This blog is authored by Benedict Rogers, Co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch and author of “The China Nexus: Thirty Years In and Around the Chinese Communist Party’s Tyranny” (Optimum Publishing International, 2022).
The disappearance and eventual sacking of China’s foreign minister Qin Gang shows that no one is safe in China today. Anyone, no matter how senior, well-connected, high profile or influential, who falls out of favour with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime and its paramount leader Xi Jinping, can disappear – or, more accurately, be ‘disappeared’ – at any moment. You can be an internationally renowned athlete, actor or entrepreneur, but that status won’t protect you if Xi Jinping decides he does not like you.
Tennis’ one-time world number one doubles player, Peng Shuai, disappeared in 2021 after alleging that China’s former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her; that same year, billionaire actress Zhao Wei was erased from the Internet and blacklisted by the regime; in 2018 movie star Fan Bingbing went missing amidst a crackdown on popular culture; and in late 2020 entrepreneur Jack Ma vanished for several months as his business empire came under fire from the regime. These are just a few of the victims of China’s Mafioso dictatorship.
And now the gangsters of Zhongnanhai are increasingly using the same tactics in Hong Kong, turning the city from one that prided itself on its rule of law tradition into a repressive police state where judicial independence and fair trial are things of the past and arbitrary arrests the new normal. One of the city’s most successful business people, the 75 year-old pro-democracy media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai, faces the likelihood of spending the rest of his life in jail. And eight exiled pro-democracy activists living in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia now face arrest warrants and bounties on their heads amounting to HK$1 million each. Hong Kong’s police force has transitioned from being one of the most respected professional forces in Asia into a brutal gang of bounty hunters.
My new book, The China Nexus: Thirty Years In and Around the Chinese Communist Party’s Tyranny, tells the story of the increasing repression in China under Xi Jinping, and China’s growing aggression abroad. It describes how Hong Kong – once one of Asia’s freest and most open cities – is becoming one of the region’s most repressive police states and is morphing into just another mainland Chinese city under the CCP’s direct rule.
I first went to China in 1992, aged 18, to teach English in the east coast city of Qingdao for six months. I fell in love with China, made many friends there, and – even though it was only three years after the appalling Tiananmen Square massacre – at the time I saw small signs of China beginning to move in a better direction.
Over the years, I travelled many times throughout China and, until Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, I was cautiously optimistic that the limited space I saw opening up for some civil society activity, some independent journalism, some level of religious practice and for Chinese lawyers to defend human rights cases might continue to expand.
I was never under any illusions about the repressive nature of the CCP, nor was I ever naïve in imagining that the space that existed was not restricted. There were red lines people knew not to cross, there was always surveillance and that limited space expanded or contracted according to different political seasons. Nevertheless, overall I was hopeful for China’s future.
I lived in Hong Kong for the first five years after the handover, from 1997-2002. I began my career in Hong Kong, as a fresh graduate, working as a journalist. During those years, ‘one country, two systems’ was working and, at least on the surface, Beijing appeared to keep its promises to allow the city’s freedoms to continue. I was able to write and publish articles in Hong Kong’s media that today would be impossible – both because there is no independent media anymore, and because even trying to publish such articles would land me in jail.
The China Nexus charts Hong Kong’s transformation from open society to police state in two chapters, one focused on my experiences living in the city after the handover, and one covering the crackdown from the Umbrella Movement in 2014 until the present day. But it puts Hong Kong’s story in the wider context, covering the CCP’s other crimes: the genocide of the Uyghurs, atrocities in Tibet, the persecution of Christians and Falun Gong, forced organ harvesting, the crackdown on lawyers, dissidents, bloggers and civil society, the threats to Taiwan and Beijing’s complicity with crimes against humanity in the two neighbouring brutal dictatorships, Myanmar and North Korea.
My book is timely, and unique. I know of few other books that put together in one volume the litany of crimes perpetrated by the butchers of Beijing. But it is not simply a list of human rights violations. I describe my own personal journey with China and Hong Kong, reflect on what was and what could have been, assess the threats the CCP poses to our own freedoms, and offer some ideas for what the international community could and should do before it is too late.
Last year I joined the campaign on social media to ask #WhereIsPengShuai? I never imagined I would be tweeting #WhereIsQinGang? But that is the truth of China today, and the fate that now faces Hong Kong. That is why, if you want to understand this harsh reality, read The China Nexus.