..Biden immediately challenged his counterpart over China’s projection of power in the Indo-Pacific region, the crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong..
Joe Biden pressed Chinese leader Xi Jinping over human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang late Wednesday in their first call since the new US president took office on January 20, according to the White House.
Setting the stage for what could be a contentious relationship between the two superpowers, Biden offered Xi his “greetings and well wishes” for the Chinese people on the occasion of the Lunar New Year celebrations, the White House said in a statement.
But, establishing his own foundations for Washington-Beijing ties after four tumultuous years under predecessor Donald Trump, Biden immediately challenged his counterpart over China’s projection of power in the Indo-Pacific region, the crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and the oppressive treatment of millions of Muslim Uighurs in the Xinjiang region.
In the call Biden told Xi that his priorities were to protect the American people’s security, prosperity, health and way of life, and to preserve “a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the White House said in a statement on the call.
Specifically, Biden “underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan,” it said.
The two leaders also spoke about the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and weapons proliferation.
“Biden committed to pursuing practical, results-oriented engagements when it advances the interests of the American people and those of our allies,” the White House said.
But the national security legislation was penned directly by Beijing and looks set to trump any other legislation in the event of a dispute.
Hong Kong’s top court on Tuesday ordered pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai to stay behind bars as it sided with prosecutors in the first legal test of Beijing’s sweeping new national security law.
The landmark case cements the dramatic changes the security law has begun making to semi-autonomous Hong Kong’s common law traditions as Beijing seeks to snuff out dissent in the restless financial hub.
Lai, the 73-year-old owner of pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily, is one of some 100 activists arrested under the law since it was enacted in June, and the highest-profile figure to be placed in pre-trial custody.
He has been charged with “colluding with foreign forces” — one of the new security crimes — for allegedly calling for sanctions against Hong Kong and China.
The security law is the most pronounced shift in Hong Kong’s relationship with China since it was handed back by Britain in 1997.
It criminalised a host of political views and toppled the legal firewall between the two territories.
Written in Beijing and imposed by fiat, it allows mainland security agents to operate openly in the city for the first time, and even grants China jurisdiction in some cases.
Tuesday’s ruling by the Court of Final Appeal centred around bail.
Presumption of bail for non-violent crimes is a hallmark of Hong Kong’s legal system.
But the national security law removes that presumption and says judges have to be sure a defendant “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security”.
Lai was detained in December and released on bail for about a week after a lower court granted him HK$10 million (US$1.3 million) bail together with a stringent list of requirements, including house arrest, no interviews and no social media posts.
But he was put back behind bars after the prosecution sought to challenge those bail conditions.
‘Stringent threshold’ On Tuesday, a panel of five senior judges ruled in favour of the prosecution and said that the lower court judge had erred in granting Lai bail.
The security law, the judges wrote, “creates such a specific exception to the general rule in favour of the grant of bail and imports a stringent threshold requirement for bail applications”.
The judges said Lai could make a fresh bail application in the lower courts which would have to take into account their directions.
Legal analysts were closely watching the case for an indication of whether Hong Kong’s judiciary will serve — or even can serve — as any kind of constitutional brake against Beijing’s security law.
The judiciary can only interpret laws, which are usually passed by Hong Kong’s semi-elected legislature.
During challenges to new legislation, judges balance the wording of the law against common law traditions and core liberties that are enshrined in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution and its Bill of Rights.
But the national security legislation was penned directly by Beijing and looks set to trump any other legislation in the event of a dispute.
Bail is not the only area where legal precedents are changing under the security law.
On Monday, AFP revealed authorities have opted not to use a jury for the first national security trial, according to a legal source with direct knowledge, citing security concerns for jury members.
Asked about that decision on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam replied: “I will not comment on individual cases which are now under the judicial process.”
Challenging the security law in court may be tricky.
In Hong Kong’s complex constitutional hierarchy, the ultimate arbiter of the laws is Beijing’s Standing Committee, which has shown an increased willingness in recent years to wade into legal arguments and make pronouncements.
China’s state media have already declared Lai guilty and made clear authorities expect Hong Kong’s judges to side with Beijing on national security.
In a tweet, China’s state-run Global Times hailed Tuesday’s Lai ruling, describing him as a “major secessionist”.
Senior Chinese officials have recently backed calls to “reform” Hong Kong’s judiciary, something opponents fear signals support for a more mainland-style legal system that answers to the Communist Party and where convictions are all but guaranteed.
On Thursday Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam played down the threat of a mass exodus.
China on Friday said it will “no longer recognise” the British National (Overseas) passport for Hong Kongers, as Britain prepares to offer millions of former colonial subjects a way to escape Beijing’s crackdown on dissent.
From Sunday, those with a BN(O) passport and their dependents will be able to apply online for a visa allowing them to live and work in the United Kingdom.
After five years they can then apply for citizenship.
The new immigration scheme is a response to Beijing’s decision to impose a sweeping national security law on the city last year to snuff out huge and often violent democracy protests.
Britain accused China of tearing up its promise ahead of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover that the financial hub would maintain key liberties and autonomy for 50 years. It argues it has a moral duty to protect its former subjects.
But on Friday Beijing hit back ahead of the upcoming change.
“From January 31, China will no longer recognise the so-called BN(O) passport as a travel document and ID document, and reserves the right to take further actions,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
It is unclear what China’s declaration means in practical terms.
But it sets the stage for further confrontation with London, and the threat of further action suggests Beijing may be preparing more restrictions for BN(O) holders down the line.
‘Strong message’ Hong Kong’s government late Friday said the change meant the BN(O) passport now “cannot be used for immigration clearance and will not be recognised as any form of proof of identity in Hong Kong”.
However, few people use BN(O) passports in such a way.
Hong Kongers use their own Hong Kong passport or ID card to leave the city.
To enter mainland China, they need to use their “home return” travel permit.
The only time they might use a BN(O) passport is on arrival into Britain or another country that recognises the document.
Willie Lam, an expert at Hong Kong’s Centre for China Studies, said the move was largely symbolic.
“It’s a strong message sent to the UK and other countries not to interfere in Hong Kong affairs, but in practical terms, I don’t think people would be intimidated into not applying,” he told AFP.
“There seems to be no way that the Hong Kong or Beijing authorities can find out who might or might not apply for the BN(O) passport because the British consulate would not reveal their identity,” he added.
Offer open to millions How many Hong Kongers will take up the offer remains to be seen, especially as the coronavirus pandemic restricts global flights and mires much of the world, including Britain, in a painful economic malaise.
But a BN(O) passport is available to a huge number of people — about 70 percent of Hong Kong’s total population of 7.5 million.
Applications for BN(O) passports have skyrocketed more than 300 percent since the national security law was imposed last July, with 733,000 registered holders as of mid-January.
Britain predicts up to 154,000 Hong Kongers could arrive over the next year and as many as 322,000 over five years, bringing an estimated “net benefit” of up to £2.9 billion ($4 billion) with them.
“I just don’t see how 2.9 million Hong Kong people would love to go to the United Kingdom,” she told Bloomberg, using the figure for the number of people eligible for BN(O) status that does not include their dependents.
“The important thing is for us to tell the people of Hong Kong that Hong Kong’s future is bright,” she added.
The BN(O) passport was a compromise with authoritarian China ahead of Hong Kong’s handover.
Many Hong Kongers wanted British citizenship, something Beijing balked at.
So Britain instead allowed anyone born before 1997 to stay in Britain for six months at a time, but with no working or settling rights.
Now it has become one of the few ways out for Hong Kongers hoping to start a new life overseas, as authorities conduct mass arrests against democracy supporters and move to purge the restless city of dissenting views.
Hundreds take to the streets to demonstrate against the postponement of legislative election and the new security law.
More than 30 people have been arrested by Hong Kong police as riot officers swoop in on pro-democracy protesters – opposed to the postponement of the local legislative election – with rounds of pepper balls.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets on Sunday in the Asian financial hub to demonstrate against a new national security law imposed by China and the postponement of the legislative poll.
Sunday was meant to be voting day for the city’s partially elected legislature, one of the few instances where Hong Kong voters get to cast ballots.
But Chief Executive Carrie Lam on July 31 postponed the election for one year, citing a surge in novel coronavirus cases. Critics say her government worried the opposition would gain seats if voting was held as scheduled.
The poll would have been the former British colony’s first official vote since Beijing imposed the new security legislation in late June, which critics say aims to quash dissent in the city.
Anti-government protests have been held in Hong Kong almost every weekend since June 2019. They erupted over opposition to a proposed extradition law and spread to include demands for greater democracy and criticism of Beijing’s efforts to tighten control over the city.
