Welcome to meeting number 12 of the House of Commons Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. Pursuant to the order of reference of July 20, 2020, the committee is meeting on its study of Canada-China relations.
Today's meeting is taking place via video conference.
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Now, colleagues, we're on to committee business. We have two notices of motion, as well as a motion. We have two from Mr. Genuis and then one from Mr. Harris.
Mr. Genuis, which would you like to do first?
Mr. Chair, first, I want to check with you to see if you are able to see raised hands, because as soon as you opened the meeting, I clicked on the Raise Hand button, but you do not seem to have seen it. If you do not see raised hands, I will continue waving, because that might be more effective.
Anyway, back to the meeting. I have a number of comments.
First, I would like to comment on the amendment. Deciding to deal with motions and possible reports on an ad-hoc basis, when we agreed from the outset to have only one report, is an indication of the trouble we are in right now. If we are to continue down this road and have reports on specific issues, I would like them to be considered interim reports, so that we can keep discussing the issue of Tibet, for instance, and not have everything finalized with the motions we are passing today.
We may have put the cart before the horse, as they say. Since the community expects us to echo what the president of the Tibetan administration is saying, we are in a situation where we are almost forced to pass this motion, and I am uneasy with us being in a situation like that today. The motion makes sense, but I would not want it to stop us from going deeper into the problematic issue of Tibet.
That is why I will at least support the motion of which Mr. Harris has given us notice and which suggests that we will continue to discuss and reflect on the Tibet situation. However, once again I would caution us against the temptation to come up at any moment with motions that put the committee in an uncomfortable position, keep us from getting to the bottom of things and, more importantly, keep us from making the connections we need to make between various issues.
Next, I would like to talk about Ms. Alleslev's proposal. I have heard Mr. Harris's arguments and those put forward by Liberal colleagues so far. My initial reaction was to say that having to improve a motion thrown at us on the fly in the middle of a committee meeting, rather than discussing it amongst ourselves, is an indication of the trouble we are in right now.
I would therefore ask you to avoid this type of manoeuvre in the future, as we can clearly see the trouble it puts us in.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I'll keep it brief.
In terms of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue, just for the committee's benefit, this was something that was active and ongoing between 2002 and 2005. Four meetings took place, three in the People's Republic of China and one in Switzerland. It came to an abrupt end shortly thereafter. Since it came to an end, Canada has taken the public position that the dialogue should be resumed. I think resuming it is critical.
It's critical for the rights of Tibetans, who struggle for linguistic, cultural and religious freedom. It's also critical for clarifying misunderstandings about what the Tibetan cause is all about and for clarifying what the middle-way approach seeks to do, which is not a call for rebellion or separatism but a call for autonomy on those bases—religious, cultural and linguistic autonomy—within the construct and the confines of the Chinese constitution. It's simply seeking to fulfill the rights that are already guaranteed under that Chinese constitution. It has been aptly described and articulated by an academic named Michael Van Walt Van Praag, to whom I would commend people.
I've heard the appeals for the resumption of this dialogue from my constituents and from people around the country and from the diaspora literally around the planet. It's critical that we resume it. That is why I and my party will be supporting this motion.
I will say that I think the timing is a bit awkward, in terms of doing it right in the middle of the meeting when we do have other motions to consider, such as Mr. Harris's proper motion about hearing from others on the Tibetan cause, but I will speak to that when the time arrives. I will be casting my vote in favour of this motion, as amended, rightfully, by Ms. Alleslev, because broadening it out is a critical step forward.
Thank you. Thuk-je-che.
I call the committee back to order. Welcome back.
I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the new witnesses.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. All comments should be addressed through the chair.
Interpretation in this video conference will work very much as it does in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of either “Floor, English or French”. As you are speaking, if you plan to alternate from one language to the other, you will need to also switch the interpretation channel so it aligns with the language you're speaking. You may want to allow for a short pause when switching languages. I remind you, witnesses, that if you require French interpretation, you should be selecting the English channel on the bottom of the screen, and vice versa if you need English interpretation.
When you're not speaking, you mike should be on mute, please. The use of headsets is strongly encouraged, as you've seen. I just would say that once we're into questioning by members, they will indicate, I hope, who they'd like to answer the question. When they call on you to answer a question, you don't have to wait for me to call on you. You can proceed, and at the end of the time they have, I will interrupt if I have to and go on to the next member.
I'd like to now welcome our first panel of witnesses. From Georgetown University, we have Evan S. Medeiros, Penner Family Chair in Asian Studies. From the New York University School of Law, we have Alvin Y.H. Cheung, non-resident affiliated scholar, U.S.-Asia Law Institute. From the University of Toronto, we have Lynette H. Ong, professor of political science and global affairs. Each witness will have up to 10 minutes to make an opening statement, followed by a round of questions from the members. We'll begin with Mr. Medeiros from Georgetown University.
Mr. Medeiros, go ahead, please, for 10 minutes.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
It is a distinct pleasure and privilege to be invited to appear before this parliamentary Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. I applaud your focus on Canada-China relations in general and today's topic of Hong Kong. [Technical difficulty—Editor] all of its manifestations, is perhaps the most consequential challenge in global affairs. For nations to respond effectively, all countries need to engage in the very kind of national conversation that your committee is promoting about how to respond to China's rise.
My comments today will reflect my perspective as both a scholar and a former senior U.S. policy-maker. I spent 25 years researching and writing about China as both an analyst at the RAND Corporation and of course as a professor at Georgetown University. For six years I served on the staff of the U.S. National Security Council under President Obama as director for China, and then as special assistant to President Obama and senior director for Asia.
In today's session, I would like to make three broad points about the tragedy that has become Hong Kong.
First, the international community should expect the situation in Hong Kong to get worse before it stabilizes. Beijing's actions in recent weeks are a leading indicator, not a lagging one, of Hong Kong's deteriorating political trajectory under Beijing's hand. On July 31 Carrie Lam announced that the September Legislative Council elections would be postponed for a year. On the same day, Hong Kong authorities issued arrest warrants for six activists based abroad, including a U.S. citizen, for “incitement to secession and collusion with foreign forces”. On August 10, just last week, Jimmy Lai and several other media executives were arrested, as was Agnes Chow, former leader of the pro-democracy organization Demosisto.
