Hong Kong Postpones Elections For One Year Over COVID-19

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference at the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 31, 2020. Anthony WALLACE / AFP
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference at the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 31, 2020. Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

Hong Kong’s democracy supporters were dealt a huge blow Friday as authorities postponed local elections for a year because of the coronavirus, capping a devastating month of political disqualifications, arrests for social media posts and activists fleeing overseas.

The city’s democracy camp has come under sustained attack since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law last month — a move China’s leaders described as a “sword” hanging over the head of its critics.

The ensuing weeks have sent a chill through a city used to speaking its mind and supposedly guaranteed certain freedoms and autonomy in a “One Country, Two Systems” deal agreed ahead of its 1997 handover from Britain.

On Friday evening chief executive Carrie Lam, a pro-Beijing appointee, announced that September elections for the financial hub’s legislature would be delayed for a year using emergency anti-virus powers.

This file photo taken on November 24, 2019 shows political campaigners holding up signs to arriving voters during the district council elections in North Point in Hong Kong.  VIVEK PRAKASH / AFP
This file photo taken on November 24, 2019 shows political campaigners holding up signs to arriving voters during the district council elections in North Point in Hong Kong. VIVEK PRAKASH / AFP

 

She denied the move was a political decision to hobble the city’s opposition.

“I am only paying attention to the current pandemic situation,” she said.

Beijing welcomed the move as “necessary, reasonable and legal”.

But the decision infuriated democracy supporters who had warned against any move to delay the polls, accusing authorities of using the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid a drubbing at the ballot box.

“This is a sleazy, contemptible political act to help thwart any victory on the part of the democrats in the original election,” opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo told AFP, warning that public anger could explode.

The postponement came a day after a dozen prominent democracy activists were barred from standing for election because their political views were deemed unacceptable.

“Beyond any doubt (this) is the most scandalous election fraud era in Hong Kong history,” Joshua Wong, one of the city’s most recognisable democracy figures, told reporters Friday before the elections were postponed.

Wong was one of those disqualified, along with other young firebrand activists and some older, more moderate democracy campaigners.

Banned political views

Hong Kong is not a democracy — its leader is chosen by pro-Beijing committees.

But half of its legislature’s 70 seats are directly elected, offering the city’s 7.5 million residents a rare chance to have their voices heard at the ballot box.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (C) speaks during a press conference at the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 31, 2020.  Anthony WALLACE / AFP
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (C) speaks during a press conference at the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 31, 2020. Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

Planning to capitalise on last year’s huge and often violent anti-Beijing protests, democracy activists had been hoping to win their first-ever majority in September.

But officials have begun scrubbing ballot lists of candidates.

Examples given by authorities of unacceptable political views have included criticising the new security law, campaigning to win a legislation-blocking majority and refusing to recognise China’s sovereignty.

Earlier in the day a coalition of democracy parties warned any bid to delay the elections would herald “the complete collapse of our constitutional system”.

Around half of Hong Kong’s nearly 3,300 COVID-19 cases have been detected in the past month alone and authorities fear hospitals are on the verge of being overwhelmed.

According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, at least 68 elections worldwide have been postponed because of the virus, while 49 went ahead.

New security law

Hong Kong is going through its most politically turbulent period since its return to Chinese rule, and last year seven straight months of pro-democracy protests swept the city.

The pandemic and mass arrests have helped throttle the movement, but anger towards Beijing still seethes.

This file photo taken on July 11, 2020 shows information posters posted on a wall at a New Territories East polling station during a primary election in Hong Kong. May JAMES / AFP
This file photo taken on July 11, 2020 shows information posters posted on a wall at a New Territories East polling station during a primary election in Hong Kong. May JAMES / AFP

 

In response, China imposed its security law on June 30, bypassing the legislature and keeping the contents of the law secret until it was enacted.

Beijing said the law would restore stability and not impact political freedoms.

It targets four types of crime — subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces — with up to life in prison.

But the broadly worded law instantly outlawed certain political views such as promoting independence or greater autonomy for Hong Kong.

One provision bans “inciting hatred” towards the government.

Critics, including many Western nations, say it has demolished the “One Country, Two Systems” model.

Since it came into force, some political parties have disbanded while at least three prominent Beijing critics have fled overseas.

