By Alex Manzoor
On Wednesday 8th of February, the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Joshua Wong, Angela Gui and Benedict Rogers to discuss the decline of Hong Kong’s freedoms in the aftermath of the transfer of sovereignty to China.
Joshua Wong, who is a Hong Kong student activist and Secretary-General of the political party Demosisto, began by talking about his personal involvement in Hong Kong politics. Born in 1996, one year before the handover, Wong was taught in primary school the mantra of “one country, two systems” whereby Hong Kong would be a part of China but retain its own established freedoms. He became prominent politically in Hong Kong as a result of his opposition to China’s increasing encroachments on freedom in Hong Kong, for instance by protesting against the proposed brainwashing of Hong Kong students with Chinese propaganda. 2017 will be the 20th anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty to China and the idea of “one country, two systems” has been consistently diluted. Although China guaranteed numerous rights for the people of Hong Kong in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, it has reneged on many of these promises. Academic freedom is among many rights that are curtailed by China in Hong Kong, the most egregious example being when Beijing overrode judicial independence and prevented two democratically elected members of the legislature from taking their seats. Wong himself was held in a detainment cell in Thailand for twelve hours with no ability to contact a lawyer or even family and his experience is not unique, he hopes that the international community will keep its eyes on Hong Kong and not let business interests supersede human rights.
Angela Gui, whose father Gui Minhai was a publisher and a free speech activist and was abducted from Thailand in October 2015, talked next about her experience. Her father has been held for over a year and a half without being charged or any evidence being produced against him. Gui describes the experience of her father as being worryingly emblematic of a trend of individuals disappearing including a Canadian and a British Citizen. What is significant, and extremely concerning, in these cases is that China is being shown to have no respect for international or even domestic law and to have an ethnically informed notion of Chinese citizenship. This idea has an imperial sentiment and means that just being ethnically Chinese means that one is at risk. Like Wong, Gui has had experience of what has been called the “Long Arm of Beijing” when she was harassed and photographed by two Mandarin-speaking men in Frankfurt who left in a car with tinted windows. She urged action against Chinese breaches of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and that it is not a question of if but how we should act to protect the people of Hong Kong. She has not met anyone in the Foreign Office despite making multiple attempts to contact them about the situation in Hong Kong.
Benedict Rogers is the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission and he spoke about the chapter on Hong Kong in his report The Darkest Moment: The Crackdown on Human Rights in China 2013-2016. Working as a journalist in Hong Kong in the first five years after the handover, he saw the warning signs in regards to China’s actions in Hong Kong but would never have predicted the deterioration of the situation to where it is today. Although the freedoms that are still enjoyed in Hong Kong are far superior to the situation in the rest of China, the deterioration of basic freedoms is a worrying sign for the people of Hong Kong itself and as a litmus test for the mainland. The report notes how the “One Country, two systems” model is being “progressively undermined” and how the Hong Kong government are powerless to uphold rights and in some cases are turning a blind eye. Rogers noted three dramatic warnings of the decline in freedom in Hong Kong: China’s abandonment of universal suffrage, its crackdown on the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement and China’s kidnapping of individuals like Gui Minhai. He concluded by agreeing with Lord Patten’s remark that Britain is “selling its honour” over Hong Kong for trade and realpolitik concerns, when the UK in fact has a right according to the Sino-British Joint Declaration and a moral obligation to speak out against China’s assault on Hong Kong freedoms.
For a transcript of this event click here