These actions clearly signal that Beijing has no interest in preserving the basic political freedoms at the heart of the joint declaration, the Basic Law and ultimately the one country, two systems model, which collectively have been so important to Hong Kong's success today. The fact that Chinese internal security and intelligence services will now be able to openly operate in Hong Kong only increases the mainland's ability to use fear, intimidation and ultimately coercion to keep opposition voices silent.
Beijing's overall approach, in my assessment, is to use the national security law to separate politics from business in Hong Kong. It wants to preserve the latter while neutering the former. In short, Beijing wants Hong Kong to remain capitalist, especially the continued functioning of vibrant financial markets, but not liberal in its politics and, therefore, beholden to the Chinese Community Party for political governance.
Ultimately, this strategy will lead to, perhaps in a decade, the diminution of Hong Kong as the centre for finance in east Asia. As the risks and constraints of operating in Hong Kong grow, global financial firms and non-financial corporations will gradually reduce their footprint in Hong Kong as they move some of their operations into mainland China and their non-China operations to elsewhere in Asia. Thus, Hong Kong will gradually become a quirky, nostalgia-laden version of a southern Chinese city, consumed by the fact that its best days are in the rear-view mirror.
My second overall point is that the fate of Hong Kong will assume greater importance in global politics, largely by dint of its impact on U.S.-China relations. China's crackdown in Hong Kong will worsen the suspicion and mistrust at the heart of the U.S.-China relationship. More pointedly, it will fuel an incipient ideological competition between the United States and China. Hong Kong will become a focal point for and symbol of the U.S.-China competition over the value of liberal ideals.
Indeed, Beijing's crackdown on Hong Kong could not have come at a worse time, as the U.S. is and will remain in the process of reassessing the nature of the China challenge and recalibrating its strategies and policies accordingly. China's treatment of Hong Kong has accentuated the differences in values between the United States and China. This has translated into a perception that China is actively trying to undermine liberal rules and norms globally, which in turn has produced a debate in the United States about whether China represents a systemic rival to the United States and other democracies.
My third and final point is that Canada, the United States and other major democracies need to stay engaged and active on the Hong Kong issue. Our countries' voices and actions matter now and going forward. While our leverage to change the situation on the ground is admittedly limited, there is much that can be done to shape the overall trajectory of Hong Kong, as well as to shape possible future actions by China.
These actions fall into several categories.
The first recommendation is that the United States and Canada should publicly and continually reassure the people of Hong Kong, as well as like-minded countries all over the world, that our governments will stand up for the protection of universal values. The Hong Kong situation will be a long-term challenge, and the international community, especially the United States and Canada, needs to be organized for the long game and not just focused on scoring points against Beijing's excesses right now. The two joint statements by the United States, Canada, the U.K. and Australia to date are important in this regard, as was the G7 foreign ministers' statement. Our countries should broaden this coalition to include others: notably Japan, South Korea and EU countries. The new international parliamentary commissions on China in the U.K., the EU and Japan offer another opportunity to send such signals.
The second recommendation is that the United States and Canada should take coordinated action to signal to China that there are costs for its crackdown. The logic of such actions is to give Beijing pause when it considers additional actions against Hong Kong. The recent decision by several countries to withdraw from or suspend their extradition treaties to Hong Kong was an important first step in this regard. One notable idea being considered is for a group of countries to follow the U.K. in opening their doors to Hong Kong residents who wish to emigrate, or related ideas to offer scholarships to young Hong Kong residents who wish to study in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and elsewhere.
The third recommendation is that the United States and Canada should work with the international business community to find creative ways to preserve the unique attributes and identity of Hong Kong to the extent possible. Beijing must avoid actions that substantially undercut the business environment in Hong Kong, especially related to global financial institutions. Thus, it may listen to the concerns of local and business leaders about restrictions such as Internet controls and law enforcement actions that undermine business confidence about operating in Hong Kong. The business community in Hong Kong may be helpful in pushing Beijing to retain some of Hong Kong's vibrancy.
My final point is that the U.S., Canada and other governments should work in coordination to take actions that disabuse Beijing of the belief that it could extend its coercion to Taiwan. I remain very concerned that Beijing could draw the wrong conclusions about the international community's response to Hong Kong, which, over time, could lead it to extend such an approach to Taiwan.
Thank you for the opportunity to present my views today. I'd be happy to answer any of your questions.
Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting me to give evidence today.
My academic work at NYU focuses on authoritarian abuses of law in Hong Kong and elsewhere. I'm also a Canadian citizen of Hong Kong origin, and I practised law in Hong Kong for several years.
You've already heard at length from other witnesses about developments in Hong Kong. I want to underscore the specific importance of these events to Canada. Although my remarks focus on the national security law, or NSL, I should emphasize that other developments, such as the growing politicization of the civil service and widespread impunity in the uniformed services, are also deeply troubling. I will gladly address these topics in questioning.
I will make three points today. First, events in Hong Kong are bad for Canadian businesses operating there; second, events in Hong Kong are bad for Canadian citizens, both inside and outside of Hong Kong; and third, events in Hong Kong directly implicate Canadian foreign policy priorities.
One of the main attractions of Hong Kong for Canadian businesses is the perception that it maintains the rule of law. This is ultimately about not being subject to arbitrary exercises of state power, and it is about being able to anticipate with reasonable certainty what you can or cannot do.
The NSL imposes a parallel legal system on Hong Kong, one with poorly defined offences, unaccountable secret police and harsh penalties. This system will displace the normal legal system whenever the authorities invoke “national security”. Simply put, whether normal law applies to you depends on the whim of the state. Even normal administrative institutions that businesses rely upon, such as the Companies Registry, have been politically captured. Since 2014, several opposition parties, including Joshua Wong's party, Demosisto, have been denied corporate registration, hampering their ability to rent offices or raise funds.