Libraries and schools have pulled books deemed to be in breach of the new law.

At least 15 arrests have been made so far.

On Wednesday four students were arrested under the new law for “inciting secession” through posts on social media.

Others have been arrested for shouting pro-independence and other protest slogans, or possessing objects emblazoned with them.

A man who allegedly drove his motorbike into a group of police officers while flying an independence flag was the first to be charged under the law, with terrorism and secession offences.

Hong Kong Leader Says Coronavirus Now Spreading ‘Out Of Control’

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) contractors prepare to take part in a cleaning and disinfection of Pei Ho Street Market in the Sham Shui Po district of Hong Kong on July 17, 2020, as the city experiences another spike in COVID-19 coronavirus cases. ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP

 

 

The deadly coronavirus is spreading out of control in Hong Kong with a record 100 new cases confirmed, the finance hub’s leader said Sunday as she tightened social distancing measures to tackle the sudden surge in infections.

The finance hub was one of the first places to be struck by the virus when it emerged from central China.

But the city had impressive success in tackling the disease, all but ending local transmissions by late June.

However, in the last two weeks, infections have spiked once more and doctors fear the new outbreak is now spreading undetected in the densely packed territory of 7.5 million people.

Read Also: Stranded Nigerian Woman Delivered Of Quadruplets In Dubai Calls For Help

On Sunday chief executive Carrie Lam said more than 500 infections had been confirmed in the last fortnight alone, nearly a third since the outbreak began.

On Sunday 108 new infections were recorded by health authorities, a daily high for the finance hub, bringing the total to 1,886 cases.

“I think the situation is really critical and there is no sign the situation is being brought under control,” Lam told reporters.

Lam announced new social distancing measures last week, shuttering many businesses including bars, gyms and nightclubs, and ordering everyone to wear masks on public transport.

Restaurants were ordered to only offer takeout services in the evenings.

On Sunday Lam announced even more regulations, including plans to make it compulsory to wear masks inside any public indoor venue — and a new order for non-essential civil servants to work for home.

As hospital wards fill, officials are also scrambling to build a further 2,000 isolation rooms on barren land near the city’s Disneyland resort to monitor and treat those who test positive, she added.

Hong Kong was already mired in recession when the pandemic hit thanks to the US-China trade war and months of political unrest last year.

The new partial lockdown has compounded the economic misery.

On Sunday, Lam called for landlords to look at lowering rents in the notoriously expensive city where inequality is rampant.

She said further social distancing measures would be rolled out if the daily infection rate did not ease in coming days.

However, she said she was keen to avoid ordering people to remain at home.

“We can’t just make a simple and extreme move to cut everything at once,” Lam said.

Authorities say testing will be ramped up, targeting high-risk populations such as taxi drivers and restaurant workers after clusters were found within their ranks.

Some of the new infections have swept through elderly care homes, a major cause of concern given how deadly the coronavirus is to older people.

So far twelve people have been died after contracting the virus in Hong Kong — four in the last fortnight.

Lam said officials would try to strike a balance between protecting health and keeping the economy partially afloat.

“It’s hard to tell what kind of measures we will need to roll out… many places have ordered people to stay home,” she said.

“We haven’t adopted that in the last six months because we wanted to maintain a normal life for everyone.”

Hong Kong To Shut All Schools After Virus Cases Spike

File photo: Students of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) participate in a march towards HKUST president Wei Shyy’s lodge in Hong Kong on November 8, 2019, following the death earlier in the day of student Alex Chow, 22, who was taken unconscious to hospital early on November 4 following late-night clashes between police and protesters.  Philip FONG / AFP

 

Hong Kong will close all schools after the territory reported a spike in locally transmitted coronavirus infections, the city’s education minister said Friday.

The government has ordered all schools to close from Monday, bringing forward the start of the summer holidays, Kevin Yeung said, after the city recorded 34 locally transmitted cases on Thursday.

AFP

Domestic Workers Among Few Hong Kongers Who Will Miss Tiktok

A photo taken on December 14, 2018 in Paris shows the logo of the application TikTok. - TikTok, is a Chinese short-form video-sharing app, which has proved wildly popular this year. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)
A photo taken on December 14, 2018 in Paris shows the logo of the application TikTok. – TikTok, is a Chinese short-form video-sharing app, which has proved wildly popular this year. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

 

 

TikTok’s exit from Hong Kong was met with a shrug among many locals who distrust the Chinese social media platform, but the app had been embraced by many foreign domestic workers as a way to creatively escape the drudgery of their toil.

