Half a million copies of the Apple Daily newspaper were printed the day after Beijing’s severe crackdown on the last pro-democracy print in Hong Kong on 17th June 2021. Long queues were seen around town as supporters flocked to get their hands on the last few issues of Apple Daily to show solidarity with the journalists.
The raid on the Apple Daily office in June 2021 was the second endured by the media group in 10 months, following closely the arrest of five executive directors of the media group at 6:00 a.m. on the day under the Hong Kong National Security Law. Journalistic materials were screened and seized during the raid. Over USD2.3 million worth of assets owned by the group were also frozen. The media group’s founder, Jimmy Lai, is currently serving a jail term and facing nearly ten charges in the meantime. Lai’s local assets, including his shares and bank accounts, have already been frozen by authorities under the same draconian Law.
Back in 2008, Time magazine created the neologism “Nylonkong” as a contraction of “New York-London-Hong Kong”. Time once believed that New York, London and Hong Kong share similarities in various aspects, and serve respectively as the key international financial hubs in the American, European and Asian time zones. Such observation was somewhat correct at that time, in that all three cities have had a well-developed economy, an independent judiciary system, freedom of the press, basic human rights, a vibrant society and cultural diversity. Unfortunately, while London has been facing a series of economic challenges since the 2016 Brexit referendum, Hong Kong has been undergoing an accelerated political downturn since Xi Jinping came to power in 2013. The concept of “Nylonkong” has since fallen apart rapidly.
The world witnessed the failure of the 2014 Umbrella Revolution, of which I was a participant amongst hundreds of thousands. Five years later, sparked by the introduction of the Extradition Bill, the 2019 Hong Kong Revolution broke out. Millions of Hongkongers marched in the streets in a leaderless pro-democracy movement. Peaceful and progressive-valiant tactics were employed interchangeably to resist Beijing’s often militant oppression. However, exploiting the window of opportunity brought forth by the pandemic, which temporarily put mass demonstrations in Hong Kong on halt from early 2020 onwards, Beijing bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature to enact the Hong Kong National Security Law (NSL) on 30 June 2020. Since then, hundreds of Hongkongers have been arrested under the NSL whilst several Hong Kong activists, including myself, became wanted on a global arrest warrant issued by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The Hong Kong courts, under immense pressure from Beijing, have repeatedly and explicitly ruled the principle of presumption of innocence inapplicable under the NSL. The regime’s actions to freeze Lai’s assets has also further proven that protection of private property rights is gone in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, freedom of the press is on the verge of collapse as journalists’ investigations could be convictable. The last pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, Apple Daily, had been forced to shut down in late June. Right to information is also under threat as, despite objections by the International Chamber of Commerce and other associations, the Hong Kong government has also re-tabled the proposal of restricting the public from requesting information from the city’s company registry.
Without freedom of the press, an independent judiciary system and security of private property rights, it is only proper that the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office no longer recognises Hong Kong as an international financial centre in its latest Trade and Invest guidance. The Heritage Foundation also made an insightful decision of dropping Hong Kong from its “Index of Economic Freedom” with an accurate remark that says “those policies [in Hong Kong] are ultimately controlled from Beijing”. Hong Kong no longer qualifies as an international financial centre. It is time for Fitch Ratings, Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and other rating agencies to follow suit.
Beijing is clearly gambling over the Hong Kong issues and challenging the democratic countries that they would take no concrete actions except issuing joint statements. At this critical moment, it is time for democratic countries, especially the G7, to impose collective, economic sanctions against the CCP to prove Beijing wrong in its overconfident assertion.
Finn Lau is the founder of Hong Kong Liberty and Stand With Hong Kong. He is a guest editor at the Geneva Summit’s special edition of Apple Daily.