For at least three reasons, political apathy will not protect the business community. First, businesses in Hong Kong face tremendous political pressure to support the NSL publicly. Second, businesses will be forced to choose between complying with the NSL and complying with other regulatory regimes, including U.S. sanctions. Third, normal business matters may increasingly be characterized as implicating national security. For instance, any financial analyst whose conclusions could be interpreted as undermining public confidence in the Hong Kong or Beijing governments may be at risk of being prosecuted under the NSL.
Numerous chambers of commerce opposed the rendition bill in 2019 because they feared anyone present in or transiting through Hong Kong would be rendered to the mainland and subjected to its criminal law system. Having largely failed to bring people in Hong Kong within the reach of mainland criminal law, Beijing has brought mainland criminal law to them.
Events in Hong Kong also have grave consequences for Canadian citizens, whether or not they currently live in Hong Kong. There are over 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong, and all of them must now live in fear of the possible consequences of violating the NSL, which includes being rendered to mainland China, prosecuted in mainland courts and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Even a brief reading of the NSL will reveal that it defines its offences in extremely broad terms. In the circumstances, there can be no meaningful certainty as to what will or will not be treated as an NSL violation. When the Chinese authorities assert, as they have done repeatedly, that the NSL will only be used against a small number of people, they are implicitly admitting that they have extremely broad enforcement discretion, yet they have said very little about how that discretion will be exercised or regulated. This is antithetical to the rule of law.
The chilling effects of the NSL also extend to Canadian citizens within Canada. As has already been noted by other witnesses, the NSL encompasses acts done outside Hong Kong by people who are not permanent residents of Hong Kong. Consequently, any Canadian who might have to travel to Hong Kong, transit through Hong Kong or take a flight operated by a Hong Kong-based airline now faces considerable pressure to self-censor. Canadian citizens like me should be able to participate in the Canadian political process without fearing reprisals if they travel to or through Hong Kong.
Canadian citizens of Hong Kong descent are at particular risk. Many of them, particularly those living in Hong Kong, are also deemed to be PRC nationals under PRC law. As the PRC does not recognize dual citizenship, these individuals are at risk of being denied consular access in the event that they are detained in Hong Kong.
Evidence also suggests that the PRC has coerced individuals into renouncing foreign citizenship or claims to consular assistance. On June 30 of this year, a PRC court sentenced Sun Qian, a Canadian citizen, to eight years in prison for being a Falun Gong practitioner. She purported to renounce Canadian citizenship in the process, likely due to coercion by Chinese authorities. Similarly, Hong Kong-based booksellers Gui Minhai and Lee Bo, citizens of Sweden and the U.K. respectively, have also purported to renounce foreign citizenship in circumstances suggesting duress.
Canadian citizens with ties to Hong Kong must now consider whether what they say in Canada will be used against them in the event they so much as set foot on a Hong Kong-registered airliner. In addition, protests in Canada expressing support for Hong Kong have been met with counterprotests and provocateurs, and their participants subjected to harassment and intimidation. PRC consular officials in this country have publicly praised such acts of retaliation.
Events in Hong Kong also have implications for Canadian foreign policy.
First, the NSL will inhibit the Canadian government’s ability to obtain accurate information about developments in Hong Kong and China. Any Canadian citizen based in Hong Kong may face prosecution for doing what I am doing today.
Second, China's conduct in Hong Kong reflects poorly on its willingness to abide by other international commitments. Since 2014 mainland and Hong Kong officials have publicly and repeatedly declared the Sino-British Joint Declaration to be a dead letter, even though it remains in force until 2047. The failure of the international community, Canada included, to condemn these repudiations has contributed to the climate of impunity under which the PRC now operates in Hong Kong. Against that background, one might reasonably wonder whether the PRC will abide by its other bilateral and multilateral commitments.
Third and most significantly, the ongoing events in Hong Kong are an acid test for Canada’s willingness to uphold its commitments.
For the reasons I have set out, the situation in Hong Kong threatens the personal safety of Canadian citizens in Hong Kong and in Canada. It also imperils Canadian businesses in Hong Kong. This country has an obligation to protect them. Perhaps more importantly, how Canada reacts to developments in Hong Kong will speak volumes as to who we are and what values we share. Our government has publicly committed to revitalising the rules-based international order in conjunction with regional, bilateral and multilateral partners. I hope whatever steps the special committee recommends, and whatever steps the government ultimately chooses to take, will live up to these stated commitments to multilateralism and the rule of law.
I will now be happy to take questions and to deliver supplemental written answers, if need be.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am grateful for this opportunity to appear before the committee.
Let me begin with a statement of positionality. My perspectives on the situation in Hong Kong have been shaped by my work in and on China, first as a consultant and later as an academic, since the late 1990s. I've been based at the University of Toronto for the last 14 years, the first and only academic position I've ever held.
The national security law has potential widespread consequences. As a China scholar, I think about delivery of content over online platforms and preservation of the rigour and integrity of the courses I teach. I think about the safety of my students participating online, either in Toronto or from their home countries. I think about the feasibility of sustaining my own research agenda. I also think about my Hong Kong-based colleagues who are at the forefront of the battle against the erosion of academic freedom.
The law’s potential impact on the wider academic community that engages with Hong Kong and China is profound, but we should also be mindful that this is not the first time the mettle of the Chinese scholarly community has been tested—the last time was in 1989—yet we endure, we adapt and eventually we continue to thrive.
When the law was first proposed, my initial assessment was that it would merely legalize the underground repression that Beijing has applied on Hong Kong for over a decade. My own research suggests that covert repression through proxy or those taken out of the public eye has been ongoing in Hong Kong for some time, such as the kidnapping of banned booksellers and the Yuen Long attack in July 2019.
