This blog is authored by Mark Sabah. He is the UK and EU Director for the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation.
Last week I was having a quick drink with a journalist who made a passing remark about how everyone is bored of Hong Kong now. “There isn’t much more to say or do on the city. Everyone is now looking at Taiwan.” To some, he may have thought himself right in those moments, but he probably had a rude awakening this week.
On Tuesday the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva held its Universal Periodic Review of China, on the same day that a debate on Human Rights in Hong Kong was held in the British Parliament and a motion on Irish-China relations was raised in Dublin. All three events raised Hong Kong as major issues of concern in the fields of human rights, rule of law, media freedom, justice, freedom of expression, transnational repression, economic coercion and freedom of speech, and the trial of British citizen Jimmy Lai.
The spotlight was also turned onto Tibet, the Uyghur genocide in Xinjiang, the Falun Gong and, of course, Taiwan. Finally, lurking in the wings at every turn was the CCP-imposed National Security Law (NSL), a universally condemned piece of legislation used to hound, intimidate, harass and silence Hong Kongers inside the city and around the world.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s education secretary touched down in the UK to attend an education conference. She claimed to be visiting in support of Hong Kongers based in the UK. Back in Hong Kong, under her leadership, universities and high schools are forced to take "patriotism" lessons and learn Mandarin. Topics banned from study include Tiananmen Square and learning that Hong Kong was a British colony.
Ms Choi is also a leading and public supporter of the NSL which has been used to imprison hundreds of students for opposing the imposition of CCP-driven education. Naturally, myself and my colleagues were delighted to discover that after some enquiries from a mainstream newspaper, Ms Choi had been swiftly removed from the speakers list at the conference.
The unfortunate fact remains, that Hong Kong is still a canary deep in a coal mine. Everyone knows that the bird is taking its last gasps for air, but many still cling to the hope that it may yet, somehow be revived if only the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities would alleviate some of the pressure and tension in the city.
It didn’t have to be this way. Hong Kong could have remained “Asia’s World City”, leading in finance, law, trade and commerce. It could have remained a vibrant and free media environment and it could have remained a place where citizens could openly and freely gather to commemorate and speak against the horrors of the CCP such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
China’s crackdown has so far been done without tanks, but the economic and social effect has been immense to a city that disproved the CCP lie that all Chinese people need the Communist Party and that civil liberties must be restricted for the good of the country. Hong Kong became an embarrassment to the Chinese authorities as mainland citizens could see the difference. Taiwan is now the last remaining proof of that lie.
So to my journalist friend, I would say this; Hong Kong is still relevant to discussions about the future of China and the way it behaves on the world stage. Hong Kong is still relevant if you wish to shine a light on how China subverts its relationships with states and institutions around the world. Hong Kong is still relevant to understanding just how easily a free society can become a tyrannical one. Hong Kong is still relevant because as long as over 1000 people sit in jails under the NSL, we need to keep fighting for their release.
Hong Kong remains relevant. We need to keep it that way.