A proposed national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong – and viewed by pro-democracy activists as the death knell of the city’s once-guaranteed autonomy – is an affront to Canadian economic interests and values, says Member of Parliament Kenny Chiu.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is supposed to honour the 50-year One Country Two Systems agreement, established in 1997 when Hong Kong’s colonial territory was handed over by the British to the People’s Republic of China, said Chiu.
However, with this law, and other infringements, “the CCP has failed in this respect and that shows a lack of respect for Canada, and for Hong Kong, and for Canadian and Hong Kong values,” said Chiu, speaking Thursday morning at a bipartisan online conference with prominent figures of Hong Kong’s democratic movement.
Chiu noted Hong Kong is the third-largest financial market in Asia and Canada’s second-largest destination for foreign investment on the continent. Canada has over $10 billion invested in Hong Kong and Hong Kong has over $12 billion invested in Canada, he said.
But “money is not everything nor the most important value we share with Hong Kong,” said Chiu, who represents Richmond, home to one of the most concentrated Hong Kongese populations in Canada.
He spoke to the estimated 300,000 Canadian citizens who live and work in Hong Kong and the diaspora that lives in Canada now, largely as a result of the handover.
“The knowledge of the appetite for power of the CCP and the destruction it brings drove people to leave Hong Kong and come to Canada.
“Their instinct was proven right in watching the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and pro-democracy advocates. This instinct that this regime cannot be trusted has been proven right again.”
Hong Kong is a part of Canadian history, said Chiu, noting Canada made attempts to liberate the city from Japanese invasion in the Second World War. And since that war, Hong Kong has served as an important hub of finance and western values in Asia, said Chiu, a Conservative MP
“Hong Kong’s future is unavoidably linked to Canada. We must actually take action and for now we will have to keep watch and keep praying for Hong Kong,” he said.
So far, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expressed “concern” and a call for dialogue.
The national security law, likened to the failed 2003 Article 23, undercuts the city’s democratic system, which should be protected under the 50-year One Country Two Systems agreement, the conference heard from Lee Cheuk-Yan, a member of Hong Kong’s legislative council from 1995 to 2016, a trade union leader and pro-democracy activist.
“The intrusion of China into Hong Kong is being demonstrated now, at this moment," said Lee, speaking literally as Beijing’s National People’s Congress met Thursday night (Beijing time) to implement the law communist officials claim stamps out terrorism, foreign interference, subversion and sedition – but what critics say effectively eliminates freedom of political expression.
And so, criticizing the Chinese government in Hong Kong will be codified as illegal, said Lee, adding the law was being passed even without the pretence of going through Hong Kong’s legislature.
“They transplant the whole part of the law into Hong Kong,” said Lee.
He likened the move as the “unmasking” of the One Country Two System principle, using the analogy given China is using the coronavirus pandemic as a means to further infringe on human rights.
Chiu and fellow Conservative MP Garnett Genuis moderated the conference.
“Around the world we are seeing escalating abuses of human rights where governments are trying to take advantage of the situation that exists,” said Genuis.
“I think this is a battle of values and money. I hope people can be on the side of values,” said Martin Lee, founding chairman of the first pro-democracy party in Hong Kong.
Avery Ng, chairman of the League of Social Democrats, said, “the situation in Hong Kong is dire.
“Whatever we’ve been experiencing in the past six months – the deterioration of the rule of law, the encroachment of fundamental human rights as well as the breakdown of trust between the people and the government – whatever happened in the past six months was so rapid and the scale is so huge that we’ve never seen before since the handover,” said Ng.
Benedict Rogers, founder of Hong Kong Watch, said Hong Kong is “trying to hold the frontline of freedom for the rest of us,” as China “attacks” the rules-based international order.
“The almost certain introduction of Article 23 at the NPC in Beijing tonight is a sign that Beijing is turning the screws on Hong Kong at an extremely alarming rate,” said Rogers.
The business case to save Hong Kong from China, said Rogers, may need to be made in order to protect the city’s human rights. On that note, he said Hong Kong “is a key conduit with its equity and debt markets being used to attract foreign funds.”
The city mediates nearly two-thirds of direct investment in and out of China. It hosts over 1,500 regional head offices for multinational corporations. Its stock market is 10 times the size of Singapore’s, Rogers noted.
“International financial services would be imperilled for the world, but also for China itself if the Hong Kong system is overthrown,” said Rogers, from London, England.
Need need to address CCP abuse and racism “from the same mouth,” says Chiu
Back in Metro Vancouver, Chiu addressed the angst now being felt on several fronts by Canadians of Chinese descent.
The upheaval in Hong Kong is in addition to anti-Chinese sentiment and acts of racism during the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China.
“Right now in the Chinese community I sense a high sense of insecurity among our Canadians of Chinese descent. There have been quite a few racist and borderline-on-hatred incidents across Canada.”
Muddying this matter is how some people equate criticism of the Chinese government with racism. Chinese-Canadians themselves do not want to weigh in on the matter for their own personal security, the conference heard.
“That is probably why they want to stay away from criticizing China; they fear that because they are identified as Chinese and criticizing China may actually cost them more trouble for themselves,” said Chiu.
“We need to stand with them and provide a strong opposition line that this [racism] is not acceptable in Canada. But at the same time, from the same mouth, we need to criticize where it matters. If it is the CCP government; it is the CCP government,” said Chiu.
Ng said the CCP has propagandized its cause, likening it to a representation of all Chinese people.
“The key message is, they have successfully equated CCP to the Chinese people and vice versa as well. And the problem is with the coronavirus pandemic and the rising xenophobia overseas people are also buying the rhetoric, especially on the right, that the Chinese people equals CCP. And that is exactly what the CCP wants. And so that’s something we see and even on the international level we need to tackle, to separate the regime, which doesn’t have any mandate at all, from the people. I understand it will be extremely hard,” said Ng.
“A lot of people of Chinese descent [have] a challenge of differentiating race, nation and the party. Criticizing the Chinese Communist Party would have been thought of as criticizing the nation or the race. This has to be sorted out amongst us Canadians,” said Chiu.
Genuis said “extremists” on both sides want to equate the CCP with the Chinese people.
But, “it’s a political system that betrays the Chinese culture,” asserted Genuis.
However, there are “co-ordinated abuses” occurring in Canada by CCP-friendly people when trying to raise this issue, said Genuis, MP for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan and critic for Canada-China Relations.
“When there’s co-ordinated intimidation or efforts to suppress free speech by diplomats, those diplomats always need to be expelled right away,” he said.
A May 20 annual report by the Canadian Securities Intelligence Agency warns of growing foreign influence campaigns in Canadian diaspora communities aimed at undermining Canadian interests, both economic and social. The report does not name China.
Canadian civil rights activists speaking out against the CCP regime have frequently alleged in media reports how Chinese consulates have co-ordinated intimidation campaigns against them. The consulates have denied these allegations.