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Interview

Nathan Law calls for alliance to protect democracies from China

From exile in UK, Hong Kong activist fears complete destruction of rule of law

Nathan Law tells Nikkei in London it is clear China is out to establish an authoritarian empire and that democracies have to defend their values.

LONDON -- Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law has called on developed nations to work together "to form a more coherent and assertive alliance to combat the authoritarian expansion of China."

Law was a leader of the 2014 Occupy Central demonstrations, also known as the Umbrella Movement, which called for a freely elected government in Hong Kong. He was elected two years later to the city's legislature but then ousted with five others judged to have taken their oaths of office improperly.

He has been in the U.K. since abruptly abandoning plans to run in the legislative election that was to be held next month and fleeing the former British colony in the wake of China's enactment of a national security law for the city on June 30. He had enrolled in a two-year graduate program in East Asian studies a year ago at Yale University.

Chinese state media reported last week that arrest warrants had been issued under the security law for Law and five other activists now overseas.

In the following abridged interview with The Nikkei, Law shared his thoughts about the impact of the security law on the "one country, two systems" approach under which China promised to allow Hong Kong 50 years of autonomy after the end of British rule in 1997 and other topics.

Edited excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Do you have any plan to return to Hong Kong in the future?

A: I think that would definitely be in the distant future because I will probably be arrested when I go back to Hong Kong.

For me, I think we need a public voice outside Hong Kong to do international advocacy work. So I will continue to play that role.

There are lots of opportunities for me to give speeches, participate in conferences, [meet] with politicians... and also be in the media to [tell] the story of Hong Kong.

I hope that when I return to Hong Kong in the distant future, then it will be a democratized and free Hong Kong.

Q: Do you think the Hong Kong government really postponed next month's parliamentary election to protect public health?

A: It is clear that the government postponed the election because of political reasons instead of public health. I think the government is trying their best to delay the election so that they could get more and more support in order to avoid a [big] loss.

I don't think the government strategy will work because people realize that you are delaying the election because of political reasons and they are getting more and more angry about it.

Q: China's ambassador to the U.K. has argued that the Hong Kong national security law was implemented to stabilize the city and protect "one country, two systems." What do you think?

A: The major pillars of "one country, two systems" would be autonomy, democracy (and the) rule of law. And these are really fundamental values that Hong Kong people treasure.

If you look at the national security law, it completely destroys the rule of law system in Hong Kong. It also established a national security bureau that overrides the Hong Kong government and it has (provided for) secret police that are not [bound] by (Hong Kong) law.

So it is definitely not protecting "one country, two systems." It is just protecting the Communist Party, centralizing its power and silencing all the protesters in Hong Kong.

Q: How should Japan and Western countries respond to China?

A: I think that the action of China is clear that they [want] to establish their own empire, to consolidate the legitimacy of authoritarianism and to challenge the current world order.

We need to defend our democracy, we need to defend democratic values. Even though for the short term, China is not going to back down. I think the world has to form a more coherent and assertive alliance to combat the authoritarian expansion of China in order to preserve our democratic values.

The first thing to do is to stop inviting Xi Jinping to Japan. I think we should send a very strong signal that the international community now recognizes the threat China is posing to democracies.

On the other hand, we have to be aware that the Communist Party is actually doing a lot of human rights violations in mainland China and it is harming its own people.

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