Hong Kong Crackdown Nets Lawmaker Claudia Mo, dozens of others

Mo’s husband, Asia Sentinel co-founder Philip Bowring, has computers confiscated

Police in Hong Kong today arrested scores of opposition lawmakers and activists including Claudia Mo, a former Legislative Council member who resigned in protest of Beijing’s policies in November and confiscated the computers of both Mo and her husband, Philip Bowring, one of Asia’s most prominent journalists. Bowring, who is not considered under investigation, is a co-founder of Asia Sentinel and former editor in chief of the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review. Mo was a prominent radio and television journalist before she entered politics.

Using the draconian National Security Law that went into effect on June 30, as many as 1,000 police detained most of the lawmakers involved in 2020 District Council primary elections that Beijing opposed. Some 72 locations are said to have been searched At least 53 people were arrested, police said, for the crime of "subverting state power." Speaking to reporters later Wednesday, a police spokesman said: "The investigation is ongoing, we will not rule out arresting more people." Police searched 72 locations and more than $200,000 in assets were frozen, the spokesperson said. Police also served court orders at the offices of three anti-Beijing media outlets, the popular Chinese-language Apple Daily, Stand News and In-Media, the three media companies said, threatening their existence. On December 3, outspoken pro-democracy businessman Jimmy Lai, aged 73, was denied bail on the grounds that he is a flight risk when he was accused of defrauding the government. Lai is the proprietor of Apple Daily.

Among others arrested was possibly the first foreigner, John Clancey, an American human rights lawyer, according to media reports. Clancey works for the Hong Kong law firm Ho Tse Wai & Partners and is also the treasurer of “Power for Democracy,” a pro-democracy political group. He was involved in the primary elections of 2020 as well as other District Council and LegCo elections. More than 30 policemen searched Clancy’s office at Ho Tse Wai, according to local media.

The arrest of an American under the security law comes as the lame-duck Trump administration has been paralyzed for weeks in the raucous reaction to the November 3 national elections, which Trump lost but has been trying to reverse ever since. The early part of this week has been especially tumultuous in the US over final attempts to forestall certification in the Congress of President-Elect Joe Biden’s victory. Any attention to any events occurring outside the US simply evaporated. Nonetheless, the administration continues to launch punitive measures against China with fewer than three weeks to go before the handover. On January 5, Trump signed an executive order banning transactions by US parties with eight Chinese software applications.

The attack on democracy in Hong Kong coincides with ominous developments in China itself, with the disappearance of the country’s richest man, Jack Ma, in apparent reaction to an October 24 speech in which he criticized Chinese financial regulators. The government pulled what would have been the world’s richest listing, of Ant Group, controlled by Ma. Ant is an affiliate of Alibaba Group, Ma’s flagship, which owns China's largest digital payment platform Alipay, which serves over one billion users and 80 million merchants. Trump’s ban on Alipay is ironic, given the Chinese government’s last-minute pulling of the listing of Ant on the stock exchanges of Hong Kong and Shanghai last November. The Wall Street Journal reported on November 12, 2020 that Chinese President Xi Jinping personally made the decision to halt the IPO out of pique over Ma’s speech. Ma has been ordered to stay in China under the threat of an antitrust investigation, according to Bloomberg. Authorities have also been increasing the pressure on Tibetan and Xinjiang populations, according to numerous reports coming out of China

As Asia Sentinel reported on Dec. 6, authorities have steadily been ratcheting up fear in Hong Kong, which until the passage of the national security law had been a bastion of opposition to China’s draconian limitations on human rights. The charge against Lai appeared to be an attempt by the government to make a mountainous criminal charge over something which normally would be regarded as a civil matter – the lease of the building where Apple and its stablemate Next Digital are based. Lai’s incarceration followed that of student activist Joshua Wong, who was sentenced to 13 months jail for his role in a 2019 demonstration, with two colleagues given lesser sentences. All had pleaded guilty because although peaceful assembly is supposed to be allowed in Hong Kong, in practice most pro-democracy events have come to be deemed illegal.

Beijing is also expected to engineer the introduction of legislation in the now opposition-free Legislative Council to require district councilors to take an oath to uphold the Basic Law (Hong Kong’s mini-constitution) and swear allegiance to Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region of China. The passage of the new law is a foregone conclusion because all remaining opposition lawmakers resigned from the LegCo on November 11 in protest against the disqualification of four pro-democracy legislators.

A hint of what was to come in today’s action came on January 5 when the Chinese state news agency Xinhua’s website published revised regulations which can be translated into English as “Regulations on the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front work.” The regulations contain amendments to an earlier version issued in 2015, “to implement the important thoughts of Party Secretary Xi Jinping on strengthening and improving work on the United Front. The United Front Work Department is an organ of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which gathers intelligence on and attempts to influence important people and organizations inside and outside mainland China in favor of the Chinese government.

The parties covered under these revised regulations include Chinese intellectuals outside the CCP, overseas Chinese students, compatriots in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, as well as overseas Chinese. Under these regulations, the main tasks for the united front work in Hong Kong and Macau include integrating these two territories into China’s development and increasing the Hong Kong and Macau people’s patriotism towards China. The regulations called for support of members of democratic parties and people not affiliated with any party to work for the United Front in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.

These regulations took effect on their publication on January 5. Today, the mass arrests started.

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