Police fire pepper balls Thousands of police were stationed around the bustling Kowloon Peninsula on Sunday as marchers waved placards and chanted popular anti-government slogans such as, “liberate Hong Kong”.
One woman was arrested during a protest in the Kowloon district of Yau Ma Tei on charges of assault and spreading pro-independence slogans, the police department said on its Facebook page. It said such slogans are illegal under the newly enacted National Security Act.
Police fired pepper balls at protesters in Kowloon’s Mong Kong neighbourhood, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.
Some 30 other people were arrested on suspicion of illegal assembly and two were arrested for disorderly conduct, police said.
In the Jordan neighbourhood, protesters raised a banner criticising the election delay, the Post said. It put the number of arrests at 33.
“I want my right to vote,” activist Leung Kwok-hung, popularly known as Long Hair, was quoted as saying. The newspaper said Leung was later arrested.
Reporting from the city, Noble Reporters Media said many people were also carrying out individual acts of defiance across the city, carrying banners or chanting slogans, to protest the new law.
“These acts are remarkable because these individuals are doing that in the face of the sweeping national security law, which makes chants like that, saying things like that illegal,” he said.
“The demonstration was also an unconventional one as people tried hard to blend in with regular shoppers in the heart of the city, and occasionally chanted slogans or make the hand sign of the opposition.”
Limited gatherings Anti-government demonstrations have declined this year mainly because of limits on group gatherings and the security law that punishes actions China sees as subversive, secessionist, “terrorist” or colluding with foreign forces.
Hong Kong has reported about 4,800 coronavirus cases since January, far lower than in other large cities around the world. The number of new daily infections has fallen substantially from triple digits in July to single digits currently.
While street protests have largely lost momentum, anti-government and anti-Beijing sentiment persists, with China’s offer of mass coronavirus testing for Hong Kong residents prompting calls for a boycott amid public distrust.
Gatherings are currently limited to two people. Police have cited such restrictions in rejecting applications for protests in recent months, effectively preventing demonstrations.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a guarantee of autonomy but critics say the new law undermines that promise and puts the territory on a more authoritarian path.
Supporters of the new security law say it will bring more stability after a year of often-violent anti-government and anti-China unrest and it plugs loopholes in national security left by the city’s inability to fulfil a constitutional requirement to pass such laws on its own.
Case against media tycoon dates back to 2017 and is not related to his arrest under China-imposed national security law.
A court in Hong Kong has declared media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai not guilty of criminal intimidation, ending one of several cases against him after his high-profile arrest under a new national security law.
Thursday’s verdict was for a case that dates back to 2017 and was unrelated to his arrest last month.
Lai, who is a key critic of Beijing, had used foul language when confronting a reporter from Oriental Daily News, a major competitor to Lai’s tabloid Apple Daily.
Police, however, only charged him in February this year.
The mainland-born media magnate had pleaded not guilty.
He smiled after the verdict was read out and shook hands with supporters who filled the courtroom.
Lai’s case comes after he was arrested for suspected collusion with foreign forces on August 10, making him the highest-profile person to be arrested under the Beijing-imposed law.
The 71-year-old had been a frequent visitor to Washington, where he met officials including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor”.
After Lai’s August arrest about 200 police officers searched the office of his Apple Daily newspaper.
The national security law punishes any act China considers subversion, succession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. Critics say it crushes freedoms, while supporters say it will bring stability after prolonged anti-China, pro-democracy protests last year.
Lai’s Apple Daily has vied with pro-Beijing Oriental Daily for readership in the special administrative region. In 2014 the Oriental Daily published a fake obituary of Lai, claiming that he had died of AIDS and many types of cancer.
Prosecutors in the case said Lai had intimidated the Oriental Daily reporter.
Lai’s lawyers said Lai had been followed by reporters for three years and his comments were not intended to harm the reporter but expressed his exasperation.
Lai is also facing separate court cases for illegal assembly relating to anti-government protests last year.
The arrival of the Czech delegation marks the second high-profile foreign visit to the democratic island in a fortnight.
Top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said Czech senate speaker Milos Vystrcil would “pay a heavy price” for violating the so-called “One China” principle by making an official visit to Taiwan, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.
Vystrcil arrived in Taipei on Sunday with a delegation of 90 people including the mayor of Prague on a trip designed to promote business links with Taiwan, which China claims as its own and tries to isolate on the world stage.
He said the Czech Republic would not bow to objections from Beijing, which considers the democratically-ruled island a breakaway province.
China’s state media quoted Wang saying the visit was a “provocation” and that Taiwan was an “inseparable part of China”.
It is the second high-profile visit by a foreign delegation to the island in a fortnight, after a visit by US Health Secretary Alex Azar.
Vystrcil is expected to deliver a speech in Taiwan’s parliament and meet President Tsai Ing-wen during the five-day trip, which continues until September 4.
In a post on Twitter, Tsai noted that Taiwan and the Czech Republic shared “many core values”. Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, who met the delegation at the airport, thanked the Czechs for “putting friendship before politics” and used the hashtag #defenddemocracy.
China has sought to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, ramping up pressure since Tsai came to power in 2016. A number of countries that did have formal relations with Taiwan have shifted their allegiance to China and the island now has official ties with just 15 nations.
Tsai won a second term in office in January in a landslide victory.
Tsai has portrayed the island as a progressive democratic ally to other nations hoping to push back against Beijing’s authoritarianism, helped by Taiwan’s defeat of its coronavirus outbreak and its global shipments of personal protection equipment.
In a speech to an Australian think-tank last Thursday, Tsai described Taiwan as being “on the front line of freedom and democracy” as China cracks down on dissent in nearby Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific said Wednesday it lost HK$9.9 billion (US$1.27 billion) in the first half of this year as the coronavirus pandemic sent passenger numbers tumbling, eviscerating its business.
Before the pandemic, Cathay Pacific was one of Asia’s largest international airlines and the world’s fifth-largest air cargo carrier. But it has been battered by the evaporation of global travel.
“The first six months of 2020 were the most challenging that the Cathay Pacific Group has faced in its more than 70-year history,” chairman Patrick Healy said in a stark statement announcing the results.
“The global health crisis has decimated the travel industry and the future remains highly uncertain, with most analysts suggesting that it will take years to recover to pre-crisis levels.”
The airline said it carried 4.4 million passengers in the first six months of 2020 — a 76 percent plunge on-year — as the coronavirus burst out of central China and spread around the world.
At the height of the global lockdowns in April and May, Cathay Pacific’s entire fleet was averaging just 500 passengers a day.
Cargo remained the lone bright spot, rising nine percent on-year to HK$11.2 billion. Demand was driven up by a squeeze on space for cargo, which is often carried in the holds of passenger planes.
Despite the grim results, Cathay’s share price rose 12 percent on Wednesday, its biggest one-day jump since 2008.
Bloomberg News said the rally was caused by a tweet by China’s state-run tabloid Global Times saying Hong Kong’s airport may soon restart transfer flights to the mainland.
The paper gave no source for its tweet but investors were buoyed because transfer flights could give Cathay some much-needed extra passengers.
Unlike other big international carriers, Cathay has no domestic market to fall back on, and it was already under pressure after months of huge protests in Hong Kong last year caused passenger numbers to plunge.
It was also punished by Beijing last year when some of its 33,000 employees expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
– Rescue package –
Healy said 2020 had started promisingly, with signs that demand was beginning to return after the sometimes-violent protests had put travellers off visiting the financial hub.
But then the pandemic struck.
In response to the health crisis, Cathay Pacific has tried to save cash by reducing capacity, cutting executive pay, introducing voluntary leave schemes and slashing other non-essential costs.
It has so far refrained from any large-scale job cuts.
Hong Kong’s government also came to its rescue earlier this year with a HK$39 billion recapitalisation plan.
The deal allowed Cathay Pacific to raise some HK$11.7 billion in a rights issue on the basis of seven rights shares for every 11 existing shares held.
Preference shares were sold to the government via Aviation 2020, a new company it owns, for HK$19.5 billion and warrants for HK$1.95 billion, subject to adjustment.
In return, Aviation 2020 received two “observers” to attend board meetings.
Healy predicted little optimism for business picking up any time soon, quoting the International Air Transport Association as saying global travel is unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels until at least 2024.
And he said Asia-Pacific airlines were likely to suffer for longer given spiralling tensions between the United States and China.
“With a global recession looming, and geopolitical tensions intensifying, trade will likely come under significant pressure,” he said.
