For most of us, here in New Mexico, where the Covid-19 outbreak has gone crazy in the Navajo Nation; in America, where irresponsible behavior in a public health emergency is suddenly fashionable, and all across the world – it’s coronavirus all the time. Who has time to think of anything else?
But while we’ve been distracted, the Chinese president Xi Jinping has taken several decisive steps forward in his campaign to take control of the legally autonomous territory of Hong Kong. Few in America seem to have noticed.
Even though, China has gone about its takeover in a blatantly in-everyone’s-face manner. On Wednesday, April 15, Luo Huining, Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong, gave a major public speech in which he said the very existence of a democracy movement in Hong Kong was a “major blow” to the rule of law and in which he demanded that the Hong Kong Legislative Council pass a new version of a controversial old proposal – a national security law.
Two days later on Friday, April 17, Luo again went public, declaring his “authority to represent central government oversight,” effectively … to put Hong Kong under Beijing’s direct control. Luo’s claim contradicted The Basic Law by which Hong Kong’s relations to Beijing have been defined.
“No department of the Central People’s Government and no province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the Central Government,” Article 22 of The Basic Law says, “may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers.”
With that autonomy overthrown, said Eric Cheung, a legal scholar at the University of Hong Kong. “It is quite clear that they are now bringing the mainland system, the mainland idea of supervision and rule of law, here.”
And on Saturday, April 18, the “mainland system” executed the arrests of 15 veterans of the democracy movement, charging them with organizing and taking part in massive demonstrations last fall against Beijing’s influence on government in Hong Kong.
Like the public announcements of anti-democratic intent, the arrests of these elderly, barely relevant activists is an open declaration that even the last fig leaves of political autonomy and democracy in Hong Kong can no longer survive.
Actually, a more influential activist, a dissident one-time Hong Kong book-seller, says the city and its independent culture can survive… but only on Taiwan. It’s one of those very clever jokes that no one thinks is funny.
Joseph Yi-Zheng Lian, a commentator on Hong Kong and Asian affairs, is a professor of economics at Yamanashi Gakuin University in Japan and a contributing Opinion writer for the New York Times. He had been a regular columnist and chief editor for the Hong Kong Economic Journal, but was fired after writing critically about the Beijing Government’s interference in Hong Kong local politics