However, recent events unambiguously suggest that the law has actually emboldened and legalized further crackdown on freedom of speech and civil liberties. Furthermore, because of the law’s deliberately vague wording, it has produced a chilling effect on Hong Kong society and beyond. It is a clear violation of the one country, two systems principle in the Basic Law.
However, moving forward, the situation in Hong Kong may go in one of these two directions. One, I think Beijing may intensify its crackdown, further eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy and the space for civil society to operate. Two, the repression may taper off after the initial round of harsh crackdowns. One could argue that, because the law is so new, its first set of applications was deliberately harsh in order to set a precedent for, as well as to produce a demonstrative effect on, any would-be violators.
In my view, which of these two ways the situation will evolve in depends on the value of Hong Kong to the Chinese Communist Party elites. Despite the rising competitiveness of Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen, the Hong Kong stock exchange remains the most favourable venue for Chinese companies to raise capital.
Furthermore, a recent New York Times investigative report suggests that families of the party elites own more than $50 million U.S. of luxury homes in Hong Kong. I think this is an indication of the political as well as personal vested interests of Beijing’s top elites in the continued prosperity of Hong Kong. These elites, in turn, form the core support base of President Xi's leadership. Losing this critical support will render the leadership vulnerable.
In many respects, Hong Kong and the national security law are a double-edged sword for the CCP leadership. On the one hand, they want to introduce the law to stop violent protests from wreaking havoc on the economy, which will hurt their interests. On the other hand, the law will invite sanctions, which it has from the U.S., that will erode Hong Kong’s attractiveness as an international capital centre and a regional business hub.
So far, I think the evidence on Hong Kong’s economic competitiveness has been rather mixed. In the past six months, Chinese companies have raised more capital in the Hong Kong stock exchange and deepened its investment in the territory. However, revoking Hong Kong’s special trade status has actually raised the tariff levels to which goods coming into and going out of Hong Kong are subjected, to the same levels as those from mainland China. A recent poll by the American chamber of commerce suggests that four out of 10 companies are planning to move their regional headquarters away from Hong Kong.
This brings me to my next point, which is what actions Canada should or should not take.
As an overall, Canada should send a very clear message that we condemn the repression in Hong Kong and that we stand by the people of Hong Kong. However, in my view, whatever punitive measures we come up with need to pay careful consideration to the dual nature of Hong Kong to the CCP leadership.
Hong Kong is the goose that lays the golden eggs, as well as a rebellious child who needs to be disciplined. This is from the CCP leadership's perspective. If we impose measures that further erode the function of the goose, Hong Kong’s value will diminish to that of a rebellious entity, which we have seen examples of, and the consequences of that are obvious. To put it plainly, if we kill the goose, we may end up hurting Hong Kong’s quest for freedom and autonomy more than helping it.
My second recommendation is that I support Canada opening its doors to welcome immigration and talent from Hong Kong.
My third recommendation is that I would also recommend the Canadian government, as well as the university sector, offer scholarships for students from Hong Kong.
In the short run, I think we should be under no illusion that freedom of expression will return to Hong Kong or that the people of Hong Kong will be given universal suffrage as promised by the Basic Law. Upon the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, many western observers had hoped that Hong Kong offered a beacon of hope that democracy would one day arrive in China through Hong Kong. This has proved to be a pipe dream so far.
We should also be under no illusion that maintaining trade with China—and trade alone—will push the country to become more open, as many had hoped when they supported China’s entry to the WTO in 2001. Nor should we fool ourselves that if we afford China the respect a country its size deserves, that respect will be reciprocated. The fate of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, who have been detained by China for more than 600 days, suggests it is not a country that plays by the rules. The collateral damage of the pandemic, which no country has managed to escape so far, further illustrates the externalities of China’s authoritarian political system.
I believe that we cannot properly tackle the situation in Hong Kong without addressing how we should cope with the rise of China. I think these two problems are deeply intertwined, so I am pessimistic in the short run. However, in the medium to long run, I believe the resilience of Hong Kong as a city and its people, shaped by a fiercely entrepreneurial, creative and industrious migrant culture, will prevail. I remain hopeful that a vibrant and free Hong Kong will eventually return.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my perspectives.
Thank you very much. It's an excellent question, Mr. Bergeron. I'll take it in two parts.
First, regarding U.S. policy, my view is that international coalitions are much more credible when a member of the coalition, such as the United States, acts consistently. One of my concerns about the Trump administration's foreign policy is on this question of values and democracy promotion. They've been deeply inconsistent, which undermines American credibility and ultimately reduces the ability to forge coalitions in situations like Hong Kong and then to be credible in the eyes of Beijing.
I hope that in the future, perhaps after the election and regardless of its results, America re-embraces democracy promotion, because it's only through America being credible that we can build these more consistently reliable coalitions on these kinds of issues.
Regarding your question on Taiwan, the simple fact is Taiwan cannot and should not be a bargaining chip. It's not a very effective bargaining chip, and I think ultimately we would be betraying our commitments to our values and to the 24 million people who reside on Taiwan. Ultimately, if we started treating Taiwan as a bargaining chip in the Canada-China or the U.S.-China relationship, all we really would be doing is handing a substantial amount of leverage to Beijing and letting them know that we're indifferent about the future of Taiwan, which in my view is certainly not in American interests.
I think a question for you and other members of this special committee is how you want to deal with the question of Taiwan, because I think Taiwan too often is treated and seen as a pawn in the U.S.-China relationship, when in fact Taiwan should be treated in and of itself.
Of course, America has a very special relationship with Taiwan. I understand that, and that's not necessarily applicable to your situation, but I think there are things that you can do, and perhaps should do, on the question of Taiwan, that are independent of the Canada-China relationship. That would then bolster your credibility in your dealings with the Chinese.
I call the meeting back to order. Welcome back, colleagues and witnesses.
I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the new witnesses.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. I should say, however, that once we get into the questions from members, the members will indicate who is to answer their question and you won't have to wait for me to call upon you as they go to you.
I remind you that all comments should be addressed through the chair.
