Flashing rod of national security with further charges against Jimmy Lai
Churches panic over freezing accounts of Good Neighbour
In the past week, there have been several prominent political stories, including the freezing of the accounts of the Good Neighbour North District Church, which has caused panic in many churches as staff are unable to pay their salaries and services are suspended at any time. The charging of the owner of Next Digital, Jimmy Lai, with colluding with foreign powers under the Hong Kong National Security Law (HK NSL) could result in a heavy sentence if he is convicted, and with the continued denial of bail, whether Apple Daily can remain its operation might be a question. The announcement of the formation of the Bauhinia Party by a group of Mainland-born, overseas-educated financial professionals has caused much speculation in the political arena. The announcement that the SAR Government has received 7.5 million doses of vaccines each from two pharmaceutical companies, which has attracted much public debate.
The family of Roy Chan, Good Neighbour North District Church's director, is now in the UK. The police froze several bank accounts of the church and registered charity because they were suspected of misappropriating public funds and might have “committed money laundering offences”, which required further investigation. Church workers said they were unable to get their salaries and that their social services might be affected. The news spread quickly among Hong Kong's churches, causing panic among many church leaders and believers, especially those who were more sympathetic to the protesters in the anti-ELAB movement. They fear that the authorities would use HK NSL to investigate church leaders and then find an excuse to freeze church accounts, just as they had done in Mainland China to suppress non-government Christian churches. Some churches with more middle-class families have recently seen a wave of emigration of their worshippers. In order to avoid freezing their assets, churches have begun to explore the possibility of selling some of their real estate and transferring it to offshore accounts or overseas trusts, just as the 1997 crisis triggered the relocation of large corporations overseas.
Jimmy Lai was further charged with a count of colluding with foreign powers to endanger national security. The prosecution listed Lai’s lobbying activities in the US to sanction China, and that he repeatedly wrote articles calling for sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials, before the enactment of HK NSL. The prosecution then alleged that after the promulgation of HK NSL, Lai continued to oppose the Chinese government in a high profile manner, including setting up a Twitter account and adding an English version of the Apple Daily, in an attempt to link the activities before and after the implementation of HK NSL. The prosecution then said these evidence show Lai's continued pursuit of foreign sanctions, containment or other hostile actions against China. This was because HK NSL has no retrospective effect, and Lai became more prudent by not calling for sanctions in public. He only continued to criticise Xi Jinping's dictatorship, vowed to stay in Hong Kong, said that Hong Kong people would continue to fight, and followed and retweeted the Tweets of a number of foreign dignitaries, all of which turned out to be incriminating evidence for the prosecution. The prosecution's accusations are all political comments against Lai, and most of them were made before the enactment of HK NSL, opening up the Pandora's Box that empowers HK NSL with retrospective in effect. The NSL charges are already vague in its nature, and now the consequences become more far-reaching. Once a person is charged with NSL, a NSL judge appointed by the CE will hear the case, normally with no bail allowed. That means a person has lost his personal freedom immediately before a trial. Naturally, his business would be greatly affected.
The freezing of the accounts of the Good Neighbour North District Church and the additional NSL charge against Jimmy Lai occurred in the same week, and the political repercussions altogether were considerable. This is because these two criminal cases show that even if the prosecution has no solid evidence and even if the person concerned vigorously argues his case, the prosecution can, with a pre-emptive strike, deprive the defendant of his personal freedom and freedom of property by means of a single-sided accusation. With the judiciary unable to provide timely checks and balances or remedies, people are locked up and money frozen while they wait for the lengthy judicial process to be completed. Even those who are not politically prominent are thinking that for their own peace of mind and that of their families, they must actively consider emigration. At the very least, they should send their children to study abroad and transfer their assets to overseas countries, so that even if they have to stay in Hong Kong for work or business, the risks will not be overly concentrated.
It seems that the series of political crackdowns in recent months have triggered not only a wave of exodus of political activists and a wave of emigration of those who are worried about the political situation in Hong Kong, but also a wave of asset sales and capital outflows to diversify risks. Can these waves of emigration of talent and capital be replaced by the migration of talent and capital from the Mainland? These uncertainties will cast a huge shadow over the development of Hong Kong in the coming years.
As for the Bauhinia Party, from media reports and newspaper interviews with its two founding members, Charles Wong Chau-chi and Li Shan, it is clear that although it is positioned as a pro-establishment party that is familiar with the Mainland and understands economic and financial matters, its core ideas are not exactly the same as those of the official line. Although it is positioned as a pro-establishment political party that is familiar with the Mainland and understands economic and financial matters, its core ideas are not exactly the same as those of the official government. For example, it advocates universal suffrage and a bicameral system. So far, no mainland media campaigned for the Bauhinia Party, nor has it been backed up by any official authority figures. The wild imagination only stems from their status as elites returning from abroad. The so-called creative thinking is just solving long-standing problems with economic or financial ways, such as to support a public-private partnership to finance the government’s Lantau Tomorrow Vision plan so that the stress on public coffer can be alleviated. From the signs we have seen so far, this party does not look like the Chinese Communist Party's chief agent in Hong Kong, who has taken on the role of unifying the establishment and been blessed by Beijing, but rather like elites from the Mainland with certain connections in the Central Government. They are dissatisfied with the failure of the existing pro-establishment parties to represent them and has started a new party, seeking to occupy an important seat in the pro-establishment camp after the pan-democrats have been forced out.
The vaccine issue reflects a political game. The SAR government under Carrie Lam's leadership, through its political and business relations on the Mainland, has announced that it has reached an agreement with two vaccine manufacturers, including China's 7.5 million doses developed in China and supplied by Sinovac Biotech, and 7.5 million doses produced by China's Fosun Pharmaceutical in collaboration with a foreign pharmaceutical company (BioNTech of Germany). Carrie Lam obviously hopes that this good news will lift people's spirits and restore their hope for Hong Kong's future, thus facilitating her bid for re-election.
However, the public is concerned about whether the vaccine is really effective. Will there be any side effects? As the vaccines procured are both developed and manufactured in China, and there are also vaccines that are allegedly produced overseas through Sino-foreign collaboration, it is natural for the public to compare which is better. If the majority of people wait for or rush to buy foreign vaccines and do not bother to use the Chinese vaccines provided by the government for free, then what about China's dignity? If the public is not given a choice and the government distributes the vaccines centrally, it will lead to disputes over how to distribute the vaccines, and will patriotic political groups then collectively inject the vaccines to show their loyalty? If no proper solution is found to these political problems of implementation, the political calculations of restoring confidence and relaunching the economy with vaccines may not work.