In one fell swoop, more than a dozen veterans from the Hong Kong democracy movement were arrested on Saturday (April 18) for their role in the large-scale protests last year.
While the government has increasingly arrested opposition figures – including a threatening midnight arrest of a council for incitement – mass weekend arrests are unprecedented in scale and importance, signaling a significant step in China’s crackdown on the city’s opposition movement.
The arrests occurred when China was just emerging from its first wave of the coronavirus epidemic and triumphed again to quickly curb the outbreak, while countries around the world ̵
Among the 15 arrested was media magnate Jimmy Lai, whose Apple Daily newspaper despises the Chinese Communist Party. Heavyweight lawyers Margaret Ng and Martin Lee, and former opposition lawmakers Long Hair Leung Kwok-hung, Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan and Au Nok-hin, who were recently convicted of assaulting a police officer for speaking too loudly Megaphone. They were all arrested “in connection with organizing and attending unauthorized gatherings,” the government security office said.
Martin Lee, 81, widely known as Hong Kong’s “father of democracy,” said he was proud to finally be a defendant and join the ranks of those who have been prosecuted.
The arrests quickly led to a widespread international reprimand, including from the United States Attorney General William Barr, Spokesman for the Democratic House Nancy Pelosi, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Bidenand Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne specifically urged China to use the coronavirus crisis as a cover Jim McGovern, a US House Democrat and chairman of the Congress Executive Committee for China. The European Union spokesman for foreign affairs said the arrestsrequire a close examination. ”
The Hong Kong government said the arrests were “not politically motivated” and were carried out in strict accordance with the law. In the past month, however, Beijing has increasingly called for a controversial national security law to be passed in Hong Kong, which critics say will further undermine the city’s civil liberties. The central government has also claimed full authority to interfere in local affairs in Hong Kong – which the city’s mini constitution explicitly prohibits – and the Hong Kong government has supported this claim, but not without an embarrassing set of flip-flops.
In recent weeks, China has boosted its aggressive diplomatic stance to refocus the coronavirus narrative from its initial missteps and cover-ups to its success in fighting the disease that it has set itself to dominate the Chinese political system. His argument for the strength of his authoritarian model was supported by the fiddly epidemic reactions of western democracies.
China appears to be using the pandemic as a rare opportunity to make aggressive profits on multiple fronts, and is betting that foreign governments, distracted by their own epidemic response, will experience minimal minimal recoil. Chinese government officials and scientists have already seen the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to drive their companies’ expansion overseas. China has also recently renewed its activities in the controversial waters of the South China Sea.
China’s diplomats are also striking when foreign governments are on their feet. The Chinese embassy in France has confirmed that western governments are killing older people in nursing homes, for example, while the ambassador in Botswana has denied reports that Africans in China have been discriminated against by accusing the media of “making unilateral accusations. However, countries around the world have called Chinese diplomats to protest their rhetoric.
The challenge for foreign governments is to identify China’s maneuvers and respond appropriately, even if an internal health crisis continues to develop. In particular, the arrests present the United States with a concrete scenario that can be used to assess how the Hong Kong law on human rights and democracy passed last November can be enforced. The law requires the government to consider whether Hong Kong should continue to enjoy special trade and economic benefits for the United States, such as protection against tariffs on Chinese goods.
Hong Kong appears to have weathered the first wave of the coronavirus epidemic with relative success, but there are concerns that the government will use public health restrictions to curb protests once the pandemic subsides. There have been cases where selective enforcement of health regulations against the protest movement was expected.
Although large-scale protests have paused due to the pandemic, the resistance movement is by no means over since people’s complaints are not being addressed. The mass arrests have only deepened them. A number of crucial dates are now on the horizon: the Vigil on Tiananmen Square on June 4th; the first anniversary of the March of millions in June last year and the annual March on July 1st. Boiling over public anger, in whatever form, is likely to occur in Hong Kong’s post-pandemic world.