Interpretation in this video conference will work very much as it does in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of floor, English or French. As you are speaking, if you plan to alternate from one language to the other, you will need to also switch the interpretation channel so that it aligns with the language you are speaking. You may want to allow for a short pause when switching languages.
As a reminder to witnesses, if you require French interpretation, you should be selecting your English channel on the bottom of your screen, and vice versa if you need English interpretation.
When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
The use of headsets is strongly encouraged.
I would now like to welcome our second panel of witnesses. We have, as an individual, Stéphane Chatigny, lawyer; on behalf of Human Rights in China, Sharon Hom, executive director; and, from the University of Surrey, Malte Philipp Kaeding, assistant professor in international politics.
We will begin with Mr. Chatigny's opening remarks.
You have the floor for 10 minutes.
Certainly, Mr. Chair. Thank you.
I would like to thank the Special Committee for hearing my comments today on Canada-China relations and the current situation in Hong Kong.
I have been a lawyer since 1992, and I had the unique experience of living in Hong Kong for 10 years, from 2008 to 2017.
In my law practice, I specialize in economic immigration to Canada and, more specifically, the Quebec government's immigrant investor program. I have helped over 2,000 program applicants, mainly owners and officers of private companies established in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The applicants have told me how they became wealthy in China and neighbouring countries. In under 30 years, China has become the world's second largest economic power, now rivalling North America and the European Union in a number of industrial sectors.
For all those years, I lived in Hong Kong, a democracy with 7.5 million inhabitants, never fearing the state. I also travelled in Taiwan, another Asian democracy with 23 million inhabitants, again, never fearing the state.
The people of Hong Kong and Taiwan are brave and determined. Like Canadians, they want to freely elect their government and continue to live in a transparent and predictable legal environment that upholds the values, freedoms and democratic safeguards set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Basic Law of Hong Kong and the Constitution of Taiwan.
As several witnesses before me have pointed out, Canada has close ties with Hong Kong, and the current crisis there requires decisive, coordinated action and attention from the Canadian government.
When you live in Hong Kong, you live on the corrosive periphery of a harsh authoritarian regime and a system of government that runs completely counter to the democratic values that every Canadian lawyer upholds and defends.
When I would return home to Hong Kong after a trip to mainland China, I would breathe more deeply, as if relieved, gripped by the impression that, for a few days, I had found myself under a glass dome, in a social environment swarming with over-policed, indoctrinated, neutralized individuals, to whom the Chinese Communist Party allows only a limited spectrum of life reduced to an economic existence.
Recently, thanks to powerful algorithms and a growing sea of data, China has been subjecting individuals and businesses on its territory to a social credit rating system that takes into account such things as online browsing and comments.
Hong Kong's national security law of July 2020 extended that freedom-crushing glass dome over Hong Kong's democracy. The Communist Party of China is therefore starting to set up its ecosystem of repression and hyper-surveillance well before July 2047, in violation of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
That ecosystem has led to self-censorship, a protective reflex that, it seemed to me, has become deeply rooted in the inhabitants of mainland China, especially since denunciation is encouraged and even arranged.
A veritable Trojan horse in the Hong Kong legal system, the national security law is already leading the people of Hong Kong to self-censor. Individuals and organizations are closing their social media accounts in a hurry, removing the yellow square and the books liable to stir up anger. The legislation has therefore created a fear of the state that was not there before. In the end, the communist regime will confine the people of Hong Kong also to a limited spectrum of life reduced to an economic existence.
This summer, I came across the January-February 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs, entitled “Changing China”. Twelve years later, it actually made me smile. Hoping to change China means hoping to convince its ruling class to reform their political and economic governance and lead them to respect the rule of law, human rights and the market economy. That has turned out to be a little naive when we look at the facts over the past 20 years.
The gullible and reckless instincts of the Canadian government, businesses, research facilities and educational institutions have at times been appalling.
From my early years in China, I have been hoping to hear statements like the one French President Emmanuel Macron made in March 2019, declaring an end to the European Union's naive relations with China.
Western sympathy for and commitment to this noble and beautiful civilization have endured despite its repressive and predatory regime, have not turned into trust. Quite the opposite is true, and in the end, its peoples are being deprived of a more bountiful relationship.
Since 2014, President Xi Jinping has urged his people to pursue “the Chinese dream of a great national rejuvenation”. The legitimacy and sincerity of the call seem indisputable for the country long known as “the sick man of Asia”.
However, the current propaganda has led to almost fanatical and xenophobic nationalism in a society deprived of reliable and critical information. The propaganda also finds fertile ground in the national education that emphasizes the century of Chinese humiliation at the hands of foreign powers.
Henceforth, Canada must assume that the Chinese regime, in its pursuit of a characteristically Chinese socialism, is profoundly opposed to many Western values.
In September 2013, the U.S.-based magazine Mingjing published a document intended for the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party entitled “Communiqué on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere: A Notice from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China's General Office”. The document points out that the ideological struggle is a constant battle and warns against incorrect ideological tendencies, activities and positions, such as promoting Western constitutional democracy, universal values, civil society, neoliberalism and the West's view of the media.
It seems unrealistic to go on believing that China will change in the way we want it to change. In the 21st century, the greater risk is of the communist regime changing us in a way we do not want to change.
From this point, it is becoming critically important for Canada to ensure that our relations with China, which is now a major global player, do not lead us to relativism or to compromise the form and significance of our own standards, values and interests.
The regime in China has a holistic approach to its relations with Canada, where multiple, sometimes totally unrelated issues might be used as pressure tactics, even when they clearly flout international standards, such as detaining Kevin and Julia Garratt in 2014, and Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in 2018.
Every time we do not speak up or do nothing, each time we compromise our values, standards and interests, the regime becomes more comfortable with using intimidation. Canada must stop the Chinese regime from achieving its objective, that is, self-censorship and compliant behaviour.
