China’s Repression Goes Overseas

According to The Globe and Mail, a Canadian hotel chain owned by Jimmy Lai‘s family has been “cited in a recent court case in Hong Kong, its parent company named as part of an alleged collusion between the defendants and foreign forces to ‘endanger national security.'” Prosecutors in Hong Kong are claiming that a bank account belonging to the hotel company was used to pay for “advertisements in major newspapers around the world seeking support from the international community for the city’s pro-democracy movement.”

The fact that placing newspaper ads in support of democracy is now a criminal offense tells you everything you need to know about Hong Kong’s reality under the National Security Law (NSL) imposed by the Chinese authorities in 2020. Beijing and its Hong Kong minions would have you believe that the NSL only sought to put an end to violent riots, against which then-existing Hong Kong law was “inadequate or even ‘defenceless.'” However, as we warned in Hong Kong’s Saddest Day, days before publication of the new law:

A sweeping mandate like this will give Chinese authorities and their Hong Kong lackeys plenty of legal cover to go after pro-democracy protesters, irrespective of whether the protests are peaceful or not … in the dystopian Hong Kong that is to come, any protest in favor of democracy will by definition be unlawful. Indeed, any statement calling for democracy in Hong Kong is, at its core, a call to subvert the [constitutionally enshrined people’s democratic] dictatorship.

It is not just the substance of the NSL that is problematic. According to Article 38, the law “shall apply to offences under this Law committed against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region.” As Professor Donald Clarke put it shortly after enactment of the law, there is “no reason not to think it means what it appears to say: it is asserting extraterritorial jurisdiction over every person on the planet.”

Which brings us back to the Canadian hotel chain, Lais Hotel Properties. That the company is being cited in an NSL case proves that Professor Clarke’s concerns were justified. Moreover, there is no reason not to think Hong Kong will not apply the law in situations that resemble the hypothetical presented by Professor Clarke back in June 2020, of “a US newspaper columnist advocates Tibetan independence in their column.” Needless to say, “if you’ve ever said anything that might offend the PRC or Hong Kong authorities,” heed Professor Clarke’s advice and “stay out of Hong Kong” . . . and China as well.

It is safe to assume that countries like Canada will not be helping the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities enforce the NSL. However, can the same be said about countries that maintain cozy relationships with Beijing? Obtaining assurances to the contrary should be a matter of priority for the U.S. and like-minded governments, but for now individuals and companies with potential exposure under the NSL must be mindful of the risks and consider avoiding all travel to countries under Beijing’s sway.

Refusals by democratic nations to dignify the NSL could well be weaponized by Beijing. Possible retaliatory measures could include icing out parties from offending nations, preventing them from bringing lawsuits, registering and enforcing their trademarks, or serving summonses in China.

In sum, the situation with Lais Hotel Properties offers a warning of what may be to come as Hong Kong (now singing Beijing’s tune with much more fidelity) explores the possibilities of the NSL. Attempts to enforce the law in the free world will surely bring indignation, but the greatest dangers will be present in countries closely aligned with China. Best to take advantage of the opening of the Canadian border and visit one of the Lais properties in Ontario: They look like great places to stay.

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