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Opinion

Hong Kong security law puts foreign residents and businesses in danger

Chinese Communist Party will use it to kidnap opponents and extort companies

| Hong Kong
People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in Vancouver in March 2019: no one is safe once the CCP makes national security the priority.   © Reuters

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is the Acting Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Co-Chair of the Congressional Executive Commission on China and a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

The Chinese Communist Party is moving aggressively to bring Hong Kong under its control by destroying the city's legally enshrined autonomy and democratic system of law.

With the world focused on COVID-19, Beijing is working to extend oppressive national security laws to Hong Kong, which would allow the government to detain and further repress its people -- in what can only be described as a deathblow to Hong Kong's autonomy.

Recognizing the risks, the U.S. government rightly certified that Hong Kong is no longer independent from the government in Beijing. If the CCP gets its way, the consequences will extend well beyond the citizens of Hong Kong: it would unravel the city's stable international business environment and mean that everyone, including foreign nationals, would be forced to trade under an unpredictable legal system and business climate.

For a clearer vision of that future, look no further than the rest of the People's Republic of China. Kidnappings, exit bans and other kinds of detention are a regular form of dispute resolution between Chinese businesses and international companies. Collusion between party authorities and Chinese companies means that cutthroat businesses there are frequently backed with the full force of the CCP, which can rapidly turn a business deal into a hostage negotiation.

When business and politics collide, this can often be literal. Last year, Canadian nationals Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained by the CCP after the U.S. requested that Canada extradite the chief financial officer of Chinese telecoms company Huawei Technologies, Meng Wanzhou, on fraud charges. The two remain in Chinese custody.

They are only two among countless examples of the CCP charging and imprisoning foreign businessmen and women. Another is Kai Li, an American citizen and businessman taken into custody in 2016 by Chinese authorities on state security charges.

The CCP authorities failed to notify the U.S. Embassy while they held Li for two months in detention with restricted access to counsel. After a secret trial that only lasted an hour -- and from which American diplomats were banned -- he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Today, Li's family reports that jail officials have restricted his access to communications and threatened him for writing letters to U.S. government officials.

Outside of business deals, we also know that the PRC detains foreigners visiting or living inside China for flagrantly political reasons. For example, Australian writer and pro-democracy activist Yang Hengjun was arrested in Guangzhou last year on ludicrous espionage charges. He remains in detention, despite his deteriorating health and frequent CCP interrogations.

Australian writer and pro-democracy activist Yang Hengjun, pictured in November 2010, was arrested on ludicrous espionage charges.   © Imaginechina/AP

Unfortunately, this kind of Chinese meddling already has occurred in Hong Kong. The CCP has proved that it has no problem kidnapping people in Hong Kong -- like Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai -- regardless of their citizenship.

If Beijing is able to successfully extend its national security laws, it will effectively grant itself carte blanche for many more detentions. The behavior will essentially become legal in Hong Kong, meaning that covert kidnappings like that of Gui can occur in broad daylight.

This is a far cry from the kind of dependable rule of law required for a thriving business environment. If the CCP's desired reforms are successful, Hong Kong will no longer be able to serve as a transit point for Chinese financial transactions with the rest of the world. Any money in those accounts will be vulnerable to seizure, for almost any reason the CCP can concoct. International business will no longer be able to view Hong Kong as a trusted intermediary for transactions with the PRC.

If this sounds like a problem for tomorrow, observers should recall that the CCP uses announcements like that of the national security law to reveal what already exists in practice. Beijing has been bearing down on Hong Kong for years now, with CCP meddling in business transactions and people's day-to-day lives only increasing. Allowing that process to be formalized is unacceptable.

Although we may feel Beijing's destabilization of Hong Kong in the wallet, the real cost will be the human one, as the CCP has amply demonstrated inside China. Kovrig, Spavor, Li and Gui all show that no one is safe once the CCP makes national security the priority. What happens to Hong Kongers will happen to anyone.

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