Beijing reins in Hong Kong

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is continuing its crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong, dismantling democratic institutions and pressuring the judiciary, according to the U.S. State Department.

“As the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to Beijing approaches, Hong Kong’s freedoms are diminishing while the PRC tightens its rule,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said March 31, releasing the department’s Hong Kong Policy Act Report. “The differences between Hong Kong and cities in mainland China are shrinking due to ongoing repression from the PRC.”

The report to the U.S. Congress outlines various PRC actions between March 2021 and March 2022, including those that undermine its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as well as steps taken by Hong Kong authorities that negatively impact the protected rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong.

When the PRC resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, the PRC promised to respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and protect certain rights and freedoms of Hong Kong’s people. But the PRC and Hong Kong officials, relying on the June 2020 national security law and other policies, have systematically undermined Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, disqualified elected officials and arrested peaceful protesters and journalists.

The 2022 report raises concerns over PRC policies that affect Hong Kong’s judiciary, as well as its business environment. While Hong Kong’s financial systems remain distinct from mainland China in many respects, the report finds that “the differences have narrowed, and business and rule of law risks that were formerly limited to mainland China are now increasingly a concern in Hong Kong.”

The space for civil society in Hong Kong contracted over the past year, according to the report, but its findings indicate that the most damaging actions occurred in the political sphere.

“Beijing will ultimately force many of the city’s best and brightest to flee, tarnishing Hong Kong’s reputation and weakening its competitiveness,” Blinken said March 31 in response to the changes. “Hong Kong’s position as a free, global financial center will continue to suffer as a result.”

Man standing at lectern (© Vincent Yu/AP Images)
In 2021, Hong Kong authorities found lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai insufficiently loyal and disqualified him from the Hong Kong legislature.(© Vincent Yu/AP Images)

Meanwhile, Hong Kong authorities have used powers in the national security law to target opposition politicians, activists and others for arrest and prosecution, Blinken said.

The report also finds that authorities deliberately restricted the right to vote, infringed on freedoms of speech and expression, and repeatedly targeted independent media. In June 2021, authorities raided the offices of the newspaper Apple Daily, arrested journalists and executives on alleged national security law violations and froze its assets. The newspaper later shut down.

Relying on a greater threshold for bail, authorities detained several dozen people for months. Prosecutors also sought to deny bail for defendants with routine interactions with foreign governments or media outlets, including a former lawmaker who received an invitation from a foreign consulate.

Blinken said that the United States will continue to work with allies and partners around the world to support Hong Kong against the PRC’s egregious policies. “We will continue to call on the PRC to abide by its international obligations and commitments; to cease its dismantlement of Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, autonomy, and rule of law,” he said.