China didn’t wait long to show its contempt for last weekend’s criticism from the G7 countries of human rights abuses in Hong Kong. By ordering the arrest of the editor-in-chief and four senior executives of the Apple Daily newspaper for allegedly conspiring with “foreign forces,” Xi Jinping and the Communist Party sent a stark message of defiance to the West.
There is no serious doubt that the Chinese president and his apparatchiks in Beijing were responsible for this provocatively timed injustice. The 2019-20 Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, which Apple Daily supported, shook the CCP’s monopoly on power and self-love in ways never seen from Tiananmen Square. Since then, it has been punishing the former British colony.
China’s assumption of direct control of Hong Kong affairs, in contravention of the binding commitments made in the 1997 cession, is increasingly flagrant. The CCP’s imposition of a security law made in Beijing last year and the exclusion of “unpatriotic” opposition members from the legislature has fatally eroded Hong Kong’s legally guaranteed autonomy.
The assault on press freedom and free speech are part of this broader crackdown on democratic freedoms routinely denied to people in mainland China. Apple DailyThe real crime is to have opposed the illegitimate takeover of Beijing through the exercise of critical, informed and principled journalism. Xi and his censoring commissioners just can’t take it.
The fact that citizens rallied in support of the newspaper last week, buying copies in bulk, is a sign of joy that Beijing’s harassment has not crushed Hong Kong’s independent spirit. The brave position taken by Jimmy Lai, Apple DailyThe owner, already in jail on trumped-up charges, and editor-in-chief Ryan Law deserve deep respect.
The shameful antics of his pursuers provide, in contrast, a glimpse of the insecure mentality of party apparatchiks who live in utter fear of Xi’s wrath. Hong Kong security chief John Lee said those arrested had used their journalism “as a tool to endanger national security.” How fragile and weak is the Chinese state that mere words make it shake so much.
Those arrested last week must be immediately released and all charges dropped. The same applies to more than 100 people, including politicians and activists, detained under the security law since last year. If they have any ethical scruples, journalists working in Chinese state media should stand by their colleagues in Apple Daily.
That China has once again disgraced itself by shirking its responsibility to abide by the Sino-British joint statement, defending international law and supporting the universal values defined by the UN, sadly comes as no surprise, given his conduct since Xi took office. His serial misdeeds speak to a sense of impunity that is now having a broader negative influence around the world.
In neighboring Myanmar, for example, the murderous behavior of the military junta that took power in February reflects a similar belief that the international community can be ignored and that hard-won global civil and human rights , can be overridden at will. These cowardly generals continue to be sustained by the support of Beijing.
Driven into action by the sheer gravity of the Myanmar crisis, the normally divided UN General Assembly voted on Friday for a arms embargo. No fewer than 119 countries called on the board to release political detainees, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and respect the outcome of last year’s elections. Guess what? China abstained.
Chinese disdain for international norms is now commonplace, from abuses in Xinjiang to its refusal to help establish the exact origin of Covid-19. The failure to apologize for last month’s chaotic and random descent to the Land of debris from a chinese rocket, which could have proved disastrous for many below, aptly symbolizes the arrogant and carefree exceptionalism of the Xi era.
Western leaders demanded last week that China begin to respect “fundamental liberties“In Hong Kong and elsewhere. Tougher and more concrete actions will be needed to achieve that goal.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism