“Lee’s tenure — and Xi’s support for it — mark a low point for civil rights and political freedom in Hong Kong. They also show Xi’s disdain for global human rights norms and a growing geopolitical divide between East and West, Lai said. “Xi Jinping’s vision is not to bring China in line” with those norms, he told Vox, but to assert dominance in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, which threaten to provide alternative visions of political and social life. “Hong Kong seems to be the lesson.””
“When Great Britain returned control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, a condition of the transfer was that Beijing would allow the territory to maintain its own government until 2047. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has never liked this agreement, and the COVID-19 pandemic provided the excuse to all but erase the “one country, two systems” distinction.
The CCP began its authoritarian assimilation of Hong Kong in 2019, when Beijing encouraged CCP loyalists in Hong Kong’s legislature to pass a law allowing extradition of residents to mainland China. That proposal sparked pro-democracy protests and a police crackdown in Hong Kong, which captured the world’s attention.
In June 2020, Beijing responded to the pro-democracy movement by requiring Hong Kong to implement a national security law that “introduc[ed] ambiguously defined crimes such as separatism and collusion that can be used to stifle protest,” as The New York Times put it. But the pandemic provided Beijing with an even bigger opportunity to suppress dissent.
Citing public health concerns, Hong Kong postponed its Legislative Council (LegCo) elections for a year. In the interim, Beijing changed LegCo election rules to reduce the number of directly elected seats and to require that candidates pledge their loyalty to mainland China.
With only Beijing-aligned “patriots” on the ballot, CCP loyalists swept the 2021 LegCo elections. Many leading opposition politicians went into exile, while others were jailed. Voter turnout was a paltry 30 percent—the lowest since the handover in 1997. By comparison, a record 71 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2019 district council elections. The high turnout was reportedly driven by opposition to the extradition treaty, and pro-democracy candidates won 85 percent of the available seats.
The pandemic also has facilitated suppression of pro-democracy protests. Every June since 1990, residents of Hong Kong had marched and held a vigil in memory of the Tiananmen Square dead. But in 2020, Hong Kong announced that it would extend social distancing restrictions until June 5, the day after the massacre’s anniversary.
Hong Kong’s COVID-19 rules banned public meetings of more than eight people, with a potential penalty of six months in jail. As a result, only a small vigil was held. Organizers nevertheless were arrested and sentenced to up to 14 months in jail. The sentencing judge remarked that they had “belittled a genuine public health crisis.””
“John Lee is the new chief executive of Hong Kong. The 64-year-old ran the only approved campaign to succeed Carrie Lam, the embattled head of the Chinese territory who oversaw a dramatic degradation to democratic institutions throughout 2019’s pro-democracy protests. Lee’s tenure will likely bring more of the same: a former deputy chief of Hong Kong’s police force, he was instrumental in the brutal crackdowns on pro-democracy activists.
As the sole Beijing-approved candidate to replace Lam, Lee’s victory was all but assured as soon as he announced his candidacy. While Hong Kong doesn’t have what Americans would recognize as a democratic electoral system, previous elections have seen multiple candidates vie for Hong Kong’s top job. But this year, Lee was the only person Beijing apparently deemed sufficiently loyal to China’s Communist Party under its new electoral policies for Hong Kong, unveiled last March. He won handily with 99 percent of the votes from the 1,500-member electoral commission.”
“Hong Kong saw its Covid-19 death rate become the highest in the world, topping 37 deaths per million people. The recent outbreak was a brutal shock to the 7.4 million residents of the bustling metropolis, which had until recently kept Covid-19 cases to admirably low levels. Hong Kong was once applauded for its response to Covid-19. Then it became the global epicenter of the pandemic.”
“the most important is the vaccination problem in Hong Kong, the extremely low vaccination rates among the elderly, especially those older than 80 years old. The vaccination rate for them was only about 20 percent by the end of 2021. That’s the most vulnerable population, and they’re not protected at all. The data from our pandemic on this wave is very clear: Those elderly who were not vaccinated actually had a much, much higher, death rate than those with the vaccination.
