China has a price for everything else, freedom and democracy included. The day was July 3rd and the Hong Kong police declared a reward of one million Hong Kong dollars. This translates into 128,000 American dollars or 100,509 pounds. The reward is for providing information that would help the police to arrest any of the eight pro-democracy activists living in exile in Australia, Britain and the United States.
The Extraterritorial Security Law
The eight pro-democracy activists are wanted for crimes ranging from secession to security breach. Nathan Law and Kevin Yam are the most wanted men among them. While the former is holed up in Britain, the latter lives in Australia as a lawful citizen. Identifed as troublemakers, the eight men are diehard antagonists of China and spirited supporters of democracy in Hong Kong. As they have waged a war against occupying China, they are against its high-handedness. They have been demanding imposition of widespread sanctions on Hong Kong. https://www.reuters.com/world/china/hong-kong-police-issue- arrest-warrants-eight-activists-2023-07-03/
To their bad luck, Hong Kong’s security law is extraterritorial in nature. This means the Hong Kong police administration reserves the right to prosecute those charged with violation of the territory’s security laws. The right to prosecute is irrespective of the nationalities of the alleged offenders, both within and outside the country, and anywhere in any country. Inevitably, Hong Kong’s bounties, put on the heads of the eight freedom activists, hold good. The fact that they are outside the territory will not matter.
Video Courtesy: YouTube/Guardian News
Condemnations are not Working
This is why the eight freedom activists, with bounties on them, live in exile in nations that are considered safe for personal protection and preservation of their democratic rights. They avoid countries with extradition treaties with Hong Kong or China. They prefer freedom-loving and democracy-respecting countries that are ready to offer them asylum. Better if they provide legal citizenship. Little surprising that Nathan Law is in Britain, which has granted him safe asylum. Likewise, Kevin Yam is in Australia, which has granted him lawful citizenship.
Despite the declaration of bounties on the eight freedom activists, it is business as usual for the Chinese administration in Hong Kong. It should not thus surprise anyone that John Lee, Hong Kong’s chief executive and a former policeman, is getting ready to grace the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit with his presence in San Francisco in November. No degree of global condemnation is able to stop China and its puppet chief executive in Hong Kong from trampling on the rights of Hong Kong activists fighting for democracy. https://www.reuters.com/world/lawmakers-slam-us-intent-invite- sanctioned-hong-kong-leader-apec-2023-06-07/
Efforts to Salvage and Burnish
Unhappy over China’s high-handedness, the pro-democracy trio of Australia, Britain and the United States lost no time in slamming the Hong Kong administration for its audacity to declare bounties on its fighters for freedom. Affirming their commitments to democracy, liberty and free speech, the trio seems to have taken a vow to ensure the bounties-stratetgy fails. This is why Mr Lee too is not very hopeful of the bounties doing the desired trick. Worse, he is not even confident of apprehending the activists.
The timing of the bounties too is bad and they are sure to backfire. The declaration of the bounties on the eight democracy activists has been made unfortunately when Mr Lee is busy making strenuous efforts to salvage and burnish Hong Kong’s battered global image. Putting behind the accursed days of Covid-hit 2022, when Hong Kong suffered recession and exodus of many of its residents, Mr Lee and his administration are now immersed in luring back tourists, startups, capital, skilled workers, businesses and entrepreneurs. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/hong-kong– economy/article/3226268/hong-kong-must-improve- competitiveness-amid-declining-global-ranking-city-leader-john-lee- says
Europe is Calling for Sanctions
Clearly, bounties on pro-democracy activists and efforts to lure foreign capital clash and contradict each other. Foreign capital shuns territories that are not democracy-friendly. Mr Lee’s Happy Hong Kong campaign and the image-tarnishing bounties on crusaders of democracy fail to complement. The bounties paint Hong Kong in anti-democratic colours and create an illiberal image of its administration. At the end of it all, the bounties prove Hong Kong’s ties with China and its autocratic dissent-hating ideology.
The draconian national security law promulgated last year led to the arrest of over 250 politicians and scribes. Now, the declaration of the bounties for info leading to the arrest of freedom activists of Hong Kong has confirmed the autocratic and democracy-threatening credentials of China. After all, China controls the Hong Kong territory with absolute high-handedness and through a puppet chief executive. Unable to do much for stemming such a democratic rot in Hong Kong, protagonists of democracy in Europe are calling for stiff sanctions on Hong Kong. https://www.voanews.com/a/hong-kong-activists-undeterred-by- arrest-warrants-bounty-/7166073.html
Preventing the Intimidatory Weight
Sanctions or no sanctions, the declared bounties also emblematic of the duality of Hong Kong. On one level, all the arms of the government – including the executive, the bureaucracy and the judiciary – work according to a well-codified legal system. However, on another level, Hong Kong works under the influence of an overarching state which is immune from legal checks and restraints. This will prove to be counterproductive and raise a new question over Hong Kong’s famed stability and unwavering rule of law.
As the eight pro-democracy activists remain charged with the crime of colluding with alien forces, they are placed forever under the sword of Damocles, the threat and fear of life-term prison sentences. Such a sentence is ordained by Hong Kong’s draconian security law, which was imposed three years ago in 2020, after the pro-democracy protests of 2019. Despite this law, asylum-providing nations are determined to prevent China from throwing its intimidatory weight outside its borders and across nations of world. They are working towards this goal with all their might. https://www.cnbc.com/2023/07/04/hong-kong-leader-vows-to- pursue-8-overseas-activists-for- life.html#:~:text=The%20accused%20are%20activists%20Nathan,w ho%20is%20an%20Australian%20citizen.
The Unpalatable End Result
China too is determined. The dragon is dead focused on keeping its national security law firmly nailed in its books of statute. As China remains adamant, pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong are escalating their protests. The end result is unpalatable. A traditionally- stable Hong Kong is now teetering on the edge of instability and dissent remains stifled at the cost of democratic values. The recent bounties on the lives of the eight in-exile pro-democray activists have become the new metaphor in a freedom-thirsting Chinese administrative region. And even beyond.
James Cleverly, Britain’s foreign secretary, hit the nail on the head when he said “The decision by the Hong Kong police to issue the arrest warrants is an example of the authoritarian reach of China’s extraterritorial law.” A concurring American State Department said: “It is a dangerous precedent that threatens human rights and fundamental freedoms of people all over the world.” The freedom-loving pro-democratic world needs neither Mr Cleverly nor the American State Department to state the obvious. Despite they doing so, China is arrogant enough to presume its knowledge of the price of democracy in its embattled special administrative territory. This is Hong Kong’s and its democracy’s real tragedy.