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July 8 Webinar: Quid Hong Kong?

9 July 2020

On 8 July, the EU-Asia Centre and the Belgium-Hong Kong Society co-hosted a webinar on Hong Kong with Ambassador Carmen Cano (Head of the EU Office to Hong Kong and Macao), Eddie Cheung (Special Representative for Hong Kong Economic and Trade Affairs to the EU), Gao Mingbo (Counsellor for Political Affairs, Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the EU) and Alexander De Beir (Chairman, Belgium-Hong Kong Society). Fraser Cameron, Director of the EU-Asia Centre, moderated the event. Much of the discussion revolved around the recently adopted national security law in addition to impact of Covid-19 and economic prospects of Hong Kong.

Mr Gao emphasised the question the national security law of non-negotiable sovereignty for China. The central government had stepped in to create the national security law to return stability after the Hong Kong administration had failed to introduce a national security law despite it being required in the Basic Law. He further underlined that the ‘one country, two systems’ remains in place and the law will not change the Hong Kong’s international status or reduce the rights of Hong Kong citizens. He also highlighted the support for return to stability and normalcy among the Hong Kong pursued by the law. While China has different views with the EU and other international parties, they share the interest in seeing Hong Kong be stable and prosper. There has also been no Change in China’s view ‘one country two system’ with regard to Taiwan. Beijing recognizes that the dissatisfaction over social mobility and development among young people had contributed to the protests and see it as important point of focus after stability is restored. The potential US sanctions will have no impact on the Chinese policy.

Ms Cano expressed strong concern over various aspects of the National Security law, such as the central government controlled special police unit with competence to surveil NGOs and media, extraterritorial application of the law and many expert assessment that the law is not compatible with the common law. There is growing fear and uncertainty around the law, not least due to it being enacted and implemented without consultation in Hong Kong. The EU is gravely concerned that worry that law undermines the one country, two systems and the Basic law. The extreme frustration among the young people, only exacerbated by the over 9,000 arrests, is a particular tragedy and a risks of brain drain abroad. Much more than security measures, the society needs exceptional efforts dialogue and reconciliation. Also international companies are likely to consider leaving on medium to long term if the implementation of the law threatens freedom of expression and other rights ensured by the Basic law. The US sanctions could also spell more uncertainty for Hong Kong business.

Mr Beir highlighted the importance of maintaining the rule of law and freedom in Hong Kong. Particularly freedom of information and independent courts remain important for business and prosperity of Hong Kong. However, the Chinese reaction to the prolonged protest had not been unexpected and the protesters could have possibly achieved more with patience. He noted that ultimately the national security of Hong Kong is a Chinese internal affair and looked forward to resumption of business. At the moment companies are waiting to see how the law will be implemented the coming months to make decisions of their future in Hong Kong.

Mr Cheung argued that fundamentals of the Hong Kong had not been changed and that there was little possibility that Hong Kong administration could have introduced a national security law on its own. Much will depend on the implementation of the law balancing national security and human rights successfully to gain the trust of people. He stated that security law will apply to narrow radical section of protester and people that had committed serious offences. With restoration of stability, the focus should be rejuvenating the Hong Kong economy and addressing the issues of development and progress at the root of the protests. Hong Kong has dealt well with the Covid-19 remains a gateway to China and will maintain its importance as China and Asia grow in future. However, the growing US-China tension remain a source of uncertainty in short term.

See the full recording of the event here.