“And this is expected to have a negative impact on both air travel and cargo demand.”
Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai was arrested Monday and led in handcuffs through his newspaper office as police raided the building, part of a sweeping crackdown on dissent since China imposed a security law on the city.
Lai, 71, was among nine people detained on charges including colluding with foreign forces — one of the new national security offences — and fraud in an operation targeting his Next Digital publishing group.
It was the latest police operation against dissidents under the sweeping new law introduced at the end of June.
Two of Lai’s sons were among those detained, a police source told Media as well as Wilson Li, a former pro-democracy activist who describes himself as a freelance videographer working for Britain’s ITV News.
The most serious national security crimes carry up to life in jail.
Journalists working at Lai’s Apple Daily broadcasted dramatic footage on Facebook of some 200 police officers conducting the raid, and the newspaper’s chief editor Law Wai-kwong demanding a warrant from officers.
Apple’s staff were ordered to leave their seats and line up so police could check their identities as officers conducted searches across the newsroom.
At one point Lai was present, in handcuffs and surrounded by officers.
Police said the search was conducted with a court warrant which was shown to staff.
‘Assault on free press’ Chris Yeung, president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, described the police action as “shocking and terrifying”.
“This is unprecedented, and would be unimaginable only one or two months ago,” he said.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong said the raid signalled “a dark new phase” that “upended” previous assurances by China and Hong Kong’s government that the national security law would not end press freedoms.
Chris Patten, the last colonial governor of Hong Kong, accused authorities of carrying out “the most outrageous assault yet on what is left of Hong Kong’s free press”.
The security law was introduced in a bid to quell last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests, and authorities have since wielded their new powers to pursue the city’s democracy camp, sparking criticism from Western nations and sanctions from the United States.
Lai’s Apple Daily and Next Magazine are unapologetically pro-democracy and critical of Beijing.
They are enormously popular but funded almost entirely out of Lai’s pocket because few companies dare advertise with them lest they incur Beijing’s wrath.
After Lai’s arrest, Next Digital shares soared more than 250 percent as supporters made online calls for people to buy the stock.
Across the border, few Hong Kongers generate the level of personal vitriol from Beijing that Lai does.
China routinely calls him a “traitor” and a “black hand” behind last year’s protests.
A small group of Beijing supporters celebrated by popping champagne outside Lai’s offices on Monday afternoon.
Lai spoke to Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) in mid-June, two weeks before the new security law was imposed on Hong Kong.
“I’m prepared for prison,” he said.
He described Beijing’s new security law as “a death knell for Hong Kong” and said he feared authorities would come after his journalists.
He also brushed off the collusion allegations, saying Hong Kongers had a right to meet with foreign politicians.
Sweeping new law Beijing’s new law targets secession, subversion, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces.
Both China and Hong Kong have said it will not affect freedoms and only targets a minority.
But its broadly worded provisions criminalised certain political speech overnight, such as advocating sanctions, greater autonomy or independence for Hong Kong.
Critics, including many Western nations, believe the law has ended the key liberties and autonomy that Beijing promised Hong Kong could keep after its 1997 handover by Britain.
Washington last week responded by imposing sanctions on a group of Chinese and Hong Kong officials — including the city’s leader Carrie Lam.
The law’s introduction has coincided with ramped-up police action against democracy supporters.
About two dozen — including Lai — have been charged for defying a police ban to attend a Tiananmen remembrance vigil in early June. Lai and many others are also being prosecuted for taking part in last year’s protests.
Last month a dozen high-profile pro-democracy figures were disqualified from standing in local elections for holding unacceptable political views.
The banned opinions included being critical of the security law and campaigning to win a majority in the city’s partially-elected legislature in order to block government laws.
Shortly after the disqualifications, city leader Lam postponed the elections for a year, citing a surge in coronavirus cases.
China on Saturday slammed the United States for imposing “barbarous” sanctions in response to Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong, capping a dramatic week of deteriorating relations between the world’s two biggest economies.
In the toughest US action on Hong Kong since China imposed a sweeping new security law on the territory, Washington on Friday imposed sanctions on a group of Chinese and Hong Kong officials — including the city’s leader Carrie Lam.
The move came after President Donald Trump’s administration forced Chinese internet giants TikTok and WeChat to end all operations in the US, in a twin diplomatic-commercial offensive set to grow ahead of the US presidential election in November.
China on Saturday criticised the sanctions as “barbarous and rude”.
“The ill intentions of US politicians to support people who are anti-China and messing up Hong Kong have been clearly revealed,” Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong said in a statement.
The Treasury Department announced it was freezing the US assets of Chief Executive Carrie Lam and 10 other senior officials, including Luo Huining — the head of the Liaison Office.
It accused the sanctioned individuals of being “directly responsible for implementing Beijing’s policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes”.
The move criminalises any US financial transactions with the sanctioned officials.
In a short statement, Luo said he welcomed the blacklisting.
“I have done what I should do for the country and for Hong Kong,” he said. “I don’t have a dime’s worth in foreign assets.”
The Hong Kong government described the sanctions as “shameless and despicable”.
“We will fully support the Central Government to adopt countermeasures,” it said in a statement.
The city’s commerce secretary Edward Yau warned that the “savage and unreasonable” sanctions could have blowback for American businesses in Hong Kong.
China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said the sanctions list “rudely tramples on international law” and “will be nailed to the historic pillar of shame forever.”
Facebook barred Lam and the 10 other sanctioned officials from advertising on the platform, with a spokesperson saying Saturday it had “a legal obligation to take action.”
Tensions spike ahead of the election Beijing’s security law was imposed in late June, following last year’s huge pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, sending a political chill through the semi-autonomous city.
Since then, Hong Kong authorities have postponed elections, citing the coronavirus pandemic, issued arrest warrants for six exiled pro-democracy activists and launched a crackdown on other activists.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the security law violated promises made by China ahead of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover that the city could keep key freedoms and autonomy for 50 years.
“Today’s actions send a clear message that the Hong Kong authorities’ actions are unacceptable,” Pompeo said in a statement.
The US measures come three months ahead of the November election in which Trump, who is behind his rival Joe Biden, is campaigning hard on an increasingly strident anti-Beijing message.
As public disapproval has grown for his handling of the pandemic, Trump has pivoted from his previous focus on striking a trade deal with China to blaming the country for the coronavirus crisis.
Tik Tok, WeChat bans On Thursday, Trump made good on previous threats against WeChat and TikTok — two Chinese-owned apps with major audiences that US officials say pose a national security threat.
In an executive order, Trump gave Americans 45 days to stop doing business with the platforms, effectively setting a deadline for a potential, under-pressure sale of TikTok to Microsoft.
The move also threw into doubt the US operations of WeChat’s parent firm, Tencent, a powerful player in the video game industry and one of the world’s richest companies.
China condemned the move as “arbitrary political manipulation”.
The new restrictions sent Tencent shares tanking as much as 10 percent at one point in Hong Kong trade on Friday, wiping almost $50 billion off its market capitalisation.
Trump’s order claimed TikTok could be used by China to track the locations of federal employees, build dossiers on people for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage.
TikTok has repeatedly denied sharing data with Beijing.
WeChat is a messaging, social media and electronic payment platform and is reported to have more than a billion users, with many preferring it to email.
The latest US actions follow a protracted battle over Huawei, the Chinese network and smartphone giant accused by the Trump administration of being a tool for espionage.
Huawei said Friday it would end production of its flagship smartphone chips due to US sanctions.
The United States slapped sanctions Friday on Hong Kong’s top leader, a new salvo in a major escalation against Beijing after ordering sweeping restrictions on Chinese-owned social media giants TikTok and WeChat.
In the most significant US action on Hong Kong since Beijing imposed a tough security law, the Treasury Department said it was freezing US assets of Chief Executive Carrie Lam and 10 other senior officials.
The move also criminalizes any US financial transactions with the 11 officials, who include Hong Kong’s police commissioner, its security secretary and China’s top official in the international financial hub.
“Today’s actions send a clear message that the Hong Kong authorities’ actions are unacceptable,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Pompeo said the law — which bans subversion and other perceived offenses — violated promises made by China before Britain handed back the territory in 1997.
“The United States stands with the Hong Kong people,” Pompeo said.
The Treasury Department said Lam “is directly responsible for implementing Beijing’s policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes.”
The security law imposed in late June has sent a chill through Hong Kong, which saw massive and sometimes destructive pro-democracy protests last year.
Authorities have since delayed elections, citing the coronavirus pandemic and, according to Beijing, issued arrest warrants for six pro-democracy activists living in exile.
