Pro-Protest Artists in Hong Kong to Lose Funding Under Security Law

Pro-Protest Artists in Hong Kong to Lose Funding Under Security Law US Secretary of State Antony Blnken is shown arriving at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Korea, March 17, 2021.

A funding body in Hong Kong on Wednesday warned the city’s vibrant arts sector that it will soon face much greater scrutiny under a draconian national security law forbidding public criticism of the city’s government or the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The Hong Kong Arts Development Council said in a statement on its website that it was obliged to ensure that any artists, exhibits, or projects using its funding complied with Hong Kong law, including the national security law imposed by Beijing on the city from July 1, 2020.

“If the grantee violates the terms and conditions of the agreement in any way, like advocating independence of Hong Kong and overthrowing the Government, [we may] postpone, adjust, or suspend grant disbursement for the grant year,” the Council warned.

The statement came after the CCP-backed Ta Kung Pao newspaper ran a front-page article hitting out at the Council for making grants worth just under U.S.$2 million to film projects that supported the 2019 protest movement, which began with a series of mass protests against extradition to mainland China, and broadened to include demands for full democracy and greater official accountability.

“These pro-protest film-makers actually got public money to produce so-called works of art that were anti-government, and which beautified the notion of Hong Kong independence,” the paper reported on March 17.

“An investigation by the Ta Kung Pao revealed that groups and individuals have received nearly H.K.$15 million in grants over the past three years, including the … film about the so-called siege of the Polytechnic University,” it said, in a reference to the documentary “Behind Red Brick Walls,” a screening of which was canceled recently by a Hong Kong movie theater.

The warning came as the United States announced it was adding to the list of sanctioned individuals under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said his department had identified 24 individuals who had contributed to undermining Hong Kong’s promised autonomy, including  including 14 vice chairs of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and officials in the Hong Kong Police Force’s National Security Division, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and the Office for Safeguarding National Security.

“The release of today’s update to the Hong Kong Autonomy Act report underscores our deep concern with the National People’s Congress March 11 decision to unilaterally undermine Hong Kong’s electoral system,” Blinken said, in a reference to new requirements that election candidates be pre-approved by a Beijing-backed committee.

“This action further undermines the high degree of autonomy promised to people in Hong Kong and denies Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance, a move that the United Kingdom has declared to be a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” he said, referring to the 1984 treaty governing the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

“Foreign financial institutions that knowingly conduct significant transactions with the individuals listed in today’s report are now subject to sanctions,” Blinken said.

Top-level meeting scheduled

The announcement comes ahead of Blinken’s scheduled meeting with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and CCP senior diplomat Yang Jiechi in Alaska, the first ministerial summit with officials from the Biden administration.

Samuel Chu, director of the Washington-based Hong Kong Democracy Council, said the timing of the announcement was important.

“This wasn’t a routine update, but a deliberate decision made by Washington to add [these] people to the list sanctioned under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act,” Chu said.

“It shows that Washington is very serious about the changes made by the CCP’s National People’s Congress (NPC) to the Hong Kong electoral system, as well as the mass arrests of democracy activists,” Chu said.

'Unprecedented diplomatic isolation'

Wu Qiang, former politics lecturer at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said the U.S. had put China on the back foot with its new policy direction begun under the Trump administration.

"[China] is entering an era of unprecedented diplomatic isolation," Wu said.

"I think the result of these talks with Blinken ... will be similar to that of the meeting between Kosygin and Zhou Enlai in 1969," he said in a reference to a secret meeting between the Chinese and Soviet premiers that paved the way for both sides to step back from war and normalize diplomatic ties.

The Chinese officials sanctioned include Wang Chen, vice chairman of the NPC standing committee and Hong Kong politician Tam Yiu-chung, a member of the same committee who helped to draft the new rules on elections.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China “firmly opposes and strongly condemns’ the latest round of sanctions, and has taken “necessary countermeasures.”

"The sanctions have exposed the evil intentions of the U.S., which is to meddle in China's internal affairs, create chaos in Hong Kong, and obstruct China's stability and development," Zhao told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

The NPC approved new rules on March 11 preventing anyone from standing for election in Hong Kong without the approval of a newly-expanded committee of Beijing loyalists.

The move came after CCP officials said only those deemed "patriots" by Beijing should be allowed to hold public office in the city.

Reported by Chan Chun-ho for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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