The globally popular video-sharing app was used by many of the city’s 370,000 foreign helpers, as they are commonly known in the finance hub.

In between cooking, cleaning and childcare duties in Hong Kong’s cramped family homes they filmed creative, witty and sometimes scathing insights into their daily lives.

But this week TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, said it would no longer work in Hong Kong after a new security law imposed by Beijing gave authorities sweeping powers to police local users.

Joane, a domestic worker from the Philippines, said she was “a bit sad” to see the app go.

“It also helped me release some stress,” she told AFP.

“Being away from family, financial problems, stress from work” are among the challenges faced by helpers in the city, she said, adding that the app’s popularity had taken off since the coronavirus pandemic meant workers like her were often stuck at home.

Poorly paid domestic workers, primarily from the Philippines and Indonesia, are the cogs that keep Hong Kong’s economic engine running, enabling both parents of a family to hold down full-time jobs in the notoriously expensive city.

Domestic workers must live with their employers in Hong Kong’s tiny flats, are only entitled to one day off a week and often grapple with stressful work environments.

“When (your) employer makes you… non-stop do this and do that and do this and so on,” reads the text in a video Joane posted in May.

“Breathe in, breathe out… And say ‘yes ma’am, yes sir’.”

– Limited traction –
So popular is TikTok among women like Joane that the hashtag #ofwhk — “overseas foreign worker Hong Kong” — has been viewed nearly 12 million times on the platform.

Local recruitment specialist Mirian Sim said she began using the app herself to communicate with and recruit migrant workers when she noticed how big its user base had become.

“I started using it as a way to bond with our existing helpers, to spread positive vibes and information for them,” said Sim, whose agency Garford describes itself as an “ethical employment agency” that specialises in hiring Filipino helpers.

But enthusiasm for the platform from foreign workers — and teenagers around the world — stands in stark contrast to the rest of Hong Kong.

TikTok has gained little traction in the city, reporting just 150,000 local users last August.

By comparison, Facebook currently has 5.6 million local users and Instagram has 2.6 million, according to analytics company NapoleonCat.

In a city rocked by anti-Beijing sentiment, few trust ByteDance’s repeated assurances that it does not share any user information with Chinese authorities.

Online forums used by Hong Kong democracy protesters have long advised people against downloading it, echoing security fears raised by the US government.

Joane said domestic workers could ultimately live without the app.

“We find TikTok very entertaining, but I know even if TikTok will be pulled out of Hong Kong, a lot of Filipino domestic workers can still manage,” she said.

“We always find ways to entertain ourselves.”

 

 

AFP

Australia Extends Visas For Hong Kongers

Conservatives Set To Retain Power In Australia
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison talks to the media outside a polling booth during Australia’s general election in Sydney on May 18, 2019.
Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

 

Australia on Thursday extended the visas of around 10,000 Hong Kongers living in the country by five years following China’s security crackdown on the territory.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a pathway to Australian permanent residency would also be offered to Hong Kong citizens currently in the country on student or temporary work visas.

China Censors Hong Kong Internet, US Tech Giants Resist

A photo taken on December 14, 2018 in Paris shows the logo of the application TikTok. - TikTok, is a Chinese short-form video-sharing app, which has proved wildly popular this year. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)
A photo taken on December 14, 2018 in Paris shows the logo of the application TikTok. – TikTok, is a Chinese short-form video-sharing app, which has proved wildly popular this year. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

 

 

China has unveiled new powers to censor Hong Kong’s internet and access user data using its feared national security law — but US tech giants have put up some resistance citing rights concerns.

The online censorship plans were contained in a 116-page government document released on Monday night that also revealed expanded powers for police, allowing warrantless raids and surveillance for some national security investigations.

China imposed the law on semi-autonomous Hong Kong a week ago, targeting subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces — its wording kept secret until the moment it was enacted.

Despite assurances that only a small number of people would be targeted by the law, the new details show it is the most radical change in Hong Kong’s freedoms and rights since Britain handed the city back to China in 1997.