Clock ticks for TikTok The tough new measures come three months ahead of US elections, in which President Donald Trump is trailing in the polls.
Critics say that his hardening turn on China is meant to deflect blame from his own handling of COVID-19, from which the United States has suffered the deadliest toll of any country.
Late Thursday, Trump made good on threats against WeChat and TikTok — two apps with major audiences.
In an executive order, Trump gave Americans 45 days to stop doing business with the Chinese platforms, effectively setting a deadline for a potential, under-pressure sale of TikTok to Microsoft.
The president cited national security concerns for the moves, which also threw into doubt the American operations of WeChat’s parent firm, Tencent, a powerful player in the video gaming industry and one of the world’s richest companies.
China voiced outrage at the move, which comes as Trump also steps up pressure on the trade and security fronts.
“At the expense of the rights and interests of US users and companies, the US… is carrying out arbitrary political manipulation and suppression,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
Tencent dives The new restrictions sent Tencent shares into a spin, with the issue tanking as much as 10 percent at one point in Hong Kong trade, wiping almost $50 billion off its market capitalization.
Trump’s order claims TikTok — whose kaleidoscopic feeds of short video clips feature everything from hair-dye tutorials to dance routines and jokes about daily life — could be used by China to track the locations of federal employees, build dossiers on people for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage.
TikTok, which has repeatedly denied sharing data with Beijing, said it was “shocked” by the order “issued without any due process.”
The app owned by Chinese-based ByteDance vowed to “pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure… our company and our users are treated fairly.”
WeChat is a messaging, social media and electronic payment platform and is reported to have more than a billion users, with many preferring it to email.
Repercussions for US? Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said the US actions were likely to be counterproductive.
“There is no security justification for banning an app merely because it is owned by a Chinese company,” Castro said.
“Allegations of security risks should be backed by hard evidence, not unsubstantiated innuendo. American tech companies stand to lose significant global market share if other countries follow a similar standard and block US tech companies from their markets because of concerns about US government surveillance.”
Trump has effectively set a deadline of mid-September for TikTok to be acquired by a US firm or be banned in the United States, leading Microsoft to accelerate its talks to buy it.
The TikTok mobile app has been downloaded about 175 million times in the US and more than a billion times around the world.
The latest US actions follow a protracted battle over Huawei, the Chinese network and smartphone giant accused by the Trump administration of being a tool for espionage.
Hong Kong’s democracy supporters were dealt a huge blow Friday as authorities postponed local elections for a year because of the coronavirus, capping a devastating month of political disqualifications, arrests for social media posts and activists fleeing overseas.
The city’s democracy camp has come under sustained attack since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law last month — a move China’s leaders described as a “sword” hanging over the head of its critics.
The ensuing weeks have sent a chill through a city used to speaking its mind and supposedly guaranteed certain freedoms and autonomy in a “One Country, Two Systems” deal agreed ahead of its 1997 handover from Britain.
On Friday evening chief executive Carrie Lam, a pro-Beijing appointee, announced that September elections for the financial hub’s legislature would be delayed for a year using emergency anti-virus powers.
She denied the move was a political decision to hobble the city’s opposition.
“I am only paying attention to the current pandemic situation,” she said.
Beijing welcomed the move as “necessary, reasonable and legal”.
But the decision infuriated democracy supporters who had warned against any move to delay the polls, accusing authorities of using the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid a drubbing at the ballot box.
“This is a sleazy, contemptible political act to help thwart any victory on the part of the democrats in the original election,” opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media), warning that public anger could explode.
The postponement came a day after a dozen prominent democracy activists were barred from standing for election because their political views were deemed unacceptable.
“Beyond any doubt (this) is the most scandalous election fraud era in Hong Kong history,” Joshua Wong, one of the city’s most recognisable democracy figures, told reporters Friday before the elections were postponed.
Wong was one of those disqualified, along with other young firebrand activists and some older, more moderate democracy campaigners.
Banned political views Hong Kong is not a democracy — its leader is chosen by pro-Beijing committees.
But half of its legislature’s 70 seats are directly elected, offering the city’s 7.5 million residents a rare chance to have their voices heard at the ballot box.
Planning to capitalise on last year’s huge and often violent anti-Beijing protests, democracy activists had been hoping to win their first-ever majority in September.
But officials have begun scrubbing ballot lists of candidates.
Examples given by authorities of unacceptable political views have included criticising the new security law, campaigning to win a legislation-blocking majority and refusing to recognise China’s sovereignty.
Earlier in the day a coalition of democracy parties warned any bid to delay the elections would herald “the complete collapse of our constitutional system”.
Around half of Hong Kong’s nearly 3,300 COVID-19 cases have been detected in the past month alone and authorities fear hospitals are on the verge of being overwhelmed.
According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, at least 68 elections worldwide have been postponed because of the virus, while 49 went ahead.
New security law Hong Kong is going through its most politically turbulent period since its return to Chinese rule, and last year seven straight months of pro-democracy protests swept the city.
The pandemic and mass arrests have helped throttle the movement, but anger towards Beijing still seethes.
In response, China imposed its security law on June 30, bypassing the legislature and keeping the contents of the law secret until it was enacted.
Beijing said the law would restore stability and not impact political freedoms.
It targets four types of crime — subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces — with up to life in prison.
But the broadly worded law instantly outlawed certain political views such as promoting independence or greater autonomy for Hong Kong.
One provision bans “inciting hatred” towards the government.
Critics, including many Western nations, say it has demolished the “One Country, Two Systems” model.
Since it came into force, some political parties have disbanded while at least three prominent Beijing critics have fled overseas.
Libraries and schools have pulled books deemed to be in breach of the new law.
At least 15 arrests have been made so far.
On Wednesday four students were arrested under the new law for “inciting secession” through posts on social media.
Others have been arrested for shouting pro-independence and other protest slogans, or possessing objects emblazoned with them.
A man who allegedly drove his motorbike into a group of police officers while flying an independence flag was the first to be charged under the law, with terrorism and secession offences.
Hong Kong says candidates cannot run in September election because they do not agree with controversial security law.
Joshua Wong, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy campaigners, on Friday said the pro-democracy camp would continue their fight for freedom after officials disqualified some pro-democracy candidates from running in September’s legislative elections and local media reported the poll could be postponed.
Elections for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, known as LegCo, are due to take place on September 6.
Only half of the 70 seats are directly elected by Hong Kong people, with 30 chosen by special interest groups who are mostly pro-Beijing and the remaining five seats occupied by popularly-elected district councillors.
Hong Kong on Thursday disqualified a dozen candidates from the contest, including 23-year-old Wong.
Advocating for independence, soliciting intervention by foreign governments, or “expressing an objection in principle” to a national security law that China imposed on the territory earlier this month were behaviours that “could not genuinely” uphold the Basic Law, the government said in a statement.
Wong, who was dressed in a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words “You can’t kill us all”, told the media that Hong Kong’s new national security was a “legal weapon used against dissidents” and the disqualification of pro-democracy candidates the most “scandalous election fraud in Hong Kong history”.
“Our resistance will continue,” he added.
Doubts about whether the election will even go ahead have grown over the past week with multiple local media outlets reporting that the government will postpone the poll because of the jump in coronavirus cases.
Media TV (known to Noble Reporters Media) on Friday reported that the territory’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam would hold a news conference at 6pm (10:00 GMT) where she would announce the election would be postponed.
China imposed the new legislation, seeking to punish what it termed secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The law, which bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature, followed months of pro-democracy protests that began in June last year and at times descended into violence.
Supporters of the law say it will bring stability after a year of anti-China unrest. Critics describe it as an assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms, which were promised under the “one country, two systems” framework agreed when the city was returned to Chinese rule by the British in 1997.
On Thursday, four students, the youngest just 16 years old, were arrested over social media posts that were deemed in breach of the law, the first to be made by a new dedicated police unit.
China accuses Britain of interference as UK gov’t lays out path to citizenship for three million Hong Kong people.
The United Kingdom has unveiled the details of its plan to offer an estimated three million people in Hong Kong a route to citizenship in an offer Home Secretary Priti Patel described as “very generous” and China condemned as a breach of international law and interference in its internal affairs.
In a briefing paper released on Wednesday, Patel said people with British National (Overseas) or BNO status, a type of nationality created when Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, would be able to apply for the programme from January next year.
They will not have to meet skills tests or minimum income requirements and can bring their dependents, including those who do not have BNO status.
Patel said BNO status “recognised the special and enduring ties the UK has with those people as a result of our role in Hong Kong before 1997”.
