Gloria Fung is the president of Canada-Hong Kong Link.
Three decades ago, while I was working in China, I joined thousands massed outside Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. It was a show of support for freedom-loving students who were occupying the iconic heart of the country, where Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong had proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China 40 years before.
Then, suddenly, the Communist government’s People’s Liberation Army – an ironic name – opened fire on us.
We ran. They kept shooting. I remember seeing a man beside me fall dead on the pavement, shot in the back. The brutal crackdown continued to unfold over the next months and years with thousands of incarcerations, and the hopes of a generation of Chinese people died along with it. The country has never recovered.
When colonial Hong Kong became part of China again in 1997, the Sino-British handover treaty promised that the people of that city would retain their autonomy, the rule of law and civil liberties for half a century. But for some in mainland China, Hong Kong was the stubborn ember that kept the flame of freedom alive: It was the only place in the country where an annual candlelight vigil could be held to remember the murdered students of Tiananmen Square. Then last year, millions took to the street to resist an extradition bill that signalled the erosion of their civil liberties and autonomy, striking a nerve in China’s President for life, Xi Jinping. Now, with his government’s newly enacted national security law, he is killing freedom in Hong Kong.
This crisis may feel distant to Canadians, but this affects us deeply. More than 300,000 Canadian citizens live in the international financial and commercial hub, representing the second-largest community of Canadians living abroad. But it’s not just these Hong Kong residents’ civil liberties that are at stake: The new security law that China has imposed has an extraterritorial application. In an unprecedented display of hubris, the broad legislation essentially criminalizes opposition to the policies of China and its Hong Kong puppet government wherever it takes place on this planet.
As one of a number of Canadians who have spoken out and organized rallies here calling attention to the brutal police response to Hong Kong’s peaceful protesters, I am now aware that if I visit Hong Kong or find myself in transit through its airport, I could be arrested and sent to China for trial, where the conviction rate is 99.9 per cent and the maximum sentence under this new law is life in prison. This is chilling news for the more than 200,000 Canadians of Hong Kong descent, many of whom initially fled in advance of worries over the 1997 handover, as well as their families.
Our status as Canadians will not protect us, as proven by the case of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who are now entering their 19th month of arbitrary detention under conditions tantamount to torture. In fact, depending on the state of Canada-China relations at any given time, our nationality may put a target on our backs.
Democracy activists aren’t beyond the long reach of the Chinese state, even here in Canada. Amnesty International recently warned that the Chinese Communist Party is ramping up covert harassment and intimidation of Chinese-Canadians. I am just one of many critics of the regime who has been commercially blacklisted, cyberhacked and harassed with threatening phone calls. The Canadian government has never called China to account for this. Now we are faced with a Chinese law that explicitly and unabashedly targets free speech everywhere in the world. Regarding Hong Kong, the Canadian government has expressed its “grave concern,” but in keeping with its apparent indifference to the covert intimidation of Canadians, it has made no reference to this assault on freedom of expression on Canadian soil.
Recognizing a common threat, the democracies of the world must band together to confront the world’s most expansionist dictatorial regime. Mr. Xi’s Beijing threatens the rules-based international order, having abrogated its treaty obligations to Hong Kong, taken Canadian citizens hostage to resolve a diplomatic dispute and now claiming legal jurisdiction over anyone anywhere in the world.
Fervent expressions of concern from various leaders and foreign ministers may not have stopped this unprecedented overreach, but co-ordinated international action will. Canada should provide a safe haven to Hong Kongers facing political persecution, apply Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese officials who abuse human rights and decisively ban Huawei technology from our 5G infrastructure. Anyone who serves China’s interests by threatening or intimidating Canadians should be prosecuted or deported. It’s time to stop trading Canadians’ cherished freedom of speech for future considerations from a duplicitous bully.
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