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In Hong Kong, a new set of national security laws imposed by the central government in Beijing has gone into effect. The legislation restricts many freedoms enjoyed in the semi-autonomous territory, ushering in a new and ominous era for the previously freewheeling hub of international business. On the 23rd anniversary of the city’s handover from the United Kingdom to China, Nick Schifrin reports.
A new crackdown in Hong Kong, 23 years to the day China took back control.
Nick Schifrin reports on how this ominous day dawned on the freewheeling hub of international business.
With the wave of a blue banner, a confrontation with protesters, and an arrest, Hong Kong police made clear the new national security law does not allow freedom of speech.
Today, in Hong Kong, police arrested activists not for what they did, but also for what they said. Pro-democracy activists who unfurled foreign flags and talked about Hong Kong independence were detained.
The crackdown and protests continued into the night. In total, the police detained more than 300. At one point, they filled an entire bus.
It definitely completely changed life inside Hong Kong.
Isaac Cheng was vice president of the prominent pro-democracy group Demosisto. But after the national security law was passed, the group disbanded, out of fear of arrest.
The core of the Hong Kong is, we have the right to come out and protest to restrict the power of the government. The national security law restricts these kind of freedoms, so we can no longer speak any things that — against the government, no longer speak anything to fight against this communist regime.
The national security law says, anyone can be arrested and jailed who organizes, plans, commits or participates in any action that calls for separating Hong Kong from China or undermining national unification, who provokes by unlawful means hatred of Beijing, who directly or indirectly receives instructions, control, funding or other kinds of support from a foreign country.
And it could apply to anyone visiting Hong Kong.
Why are you willing to do this interview, despite the threats?
I have speak to present the Hong Kong situation. We hope that the international society can recognize the situation.
The U.S. has revoked the visas of senior Chinese government officials involved in the Hong Kong crackdown, and promises more action.
The United Kingdom warned that Britons traveling to Hong Kong faced increased threat of detention and deportation. And the government invited all Hong Kong residents eligible for British national overseas passports to become British citizens.
That's a lifeline for one Hong Kong couple eligible for British citizenship whom I spoke to today.
Why are you thinking about leaving Hong Kong?
We just have to do it for our daughter. I mean, we have our next generation.
Of the hundreds of thousands of people who have filled Hong Kong's streets, thousands feel like they have lost the battle and are planning on emigrating. The couple did not want to give their names or show their faces criticizing the new law.
It's what people say. It's what people wear. It's what people look like. With this law, we no longer know how the government is going to define the law, how they're going to execute the law.
You're talking about leaving your home, leaving where you have been raising your child, leaving all your friends.
How do you feel about that?
It's really sad. I mean, we both grew up in this place.
I mean, to be really honest, this is like the last resort for us.
We know that some people can't leave. Like, I have my parents in Hong Kong. I'm pretty sure that they're not going to be OK to move out.
Where are you hoping to move?
I think the COVID-19 and political situation in the States and also the Brexit, I think it just poses a lot more questions.
One other place that has done a pretty good job, COVID-19, is Taiwan. Would you consider going to Taiwan?
A lot of people didn't expect how Beijing could be that aggressive towards Hong Kong. It now made us question how aggressive Beijing would be towards Taiwan now.
That's a nightmare for U.S. policy-makers, who have been trying to bolster Taiwan's ability to stand up to Beijing more than Hong Kong could.
And another group that's not standing up to Beijing is the business community.
I think it would be a leap to say that tourists or regular businesspeople should be concerned about this.
Craig Allen is the president of the U.S.-China Business Council. He says, the 1,300 American businesses and 85,000 Americans currently in Hong Kong are willing to live under the new national security law.
I suspect that it will have an impact at the margin. But I would not expect that to be overly large. Businesses are not ideological, and businesses will go where there is security, stability, safety, and a good market. And China is a very large and important market.
That is music to Beijing's ears. For the Communist Party, today was a celebration, marking the anniversary of the 1997 Hong Kong handover from Britain to Beijing.
And, today, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the legislation was necessary.
Zhao Lijian (through translator):
This will safeguard national sovereignty and security.
Activists admit that means they're already restricted in what they can say. What do you want the United States and the west to do in response to this?
Actually, I cannot speak a lot, because now is the national security law.
The silencing of Hong Kong activists has begun, and there is little standing in the way of Beijing's plans.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.
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Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
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