Late Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke out against “Orwellian” moves to censor activists, schools and libraries since the law was enacted.

“Until now, Hong Kong flourished because it allowed free thinking and free speech, under an independent rule of law. No more,” Pompeo said.

– Restore stability –
Under its handover deal with the British, Beijing promised to guarantee until at least 2047 certain liberties and autonomy not seen on the authoritarian mainland.

Years of rising concerns that China’s ruling Communist Party was steadily eroding those freedoms birthed a popular pro-democracy movement, which led to massive and often violent protests for seven months last year.

China has made no secret of its desire to use the law to crush that democracy movement.

“The Hong Kong government will vigorously implement this law,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the city’s Beijing-appointed leader, told reporters on Tuesday.

“And I forewarn those radicals not to attempt to violate this law, or cross the red line, because the consequences of breaching this law are very serious.”

With pro-democracy books quickly pulled out of libraries and schools, the government signalled in the document released on Monday night that it would also expect obedience online.

Police were granted powers to control and remove online information if there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect the data breaches the national security law.

Internet firms and service providers can be ordered to remove the information and their equipment can be seized. Executives can also be hit with fines and up to one year in jail if they refuse to comply.

The companies are also expected to provide identification records and decryption assistance.

– Big tech unease –
However the biggest American tech companies offered some resistance.

Facebook, Google and Twitter said Monday they had put a hold on requests by Hong Kong’s government or police force for information on users.

Facebook and its popular messaging service WhatsApp would deny requests until it had conducted a review of the law that entailed “formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts,” the company said in a statement.

“We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions,” a Facebook spokesman said.

Twitter and Google told AFP that they too would not comply with information requests by Hong Kong authorities in the immediate future.

Twitter told AFP it had “grave concerns regarding both the developing process and the full intention of this law”.

Tik Tok, which is owned by Chinese company Byte Dance, announced it was pulling out of Hong Kong altogether.

“In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong,” TikTok told AFP.

Tik Tok has become wildly popular amongst youngsters around the world. However many Hong Kongers have distrusted it because of its Chinese ownership.

ByteDance has consistently denied sharing any user data with authorities in China, and was adamant it did not intend to begin to agree to such requests.

In less than a week since the law was enacted, democracy activists and many ordinary people have scrubbed their online profiles of anything that China may deem incriminating.

Monday night’s document also revealed that judicial oversight that previously governed police surveillance powers in Hong Kong had been eliminated when it comes to national security investigations.

Police officers will be able to conduct a search without a warrant if they deem a threat to national security is “urgent”.

“The new rules are scary, as they grant powers to the police force that are normally guarded by the judiciary,” barrister Anson Wong Yu-yat told the South China Morning Post.

China Appoints ‘Tough’ Official To Head New Security Agency In Hong Kong

This file photo taken on December 20, 2011 shows Zheng Yanxiong, then-Communist Party Secretary of Shanwei prefecture, speaking on television as villagers watch the broadcast in Wukan, Guangdong province. MARK RALSTON / AFP
This file photo taken on December 20, 2011 shows Zheng Yanxiong, then-Communist Party Secretary of Shanwei prefecture, speaking on television as villagers watch the broadcast in Wukan, Guangdong province. MARK RALSTON / AFP

 

China appointed a hardliner to head a new national security agency in Hong Kong Friday as police brought the first charges under a sweeping new anti-subversion law that has shaken the semi-autonomous finance hub.

Zheng Yanxiong — a party official best known for tackling protests on the mainland — will lead the office set up by the legislation that empowers mainland security agents to operate in Hong Kong openly for the first time, unbound by the city’s laws.

The appointment came as a man accused of deliberately driving his motorbike into a group of police officers became the first person in Hong Kong to be charged under the new national security law.

China’s authoritarian leaders say the suite of powers will restore stability after a year of protests and will not stifle freedoms.

But police have already begun arresting people for possessing flags and banners while the local government has made clear certain political views, especially calls for independence, are now outlawed.

On Thursday evening Nathan Law, one of the city’s most prominent young activists, announced he had fled overseas to an undisclosed location, fearing arrest days after the pro-democracy party he helped found said it was disbanding.

