Since the Umbrella Movement democracy protests in 2014, China’s president Xi Jinping has been dismantling Hong Kong’s freedoms – and its very democratic essence – in plain sight. The culmination of the city-state’s metamorphosis from open society to authoritarianism is marked by the trial of Hong Kong entrepreneur, media mogul and pro-democracy campaigner Jimmy Lai, which began a week before Christmas and resumed on 2 January.
Initially the erosion of Hong Kong’s way of life was gradual. But over the past four years, since the imposition of a draconian national security law in June 2020, the destruction has been rapid, far-reaching and comprehensive. Freedoms of expression, assembly, association and of the press have been torn up, the rule of law trampled on and Hong Kong transformed from one of Asia’s most open cities to one of its most repressive police states.
Lai was charged with conspiring to collude with foreign forces, a crime under the national security law, and publishing ‘seditious’ materials. But in reality, the Chinese state view him as guilty of, in the words of his lawyer Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, the ‘crime’ of conspiracy to commit journalism, conspiracy to talk about politics to politicians and conspiracy to discuss human rights concerns with human rights organisations. It is a sham show trial.
The dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms, in total breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the city state’s handover – an international agreement registered at the United Nations – is just the latest in the litany of Xi’s crimes. 19 December this year will mark the fortieth anniversary of the Joint Declaration’s signing, which was meant to stand valid until 2047. So far, Xi has faced no consequences for this complete disregard of the ‘world order’.