Hong Kong Mass 'Subversion' Arrests Prompt Calls to Drop EU Investment Deal

Hong Kong Mass 'Subversion' Arrests Prompt Calls to Drop EU Investment Deal Taiwan premier Su Tseng-chang calls on the Chinese Communist Party to stop suppressing the pursuit of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong, Jan. 6, 2021
Executive Yuan

The mass arrests of Hong Kong opposition politicians and activists under China's draconian national security law on Wednesday have sparked calls on the European Parliament to reject a controversial investment pact recently agreed between the EU and Beijing.

"In response to Hong Kong's political crackdown, I urge the European Parliament to halt the EU-China investment deal and EU to sanction China&HK officials who are responsible to the arrests," former Hong Kong lawmaker Nathan Law, who has fled the city to live in the U.K., tweeted in response to the arrests of 53 pro-democracy figures linked to an opposition primary election held in July, which was criticized by Chinese officials at the time as an attempt at a 'color revolution.'

"#Retweet if you agree MEP should VETO the bill and EU should act," wrote Law, whose name was also on the list of those wanted for "subversion" for running a primary in a bid to ensure enough opposition seats in Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) to block government legislation.

China and the European Union wrapped up negotiations on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI) at the end of 2020, amid criticism that the the deal would give the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) a free pass on human rights and labor standards.

British foreign secretary Dominic Raab condemned the arrests as a "grievous attack on Hong Kong's rights and freedoms."

"These arrests demonstrate that the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities deliberately misled the world about the true purpose of the National Security Law, which is being used to crush dissent and opposing political views," Raab said in a statement.

Former colonial governor Chris Patten, now Lord Patten of Barnes, said Beijing had "further turned the screw in Hong Kong."

"It is now clearly to be regarded as illegal to support democracy," Patten said in a statement on the website of the U.K.-based rights group Hong Kong Watch, of which he is a patron.

"Apparently Hong Kong citizens are to be forced to love Beijing’s Communists, or else," Patten said.

"Liberal democracies around the world must continue to speak out against this brutal destruction of a free society as well as about the ethnic genocide in Xinjiang," he said.

Massive strategic blunder

Patten also turned his attention to the EU investment deal with China, saying that signing it would be "a massive strategic blunder."

"If this deal goes ahead it will make a mockery of Europe's ambitions to be taken seriously as a global political and economic player," Patten said. 

"It spits in the face of human rights and shows a delusional view of the Chinese Communist Party's trustworthiness on the international stage."

The Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI) sets out a number of commitments on paper that might lead to positive change if interpreted by a non-authoritarian regime with no track record of mass incarceration or forced labor.

But there are concerns that the CCP is highly unlikely to implement them in the way that they would be understood in a liberal democracy, especially given its track record of using propaganda and careful orchestration of workers and detainees during inspection tours of contested facilities.

"Our thoughts, word, and international actions should take account of the destruction of a free city in Asia with economic and human consequences," Patten said. "When terrible things are happening, we cannot simply look the other way."

Emboldened by deal

Australia-based political cartoonist Badiucao said the EU-China deal had likely emboldened the CCP to go ahead with the mass arrests.

"Without European Union assurance to Beijing recently, there won’t be today’s HK massive arrest on 50+ pro democracy figures," he tweeted on Wednesday.

Hong Kong Watch's chief executive Benedict Rogers said Wednesday's arrests had removed any remaining doubts over the "brutal and draconian nature" of the national security law.

Rogers also called for Magnitsky sanctions, international lifeboat schemes, the suspension of all extradition treaties with China, and the creation of a United Nations Special Envoy for Hong Kong.

On the democratic island of Taiwan, which has repeatedly refused China's insistence -- coupled with the threat of military invasion -- that it accept CCP rule under a plan similar to that used in Hong Kong, premier Su Tseng-chang called on the CCP to refrain from suppressing Hong Kong people's pursuit of freedom and democracy.

"China promised Hong Kong under 'one country, two systems' that everything would continue as before for 50 years," Su said. "Now, things have gotten to the point where people are being arrested and jailed for exercising the most basic democratic freedoms."

The island's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said the national security law is being used as a "convenient pretext" to crack down on pro-democracy figures with "subversion" charges.

"[The law] highlights the fact that the article on human rights protection enshrined in the Basic Law of Hong Kong exists in name only," it said.

Assault on universal rights

MAC spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng said the national security crackdown had "turned Hong Kong from the Pearl of the East into the Purgatory of the East."

Secretary of State nominee for the Biden administration Anthony Blinken tweeted: "The sweeping arrests of pro-democracy demonstrators are an assault on those bravely advocating for universal rights."

"The Biden-Harris administration will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy," he wrote.

Former Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kei, who fled to Taiwan after being detained by China's state security police over banned political books sold to mainland Chinese customers, said the aim of the arrests seemed to be to eliminate any political opposition in Hong Kong.

"They seem to be saying: do you dare to vote against us?" Lam told RFA. "Taiwan should pay close attention, because Beijing's move on Taiwan has come a step closer."

Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) called on the CCP to "immediately cease its totalitarian acts of suppression against civil society and allow civil society to return to its previous state of freedom and the rule of law."

Reported by Hwang Chun-mei, Lu Xi, Man Hoi Yan, Raymond Chung for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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