China's National Security Law Could Spark Expat Exodus From Hong Kong

A survey by the American Chamber of Commerce shows that more than 40 percent of respondents have definite plans to leave the city.
2021-05-12
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China's National Security Law Could Spark Expat Exodus From Hong Kong A man walks in front of windows showing a view of the skyline of Hong Kong, July 21, 2020.
AFP

A draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from July 1, 2020 appears set to spark an exodus of expats from the city, according to a survey conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham).

More than 40 percent of the 325 AmCham members who responded to the poll are definitely planning to leave, or are thinking about it, according to the survey published on Wednesday.

Three percent said they were getting out immediately, while 10 percent said they would do so by the summer's end, and 15 percent were planning to be gone by the end of the year.

A further 48 percent said they would likely leave in the next 3-5 years.

Of those planning to leave Hong Kong, 62 percent included discomfort with the national security law among the reasons, while 36 percent said they feared it would affect the quality of their children's education.

The Hong Kong government recently launched an ongoing campaign to "educate" secondary-school students about the law, which has left most of the city's political opposition behind bars and criminalized public criticism of the authorities and democratic political activity as "subversion," "secession," or "collusion with foreign powers."

Schools have been made responsible for ensuring that their students are "educated" about the new law, with morning assemblies and class registration sessions to include reference to the phrase "upholding national security is the constitutional responsibility of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region."

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Riot police march in Wan Chai district, a touristic area where foreigners gather in bars, in Hong Kong on October 4, 2019, as people hit the streets after the government announced it had banned people from wearing face masks in a bid to put an end to months of protests. Credit: AFP

Arrests belie Carrie Lam's claims

The government of chief executive Carrie Lam claims that there has been no change to "the various rights and freedoms," including freedom of the press and of association, in Hong Kong since the law took effect.

But the arrest and charging of 47 members of the pro-democracy opposition camp for taking part in a democratic primary election, the arrest of radio talk show host Giggs for "incitement to arouse hatred or contempt for the governments of the People's Republic of China and the HKSAR," has left many concluding that there is no longer room for peaceful dissent or a political opposition.

A citywide crackdown on anyone linked to the 2019 protest movement intensified when the law took effect, and has included cases brought under colonial-era sedition laws as well as "illegal assembly" charges.

Almost all of the city's prominent pro-democracy figures, opposition lawmakers and social activists are now either behind bars or in exile.

The U.S. has sanctioned officials charged with implementing the national security law, while the U.K. has said it is in breach of the bilateral Sino-British Joint Declaration governing the status of Hong Kong after the 1997 handover.

Hong Kong economist Law Ka-chung said that even if only a certain percentage expresses the intention to leave Hong Kong now, it could spark a stampede.

"This kind of mass behavioral effect is a bit like selling shares on the stock market," Law said. "As soon as one lot starts selling, the others will follow suit."

"We're not seeing this stampede effect yet, but when people who are leaving start holding farewell dinners, this is going to make even those who weren't planning to leave start thinking about it," he said.

'Unrecognizable' with three to five years

He said Hong Kong could be "unrecognizable" with three to five years.

According to AmCham's survey, those who are leaving are mostly looking at relocating to Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo and Bangkok.

Simon Lee of the Chinese University of Hong Kong business school said Singapore was an acceptable alternative to many wishing to evade CCP direct rule in Hong Kong.

"Singapore is pretty similar to Hong Kong, and of course they share certain political characteristics," Lee said. "But the legal system and relative lack of corruption are pretty clearly there."

"[In Hong Kong,] the huge gap between a democratic system and the Chinese [authoritarian] system creates a lot of uncertainty," he said.

"Singapore actually has elections ... and it is one of the foremost locations in the world in terms of competitiveness, which is reassuring for businesses," Lee said.

AmCham quoted one of the anonymous respondents as saying: "Previously, I never had a worry about what I said or wrote when I was in Hong Kong.  That has changed."

"The red lines are vague and seem to be arbitrary. I don't want to continue to fear saying or writing something that could unknowingly cause me to be arrested," the AmCham member said.

Reported by Lu Xi and Chan Chun-ho for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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