Together with our allies, we need to develop and maintain an ever-stronger coordination of international, interdisciplinary and interdepartmental vigilance and action with respect to the Chinese regime's behaviour. This is particularly so in matters of human rights and interference in foreign political life, intimidation on foreign soil, the erosion of civil and political rights in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the theft of intellectual property, industrial espionage, artificial intelligence and commercial, scientific and educational partnerships that put Canada's autonomy, security or economic interests at risk.
That vigilance will help ensure that our foreign, trade and national security policies towards China increasingly reflect the realities and identities of 37 million Canadians, including the 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong.
Let us make sure that China does not change us.
Thank you for this opportunity to testify before the committee. It's really an honour and a challenge to follow the witnesses who offered such powerful, expert views last week and this morning, in particular in highlighting the ongoing critical developments in Hong Kong that will impact Canadians at home and in Hong Kong. I think that COVID-19 has made it quite clear that the impacts on the health and stability of the world and the region will not stay within its borders.
I am a Hong Konger by birth and a holder of permanent Hong Kong residency. I'm also a professor of law emerita at the City University of New York School of Law. I taught law for 18 years, including training Chinese lawyers, judges, law teachers and legal cadres over the course of 10 years, beginning in the late 1980s.
My organization, Human Rights in China, was formed in March 1989 to support the 1989 democracy movement. Within an international human rights framework, we support human rights defenders and civil society groups to advance human rights protections. We have had a presence in Hong Kong since 1996.
The last time I was in Ottawa was in 2012, for the World Parliamentarians' Convention on Tibet conference. Ms. Zann's question this morning about warning signs triggered that for me. In fact, Beijing's policies, militarization and comprehensive securitization, including national security laws and the tactics of social repression and control, were deployed decades ago and signalled clearly the writing on the wall for Hong Kong, if there were the political will to read it.
I want to begin with an overarching point. Then I will proceed to a few pickup comments to tunnel down on the national security law, and then I would like to jump to recommendations, hoping that through the questions we can have a more detailed discussion.
My overarching point is that it's very important for this committee, in its report or whatever concrete product comes out of this set of hearings, to pay attention to the control of the narrative. The Hong Kong headlines that are declaring the death of Hong Kong, the end of Hong Kong as we know it, one country but no future, and so on, are indeed dire descriptions grounded in sobering daily evidence of the onslaught on the rule of law, the values and the way of life of Hong Kong, an onslaught that has indeed resulted in censorship, a chilled atmosphere, etc., but I want to urge on all of us, when talking about Hong Kong, caution in repeating or highlighting this partial narrative of hopelessness, especially one that is prematurely declaring a future not yet written.
It's important for the public conversation in Canada, and in the recommendations of the government, that although the right to peaceful assembly has been almost gutted in Hong Kong, Hong Kongers are not silent and have not given up hope. You can see the front page of the Apple Daily for the new Lennon Wall. Hong Kongers online are saying, “We are still alive. Stop declaring us dead. We need solidarity and concrete support, not funeral dirges.” Mr. Williamson's question on whether there was reason for hope was best answered by an activist: “It's not that we have lost. It's just that we have not yet won”, recognizing the long road ahead.
So let's not consciously or unconsciously adopt official Beijing narratives that contribute to the work of the official propaganda outlets.
There's been a lot of reference to and discussion on the national security law, and the general critiques have extensively discussed how it's contributing to the ecosystem and how it's being imported into Hong Kong from the mainland, but I want to add a couple of quick points.
One point is that the new Office for Safeguarding National Security, the OSNS, is made up of personnel sent by the mainland to supervise all the national security work. Not only are they not subject to Hong Kong jurisdiction, but they also hold an ID document of certification issued by the office, and any vehicle used by the holder is not subject to inspection, search or detention by Hong Kong law enforcement officers. There was an incident just a few days ago with Ted Hui, a Hong Kong legislator. He was being followed for days, as were other legislators, by people in unmarked or dark cars. He went to ask who they were and why they were following him. The car hit him and he called the police. The police arrived and tackled Ted Hui, the legislator, to the ground, and the car that hit him, which they did not stop for any questions, was escorted away. This is really very concerning.
The other requirement that I want to highlight, which hasn't been highlighted, is that the heads of the new departments of national security in the Hong Kong police must swear allegiance and to observe the obligation of secrecy. This is not very good for transparency and to address impunity, and for the good governance that's required for the business community, or for the protection of Canadian citizens, for the protections of all persons in Hong Kong.
Finally, we are really seeing, under the implementing regulations for article 43, that an already unaccountable Hong Kong Police Force has now been strengthened in the ways in which it can carry out its arrests.
I'll speak to extraterritoriality in a minute.
I think that Canadians and this committee will fully appreciate the problems of translation. The national security law in Hong Kong is the only law in Hong Kong SAR that has only the Chinese version as the legally authoritative version. However, if you look carefully at the English “translation” of the Hong Kong SAR government, there are errors, omissions and misleading translations into English.
For example, article 1 in Chinese, after listing the kinds of problems addressed by the law, has the term dang. Dang is not in the English. What is dang? It means “and other”. In other words, it's not a comprehensive list of what is being targeted by the law.
Also, in other provisions, gung tung, joint liability, is not in the English.
Also, in articles 9 and 10, “universities” does not exist in the Chinese. It has hok haau, schools. That is a problem because of the whole academic freedom debate now. In what way does the law apply to higher education institutions?
The other one that's misleading is that in Chinese, hoeng gong tung baau is translated as “Hong Kong people”. That is not Hong Kong people. Hoeng gong tung baau is Hong Kong compatriots, carrying all the resonances of the party.
On the implementation concerns, as I'm running out of time, I want to say this quickly. It is as if, in the rush to pass this law through, they took off in a plane and now they don't know how to land.
Many of the procedural and substantive issues, which I hope you can ask questions about, were not thought through or addressed. One of them, for example, is that we have a civil law system on the mainland predominantly, and a common law system in Hong Kong. It is trying to now merge jurisdiction, under article 55, for cases that will be tried on the mainland with a “Legalistic-Fascist-Stalinism” system, as described by China expert Barmé. Even the Supreme Court of Canada ensures that your judges have expertise in both civil and common law, and none of that exists.