Many western governments — led by Britain and the United States — have condemned the law and have angered Beijing by threatening to hit back with sanctions or offer sanctuary to Hong Kongers.

‘A tough enforcer’

The new national security agency is just one new element of Beijing’s landmark law targeting subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces.

The office has investigation and prosecution powers and will monitor intelligence related to national security and process cases, in some circumstances handing them over to the mainland for trial.

Zheng rose through the ranks of the local government in southern Guangdong province which borders Hong Kong, to serve as secretary general of the provincial Communist Party committee.

The 56-year-old is known as a hardliner who stamped out often-violent anti-corruption protests that erupted in Wukan, a village in the province, in 2011 after a local activist died in police custody.

“He is a tough enforcer, a law and order person,” Willy Lam, an expert on China’s Communist Party at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

Hong Kong was rocked by several months of huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests last year, a movement which Beijing has vowed to end with its new security law.

China has dismissed protesters’ demands for greater democracy and portrayed the unrest as a foreign plot to destabilise the motherland.

It has sought to ramp up oversight on Hong Kong’s government.

On Friday, the State Council also named Luo Huining — the current director of Beijing’s Liaison Office in the city — as the national security adviser to the newly-formed national security commission, chaired by Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

A loyalist of president Xi Jinping, Luo built a reputation for enforcing Communist Party discipline and tackling corruption.

Hong Kong’s mini-constitution forbids mainland officials from interfering in the running of Hong Kong’s day-to-day affairs.

But Beijing has argued national security is purely the purview of central authorities.

Court charges

The most serious offences carry up to life in jail.

On Friday afternoon, Tong Ying-kit, 23, was charged with the first national security crimes — terrorism and inciting secession.

A police source told AFP Tong drove his motorbike into a group of police officers on Wednesday during protests against the security law, wounding three.

Video footage captured by local television showed a man on an orange motorbike with a flag reading “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times” — a popular pro-democracy slogan — moments before it hit a group of riot police.

Hong Kong’s government have announced that using the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times” is illegal under the secession and subversion provisions.

 

AFP

Canada Suspends Extradition With Hong Kong To Protest China’s New Security Law

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during his daily coronavirus, COVID-19 briefing at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Ontario,/ AFP

 

Canada on Friday suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong to protest the sweeping new national security law China has enacted in the financial hub.

Canada is also halting exports of sensitive military gear to Hong Kong and updating its travel advisory so Canadians traveling there will know how the law might affect them, the foreign ministry said.

“Canada is a firm believer in the one-country, two-system framework,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, referring to the semi-autonomous model adopted after Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997.

 

Asian Stocks Extend Gains As US Jobs Trump Virus Worries

People wait to cross a street in front of a stock indicator displaying share prices of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on January 9, 2020. Behrouz MEHRI / AFP

 

 

Asian investors welcomed a forecast-busting US jobs report to send regional equities higher on Friday, though an acceleration in virus infections across the world’s top economy tempered big gains.

While the US registered more than 50,000 new cases for a second straight day and authorities across the country reimposed containment measures, traders backed up with a wall of government and central bank cash chose to look to the positives.

And a near-five million jump in employment in June, combined with promising vaccine tests, provided the platform for another market rally that saw the Nasdaq clock up yet another record.

The jobs report showed people returning to jobs in hard-hit and crucial sectors such as leisure and hospitality, which accounted for just under half of the increase.

The US advances, and a strong performance in Europe — where countries are pressing ahead with lockdown easing — gave Asia a strong lead, which investors picked up on.

Hong Kong rose 1.2 percent after climbing almost three percent Thursday, while Tokyo finished 0.7 percent higher and Shanghai jumped two percent.

Sydney climbed 0.4 percent and Seoul put on 0.8 percent, while there were healthy advances in Taipei, Seoul, Wellington, Singapore and Mumbai. Manila reversed early losses.

London, Paris and Frankfurt all rose at the open.

 

Recovery to ‘level off’

“There’s still a general positive sentiment about how quickly we’re seeing the recovery,” said Chris Gaffney at TIAA Bank.

“But we do think you’re going to see the recovery level off, especially if we continue to see higher case numbers on the virus.”

Analysts warned that while the employment data were good, jobless claims were still elevated — at 1.43 million last week, which was slightly better than the week before but missed expectations.