Referring to China’s imposition of a new National Security Law on Hong Kong at the start of the month, she added: “Now that China, through its actions, has changed the circumstances that BN(O) citizens find themselves in, it is right that we change the entitlements which are attached to BN(O) status.”
The paper triggered a swift condemnation from China’s embassy in London, which said the move amounted to interference in China’s internal affairs and that it would demand effective countermeasures.
“The Chinese side urges the UK side to recognize the fact that Hong Kong is part of China, have a right and objective understanding on the National Security Law for Hong Kong, immediately correct its mistakes and stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs, which are China’s internal affairs,” an embassy spokesperson said in a statement posted on the embassy’s website. “Such interference will shoot itself in the foot.”
‘Unique obligations’ Hong Kong was a British colony for more than 100 years until it was returned to Chinese rule under the so-called “one country, two systems” framework, which afforded the territory substantial autonomy and guaranteeing the people of the territory rights and freedoms unknown on the mainland for at least 50 years.
The UK has said the security law contravenes the promises that were laid out in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984.
The policy statement said the changes to migration for people from Hong Kong were a reflection of the “unprecedented circumstances” in the territory, and Britain’s “unique obligations” to those with BN(O) status.
Those who apply will get a visa for five years, after which, providing they have supported themselves financially and not committed any crimes, they can apply for permanent residence and, after a further year, citizenship. They will not need to meet any income requirements, have a job prior to arrival or seek additional permissions to work or study.
However, they will still have to pay for the visa – the fee has still to be decided – as well as all subsequent applications for settlement and citizenship, and will not be eligible for any social security payments.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab voiced concerns about new national security law and alleged human rights abuses in China.
The United Kingdom suspended its extradition treaty and blocked arms sales with Hong Kong on Monday after China imposed a tough new national security law and was accused of forcibly sterilising ethnic minority women in Xinjiang.
As tensions grow with Beijing, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he had concerns about the new law and alleged human rights abuses in China, particularly the treatment of the Muslim Uighur minority. He described the measures as “reasonable and proportionate”.
“We will protect our vital interests,” Raab said. “We will stand up for our values and we will hold China to its international obligations.”
The UK followed the example of the United States, Australia and Canada by suspending extradition arrangements with the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
The ban is another nail in the coffin of what then-prime minister David Cameron in 2015 cast as a “golden era” of ties with China, the world’s second-largest economy.
London has been dismayed by a crackdown in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 from British rule, and the perception that China did not tell the whole truth over the coronavirus outbreak.
Noble Reporters Media learnt that the UK government has offered three responses to China’s new security law, which “has created new crimes and new severe punishments”.
“The first is to offer refuge to up to three million Hong Kong citizens to come live and work in the UK,” Barker said, speaking from London.
“The second is to extend an arms embargo to mainland China – which has been in place since the late 1980s – to Hong Kong and that includes equipment that Raab said could be used for ‘acts of internal repression’ – which seems to be a veiled criticism of police tactics in Hong Kong against demonstrators.
“The third is to end a 30-year extradition agreement between the UK and Hong Kong, which will be effective immediately.”
The arms embargo extends a measure in place for China since 1989. It means Britain will allow no exports of potentially lethal weapons, their components or ammunition, as well as equipment that might be used for internal repression such as shackles, firearms and smoke grenades.
The review of the extradition measures comes only days after Britain backtracked on plans to give Chinese telecommunications company Huawei a role in the UK’s new high-speed mobile phone network amid security concerns fuelled by rising tensions between Beijing and Western powers.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has already criticised China’s decision to impose the sweeping national security law on Hong Kong.
The UK accused Beijing of a serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration – under which the UK returned control of Hong Kong to China in 1997 – and announced it would open a special route to citizenship for up to three million eligible residents of the community.
But Johnson said on Monday he would not “completely abandon our policy of engagement” with Beijing.
The UK leader said he will not be “pushed into a position of becoming a knee-jerk Sinophobe on every issue, somebody who is automatically anti-China”.
“China is a giant factor of geopolitics, it’s going to be a giant factor in our lives and in the lives of our children and grandchildren. You have got to have a calibrated response and we are going to be tough on some things, but also going to continue to engage,” said Johnson.
China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) on Sunday that Britain was “dancing to the tune” of the United States and rejected the allegations of human rights abuses against the mainly Muslim Uighur people.
Move comes after Trump signed a law and an executive order to punish China for its ‘aggressive actions’ in Hong Kong.
China has said it would retaliate after US President Donald Trump ordered an end to preferential trade treatment for Hong Kong and signed legislation allowing sanctions over Beijing’s enactment of a draconian security law in the semi-autonomous city.
In a statement on Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry said it “firmly opposes and strongly condemns” the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which unanimously passed the US Congress earlier this month and approves sanctions on Chinese officials and banks over Beijing’s clampdown in Hong Kong.
“China will make necessary responses to protect its legitimate interests, and impose sanctions on relevant US personnel and entities,” the ministry added, without elaborating.
The Chinese warning came amid mounting tensions with the US – not just over Hong Kong – but also over trade, the global coronavirus pandemic, China’s military buildup in the South China Sea and its treatment of Uighur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang.
Trump on Tuesday stepped up the pressure to punish Beijing for what he called its “aggressive actions” in Hong Kong, a former British colony that was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of autonomy and freedoms not known in mainland China.
“Today I signed legislation, and an executive order to hold China accountable for its aggressive actions against the people of Hong Kong,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
“Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China – no special privileges, no special economic treatment and no export of sensitive technologies,” he said.
“Their freedom has been taken away; their rights have been taken away,” Trump added. “And with it goes Hong Kong, in my opinion, because it will no longer be able to compete with free markets. A lot of people will be leaving Hong Kong.”
Trade surpluses, sanctions, travel bans China had defied international warnings earlier this month by imposing the national security law, which criminalises offences it broadly defines as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation sent a chill through Hong Kong, which last year saw massive, and sometimes violent, pro-democracy protests.
In response, the US Congress unanimously passed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which targets police units that have cracked down on Hong Kong protesters as well as Chinese Communist Party officials responsible for imposing the new security law.
Mandatory sanctions are also required on banks that conduct business with the officials.
Trump’s executive order on Tuesday said the US property of any person determined to be responsible for or complicit in “actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Hong Kong” would be blocked.
It also directs officials to “revoke license exceptions for exports to Hong Kong”, and includes revoking special treatment for Hong Kong passport holders.
However, analysts say that completely ending Hong Kong’s special treatment could prove self-defeating for the US.
Hong Kong was the source of the largest bilateral US goods trade surplus last year, at $26.1bn, US Census Bureau data shows. According to the US Department of State, 85,000 US citizens lived in Hong Kong in 2018, and more than 1,300 US companies operate there, including nearly every major US financial firm.
The territory is also a major destination for US legal and accounting services.
Reporting from Hong Kong, Noble Reporters Media learnt that Washington’s move has worried businesses in the city.
“The Hong Kong government says this is likely to hurt the US more than it will hurt Hong Kong, and indeed, if you look at the numbers, the US has a bigger trade surplus with Hong Kong. But the reality is there are many Hong Kong businesses that rely on this special status with the US,” she said.
“Hong Kong is a re-exporting hub, which means that goods and services come through Hong Kong into the US to avoid those trade sanctions or restrictions that China may have in dealing with the US.”
The US began eliminating Hong Kong’s special status under US law in late June, halting defence exports and restricting the territory’s access to high-technology products.
Other actions in the works include suspending an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, something Australia has already done, as well as ending legal cooperation agreements, taxation accords and financial understandings that cover accounting rules for Chinese businesses that work in the US.
At the same time, the Trump administration has pressed ahead with travel bans for Chinese, Hong Kong and Communist Party officials the US believes are responsible for curtailing democracy in Hong Kong.
The administration has also gone after China by imposing travel bans on officials for repressing minorities in Xinjiang and hindering foreigners’ access to Tibet.
On Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US had decided to reject outright virtually all Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea, a determination that could lead to increased tensions in disputed, critical international shipping lanes.
Hong Kong expatriates living in Britain have welcomed London’s pledge of “a pathway to future citizenship” for millions of the territory’s residents after China imposed a controversial security law there.
But they warned this “message of hope” would not help many, including those born after Hong Kong’s 1997 return to Chinese rule and now aged over 18 — people at the forefront of protests against Beijing.
“It is helpful — it sends a strong message of hope to Hong Kongers, many of whom are waiting to be rescued from their city,” a 35-year-old financial analyst living in London since 2005, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
With relatives still in Hong Kong, he is very worried about their fate, especially those of university age.
