On April 18, 2020, at least 15 pro-democracy activists were arrested by Hong Kong Police on suspicion of organizing and participating in unauthorized assemblies in 2019, when months of protests rocked the city. The move came hours after Luo Huining, head of the People's Republic of China's liaison office in Hong Kong, asserted that the government in Beijing has a right to intercede freely in the city's affairs.
Police Superintendent Lam Wing-ho told reporters that those arrested had organized and directed unauthorized demonstrations, mentioning specifically those that took place August 18, October 1, and October 20 of 2019. The August protest, although authorized within the confines of a small park, spilled out onto the streets when nearly 1.7 million people arrived to peacefully challenge Chinese government overreach in the independent cities affairs.
These arrests highlight the challenges faced by the city's citizens in dealing with Beijing. Hong Kong, once a British Dependent Territory, was handed back to the Chinese government by the United Kingdom with a guarantee that no agency, official, or department acting on behalf of the central government, "may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong special administrative region administers on its own.”
Hours before the arrests, the People's Republic of China's liaison office in Hong Kong declared in a statement that it was not bound by the agreement, and stated that it is not subject to Hong Kong's Basic Law. It further went on to proclaim that Hong Kong’s right to self-rule was “authorised by the central government", thus insinuating that it could be taken away at will.
Western governments were quick to protest the politicized police action. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chastised the PRC and CCP in an official statement hours after the arrests, "The United States condemns the arrest of pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong. Beijing and its representatives in Hong Kong continue to take actions inconsistent with commitments made under the Sino-British Joint Declaration that include transparency, the rule of law, and guarantees that Hong Kong will continue to “enjoy a high degree of autonomy.”
On his twitter account, Secretary Pompeo was more direct, writing, "Arrests of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong are deeply concerning - politicized law enforcement is inconsistent with universal values of freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly."
US Attorney General William Barr also released a separate statement, declaring, "I condemn the latest assault on the rule of law and the liberty of the people of Hong Kong. These events show how antithetical the values of the Chinese Communist Party are to those we share in Western liberal democracies. These actions — along with its malign influence activity and industrial espionage here in the United States — demonstrate once again that the Chinese Communist Party cannot be trusted."
The United States, however, was not alone in condemning the move. The United Kingdom's Foreign Office specifically noted the PRCs failure to adhere to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, "The right to peaceful protest is fundamental to Hong Kong’s way of life and as such is protected in both the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. It is essential that any protests are conducted peacefully, and that the authorities avoid actions that inflame tensions."
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.