Jimmy Lai’s Arrest Ends Hong Kong Autonomy

Newspaper’s office raided

The last vestiges of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the One Country Two Systems formula have been swept away with the arrest today of entrepreneur Jimmy Lai, the proprietor of Apple Daily, the leading media critic of the government and Beijing, along with his sons and members of his staff.

More than one hundred police also swooped on the offices of the paper, one of Hong Kong’s biggest with a circulation of 99,000, with a warrant to search and seize documents. All this was done in the name of the National Security Law recently imposed by Beijing and against which the courts of Hong Kong are powerless.

The arrests showed that the NSL was not imposed merely as a threat against the few, mostly very young, advocates of Hong Kong independence but would be used against anyone whose words or deeds was inconvenient to the Communist Party and its iron grip on the country. Lai has long been one of Hong Kong’s most prominent advocates of democracy and human rights.

The NSL is a catch-all which covers not merely obvious topics such as treason and terrorism but includes “colluding” with foreign forces – the accusation against Lai – as well as secession, subverting the rule of the party, etc. It remains to be seen how many charges are made against Lai and his colleagues, which are likely to include financially related ones. But it can be safely assumed that they are all political and being carried out by the local administration on direct orders from Beijing.

The 71-year-old Lai was already facing charges under local laws relating to unlawful demonstrations – though peaceful demonstrating is supposed to be allowed under the Basic Law – and was unable to leave the territory.

But now numerous additional charges will almost certainly be thrown at him, often seen as the Communist Party’s number one enemy in Hong Kong. Locking up more people will certainly be an appropriate way of celebrating the 100th anniversary in 2021 of the party’s founding – with the collusion and cash of foreign forces, namely the Soviet Union.

The NSL can be used not merely against those advocating genuine autonomy for such regions as Hong Kong, Tibet, and non-Han Xinjiang but the end of the power monopoly of the party. It can also be used against anyone querying its claims to most of the South China Sea, despite the rejection of these by an International court as well as by all the other littoral states — Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei.

The NSL also gives the power to seize the assets of those convicted under it, regardless of the gravity of the offense. It thus hangs over almost anyone who falls foul of Beijing including businessmen and others with no particular political agendas.

The arrest of Lai and his colleagues may have been brought forward by the latest moves by Washington to impose sanctions on the five Hong Kong individuals seen as most involved in the crackdowns on dissent seen over the past year. These reached a new level last week with the postponement for a year of elections due in September using Covid-19 as the excuse – one that convinced nobody. The five were chief executive Carrie Lam, secretary for justice, Teresa Cheng, the secretary for security and the current and former police chiefs. Beijing officials directly involved with Hong Kong were also sanctioned.

The aim of Beijing to move Hong Kong to being a mere footnote in history had been underlined by the most senior pro-Beijing member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, Tam Yiu-chung, who is the only Hong Kong member of China’s National People’s Congress.

Tam has urged Hong Kong people to take advantage of the opportunities across the border in Shenzhen and the other cities in the so-called Greater Bay Area whose development is being further fostered by Beijing just as Hong Kong is being squeezed. Ambitious young people wonder whether to accept a future without accustomed freedoms or take a plunge by migrating to the west or Taiwan maybe Singapore.

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