Soon after the official celebrations of the 26th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force issued Interpol “red notices” on eight overseas pro-democracy activists last week.
Subsequently, they arrested five local men on the grounds of allegedly funding wanted Hong Kongers in exile. These police actions targeting overseas Hong Kongers have sparked significant reactions in Hong Kong and the international community.
National security law applies beyond borders
In today’s globalised society, the success of cross-border arrests largely depends on international cooperation. Suspects are more likely to be apprehended if Interpol and its members work together.
Based on the information released by the Hong Kong police, the eight wanted individuals had already fled overseas before the enactment of the Hong Kong national security law. Furthermore, the European and American countries are clearly opposed to the Hong Kong authorities’ extradition requests. And so, it is almost impossible for the Hong Kong government to bring these eight overseas individuals back to Hong Kong.
In fact, the arrest warrants serve as a reminder to the eight overseas Hong Kongers not to travel to places with extradition agreements with Hong Kong. It is also a warning to Europe and the US that are hosting these individuals to increase vigilance and enhance their personal security — ironically, the arrest warrants have made these eight individuals even safer overseas.
The issuance of the arrest warrants by the Hong Kong government clearly shows that the national security law applies beyond borders.
This also raises an interesting question. The Hong Kong government is well aware that the wanted individuals would be protected by the governments of the countries where they reside, as long as they don’t return to Hong Kong. Hence, it is near impossible for the Hong Kong police to arrest them and bring them to trial.
Then why did the authorities issue the arrest warrants so publicly? It is clear that the Hong Kong government intends to send three political signals.
A form of deterrence
First, to warn Hong Kong political figures who are active overseas not to make any missteps. Over the past three years, some pro-democracy politicians who have fled Hong Kong mistakenly believed that they would be immune from Hong Kong’s legal constraints while abroad, as they frequently organised anti-China political activities in various forms such as forums and exhibitions, and even advocated in Europe and the US for sanctions against China and Hong Kong.
The issuance of the arrest warrants by the Hong Kong government clearly shows that the national security law applies beyond borders. No matter where these individuals flee, they will be pursued for life for violating the national security law.
Furthermore, the arrest warrants also serve as a deterrent. Many pro-democracy supporters abroad often take their chances, thinking that participating in anti-Hong Kong activities overseas is no big deal, with no impact on their return to Hong Kong in the future. However, these arrest warrants show that anyone involved in anti-China activities or activities to destabilise Hong Kong, even in a minor role, may potentially violate the national security law and face punishment.
Second, it sends a signal to Hong Kongers that the police are serious about enforcing the national security law. Following the issuance of the arrest warrants, Hong Kong residents would have a better understanding of the national security law and will be more cautious and aware of activities that may be deemed as violations. This will help the authorities establish a stronger social barrier to safeguard national security.
To avoid landing in the soup, most people will avoid acting rashly, which is tantamount to severing the link between overseas pro-democracy Hong Kong activists and their Hong Kong supporters...
Notably, many pro-democracy activists who have absconded overseas still have family members and friends in Hong Kong. The arrest warrants issued by the authorities will also have a deterrent effect on them. To avoid landing in the soup, most people will avoid acting rashly, which is tantamount to severing the link between overseas pro-democracy Hong Kong activists and their Hong Kong supporters in their internal and external interactions. The room for overseas anti-China, destabilising forces to operate and be mobilised in Hong Kong will be significantly reduced.
Third, to tell the international society that Hong Kong has the will and determination to firmly safeguard its national security at all costs. In the three years since its implementation, the Hong Kong national security law has helped to stabilise Hong Kong society, but it also drew flak from Western countries, which believe that the law diminishes Hong Kong’s freedom.
The arrest warrants issued by the Hong Kong government again made it clear to the outside world that the authorities will not fear any difficulties, or be interfered with or threatened by any external forces, but will continue to fulfil their duty to safeguard its national security.
Action with the least amount of damage
Based on the reaction of the outside world over the past week, the issuance of the arrest warrants by the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force is starting to show initial effects.
... there is no turning back for the activists who now also have no more worries — they can charge forward and collude with anti-China forces in Europe and the US to fight against China.
While the eight overseas activists claim not to be afraid of the arrest warrant, none have since dared to make public appearances. The number of “likes” on their social media posts have drastically reduced as well. The arrest warrant has seemingly dealt a fatal blow to overseas anti-China forces.
However, the Hong Kong police’s issuance of the “red notice” and reward offer for the arrest of the eight overseas activists has undoubtedly brought about negative consequences. One, it further pushes these activists into the embrace of the Western camp. With the Hong Kong government pursuing them for life, there is no turning back for the activists who now also have no more worries — they can charge forward and collude with anti-China forces in Europe and the US to fight against China.
Two, the relationship between Hong Kong and the West will not improve in the short term. This is the first time that the Hong Kong government has issued arrest warrants and offered bounties for overseas activists in accordance with the Hong Kong national security law, triggering backlash from the international society and strong condemnation from the US and UK governments, and further isolating Hong Kong in the European and American region.
Earlier, over 50 human rights organisations around the world wrote an open letter to the US government requesting the Biden administration not to invite Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting. With the Hong Kong government’s high-profile issuance of arrest warrants for the eight overseas activists, Lee’s chances of attending the APEC meeting in the US are likely slim to none.
Regardless, from the perspective of Hong Kong and Beijing authorities, the arrest warrant is the best option after weighing the pros and cons of various measures. Between issuing an arrest warrant and adopting other measures including inaction, the former brings about the fewest problems, or the least amount of damage. In any case, only time will tell whether the situation develops within the expectations of the Hong Kong government.
This article was first published in Lianhe Zaobao as “港府通缉海外港人背后的考量”.
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