“These guys won’t be helped directly by this but they are the ones who are more vulnerable — they stopped their university degrees to join the movement,” he added, referring to pro-democracy protests that erupted last year.
Beijing enacted the sweeping security law for the restless city of around 7.5 million people on June 30, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces.
The move has sparked international condemnation.
The UK has said in response it will allow anyone with British National (Overseas) (BNO) status and their dependants — husbands, wives, civil partners and children under 18 years old — to come to Britain.
They will be able to remain and work for five years, compared to the current limit of six months, before being able to apply for citizenship.
More than 350,000 people currently have BNO passports, and the government estimates there is around 2.9 million eligible for the status in total in Hong Kong.
– ‘Main target‘ – “This proposal will definitely help some of the people who fear for their life — at least they have somewhere safe to go,” said Abby Yau, 40, a naturalised British citizen after 19 years in the UK.
“But at the same time, I wonder how much it will benefit the majority of the people who are oppressed by the (Chinese) government.”
Britain created the BNO status ahead of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover, allowing its residents to apply for a form of British nationality and a BNO passport.
But it conferred no automatic right to citizenship, could only be applied before the end of 1997 and cannot be passed on to future generations.
Critics of Britain’s proposed changes note they still fail to help swathes of people who missed out on that opportunity.
“The British government forgets the fact that most of the protesters are from my generation, in particular citizens born between 1997 and 2002,” said another 22-year-old former Hong Kong resident studying in the UK since 2015.
“These generations have suffered the most throughout the years and now they are the main target of the (Hong Kong) government.
“The British government needs to consider this generation or otherwise, this proposal won’t be meaningful.”
However, he expected “a wave of people fleeing” to Britain once the new immigration measures are formalised.
“Social media such as Facebook has been flooded with questions regarding working in the UK,” he added, noting it reflected “how anxious and hopeless Hong Kongers are at the moment”.
– ‘Valuable workforce‘ – Yau said she too had been contacted by friends asking about life in Britain and argued the new arrivals “could be an unbelievably valuable workforce for the UK post-Brexit”.
But she does not expect large numbers to leave Hong Kong, noting not everyone can afford to relocate and navigate Britain’s costly immigration system while others may not want such a different lifestyle.
The 22-year-old Hong Kong emigre echoed the sentiment.
“It will be a big challenge and sacrifice for the sandwich-class in Hong Kong as they work hard throughout their entire life to promote their social status,” he said, referring to the city’s middle class.
“Immigrating to here would mean restarting a new life as second-class citizens, and their social status might be dropped if they are not professional or wealthy.”
Meanwhile, the financial analyst who left Hong Kong 15 years ago agreed there will be “reluctance” to start over in Britain, but noted two of his relatives who had long been mulling relocating have finally been convinced by recent events.
“Can you call a place home when someone has taken away its core values, freedom and spirit?” he said.
“To me, that place ceased to be home — and the real home for Hong Kongers is where we can carry on contributing as a world citizen.”
Australia suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and extended visas for Hong Kong residents in response to China’s imposition of a tough national security law on the semi-autonomous territory, the prime minister said Thursday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a range of visas that will be extended from two to five years and offers of pathways to permanent residency visas. It is not clear how many Hong Kongers are expected to get the extensions.
The move comes after China bypassed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to impose the sweeping security legislation without public consultation. Critics view it as a further deterioration of freedoms promised to the former British colony, in response to last year’s massive protests calling for greater democracy and more police accountability.
The national security law prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs. Under the law, police now have sweeping powers to conduct searches without warrants and order internet service providers and platforms to remove messages deemed to be in violation of the legislation.
“Our government, together with other governments around the world, have been very consistent in expressing our concerns about the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong,” Morrison told reporters.
“That national security law constitutes a fundamental change of circumstances in respect to our extradition agreement with Hong Kong,” Morrison said.
Britain, too, is extending residency rights for up to 3 million Hong Kongers eligible for British National Overseas passports, allowing them to live and work in the U.K. for five years.
Canada has suspected its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and is looking at other options including migration.
In Australia, the most likely Hong Kongers to benefit from the new policies are the 10,000 already in the country on student and other temporary visas.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said he expected the numbers of Kong Hongers who would come to Australia under the new arrangements would be “in the hundreds or low thousands.”
Australia last offered “safe haven” visas to Chinese after the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. More than 27,000 Chinese students in Australia at the time were allowed to stay permanently.
China last week warned Australia against “interfering in China’s internal affairs with Hong Kong.”
Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces, this week warned that “no one should underestimate the repercussions to the Australian economy from a further deterioration of bilateral ties.”
“If the Australian government chooses to continue to interfere in China’s internal affairs, it should be expected that the ‘safe haven’ offer will result in a huge negative impact on the Australian economy, making the issue much more serious than many people would have anticipated,” the newspaper said.
China accused Australia of spreading disinformation when the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a travel advisory this week warning that Australian visitors could be at risk of arbitrary detention.
The department’s latest advisory for Hong Kong on Thursday warned that visitors could be sent to mainland China to be prosecuted under mainland law.
“You may be at increased risk of detention on vaguely defined national security grounds,” the advisory said. “You could break the law without intending to.”
Australia had negotiated an extradition treaty with China, but shelved it in 2017 when it became clear that the Australian Senate would vote it down. The separate Hong Kong treaty has been in place since 1993.
Warning comes as activist Nathan Law flees and Hong Kong government bans protest slogan calling for city’s liberation.
China has promised to take “all necessary countermeasures” if the United States pressed ahead with legislation penalising banks doing business with Chinese officials who implement Beijing’s draconian new national security law on Hong Kong.
The warning on Friday came after the US Senate unanimously approved the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, sending it to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature.
“This US move has grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs and seriously violated international law, as well as the basic norms governing international relations,” the Foreign Affairs Committee of China’s National People’s Congress said.
“If the US side is bent on going down the wrong path, China will resolutely respond with all necessary countermeasures.”
Beijing has faced a groundswell of criticism over its decision to impose a law outlawing “acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces” in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy protesters in the city as well as foreign governments say the law breaches the “one country, two systems” principle enshrined in the 1984 Sino-British treaty that guaranteed the autonomy of Hong Kong.
The law has triggered alarm among democracy activists and rights groups. Demosisto, a pro-democracy group led by Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, disbanded hours after the legislation was passed, while prominent group member Nathan Law said on Friday that he had left the global financial hub.
The 26-year-old said he made the decision to leave after criticising the new law at a US congressional hearing he attended via livestream on Wednesday. “Of course, I knew my speech and appearance would put my own safety in serious jeopardy given the circumstances,” he wrote on Twitter.
“As a global-facing activist, the choice I have are stark: to stay silent from now on, or to keep engaging in private diplomacy so I can warn the world of the threat of Chinese authoritarian expansion. I made the decision when I agreed to testify before the US Congress.”
Reporting from Hong Kong, NRM said Law did not close his whereabouts for security reasons and is “just one among a number of political figures who’ve fled as a result of the national security law”.
“Joshua Wong and prominent Demosisto member Agnes Chow – we do not know where they are at the moment. We think they must be in the city as they face criminal charges and are not allowed to leave as a result.”
Wong and Chow face charges of taking part in an unlawful assembly in August last year, during mass protests against a now-withdrawn extradition bill with mainland China. It was those demonstrations – which lasted for months and at times descended into violence – that prompted Beijing’s move to impose the security law.
Officials in Beijing and Hong Kong say the law, which bypasses Hong Kong’s legislature, is necessary to restore order and stability in the city and will only target a handful of “trouble-makers”.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s local government confirmed that a popular protest slogan used over the last year – “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” – was now illegal. The rallying cry appears on placards at rallies, is printed on clothes and accessories and scribbled on post-it notes on walls across the city.
“The slogan ‘Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times’ nowadays connotes “Hong Kong independence”, or separating the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) from the People’s Republic of China, altering the legal status of the HKSAR, or subverting the state power,” the government said in a statement late on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the 23rd anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to Chinese rule, police arrested about 370 people during protests against the legislation, with 10 of those involving violations of the new law
The United Kingdom has announced plans to allow millions of Hong Kong citizens with British National Overseas status to relocate with their families and eventually apply for citizenship. Australia said it was considering similar action, while Taiwan has opened an office to help Hong Kong people wanting to flee the city.
Tong Ying-kit first person to face charges of inciting secession and ‘terrorism’ under national security law
A man carrying a “Liberate Hong Kong” sign as he drove a motorcycle into police at a protest against the territory’s Chinese rulers has become the first person to be charged with inciting secession and “terrorism” under a new national security law.
