China’s crackdown on Hong Kong
In the year since China passed a comprehensive national security law for Hong Kong, the mainland government has tightened its control of the city and crushed the pro-democracy movement.
Officials said they would censor films from Hong Kong that they viewed as a threat to Beijing’s sovereignty, a sharp blow to the city’s artistic spirit. In March, pro-Beijing lawmakers called for the work of dissident artist Ai Weiwei to be banned from a museum. Courts have sentenced democratic activists to prison terms. And last week police raided Apple Daily, the city’s largest openly pro-democracy newspaper, arrested its top editors and froze their bank accounts. Today the newspaper said it would close this week.
Vivian Wang, who reports on Hong Kong for The Times, informs us of the situation.
Claire: The last time we talked to you about Hong Kong in this newsletter was in March. What has happened since then?
Vivian: A lot has changed, but all in line with a general trend: increasingly tough and open repression of the rights that set Hong Kong apart from mainland China. An annual June 4th vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre against pro-democracy protesters in Beijing has been banned.
Tell us about China’s participation in the Hong Kong elections.
China has revised the electoral system in Hong Kong. Before anyone can run for office, they must pass an examination board set up by Beijing. The central government had worried that the pro-democracy residents would try to win the upcoming parliamentary elections. As with the Security Act, Beijing issued another top-down order.
There are a few major changes. Only “patriots” defined by an examination board are allowed to apply for office.
In addition, in the past half of the seats in the legislature were directly elected (the other half was reserved for representatives of industry groups, often dominated by pro-propeking candidates). Now less than a quarter are directly elected.
Many pro-democratic leaders are in jail. What does this mean for the movement?
Those convicted range from some of the most seasoned pro-democracy leaders to people in their twenties who were considered the next generation. The government is sending a message: those who get too prominent or too loud are putting themselves at risk. These numbers were definitely important in raising public morale and providing people with someone to rally around.
Not much can change that on a logistical level. There have been basically no protests or organized pro-democracy events in the past year, and the pro-democracy parties are limited in what they can do, especially with the new electoral system.
You mentioned censorship. What does this mean for pop culture in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong has always had a strong film industry and is trying to transform itself into an arts center. But with the new rules on film censorship and other recent attempts to ban artwork from museums, it’s hard to imagine how the city could hold the reputation it wants.
There are still attempts to keep Hong Kong’s cultural world alive, particularly through independent bookstores. But the market in mainland China is so big that many creatives, especially in the corporate world, don’t want to alienate it. That will likely mean a shrinking space for anything critical.
What is the mood like in the democracy movement?
It’s still dark. Some people say protesters will come out again when the pandemic ends completely and social distancing rules can no longer be used to ban public gatherings. But a lot of the people I speak to say that they are really scared.
For more: A 23-year-old protester is the first defendant to stand trial under the Security Act. He faces a life sentence.
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