Focus on Hong Kong

This week’s news included an early “obituary” for Apple Daily, the eponymous newspaper founded by Jimmy Lai, a long-time critic of the Hong Kong and Beijing Governments.

The prediction of closure of the pro-democracy paper by the end of the week followed the arrests of the executives (including the editor-in-chief and the chief executive) and freezing of the assets of the parent company, Next Digital.  All the staff of the publication are expected to resign this week and the last issue may be the June 26 edition.

This news is remarkable to me in 2 respects: 

First, that the charges made against Apple Daily and its executives were based on breaches of the National Securities Legislation (NSL) for alleged “collusion with a foreign country” to endanger national security.  Which foreign country is implicated here?  The US, one assumes, rather than the UK, as there is a narrative that Hong Kong is a mere pawn in the US-China rivalry.  But do HKers who object to the imposition of the NSL have to collude with any external forces?  Or are they simply objecting because they do not like to see the rights and freedoms that they had grown accustomed to being taken away? 

This new crime of collusion with a foreign country or external forces (one of the 4 new crimes introduced by the NSL on 30 June 2020, the others being “secession” “subversion” and “terrorist activity”) should raise alarm bells for us in the UK too. It would suggest that the more vocal the Lib Dems are in criticising China and the NSL, the higher the risk to our members and supporters in Hong Kong.  

Secondly, the authorities have frozen the company’s core assets even before trial or any legal process, as the NSL operates outside of the HK legal system.  As the paper is unable to pay their staff and even their utility bills, they are forced to shut-down.   Here is a clear example of an attack on independent media and critics of the government in the name of national security, and attacking where it hurts, at its finances.   

The long arm of the NSL applies not only to Mr Jimmy Lai and his colleagues; HK Security Chief has also made it clear to banks such as HSBC, and Citibank that they should not have dealings with the billionaire’s accounts. 

We are seeing limits on freedom of expression, by-passing of the HK judicial system, and reform of the Legislative Council for patriots only.  Is “One Country Two Systems” now dead?  To answer these questions as well as consider what we can do apart from offering BNO passport holders the right to settle in the UK, may I invite you to a webinar on HK, hosted by LibDems Overseas and the Paddy Ashdown Forum on 30 June 2021.  Guest speakers include Alistair Carmichael MP, co-founders of ‘Hong Kongers in Britain’ and Baroness Sal Brinton.  Register here.


* Merlene was co-founder of Chinese Liberal Democrats and on the executive of the LibDems Overseas. She co-edited “Rise of China – Fresh Insights and Observations” published by the Paddy Ashdown Forum (2021)

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  • Brad Barrows 23rd Jun '21 - 8:31pm

    Sadly, the Treaty the UK signed in 1997 meant that the ‘One country, two systems’ policy would end, though it was not supposed to end prior to 2047. The Chinese government is guilty of acting 26 years early.

  • Merlene Emerson 24th Jun '21 - 1:21am

    Update on my post: It has transpired that the last issue of Apple Daily will be 2 days earlier on Thursday 24 June. The reason given was that it is for the safety of their staff members. The Chinese Global Times has labelled Apple Daily a “pro-secessionist” tabloid. There will be a larger than normal print run of a million copies today. The on-line version will also stop updating.

    May I state for the record that the LibDems are not pro-secessionist. We are pro-protection of the freedoms that were guaranteed and enshrined under the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law of Hong Kong. Neither would becoming a LibDem member or supporter be tantamount to collusion with foreign forces as the so-called foreign forces have no intention of threatening Hong Kong’s national security.

    I am spelling this out here as there have been concerns raised by some Chinese LibDem members that they may not dare to travel to Hong Kong post the introduction of the NSL. That would be a pity.

  • Charles Smith 25th Jun '21 - 8:17pm

    Hong Kong’s sole remaining pro-democracy newspaper published its last edition Thursday after five editors and executives were arrested and millions of dollars in its assets were frozen as part of China’s increasing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous city.

    The board of directors of parent company Next Media said in a statement Wednesday that the print and online editions will cease due to “the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong.”

    The silencing of a prominent pro-democracy voice was the latest sign of China’s determination to exert greater control over the semi-autonomous region after huge protests in 2019 shook the government.

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