They pointed out that the latest spike in infections and the reclosure of some businesses around the US, particularly in the Sun Belt, could set the recovery back.

“The non-farm payrolls report is a mid-June snapshot, which might have been the ‘sweet spot’ of near-term employment optimism as the virus situation in the US has deteriorated sharply since,” warned AxiCorp’s Stephen Innes.

“It would be tough to take the better-than-expected… payrolls numbers and extrapolate that there will be a V-shaped recovery in the US,” he added. “The economy has brought back only about 30 percent of the jobs lost.”

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow injected some nervousness into trading floors by telling Fox Business Network that the US was “very unhappy with China”.

He added that there were “going to be export restrictions, particularly with respect to military, national security and some sensitive high technology”.

 

Key figures around 0720 GMT

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 percent at 22,306.48 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 1.2 percent at 25,418.19

Shanghai – Composite: UP 2.0 percent at 3,152.81 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 6,258.79

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.9 percent at $40.30 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.8 percent at $42.79 per barrel

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1242 from $1.1239 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: UP at 107.52 yen from 107.48 yen

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2475 from $1.2466

Euro/pound: DOWN at 90.08 pence from 90.15 yen

New York – Dow: UP 0.4 percent at 25,827.36 (close)

 

 

 

-AFP

China, UK Clash Over Hong Kong’s Fate Under New Security Law

Riot police stand guard outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on May 27, 2020, ahead of a debate over a law that bans insulting China's national anthem, Anthony WALLACE / AFP
Riot police stand guard outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on May 27, 2020, ahead of a debate over a law that bans insulting China’s national anthem. Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

 

China promised Thursday to take countermeasures against Britain if it presses ahead with plans to extend citizenship rights to Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed a sweeping security law on the restless financial hub.

Beijing has faced a groundswell of criticism from primarily Western nations over its decision to impose a law outlawing acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces.

That includes from the United States, where Congress on Thursday dialled up the pressure by passing tough new sanctions that target banks over infringements on Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Hong Kong’s influential Bar Association published a new legal analysis warning that the wording of the law — which was kept secret until Tuesday — undermines the city’s independent judiciary and stifles freedoms.

Britain has said the law breaches China’s pre-handover “One Country, Two Systems” promise to grant residents key liberties — as well as judicial and legislative autonomy — until 2047.

It has responded by announcing plans to allow millions of Hong Kongers with British National Overseas status to relocate with their families and eventually apply for citizenship.

“We will live up to our promises to them,” foreign secretary Dominic Raab told parliament.

That move has infuriated Beijing, which says Britain promised not to grant full citizenship rights to Hong Kongers ahead of the 1997 handover.

“If the British side makes unilateral changes to the relevant practice, it will breach its own position and pledges as well as international law and basic norms governing international relations,” China’s embassy in London said Thursday.

“We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures,” it added.

– Sanctuary calls –

Britain is not alone in announcing plans to offer Hong Kongers sanctuary or increased immigration rights as fears multiply over the semi-autonomous city’s future under the new law.

Australian leader Scott Morrison said he was “very actively” considering offering Hong Kongers safe haven.

Taiwan has opened an office to help Hong Kongers wanting to flee, while a proposed bill in the United States offering sanctuary to city residents has received widespread bipartisan support.

US lawmakers have also fast-tracked the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, passed Thursday, which targets Chinese officials and the Hong Kong police, making US sanctions against them mandatory if they are identified in two consecutive government reports as working to impede Hong Kong’s freedoms.

Crucially, the act would punish banks — including blocking loans from US institutions — if they conduct “significant transactions” with individuals identified as infringing on the city’s autonomy.

– ‘Arbitrary’ –

Beijing says the law is needed to quell seething pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and restore order after a year of political unrest.

But critics fear it will usher in a new era of political repression given similar laws are routinely used to crush dissent on the Chinese mainland.

The law has sent fear coursing through the city and rattled the legal community in a business hub that has built its reputation on the independence and reliability of its courts.

The Bar Association — which represents the city’s barristers — issued a scathing critique of the law, saying it dismantles the legal firewall that has existed between Hong Kong’s judiciary and China’s Communist Party-controlled courts.