Because I am out of time, let me jump to recommendations.
I have five recommendations for the committee to consider, and for the government.
First, all of the recommendations—working multilaterally, joint sanctions, targeted sanctions, safe haven, etc.—are extremely important and have been repeated very powerfully.
I have one national suggestion regarding the Confucius institutes. Recognizing that there are controversies—and I don't want to jump into domestic controversies—you may consider whether you want to adopt the Swedish approach, which is to close them all, or whether you want to adopt the U.S. approach, which is to designate them as “foreign missions”. This would send a message that's consistent with Canadian values and your commitment to freedom of expression.
We are out of time.
Regarding admonitions on using international human rights norms, institutions and values—this is to Mr. Harris's question on how we move China towards a more rules-based system—yes, it's long-term, but there are immediate opportunities. One is that the national security law of Hong Kong is the only mainland law that explicitly incorporates the ICCPR into the law. If we take article 4 seriously, we should look at opportunities, and the list of issues that has been issued by the standing committee as normative international concerns that the Canadian government can use. There is the Human Rights Council election. China is running. You should take a position on that. You can also use more extensively the existing platforms, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the IPAC, of course.
I'm sorry, but I'm out of time. Please ask me questions about all the things I was not able to get to.
It's a great honour and privilege to have the opportunity to testify at this important and very timely hearing. I thank the committee very much for inviting me.
I have conducted research on Hong Kong for almost 20 years now. In recent years, I have researched the localism and independence movement. I will use a political psychology approach here to outline how recent events in Hong Kong really question the existing perception or, as Ms. Hom mentioned, narrative about China. I think it helps to establish a new narrative on China-Canada relations, which would facilitate all the actions for Canada in terms of diplomacy, sanctions and refugees, which my esteemed colleagues have already outlined in detail during past hearings.
We already know that the PRC cannot be trusted to keep its international commitments. It uses its own narrative to devalue treaties and international institutions. Beijing, as you have heard already, began in Hong Kong, as early as 1997, abolishing elected councils, changing the electoral system and derailing democratization by imposing Chinese-style democracy. After the 2014 umbrella movement, there was no real hope for democratic reforms as promised in the Basic Law.
The question now, of course, is, why this heavy-handed introduction of the national security law, with all these arrests, disqualifications and postponement of legislative elections? I argue that the actions of the Beijing regime are actually driven by fear. The arrest of Jimmy Lai and Agnes Chow, the raiding of Apple Daily, the arrests of the group of teenagers just debating independence—they all, of course, should intimidate Hong Kongers. At the same time, they show the domestic Chinese audience that the regime is very tough on the so-called separatists colluding with foreign forces.
We have to understand that the regime in Beijing rules by fear, but it is also ruled by fear itself—fear of cracks in its ruling elite, fear of economic downturns and fear of growing dissatisfaction in its own population. That's why, despite disqualifying opposition candidates for the Legislative Council elections, the Hong Kong government still postponed the election. Beijing was afraid that it would be unable to bus thousands of pro-Beijing supporters from the mainland who are still registered voters in Hong Kong. The pro-Beijing government heavily relies on the allocation of these votes. Without them, it cannot guarantee the outcome of complete control in Hong Kong. Even worse, it cannot communicate the outcome to its Chinese citizens.
We know that Xi has to be very tough on Hong Kong, because Beijing was completely surprised by the anti-extradition movement last year. It fears most the protestors' radical tactics and attitudes. The protest repertoire, including the main slogan, was inspired by the so-called localist movement. I want to talk a little bit about that.
The localists want to protect Hong Kong's democratic values and unique cultural identity. In the early to mid-2010s, they saw China breaking all its promises and undermining the one country, two systems framework more and more blatantly. The localists were really among the first to question the relationship with China and to verbalize the distrust of Beijing and its promises. Some called for a referendum on Hong Kong's future, and some called for Hong Kong's independence.
I did a lot of very secretive interviews with the entire leadership and a lot of followers of these localists. A lot of them, of course, identified themselves as solely Hong Kongers and not Chinese. The most important part was that they were not afraid to pay an extremely high personal price for the protection of Hong Kong. After the success of localists in the 2016 Legislative Council election, a lot of them were driven into bankruptcy and exile and were sentenced to long prison terms. We have heard about Edward Leung, who is still serving a six-year prison term.
The suppression of the localists really intensified hopelessness in the society. Ms. Hom already mentioned this sentiment. Localists offered Hong Kong independence as a kind of hope for their own supporters, allowing them to cope with the negative emotions experienced through Chinese pressure. This initially very far-fetched idea of Hong Kong independence is now uniting the younger generation after a crackdown on the current movement. In other words, Hong Kong independence is a psychological coping mechanism that results from the repression by the Hong Kong and Beijing governments.
The second thing I want to highlight about the current movement is that it replicates some of the ideas and repertoire of these localists. One key element is the idea of self-sacrifice, or what they talk about as burnism or mutual destruction, meaning, “If I have to burn, you have to burn with me.” This identifies, really, that many of the mainland Chinese—cadres, businessmen or middle-class families—use Hong Kong for their own private security, getting a different passport or parking their assets overseas, because of the permanent uncertainties of the Chinese system. You're never safe when you're inside China, no matter what you're doing.
At the heart of burnism is the rejection of the CCP’s instrumental approach to the Hong Kong liberal system. The idea of mutual destruction transforms the Hong Kong people's fear of authoritarian erosion into a concrete fear for the Chinese elite: first, by creating an unpredictable economic and political situation in Hong Kong through protests and so forth, and second, by denying Hong Kong as a safe haven through international sanctions, etc.
As you remember, there was very little reaction when China was criticized for its treatment of the Uighurs. China didn't do very much when it was criticized, but once Hong Kong was targeted, the Xi administration went so far as to implement this national security law with all this extraterritorial scope, and you can argue that it even legalizes hostage diplomacy. The overreaction we see does confirm, I think, China’s fear.
