The passage of the new ‘National Security Act’ in China last week is a direct assault on the established international order. The Security Act – which introduces a raft of new laws and directives that curtail the right to protest and assemble in China – has drawn criticism from around the globe for its disproportionate nature and for undermining the principle of ‘One Country – Two Systems’ as outlined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
However, what has received considerably less attention is that the laws have effect beyond the judicial territory of China itself. Article 38 states the law will 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”.
That is to say – that anyone, anywhere in the world, who criticises the Communist Regime in China and their actions in Hong Kong have broken the law. By writing this very article I am in breach of the new ‘National Security Act’ – and you by reading it could equally be held liable.
The reality of course is that it is unlikely that the law will be enforced. In fact, it is hard to imagine that any western liberal democracy would follow through a request from the Chinese government related to this act. However, it is highly likely that this act could be used to harass those of Chinese origin living abroad – especially the diaspora who left Hong Kong before and directly after the handover.
China already has form when it comes to harassing its diaspora abroad. Chinese students living in the neighbouring countries and the West have been used to disrupt pro-Hong Kong and pro-Taiwanese protests – often organising much larger counter demonstrations backed by the government.
Last year a 19-year-old student from Beijing was arrested in Sheffield for throwing glass bottles at pro-Hong Kong demonstrators. In Birmingham and Leeds – students reported being followed by older men with cameras who attempted to film their faces and remove their face masks – most likely to report the footage back to the embassy. Protestors in South Korea clashed in similar incidents.
The levels of intimidation being deployed against anti-Beijing protestors outside of China are a threat to civil discourse and free speech in the West. And yet this is just the start.
Amnesty International reported earlier this year that a campaign of intimidation was also being carried out against Uyghur Muslims living outside of Xinjiang Autonomous Region – where currently as many as 2 million Uyghurs are in internment camps. Those Uyghurs who are living in the West have been subject to threats and intimidation from Chinese authorities.
According to Amnesty, in most cases the Chinese Communist Party threatens the families and relatives of activists who are still living in Xinjiang as a means of preventing them from speaking out in the West. Activists living in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, United States and Austria had all reported their families being harassed by the Chinese state.
Beijing is taking its ideological conflict and power struggle globally. Dissent at home and abroad are considered a major threat in equal measure by the paranoid Communist Party. For them it is about the fear of allowing anything other than the state-approved message leaking into the narrative given to its people.
Western governments must not allow the Chinese Communist Party to dictate what can and cannot be said – they must work to protect the free speech of dissidents and go a step further by offering them a platform to speak truth to power. We won the Cold War against the Soviet Union because we allowed figures such as Andrei Sakharov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Georgi Markov to have a platform in the West. The same should be true for Chinese dissidents.