The new national security offences were “widely drawn”, the group said, and “are capable of being applied in a manner that is arbitrary, and that disproportionately interferes with fundamental rights, including the freedom of conscience, expression and assembly”.

It also criticised “the total absence of meaningful consultation” with Hong Kongers before the law was passed.

China dismissed the association’s fears, and said their claim the law lacked meaningful consultation was “totally unfounded”.

– Activist flees –

One of Hong Kong’s most prominent young democracy activists, Nathan Law, announced on Thursday he had fled overseas and will “continue the advocacy work on the international level”.

The revelation came as Hong Kong’s local government confirmed that a popular protest slogan used over the last year was now illegal.

“Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times” has become a clarion call for pro-democracy protesters over the last year.

It could be heard on the streets as thousands defied a protest ban on Wednesday — the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China — in some of the worst unrest in months.

Police responded with water cannon, pepper spray and tear gas, arresting nearly 400 people.

Ten people were arrested under the new law, illustrating how holding certain political views had become illegal overnight.

Most of those arrested were carrying flags or leaflets advocating for Hong Kong independence.

The security law is controversial because it radically increases Beijing’s control over the city.

China says it will have jurisdiction over some cases and has empowered its security agents to operate openly inside Hong Kong for the first time, unconstrained by local laws.

It has also claimed global jurisdiction, saying the law covers national security offences committed overseas — even by foreigners.

Some trials will be held behind closed doors and without juries, while local police have been granted sweeping surveillance powers that no longer need judicial sign off.

China And UK Clash Over Fate Of Hong Kongers Under New Security Law

Riot police detain a man as they clear protesters taking part in a rally against a new national security law in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020, on the 23rd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. Hong Kong police made the first arrests under Beijing's new national security law on July 1 as the city greeted the anniversary of its handover to China with protesters fleeing water cannon. DALE DE LA REY / AFP
Riot police detain a man as they clear protesters taking part in a rally against a new national security law in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020, on the 23rd anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China. – Hong Kong police made the first arrests under Beijing’s new national security law on July 1 as the city greeted the anniversary of its handover to China with protesters fleeing water cannon. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP)

 

 

China promised Thursday to take countermeasures against Britain if it presses ahead with plans to extend citizenship rights to Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed a sweeping security law on the restless financial hub.

Beijing has faced a groundswell of criticism from primarily Western nations over its decision to impose a new law outlawing acts of subversion, secession, terrorism, and colluding with foreign forces.

Adding to concerns, Hong Kong’s influential Bar Association published a new legal analysis warning that the wording of the law — which was kept secret until Tuesday — undermines the city’s independent judiciary and stifles freedoms.

Britain has said the law breaches China’s pre-handover “One Country, Two Systems” promise to grant residents key liberties — as well as judicial and legislative autonomy — until 2047.

It has responded by announcing plans to allow millions of Hong Kongers with British National Overseas status to relocate with their families and eventually apply for citizenship.

“We will live up to our promises to them,” foreign secretary Dominic Raab told parliament.

That move has infuriated Beijing, which says Britain promised not to grant full citizenship rights to Hong Kongers ahead of the 1997 handover.

“If the British side makes unilateral changes to the relevant practice, it will breach its own position and pledges as well as international law and basic norms governing international relations,” China’s embassy in London said Thursday.

“We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures,” it added.

– Sanctuary calls –
Britain is not alone in announcing plans to offer Hong Kongers sanctuary or increased immigration rights as fears multiply over the semi-autonomous city’s future under the new law.

On Thursday, Australian leader Scott Morrison said he was “very actively” considering offering Hong Kongers safe haven.

Taiwan has opened an office to help Hong Kongers wanting to flee, while a proposed bill in the United States offering sanctuary to city residents has received widespread bipartisan support.

Beijing says the law is needed to quell seething pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and restore order after a year of political unrest.

But critics fear it will usher in a new era of political repression given similar laws are routinely used to crush dissent on the Chinese mainland.

The law has sent fear coursing through the city and rattled the legal community in a business hub that has built its reputation on the independence and reliability of its courts.

The Bar Association — which represents the city’s barristers — issued a scathing critique of the law, saying it dismantles the legal firewall that has existed between Hong Kong’s judiciary and China’s Communist Party-controlled courts.

