MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Thursday the 9th of July, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: eroding freedom in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong spent more than 100 years under the crown. But in 1997, the United Kingdom returned the city to China.
BASHAM: The Sino-British Joint Declaration promised the city could keep its separate economic and political systems for 50 years. But Beijing has slowly chipped away at Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status.
On June 30th it made its most significant move yet to bring the territory under its control.
Joining us now to talk about Hong Kong’s new national security law is WORLD’s East Asia correspondent, June Cheng. Good morning, and thanks for joining us.
JUNE CHENG, REPORTER: Good morning, Megan.
BASHAM: What are the most concerning parts of the national security law?
CHENG: There’s a few aspects about this law that are really unprecedented in Hong Kong. The first is the way that it was implemented. So, after last year when we were seeing huge protests out on the streets of Hong Kong over another bill which was about extraditing people to China, Beijing became very afraid. I think that they were fed up with Hong Kong and so they decided to just kind of implement it and impose this law on Hong Kong without any input from Hong Kong people, the lawmakers, and actually nobody in Hong Kong actually knew what the law said until it was already in place.
And another really concerning aspect is that it calls for the setting up of Chinese security forces, mainland security forces within Hong Kong. So, they are kind of in charge of investigating people who they believe have committed crimes under the law. They can prosecute them and, in the end, they can judge them and they can send them to prison for up to life.
And it’s also concerning because of how broad the definitions are for terms like terrorism, subversion, secession, and foreign influence. That can really cover anything from vandalizing a metro station, that can include holding a flag that says “Hong Kong independence,” or even a phrase that was very, very common in the protests, which is “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.” And this law is—I can’t stress how much it really destroys the freedom of Hong Kong.
BASHAM: It’s been a week since Beijing implemented the law. What has happened since then?
CHENG: So, even before the law came out, before people knew exactly what’s inside, what it was going to say, a lot of democracy groups decided to break up, including Demosisto, which was created by the activist Joshua Wong, who is a Christian. As I mentioned before, the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times” is now illegal and you are starting to see people in Hong Kong try to intimate that phrase without fully saying it because it’s now illegal. And so some of them just are holding up white pieces of paper and so even though those words aren’t being said, they’re still trying to symbolize that sentiment.
And then you’re seeing libraries taking down books that have been written by pro-democracy authors because they’re not sure if this breaks any laws. And then on Monday, police actually have been given even more power so they can search private property without a warrant. They can freeze assets of suspects. They can intercept communications and really concerning is they can also force internet firms to hand over and decrypt information. And so much of these protests have utilized apps such as Telegram, WhatsApp to communicate. So, this is really concerning for young people in Hong Kong and just their freedom of expression.
BASHAM: You brought up the internet forums. How is the law changing Hong Kong’s free internet?
CHENG: So, one of the things that has always been great about Hong Kong is that unlike China, none of the sites have been censored in the past and for right now as well. But that’s changing. And so on Monday when police were told that they could force internet companies to hand over user data, some of those companies have now said that they will suspend requests from the Hong Kong government as they review the law. And so that includes really big tech firms like Facebook, Telegram, Google, Twitter, Zoom, and LinkedIn. And even Tik Tok, which is kind of the popular short form video app that is owned by China, has said that it was leaving Hong Kong because of the law.
BASHAM: You mentioned the white pieces of paper and other ways that Hong Kong citizens are symbolizing their messages. How else are they reacting to all this?
CHENG: Yesterday I talked to one Hong Kong theology student who is in the U.S. and she said, “I feel like I no longer have a home.” And she kind of described this sense of loss that she has for Hong Kong, even though physically it’s still there, it’s no longer the place where she grew up, the place where she has all these fond memories. And there is definitely a sense of loss and of people feeling that they are now wandering without a home.
I think there’s a lot of people who are afraid and we can even see that with church leaders, too. And so in the past when some of these protests were happening, there would be a lot of open letters from different denominations. And they would maybe criticize the law or they would say how they feel about it. But this time around there’s been much less of that. And so you’re seeing definitely a lot of silence, self-censorship, silencing.
But at the same time, you’re also seeing a lot of courage. The law went into effect, I mentioned, on June 30th at 11pm and then because the next day was July 1st, which is the 23rd anniversary of the handover, and that’s typically a day where a lot of people will go out for these huge democracy protests and this year the protest was banned. But thousands of people still showed up on the streets. They still decided that this was their home and it was still worth fighting for. And even that theology student I mentioned earlier, she plans to return to Hong Kong in a few weeks because she wants to help with this kind of resistance, which I believe will continue. But it will definitely look different than what it looked like in the past.
BASHAM: June Cheng is WORLD’s East Asia correspondent. Thanks so much for joining us today.
CHENG: You’re welcome.