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 on the 23rd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. Hong Kong police made the first arrests under the new law. (Photo: Dale De La Rey/AFP)
A climate of fear and confusion descended upon Hong Kong almost immediately after Beijing’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee took just 15 minutes to sign off on the biggest changes to the territory since the handover from Great Britain 23 years ago today.
Within six hours of a new security law being passed at just after 9am on June 30, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, a practicing Catholic, had signed the law into operation. Yet it would not be until 11pm that night that the details of the law were finally released in stark black and white.
It was worse than even the most pessimistic observers had expected and triggered immediate action by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy politicians and millions of residents.
Joshua Wong, 23, who in 2016 was a teenage activist who led the Umbrella Movement that brought central Hong Kong to a standstill, announced he was stepping away from his political party Demosisto.
“I hereby declare withdrawing from Demosisto ... If my voice will not be heard soon, I hope that the international community will continue to speak up for Hong Kong and step up concrete efforts to defend our last bit of freedom," Wong announced on Twitter.
Hours later Demosisto announced that it would disband. "After much internal deliberation, we have decided to disband and cease all operation as a group given the circumstances," Demosisto said on Twitter.
Wong has increasingly been a target of Hong Kong authorities and gave his being a “prime target” as his reason for quitting.
The practicing Protestant and posted this on his Twitter feed: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." (Psalm 23:4)
There have been multiple reports of regular Hong Kongers moving to erase digital footprints showing their criticism of the Hong Kong and Beijing governments, wary of any blowback from security forces.
Anyone advocating independence, liberation or revolution in public can be immediately arrested, and just carrying an item could be enough to break the law, police have been told.
As evidenced by the stunning attendance at a Sunday protest march in June 2019 of up to two million people against a proposed extradition law that triggered a year of demonstrations, opposition to Beijing’s encroachment on the city runs deep.
Although in the end the protests were not enough, they convinced Beijing that it was too risky to allow them to continue and potentially leak over the border.
What happens next? Many of Hong Kong’s wealthy and educated elites already have dual passports and are preparing to quit the city for the United Kingdom, the US, Australia and Canada, the most popular bolt holes. Many will not want their children educated under the shadow of the Chinese flag in an education system that is about to get an overhaul for the worse.
The UK has been especially welcoming, holding out the prospect of anyone born before the 1997 handover of the territory from Great Britain to China — about three million people — having the option of residency in the UK.
Hong Kong’s still relatively freewheeling media, specially mentioned as a target of the new laws, is now waiting for a crackdown from its new overlords in Beijing. At present journalists in Hong Kong require no special permits or permission and foreigners representing offshore organizations simply obtain work visas rather than the specialized and tightly controlled permits required on the mainland.
Observers are already musing whether there will be a steady but eventual relocation to perhaps Taiwan or Singapore.
Expats have suddenly found themselves living in a vastly different environment, with the easy ability to criticize Beijing suddenly an offense that could see them locked up for life either in Hong Kong or in the mainland’s brutal and opaque justice system.
Indeed, shorn of the rule of law and trust of Hong Kong’s legal system, the city’s future as an international finance hub is now being questioned.
Things certainly have a long way to run but what we know for sure is that a dark cloud came over Hong Kong on June 30 that is set to be there for a very long time.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.