The new national security offences were “widely drawn”, the group said, and “are capable of being applied in a manner that is arbitrary, and that disproportionately interferes with fundamental rights, including the freedom of conscience, expression and assembly”.

It also criticised “the total absence of meaningful consultation” with Hong Kongers before the law was passed.

– First arrests –
Thousands of residents defied a protest ban on Wednesday — the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China — to block roads and voice opposition to the bill in some of the worst unrest in months.

Police responded with water cannon, pepper spray and tear gas, arresting nearly 400 people.

Seven officers were injured, including one who was stabbed in the shoulder and three others hit by a protester on a motorbike.

Ten people were arrested under the new law, illustrating how holding certain political views had become illegal overnight.

Most of those arrested were carrying flags or leaflets advocating for Hong Kong independence.

The security law is controversial because it radically increases Beijing’s control over the city.

China says it will have jurisdiction over some cases and has empowered its security agents to operate openly inside Hong Kong for the first time, unconstrained by local laws.

It has also claimed global jurisdiction, saying the law covers national security offences committed overseas — even by foreigners.

Some trials will be held behind closed doors and without juries, while local police have been granted sweeping surveillance powers that no longer need judicial sign off.

 

 

 

-AFP

UK Offers Hong Kongers Citizenship In Response To China

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech during his visit to Dudley College of Technology in Dudley, central England on June 30, 2020. – Johnson said Britain needed the type of massive economic response that US president Franklin D. Paul ELLIS / POOL / AFP.

 

Britain on Wednesday extended Hong Kong residents a broader path to citizenship in response to China’s sweeping new security law for the former UK territory.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement represents the most direct international response to legislation that has been roundly condemned by Western allies.

It comes during a London review of its entire range of relations with Beijing, including its decision to allow China’s Huawei help build Britain new 5G data network.

“We stand for rules and obligations,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament just hours after China made its first arrest in Hong Kong under the new legislation.

“And we think that is the scientific basis for our international relations and the enactment, and deposition of this national security law constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

Johnson said London had warned Beijing that it would introduce a new route for those with British National Overseas status to enter the UK.

“And that is precisely what we will do now,” he told lawmakers.

About 300,000 Hong Kongers have BNO passports and another 2.6 million are eligible to apply.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain’s offer also extended to dependents of those with BNO status but refused to be drawn about how many would apply.

– ‘Deeply disturbing’ –

Hong Kong was under UK jurisdiction until Britain handed it to China in 1997 with a guarantee that Beijing would preserve the city’s judicial and legislative autonomy for 50 years.

But critics say the new law — passed by Beijing’s rubber-stamp parliament this week without its text being released to the public — tests the limits of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle that formally entered international law in 1984.

Britain’s last Hong Kong governor, Chris Patten, called details of the legislation unveiled overnight were “even worse than I expected”.

“It is Orwellian stuff,” Patten told the BBC.

“It does go wider and further than anybody had feared.”

Britain’s response to China’s legislation offers a much smoother pathway to UK citizenship for millions of Hong Kongers.

Raab said Hong Kongers with BNO status and their dependents would first have the right to work or study in Britain for five years.

They would then have the right to apply for settled status then possible citizenship.

He said there would be “no quotas” and described the entire system as “bespoke”.

“This is a grave and deeply disturbing step,” he said of the Chinese law.

“China through this national security legislation is not living up to its promises to the people of Hong Kong. We will live up to our promises to them,” he told lawmakers.

– Policy review –

Britain had opened itself up to closer relations with China as it sought out trading partners after ending its decades-long membership in the European Union this year.

Johnson’s government also irritated the US administration in January by allowing the private Chinese telecoms group Huawei to unroll Britain’s speedy new data network.

But Britain is now studying ways it can cut Huawei out of its system entirely and build up an alliance of European and Asian providers that reduces China’s dominance in the field.

British condemnation of the Chinese law has spanned the political divide and seen London’s Asia-focused HSBC group come under political assault for openly backing it last month.

Raab did not mention the bank by name but noted: “The rights and the freedoms and our responsibilities in this country to the people of Hong Kong should not be sacrificed on the altar of bankers’ bonuses”.

HSBC offered support for the law after public pressure from a pro-Beijing figure in Hong Kong who pointed to the bank’s reliance on business in China.

AFP