TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Following the arrest of 53 pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong, leaders from three concerned Taiwanese groups, legislator Freddy Lim (林昶佐), and two Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders in exile are calling on Taiwan and other governments to do more to support Hongkongers amid the unprecedented assault on freedoms in the city.
On Wednesday (Jan. 6), the Hong Kong authorities conducted a mass roundup of politicians, activists, and even an American lawyer under the national security law, which China imposed on the special administrative region at the end of June.
Those arrested were targeted for their role in an unofficial primary to select pro-democratic candidates to run in September's Legislative Council (LegCo) elections, which the city's Beijing-backed government postponed indefinitely, citing COVID-19 concerns. Police also raided the offices of several local media outlets and the polling agency that assisted the primary.
Beijing warned that the primary, in which over 8 percent of Hong Kong's population voted, was illegal and constituted "collusion with external forces" under the security act, while Hong Kong authorities have said participants may be guilty of subversion for attempting to gain clout in the LegCo (only 35 of the 70 seats are electable) and steer the direction of government. Those found guilty of subversion could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, according to the act.
In response to the latest escalation in Hong Kong's crackdown on opposition voices, Chiang Min-Yen (江旻諺), secretary general of the Taiwan Citizen Front, called a press conference at a Legislative Yuan building Friday morning (Jan. 8) to address Hong Kong's "Formosa Incident." He was joined by Lai Chung-chiang (賴中強), convener of the think tank Economic Democracy Union; Taiwan Hong Kong Association Chairman Sang Pu (桑 普); and Lim, independent member of the Legislative Yuan and co-chair of the Taiwan Parliamentary Human Rights Commission. Hong Kong activists Nathan Law (羅冠聰) and Sunny Cheung (張崑陽) delivered remarks via videoconference.
The group demanded that Beijing and Hong Kong repeal the national security act and release those detained under it.
They also called on the European Parliament to reconsider passing the recently negotiated EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), which many fear does not go far enough to address human rights and forced labor concerns, such as in Xinjiang. Finally, they called on the Taiwanese legislature to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy clause to prepare to accommodate an influx of Hongkongers seeking to flee as the situation deteriorates.
There is currently no legislation in Taiwan that allows for Hongkongers to immigrate as refugees. Applications for residency are dealt with case by case in line with the Laws and Regulations Regarding Hong Kong & Macao.
Sang Pu, Lai Chung-chiang, and Chiang Min-Yen (Taiwan News photo)
In his remarks, Lim criticized Hong Kong's use of the security law to criminalize basic democratic processes. He pointed out that in democratic systems of government, legislative review — the function served by the LegCo — is a salient right.
Lim also said he supports a Taiwanese version of the Magnitsky Act and that considering Taiwan's own authoritarian past, it has a duty to set a precedent in the region — ideally to be joined by other countries. Passed by the U.S. in 2012, the Magnitsky Act provides for targeted sanctions on individuals deemed to have violated human rights anywhere in the world.
Lai called Tuesday's mass arrest a "Blitzkrieg" against Hong Kong's democratic opposition and likened it to the Nazis' upending of human rights in 1930s and 40s Europe.
Pu warned that the current climate of repression in Hong Kong is the new norm. "An authoritarian 'one country' cannot tolerate a democratic 'two systems,'" he quipped in a dig at the "one country, two systems" framework China promised Hong Kong and has offered Taiwan as well.
Pu also stated 2021 is likely to be for Hong Kong what 1949 was for China after the Chinese Communist Party's victory in the civil war. He compared increasing restrictions on internet access in the city to the censorship that accompanied the beginning of Mao Zedong's (毛澤東) rule.
Law, who currently resides in the U.K. said the mass arrests were a clear sign the Chinese regime is arresting dissidents arbitrarily, "closing down entirely the room for political expression and opposition activities."
He stated that while many of those detained under the security law have been released on bail, they now face a long, drawn-out legal process. He appealed to the international community to present a united front against the expansion of China's authoritarianism and "stand shoulder to shoulder to really defend our democratic values."
On the CAI, Law called on EU countries to revisit the deal in light of the ongoing human rights violations in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere in China.
Sunny Cheung successfully ran in the June primary. He said Friday that he had fled the country because after the national security law was imposed, "my personal security was threatened."
Cheung also urged the international community to do whatever it can to aid Hong Kong, including by passing human rights-oriented sanctions regimes and adopting a political posture to signal to China that its crackdown will no longer be accepted.
Hong Kong activist Sunny Cheung (Taiwan News photo)
As for the CAI, which China and the EU have agreed to in principle, a number of European leaders have also expressed that it does not go far enough to protect human rights.
France, in particular, has said it will not sign onto the agreement in its current form. French Senator André Gattolin told Taiwan News that even if the deal grants EU states greater access to China's market and more protection for European investments in that country, "it's still hard to see how these gains could outweigh the blatant human rights violations that are ongoing in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet and against Taiwan, and the political cost of condoning such actions."
Gattolin further stated that the "impact assessment of the Agreement on the human rights situation in China" initially pushed for by the European Parliament is missing from the current text.
He also noted that China has not moved to ratify any of the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, including the one on abolishing forced labor. French foreign trade minister Franck Riester told LeMonde last month that this was a red line for France.
Over 500,000 people, many of them Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, are estimated to have been forced into labor in three major cotton-producing prefectures of Xinjiang, according to research by the Center for Global Policy. Xinjiang produces 20 percent of the world's cotton.