The Irish Times view on Hong Kong: Beijing moves on the democrats

China will find that it is seriously underestimating the resolve of the large Hong Kong democracy movement and that a crack of the whip will not make it disappear

Police arrested hundreds of protesters on Wednesday in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong. Photograph: Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times

Police arrested hundreds of protesters on Wednesday in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong. Photograph: Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times

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There was a grim irony to the events that marked yesterday’s 23rd anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China: demonstrators attacked by the police with at least 180 arrests, and the coming into force of new “security” legislation passed by Beijing without the city’s consent and imposed by regulatory fiat. That day in 1997 was supposed to see Hong Kong pass from British control to become part of China in a “one country, two systems” arrangement. Its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, notionally guaranteed to preserve the city’s independence, an independent judiciary, and the civil rights denied to mainland Chinese. Yesterday’s events show how little Chinese promises were worth.

Ireland yesterday joined 27 states in demanding Beijing reconsider the legislation, which was also denounced by the UN. Beijing, the statement said, must also allow the UN human rights chief meaningful access to its western Xinjiang province, in a rare rebuke of China at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. With the US threatening sanctions ahead of the Chinese move, the UK also said it will prepare a “pathway to citizenship” for as many as 3 million Hong Kongers eligible to apply for British national (overseas) passports.

The new Hong Kong law criminalises loosely interpreted offences of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, punishable by life in prison and debarment from serving in public office. New judges may be appointed to try cases which may be heard in camera, while the law gives primacy to Chinese law over Hong Kong’s existing legal protections and extends jurisdiction extraterritorially to target foreign-based activists..

Beijing will establish a new security office in Hong Kong, with its own law enforcement personnel – neither will be under the local authority’s jurisdiction

As early as yesterday one of those arrested, ostensibly for breaking anti-pandemic rules on public gatherings, was held under the new law for carrying a flag promoting Hong Kong independence. A Twitter user reported that veteran pro-democracy lawmaker Lee Cheuk Yan was dragged down from a podium by police, who pepper-sprayed dozens of journalists at the scene.

Pro-democracy groups, some well-represented in the city’s local government, such as opposition party Demosisto, have also moved to disband, fearing being caught up in a crackdown. Their leaders pledge to continue their campaigning as individuals.

In Beijing the new law was hailed a “milestone” and a “turning point” that would put Hong Kong back on track for development after a year of protests. But China will find that it is seriously underestimating the resolve of the large Hong Kong democracy movement and that a crack of the whip will not make it disappear.

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