Another reason is the incidence of infection in Hong Kong was so low in the past. By the end of 2021, we had about 12,000 cases out of 7.3 million people in Hong Kong, which is less than 0.2 percent. So basically in Hong Kong, very, very few people have natural immunity against the virus.
Third, in the past waves, you got about a hundred or so cases in a day, and that’s already a lot. But in those days with only a hundred cases, you can actually put everybody in the hospital, in isolation, in quarantine camps. But when they are not hundreds but thousands of cases per day, then people can only be quarantined at home.
And, you know, Hong Kong is very crowded. Basically most people live in apartments and many of them live in very, very small apartments. Unfortunately, there are many poor people who actually share a flat with many other people. So this space is kind of impossible for you to do any preventive measures in those settings.
And of course, the virus this time is very different. In the past, we in Hong Kong see the virus, we see infections, and then we isolate people. Usually, the spread is very limited once you do that. But this time, especially at the beginning of the omicron wave, when we still had very, very few cases, we did a lot of investigations into each of the clusters.
You can see that in a restaurant, an infected patient sitting in one corner of the restaurant and another customer sitting at the other end of the restaurant got infected. It’s not just spreading to people around you, but can actually spread over long distances. For example, there are cases in apartment buildings. And what people have found is that spread is not because of direct contact between neighbors but because infected air that got removed from a flat from an exhaust fan can go up through the air to the other apartments.”
“If Hong Kong was much, much better vaccinated, then I believe this wave could’ve been prevented.”
“When Great Britain returned Hong Kong to China’s control in 1997, it was with the understanding that the territory would be governed under the principle of “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong would maintain a separate economic and political structure from mainland China until 2047. That includes Hong Kong’s tradition of common law, an independent judiciary, and protections for certain freedoms like speech.
The Chinese Communist Party has sought to erode the separation between the two systems. In the aftermath of the 2019 protests, it intensified its efforts to dismantle it entirely. Covid-19 restrictions quelled Hong Kong’s mass demonstrations, and in the summer of 2020, Beijing imposed a national security law targeting crimes, such as secession, subversion, colluding with foreign powers, and terrorism. It portended a dragnet on dissent in Hong Kong. This week, a 30-year-old man was sentenced to more than five years in prison for “inciting secession.” He yelled pro-Hong Kong independence slogans in public.”
“The Biden administration in July issued a warning to US companies: Doing business in Hong Kong is increasingly risky. The advisory, released jointly by the departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security, was basically a giant red flag cautioning companies and investors against the complications that are emerging under China’s national security law.
China imposed the sweeping legislation a little more than a year ago. It has since stifled Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and undermined its autonomy, rule of law, and free speech traditions.
This tenuous political climate has shaken Hong Kong, but it has not yet upended its status as a global financial capital. The United States’s advisory is recognition that this might change as China continues its crackdown in the territory. International businesses — and their employees — could soon find themselves entangled in national security law enforcement.”
“China, for its part, is banking that Hong Kong’s infrastructure and economic climate will still make it a destination for foreign businesses in Asia despite the crackdown. After all, trade wars, tense Washington-Beijing relations, Beijing’s atrocious human rights record, and US sanctions have yet to stop most US firms from doing business in mainland China. And that may keep Hong Kong’s economic might intact while doing little to stop its democracy from crumbling.”
“Hong Kong’s freedom once provided a shining example for others to follow. While that freedom was never perfect, it enabled residents of the resource-poor territory to prosper. Residents enjoyed respect for their liberties that was rare in the region and unknown in neighboring China. But administration of Hong Kong was surrendered to China in 1997 and, as the recent raid on a pro-democracy newspaper demonstrates, the territory is losing its liberty as the world looks on in what the Chinese government clearly assumes is a mixture of disinterest and impotence.”
““Effectively, they are imposing the People’s Republic of China’s criminal system onto the Hong Kong common law system, leaving them with complete discretion to decide who should fall into which system””
“More than most members of Congress, Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) understands the desperation of individuals fleeing autocratic communist regimes.