Beijing imposed the legislation on the former British territory earlier this week despite protests from Hong Kong residents and Western nations.
Critics say the law – which punishes crimes of secession, subversion, “terrorism” and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison – is aimed at crushing dissent and a long-running campaign for greater democracy in the major financial hub.
Police say 23-year-old Tong Ying-kit rammed into and injured some officers at an illegal protest on Wednesday. A video online showed a motorbike knocking over several officers on a narrow street before the driver falls over and is arrested.
Tong, who was hospitalised after the incident, was charged less than 24 hours after the city government said the slogan he was carrying – “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” – connotes secession or subversion under the new law. The rallying cry appears on placards, T-shirts, and post-it notes stuck to walls around Hong Kong.
International concerns China’s parliament adopted the security law after sometimes violent protests last year triggered by fears Beijing was stifling freedoms, guaranteed under a “one country, two systems” formula agreed when Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong say the law aims at a few “troublemakers” and not wider rights that underpin the city’s role as a gateway for capital flows in and out of China.
But international anxiety is growing after authorities arrested 10 people under the new law within 24 hours of it taking effect. The European Union has put Hong Kong high on its agenda while the United Nations’s rights office expressed alarm over arrests.
At another court, dozens gathered in solidarity with a man charged for stabbing a policeman in the arm during Wednesday’s disturbances. They held up blank pieces of paper to show fears for free speech.
“I’m not scared. Come what may,” said a 25-year-old protester who gave his name only as Wilson.
On Wednesday’s 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, police arrested about 370 people, with 10 cases involving violations of the new law.
China appoints new security chief In a further ominous sign for activists, a Communist Party official prominent during a 2011 clampdown on land rights protesters in a south China village is to head a newly-empowered national security office in Hong Kong, official news agency Xinhua said.
Zheng Yanxiong, 57, most recently served as secretary-general of the Communist Party committee of Guangdong province, bordering Hong Kong.
Leaked footage during the 2011 dispute showed him berating villagers and calling foreign media “rotten”.
The new legislation gives the security office greater enforcement action and powers to take suspects onto the mainland, as well as granting privileges for agents, including that Hong Kong authorities cannot inspect their vehicles.
Some activists have been keeping a low profile or leaving.
Demosisto, a pro-democracy group led by Joshua Wong, disbanded hours after the legislation was passed, while prominent group member Nathan Law left the city.
“The protests in Hong Kong have been a window for the world to recognise that China is getting more and more authoritarian,” Law told Reuters News Agency.
Canada halts extraditions Meanwhile, Canada says it is suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong in the wake of China’s move to impose the new legislation, top officials said on Friday.
In a statement, Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne also said Ottawa would not permit the export of sensitive military items to Hong Kong, which is home to about 300,000 Canadians.
Champagne condemned the “secretive” way the legislation had been enacted and said Canada had been forced to reassess existing arrangements.
“Canada will treat exports of sensitive goods to Hong Kong in the same way as those destined for China. Canada will not permit the export of sensitive military items to Hong Kong,” he said. “Canada is also suspending the Canada-Hong Kong extradition treaty.”
Separately, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a briefing that Canada could take further measures, including those related to immigration, but gave no details.
Canada and China are locked in a diplomatic and trade dispute which erupted in late 2018 after Canadian police arrested Huawei Technologies Co’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, on a US warrant.
Legislation targeting banks doing business with Chinese officials behind new law to be sent to White House.
The US Congress has approved a bill penalising banks doing business with Chinese officials behind a tough new security law Beijing enacted in Hong Kong this week.
The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Thursday, a day after the House of Representatives also passed it without opposition, a rare example of overwhelming bipartisan support reflecting concern in Washington over the erosion of autonomy in the former British colony.
“This is an urgent moment. Our timing could not be more critical,” said Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, a lead sponsor of the “Hong Kong Autonomy Act,” in a Senate speech urging support for the legislation.
“Through this bill, the US Senate makes clear which side we are on” said Republican Senator Pat Toomey, who also introduced the measure.
The bill would impose sanctions on entities that help violate Hong Kong’s autonomy and financial institutions that do business with them.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, speaking in Beijing, warned the United States against signing or implementing the bill approved Thursday.
“Otherwise China will resolutely and forcefully resist,” he said.
China has already announced visa restrictions against the US “individuals who have behaved egregiously” on matters concerning Hong Kong.
The United States has also ended Hong Kong’s special status under US law, halting defence exports and restricting the territory’s access to high-technology products. The US Department of State meanwhile said it will bar officials responsible for rights abuses in Hong Kong from entering the country.
Warning to UK Separately on Thursday, China slammed the United Kingdom’s decision to offer a path to citizenship for Hong Kong’s residents, threatening potential “corresponding measures” and warning against interference in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
In a statement , the Chinese embassy in London stressed all “Chinese compatriots residing in Hong Kong are Chinese nationals”, and said the UK’s offer was a violation of past communications between the two sides.
The British move could allow up to three million residents of Hong Kong to settle in the UK and ultimately apply for citizenship. The city was a British territory until its return to Chinese rule in 1997, and at the time of the handover, China promised to guarantee the city’s legislative and judicial autonomy under a “one country, two systems” policy for 50 years.
But with Beijing seeking to punish what it calls separatism and foreign interference in Hong Kong, critics fear the legislation could put an end to the city’s autonomy and freedoms, including the right to free speech and assembly.
Australia has also criticised Beijing’s move, and said it was considering providing “similar opportunities” to Hong Kong people as those offered by the UK.
In its statement, the Chinese embassy in London called on the British government to “view objectively and fairly” the national security law and respect Beijing’s position.
“If the British side makes unilateral changes to the relevant practice, it will breach its own position and pledges as well as international law and basic norms governing international relations,” it said, adding: “We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures.”
It did not elaborate further.
Separately, Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own, warned Taiwanese citizens to avoid unnecessary visits to or transit through Hong Kong, Macau or mainland China, calling the law “the most outrageous in history”.
In Hong Kong, a group of pro-Beijing legislators and about 20 supporters gathered outside the US consulate on Thursday to condemn “American and foreign meddling in China’s internal affairs”.
Elizabeth Quat, a member of Hong Kong’s legislature, said the arrest of some 370 protesters during demonstrations against the law on Wednesday showed the legislation was necessary to “restore” peace to the city.
Hong Kong was plunged into turmoil last year when a bill proposing extradition to mainland China triggered months of mass protests that at times descended into violence. The protests succeeded in getting authorities in Hong Kong to shelve the extradition bill, but prompted the central government in Beijing to bypass the city’s legislature and impose the national security law.
Chinese state media on Thursday said the legislation would bring “prosperity and stability”.
“We must face up to the fact that the existence of legal loopholes in safeguarding national security has already made Hong Kong society pay a heavy price,” a commentary in the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, read.
Activist flees One of Hong Kong’s most prominent young democracy activists, Nathan Law, announced he had fled overseas and will “continue the advocacy work on the international level”.
The revelation came as Hong Kong’s local government confirmed that a popular protest slogan used over the last year was now illegal.
“Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times” has become a clarion call for pro-democracy protesters over the last year, chanted by huge crowds and plastered on banners.
It could be heard on the streets a day earlier as thousands of residents defied a protest ban on Wednesday – the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China – blocking roads and voicing opposition to the bill in some of the worst unrest in months.
Nathan Law, standing committee member of the Demosisto political party, wears a protective face mask as he arrives for a news conference to announce his bid to enter into the unofficial pro-democratic
Police responded with water cannon, pepper spray and tear gas. Seven officers were injured, including one who was stabbed in the shoulder and three others hit by a protester on a motorbike.
Ten people were arrested under the new law, most of whom were carrying flags or leaflets advocating for Hong Kong independence.
China promised Thursday to take countermeasures against Britain if it presses ahead with plans to extend citizenship rights to Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed a sweeping security law on the restless financial hub.
Beijing has faced a groundswell of criticism from primarily Western nations over its decision to impose a new law outlawing acts of subversion, secession, terrorism, and colluding with foreign forces.
Adding to concerns, Hong Kong’s influential Bar Association published a new legal analysis warning that the wording of the law — which was kept secret until Tuesday — undermines the city’s independent judiciary and stifles freedoms.
Britain has said the law breaches China’s pre-handover “One Country, Two Systems” promise to grant residents key liberties — as well as judicial and legislative autonomy — until 2047.
