared in court on Saturday December 12 charged with breaching the National Security Law which could result in him being jailed for life.

He was accused of “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security”.

The relentless and ruthless actions of China and its puppet regime in Hong Kong must be confronted by the international community before the situation deteriorates further. Issuing words of condemnation particularly when some major powers are guilty of the same practices is totally insufficient.

The reason why China is so arrogant in its actions is because of its emergence as a major economic power in recent years. China will only be stopped in its tracks if the international community collectively imposes strong financial sanctions which seriously threatens to undermine China’s economy.

John Cushnahan is a former Alliance Party leader and former Fine Gael MEP. He was European Parliament Rapporteur on Hong Kong 1997 -2004

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