Cruz’s father, Rafael, fled Cuba in 1957 with little more than a student visa and $100 sewn into his underwear—an oft-repeated detail that effectively conveys both the fear and hopefulness of the refugee experience. The other details in the story are familiar to anyone who has followed Cruz’s career, even in passing, given the prominence of those personal details in the senator’s speeches. Rafael bribed his way out of Cuba, reached the United States, enrolled in college, worked as a dishwasher, earned his degree, and eventually started a successful business. Importantly, he was granted political asylum when his student visa expired.
If not for that last detail, it’s highly unlikely that Rafael’s son would have ever had the chance to stand on the floor of the U.S. Senate and declare, as he did on Friday, that America ought to make it more difficult for individuals and families to flee other oppressive communist regimes. In blocking the passage of a bill that would have granted political asylum to anyone fleeing Hong Kong due to the Chinese government’s takeover of the formerly semi-autonomous city, Cruz not only dimmed America’s status as a bastion of freedom for the world’s oppressed people, but spat upon his own heritage as the son of a political refugee.”
“In remarks delivered on the Senate floor Friday, Cruz outlined two objections to the bill. Both are misleading, at best.
First, Cruz politicized the attempt to provide an exit strategy for Hongkongers, calling the bill a Democratic plot to “advance their long-standing goals on changing immigration laws.” But the bill has a bipartisan list of cosponsors and passed the House earlier this month by a voice vote—usually an indicator of such broad support that no roll call is demanded.
Second, Cruz maligned Hong Kong refugees as potential spies, arguing that China would use the special immigration status to slip its agents into the United States. Except, well, China doesn’t seem to have any trouble doing that already, and recipients of political asylum would have to undergo a background check before their status is granted. If anything, the bill’s passage would ensure that immigrants from Hong Kong to America are subject to more vetting than they might otherwise receive.
Again, Cruz’s father’s story stands in stark contrast. Prior to fleeing to America, Rafael Cruz had worked for the Castro government in Cuba. If Ted were a member of the U.S. Senate at the time, would he have viewed his own father as a potential spy who should not be trusted with political asylum?”
“Cruz’s biography aside, there is a more important and obvious point. Granting political asylum to Hongkongers looking to flee China is absolutely the right thing for the United States to do, politically and economically.
Politically, the image of tens of thousands of Hongkongers fleeing China’s takeover of the city by relocating to the United States would be an international humiliation for the regime in Beijing. That’s why China has tried to stop the United Kingdom from extending special immigration status to residents of Hong Kong—and the U.K. has responded, correctly, by turning its passport-making machines up to 11.
Economically, China’s loss would be America’s gain. An influx of people from Hong Kong—and the knowledge, skills, money, and entrepreneurship they would bring—would be an economic boon for the United States, particularly if they resettle in areas where the population is stagnant or declining.”
“China has criticized Britain for opening its doors in this way, but the U.K. deserves praise for acting quickly and decisively in defense of freedom. Bloomberg’s reporting certainly suggests that demand is surging for this escape route.
It is shameful that America has not stepped up to do something similar.
Hongkongers currently have few options for coming to America. They can seek political asylum in the United States—and an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in July does reserve more spots on the refugee list for people fleeing Hong Kong—but to claim asylum one must be physically present in the United States. That, in turn, requires having another type of visa in order to get on a plane across the Pacific. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has slashed the number of political refugees the country will accept: just 15,000 during the current fiscal year, down from 85,000 in 2016.
Britain issued nearly four times as many BNOs to Hongkongers in October as the number of refugees America will accept from the entire world this year.
What could America do instead? Some members of Congress have proposed a bill to automatically grant asylum to any resident of Hong Kong who arrives in the United States and to exempt those numbers from the official refugee counts set by the White House. A more robust idea, proposed by Matt Yglesias in May, would be to grant a special visa allowing Hongkongers to settle in American counties where the population is shrinking, with permanent residency granted after five years.”