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Why expats in Hong Kong are wrong to defend the new national security law

Not with standing the apparent persecution of Jimmy Lai and his pro-democracy newspaper, Hong Kong's new security law is a force for good - or at least, so say many within the territory's expat community.

In Hong Kong, around 100,000 Australian residents - that's more than the Brits and Americans combined - enjoy their low-taxed living, a living which prolonged political and social instability would threaten.

Although amid the Western community there is plenty of support for the territory's pro-democracy movement, other Western expats publicly cite riotous behaviour from protesters as a reason why the new national security law is a blessing, not a curse. On radio phone-in shows and social media platforms, a significant number argue that there is nothing pernicious in new legislation which is simply designed to bring order and stability to Hong Kong.We should just wait and see - and everything will be fine.

And there will be bright rainbows ahead. And prancing unicorns.

These pro-Beijing adherents ignore the manner in which this new wide-ranging legislation was imposed upon Hong Kong, without consultation or scrutiny or consent. There was no due process in the creation of the national security law, and the law itself sets a low bar regarding any need for due process in the manner of its use.

Within 15 hours of the new law being imposed, Hong Kong police used it to arrest people - including children - for holding flags or banners with political slogans calling for independence for Hong Kong. Later, the first arrests were made by officers from the new National Security Department, created under the national security law: four students were apprehended simply for posting pro-independence messages online. A sign calling for a stop to the spread of coronavirus and the exit of the CCP is seen pasted to a pedestrian bridge in central Hong Kong in February. Picture: Sandra Sanders

And the law can be used against anyone abroad who openly criticises the Chinese Communist Party - in Australia, any individual who attends a pro-democracy rally, or even just posts messages online, could be arrested if they enter Hong Kong. The University of NSW is currently embroiled in controversy for dancing to the tune of Hong Kong's new security law, deleting online posts which were critical of China.

Individuals may now be jailed indefinitely in Hong Kong for engaging in whatever Beijing deems to be an act of "secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces". And, under the new law, the first arrest warrants have been issued to pro-democracy activists living in exile.

Earlier this month, the Five Eyes intelligence alliance of the Australia, the United States, the UK, Canada and New Zealand issued a joint statement condemning the latest electoral shenanigans. A number of popular pro-democracy candidates for September's legislature elections, including several incumbents, have been banned from standing. And, supposedly due to COVID-19, the elections have now been postponed for 12 months.

In Hong Kong I taught the history of modern China - warts and all. However, at English-language international schools in Beijing or Shanghai, students cannot study modern Chinese history - because there are no books written in English that are sufficiently pro-communist to get past the censors. Hong Kong is now poised to follow suit. Since the national security law suddenly came into being on June 30, Hong Kong's Education Minister has already decreed that students should not sing pro-independence songs or conduct any other "political activities". Now, across the territory's schools, the Hong Kong government intends to roll out "national education", in keeping with one-party states bent on indoctrination throughout history.

I also co-hosted a current affairs call-in radio show for the English-language arm of state broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong, which is now under a politically motivated review by Hong Kong's pro-Beijing government. One satirical show that displeased the authorities has been axed, and other presenters have resigned. Ominously, RTHK hosts now invite listeners to use a pseudonym when phoning or emailing the radio station.

Since the new law passed, Hong Kong's public libraries have stripped their shelves of books written by pro-democracy authors. And there are many cases of other journalists, human rights activists and others deleting social media posts and self-censoring any further output.

Whether freedom is restricted via government-imposed censorship or self-censorship is a moot point. Every totalitarian state has used fear - of losing one's job as much as fear of arrest - to encourage voices of opposition to shut themselves up. If all the new national security law did was to instil such fears, it would be a law to be opposed, not welcomed.

A significant number of high-earning expats, with jobs they could lose if they were seen to hinder CCP progress, openly commend the stability that the party is providing through the new law. However, the new legislation is not a national security law, it's a party security law concerned with the CCP's self-preservation and advancement. Fawning acceptance will only encourage Xi Jinping's unbridled ambitions. Beware, Taiwan.

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Originally published: https://www.canberratimes.com.au

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