Arrest of HK pro-democracy activists sparks US backlash

Secretary of State Pompeo warns China about protecting HK human rights amid row about ‘appeasement’

Hong Kong has become just another human rights suppressed city in China.

The decision by President Xi Jinping’s ruling Communist Party government to impose a draconian security law is silencing free speech after squeezing the life out of the pro-democracy movement.

“We question [Hong Kong] Chief Executive [Carrie] Lam’s stated commitment to protecting the rights of [the city’s] residents, and call on authorities to ensure due process,” Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, said earlier this week.

His comments came after the United States expressed deep concern about the detention of 12 Hong Kong democracy activists in China’s Guangdong area, which is just across the border from the Special Administrative Region.

In August, the Coast Guard Bureau confirmed on social media that it had arrested them after intercepting a boat off the coast of the southern province.

Political asylum

Media reports cited “unidentified sources” that the 12 were escaping to Taiwan to apply for political asylum, Reuters reported.

Since then, they have been denied access to lawyers, according to Pompeo. Local authorities have also failed to provide information on their welfare or the charges against them, the news agency said.

To add to Washington’s fury was a statement made by Lam during her weekly media briefing.

“The question is not [about] simply getting [them] back,” she said.

“If these Hong Kong residents were arrested for breaching mainland offenses then they have to be dealt with according to the mainland laws and in accordance [with] the jurisdiction before any other things could happen,” Lam added.

In response to Pompeo’s remarks, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs demanded that Washington stops interfering in “internal issues.”

“The United States has its own economic and social problems, frequent racial conflicts, and a high number of coronavirus infections and deaths. It should [focus] on handling domestic affairs,” it said in a statement at the weekend.

Still, the city’s special status inside Red China has been seriously undermined after Beijing’s wrecking ball approach to the “One Country, Two Systems” model. Indeed, that agreement was made before the United Kingdom officially handed over the colony in 1997.

Summer of discontent

Last year, fears of a clampdown triggered mass pro-democracy protests in a summer of discontent with millions of people of all ages taking to the streets. The crackdown that followed has been widely condemned by the US, the UK and the European Union. 

Earlier this month, Hong Kong protesters demonstrated outside the German Foreign Ministry during Chinese senior diplomat Wang Yi’s Berlin leg of a short EU tour.

Leading activist Nathan Law, who was forced to escape to the UK in July, told a crowd of up to 150 supporters that it was “wishful thinking” by Western nations that Beijing would eventually implement democratic reforms through dialogue and engagement.

“This authoritarian government is going the opposite way. Appeasement strategies are really, really useless,” he said as quoted by the Associated Press news agency.