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China’s iron fist reaches across the globe

By the Editorial Board

July 8, 2023

Nathan Law attends a candlelight vigil outside the Chinese Embassy in London on June 4. (Kin Cheung/AP Photo)

China is swallowing once-free Hong Kong into its unforgiving dictatorship — and even trying to intimidate and capture dissidents who have fled to democratic countries.

On July 3, Hong Kong police announced arrest warrants for eight democracy activists and former legislators who are abroad and offered a bounty of up to 1 million Hong Kong dollars, or $127,635, for information leading to their arrest. This is a brazen example of transnational repression, in which dictators extend their police state methods into free societies. For years, China has engaged in this odious practice, sometimes kidnapping people it wants to punish, such as Gui Minhai, a bookseller grabbed while on vacation in Thailand, and Wang Bingzhang, a dissident abducted in Vietnam.

The latest warrants and bounties are aimed at former lawmakers Nathan Law, Dennis Kwok and Ted Hui, lawyer Kevin Yam as well as activists Finn Lau, Anna Kwok, Elmer Yuan and unionist Mung Siu-tat. They have all been charged with “colluding with foreign forces,” except for Mr. Mung, who faces one charge of “inciting secession.” The police accused several of advocating sanctions that caused Hong Kong financial harm. The charges are based on Hong Kong’s national security law, enacted after protests in 2019 and 2020, giving city authorities wide latitude to arrest those who voice political dissent. Local police have already arrested 260 individuals for violations of the security law, convicting nearly 30 of them.

None of the new targets are now in Hong Kong. The United States, Britain and Australia vowed to fight the effort. Mr. Law said he felt “relatively safe” in Britain but would have to be more careful. On Twitter, he urged others: “We should not limit ourselves, self-censor, be intimidated, or live in fear.”

Hong Kong, once a bastion of openness and rule of law, was transferred by Britain to China in 1997 with a promise that China would preserve “one country, two systems.” It has now thoroughly broken that pledge.

The Hong Kong Democracy Council, an advocacy group based in Washington whose executive director, Ms. Kwok, is one of the eight targeted by Hong Kong, pointed out in a July 5 report that the Hong Kong government has spent millions of dollars on lobbyists — including former members of Congress — to advance its interests in the United States. The report calls on Congress to pass legislation that would reevaluate and potentially revoke the diplomatic privileges granted Hong Kong’s representative offices in the United States.

John Lee, Hong Kong’s leader, warned the eight bounty targets that they will be “pursued for life.” This should give the Biden administration pause as it considers whether to invite Mr. Lee to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in November. If he is invited, it will send the wrong signal that he can extend his iron fist inside democracies — without any consequences.


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