It has responded by announcing plans to allow millions of Hong Kongers with British National Overseas status to relocate with their families and eventually apply for citizenship.
“We will live up to our promises to them,” foreign secretary Dominic Raab told parliament.
That move has infuriated Beijing, which says Britain promised not to grant full citizenship rights to Hong Kongers ahead of the 1997 handover.
“If the British side makes unilateral changes to the relevant practice, it will breach its own position and pledges as well as international law and basic norms governing international relations,” China’s embassy in London said Thursday.
“We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures,” it added.
– Sanctuary calls – Britain is not alone in announcing plans to offer Hong Kongers sanctuary or increased immigration rights as fears multiply over the semi-autonomous city’s future under the new law.
On Thursday, Australian leader Scott Morrison said he was “very actively” considering offering Hong Kongers safe haven.
Taiwan has opened an office to help Hong Kongers wanting to flee, while a proposed bill in the United States offering sanctuary to city residents has received widespread bipartisan support.
Beijing says the law is needed to quell seething pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and restore order after a year of political unrest.
But critics fear it will usher in a new era of political repression given similar laws are routinely used to crush dissent on the Chinese mainland.
The law has sent fear coursing through the city and rattled the legal community in a business hub that has built its reputation on the independence and reliability of its courts.
The Bar Association — which represents the city’s barristers — issued a scathing critique of the law, saying it dismantles the legal firewall that has existed between Hong Kong’s judiciary and China’s Communist Party-controlled courts.
The new national security offences were “widely drawn”, the group said, and “are capable of being applied in a manner that is arbitrary, and that disproportionately interferes with fundamental rights, including the freedom of conscience, expression and assembly”.
It also criticised “the total absence of meaningful consultation” with Hong Kongers before the law was passed.
– First arrests – Thousands of residents defied a protest ban on Wednesday — the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China — to block roads and voice opposition to the bill in some of the worst unrest in months.
Police responded with water cannon, pepper spray and tear gas, arresting nearly 400 people.
Seven officers were injured, including one who was stabbed in the shoulder and three others hit by a protester on a motorbike.
Ten people were arrested under the new law, illustrating how holding certain political views had become illegal overnight.
Most of those arrested were carrying flags or leaflets advocating for Hong Kong independence.
The security law is controversial because it radically increases Beijing’s control over the city.
China says it will have jurisdiction over some cases and has empowered its security agents to operate openly inside Hong Kong for the first time, unconstrained by local laws.
It has also claimed global jurisdiction, saying the law covers national security offences committed overseas — even by foreigners.
Some trials will be held behind closed doors and without juries, while local police have been granted sweeping surveillance powers that no longer need judicial sign off.
City’s riot police makes arrests as territory’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam says new legislation is ‘lawful, reasonable’.
Hong Kong marked the 23rd anniversary of the territory’s return to China on Wednesday hours after Beijing’s imposition of a new national security law, drawing international condemnation and thousands of defiant protesters.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam joined her predecessors and other officials at the harbour’s edge for a flag-raising ceremony and a reception for specially-invited guests, as the territory’s annual pro-democracy march was banned for the first time.
In her speech, Lam praised the new law as “the most important development” in the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong since the 1997 handover, saying it is “necessary and timely” move to restore stability.
She defended the legislation, which came into force overnight after being rushed through China’s rubber-stamp parliament as “constitutional, lawful, sensible and reasonable”.
In a press briefing following the ceremony, Zhang Xiaoming, the Executive Deputy Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said suspects arrested under the law would be tried in the mainland, adding that Hong Kong’s legal system could not be expected to implement the laws of the mainland.
Spreading “rumours” and “directing hatred” towards Hong Kong police are among the transgressions that could be potentially prosecuted and punished under the new law, he said.
In a separate press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Lam also said that the law reflects Beijing’s desire to uphold one country, two system.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo, for her part, said that “free press could just be announced dead in Hong Kong.”
She added that journalists who publish sensitive information about Hong Kong could also be in “dire trouble”.
Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, meanwhile, was quoted by the South China Morning Post, as saying, “Today is the end of one country, two system. From today it is one country, one system.”
Amid threats of possible arrest, protesters gathered near the conference centre where the ceremony was held, carrying banners and shouting their opposition to the new law, which seeks to punish crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with punishments including life in prison.
Protest banned Authorities barred civil society’s annual demonstration, citing a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people because of the coronavirus, but many activists have said they will defy the order and march later in the afternoon. The crowd of protesters later grew to several thousands across the city.
At about 0500 GMT, police officers were seen making arrests, including Democratic Party legislator Andrew Wan, who was seen being led by police in handcuff. Images on social media also showed police using pepper spray on Wan’s face. Ray Chan, another Hong Kong parlimentarian also reported being arrested alongside several other people.
At the city’s Causeway Bay area, one man wearing a “Free Hong Kong” shirt become the first person arrested by police for violating the new law. A search also yielded a “Hong Kong independence” flag, police said in a statement. According to reports, around 200 people were arrested but it was unclear what specific charges they face.
The annual rally is traditionally held to air grievances about everything from sky-high home prices to what many see as Beijing’s increasing encroachment on the city’s freedoms.
“We march every year, every July 1, every October 1 and we will keep on marching,” said pro-democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung.
On July 1 last year, hundreds of protesters stormed the city’s legislature to protest against a now-scrapped bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, ransacking the building. The protests continued throughout the year with rally-goers demanding universal suffrage as promised in the territory’s Basic Law or mini-constitution.
Critics fear the legislation, which was only made public after it was passed, will outlaw dissent and destroy the autonomy promised when Hong Kong was returned from the United Kingdom to China in 1997.
Reporting from Beijing, Noble Reporters Media gathered that the speed at which the new law was crafted and passed proved China’s “determination to stamp out” Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, which it sees “as too much of a threat” to the central government’s power
She said that China may have lost patience over the last year, as the protests continued.
The legislation radically restructures the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong envisaged under the so-called “one country, two systems” framework, obliterating the legal firewall between the city’s independent judiciary and the mainland’s party-controlled courts.
It empowers China to set up a national security agency in the city, staffed by officials who are not bound by local laws when carrying out duties.
Details of the law
Crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces punishable by up to life in prison.
Companies or groups that violate national security law will be fined and could have operations suspended.
Damaging certain transportation vehicles and equipment will be considered an act of ‘terrorism’.
Anyone convicted of violating security legislation will not be allowed to stand in any Hong Kong elections.
The activities of a new national security agency and its personnel in Hong Kong will not be under the jurisdiction of local government.
Authorities can surveil and wiretap persons suspected of endangering national security.
The law will apply to permanent and non-permanent residents of Hong Kong.
The law says the management of foreign NGOs and news agencies in Hong Kong will be strengthened.
It outlaws four types of national security crimes: subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security.
The full text of the law gave three scenarios when China might take over a prosecution: complicated foreign interference cases, “very serious” cases and when national security faces “serious and realistic threats”.
“Both the national security agency and Hong Kong can request to pass the case to mainland China and the prosecution will be done by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the trial will be in the Supreme Court,” the law stated.
“No matter whether violence has been used, or the threat of violence used, leaders or serious offenders will be sentenced for life imprisonment or a minimum of 10 years in jail,” it said.
“The Hong Kong government has no jurisdiction over the national security agency in Hong Kong and its staff when they are discharging duties provided in this law,” it added.
The text also specified that those who destroy government facilities and utilities would be considered subversive. Damaging public transportation facilities and arson would constitute acts of “terrorism”. Any person taking part in secessionist activities, whether organising or participating, will violate the law regardless of whether violence is used.
The law also said certain national security cases could be held behind closed doors without juries in Hong Kong if they contained state secrets, although the verdict and eventual judgements would be made public.
The legislation has drawn international condemnation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accusing China of “paranoia” and saying the law “destroys the territory’s autonomy and one of China’s greatest achievements”.
The introduction of the law also demonstrated that China’s commitment to international treaties, such as the Sino-British Joint Declaration, were “empty words”, Pompeo added.
Meanwhile, Taiwan opened an office on Wednesday to help people fleeing Hong Kong, with a senior minister saying the self-ruled island would continue to support people in the territory.
“This is an important milestone for the government to further support democracy and freedom in Hong Kong,” said Chen Ming-tong, the head of Taiwan’s China-policy making Mainland Affairs Council.
NRM reporting from Hong Kong, said that residents of the city probably felt that the new law was “a lot more far-reaching than they imagined, (and) many are “still trying to figure out how it will impact their lives.”
“Make no mistake. This is a law that will going to affect everyone in Hong Kong.”