I want to conclude here with what it means for Canada. With Hong Kong and the U.S. closing doors for China's ruling elite, Canada might be a target destination. If this is not addressed, then Canada’s democratic system will be quickly confronted with authoritarian erosion and the CCP’s political mobilization, like what happened in Hong Kong.
I think Canada should be aware of the fears of the Chinese regime. This is about the narrative Ms. Hom mentioned. If we see that China itself is actually afraid, we'll see that the Chinese regime is not almighty and there are many potential cracks in the ruling coalition. This new narrative would be a good basis to work in alliance with like-minded countries, to speak up and limit the undermining of democratic and open institutions by authoritarian regimes.
With Canada’s strong legacy of creative and very effective diplomacy, I am very confident that Canada has the responsibilities and means to protect Hong Kong people and our shared faith in democracy.
Thank you very much for your kind attention. I am looking forward to answering any questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Before I follow up on Mr. Williamson's questions, which I thought were really very fine questions, there are just a couple of quick things.
Ms. Hom, I would appreciate something in writing from you with respect to some of your legal analysis: the translation issues, etc. If you would be willing to do that, the committee could really benefit from your legal mind on this. It's something a bit different; we've had some generic comments on the law, but you were getting specific and we don't have time here to do that. I want to make that request through the chair.
Mr. Chatigny, again, I would like to plumb the depths of your immigration knowledge. If you have some specific immigration suggestions for us, vis-à-vis this new context with Hong Kong, I think we'd very much appreciate your expertise at the committee. If you're willing to give us anything in writing, even a letter, of some of your key points on immigration, that could be helpful for us.
Following up on Mr. Williamson's very good questions, the other half of the goose with the golden eggs was that we are challenged to find a way that strongly condemns the actions of Beijing on Hong Kong. We have to find a way to do that with impact, yet we've heard before today that the impact obviously needs to be targeted and can't hurt the people of Hong Kong. Professor Ong, this morning, suggested that if in fact we went too far on that, we could actually ruin Hong Kong's advantages for Beijing to want to keep it successful.
I would like your comments on that, Ms. Hom, and maybe Mr. Kaeding's as well, if we could do that.
On July 5, Human Rights in China released a bilingual, annotated version with initial comments on the law, and we can send you that. We are now preparing an updated annotation on surfacing all of the translation problems, with comments. We'll be happy to send you that as well, because we think the devil is in the details. Particularly if you're being prosecuted under the law, the high-level stuff is not going to help, and as policy-makers you really need to get into the weeds.
Second, on the response of targeted sanctions, it is important that you know that when we say “targeted”.... One thing on Magnitsky-type sanctions is that Hong Kong groups, Hong Kong people and Hong Kong researchers have created massive databases and issued reports that have named individuals, in particular including the United Front, which was kind of more shadowy in the last five years. I would urge the committee to look at some of those reports. We can send you some citations, but the annex is very interesting, because individuals are listed.
When we think of targeted sanctions, they should be targeting individuals who have taken both a leadership role and the lead role in implementing the propaganda, in implementing the pressure, the intimidation, the surveillance of Canadians and of ethnic Chinese, not just in Canada. We know what that has been. This is not a new phenomenon for us, or for myself personally. I think that would be helpful—
I wasn't casting any imperialist intentions on anyone through those questions, but, apropos of the question, which is relevant, as of July 7, 2020, there were 15,246,481 people who had participated in 1,096 protests. This is all being documented and tracked on a regular basis by Hong Kong people and groups supporting analysis and research of what's happening.
Are they monolithic? No, they are quite diverse in age and background. There are the young.... You should note that 80% of those arrested in the movement last year were young—not the Communist Party's definition of young, which goes up to 40 or 45, but young as in under 30. There are social workers, civil servants, journalists, medical workers. There is a rapid growth of trade unions in Hong Kong as a result of the movement. So there are many things happening, and the movement is diverse.
You've heard over and over “be water” and “leaderless”, but the bottom line is that there are the five demands, of which only one has been, reluctantly and painfully, responded to, and the other four are still demands: end of impunity for police violence, universal suffrage as promised in one country, two systems, and respect for rights and freedoms.
You can see that there were over 500,000 who voted democratic in the primaries, and the massive victory of 17 of the 18 districts taken over by pan-dems. They were all a vote of confidence. This is what Hong Kong people want, and those are pretty strong signals.
I need to retire for real so that I can reflect on the whole experience of the past many years.
Just quickly, one thing that's very important from the training work I did on the mainland is that you need to build the personnel infrastructure. You don't just build rule of law with no people. That's why it was very important to train the young lawyers and the young teachers. Indeed, they are the ones who are now having to carry and fight that steep challenge of legal reforms on the mainland. They are indeed still doing that.
I'm very intimidated that this committee, more than any government committee I've ever appeared before, has actually gone and read our writings and then come back and thrown our writings back at us. I think that's the human rights part. Intellectually I have a certain degree of pessimism, but as a human rights lawyer and activist, we really don't have the luxury of pessimism. Our job is to make sure that we provide solidarity and create a safe space for Hong Kongers to be able to continue the work. The Hong Kong student union took out a full-page ad saying that they would die, they would give their lives, for freedom, with a powerful opening letter that quotes Hannah Arendt on totalitarianism. Even in these dire circumstances, you are seeing these students, these young people, continue to speak out.
I have to add that on the mainland, where we have now seen more than 75 years of real repression in the ecosystem, you have support for Hong Kongers. They are being prosecuted. They have gone to prison. They have suffered harassment. Douban is the largest online social media platform for reviewing films and social media. They have millions of people. Someone just posted, despite all of this repression, a comment reviewing the national security law in Hong Kong. They had the nerve and courage to give it one star. To me that shows, “Why do we think we'll win? Because you can't kill us all.”
The big cartoon is the rooster: You can kill all the roosters, but it won't stop the dawn. It just won't. That's a fact.