China has been “taking advantage” of the coronavirus pandemic to bully countries and impose a controversial security law on Hong Kong, the territory’s last British governor, Chris Patten, said Wednesday.
Patten, who served as the former British colony’s governor for five years from 1992 and oversaw its 1997 return to Chinese rule, urged like-minded Western countries to stand up to Beijing over its tactics.
“What’s happened in Hong Kong is just part of a broader series of actions taken by the Chinese Communist Party taking advantage of the fact that we’re all of us focused very much on dealing with the coronavirus,” he told an online discussion organised by British lawmakers.
“From India to Japan… to Australia to Canada, the Chinese have been bullying their way around the world,” he added.
“We have to learn how to contain China when it behaves badly.”
Beijing imposed the security legislation on Hong Kong last week, in response to huge and often violent democracy protests that erupted last year.
It targets acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion.
The law’s imposition, which bypassed the territory’s legislature, is the most radical change in its freedoms and autonomy since the 1997 handover.
In response, Britain said it would offer Hong Kong residents a new path to British citizenship, in a move that could affect more than three million people living in the territory.
In response, Beijing’s ambassador to London accused Britain of “gross interference” in China’s internal affairs and warned that it would “bear the consequences” of treating China as a “hostile country”.
Similar national security laws are used to crack down on dissent in mainland China.
In Hong Kong, police have already arrested people voicing certain political views now deemed illegal, such as advocating independence or greater autonomy.
“This very conversation could put me into legal danger where I could be punishable by life imprisonment,” Brian Leung, a prominent pro-democracy campaigner in Hong Kong, told the panel of British MPs.
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Leung is currently studying for a political science PhD at Washington University in Seattle.
“The obvious purpose of this law is to create terror and fear among people not only domestically but also internationally such that people outside of Hong Kong would not speak up.”
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