Published: 01:46, July 5, 2023 | Updated: 11:14, July 5, 2023
Warrants for eight fugitives: The political significance
By Lau Siu-kai

On July 3, 2023, the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region made a high-profile announcement  that HK$1 million ($127,700) would be offered as a reward for the successful arrest of any one of the eight persons who have fled overseas and are suspected of violating the Hong Kong National Security Law (NSL). They include three former members of the Legislative Council (Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, Ted Hui Chi-Fung, and Nathan Law Kwun-chung), Kevin Yam Kin-fung, the former convenor of the “Progressive Lawyers Group”, Elmer Yuan Gong-yi, sponsor of the “Hong Kong Parliament”, Finn Lau Cho-dik, sponsor of “Hong Kong Liberty”, Anna Kwok Fung-yee, executive director of “Hong Kong Democracy Council”, and Mung Siu-tat, former chief executive of the now defunct “Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions”. The Department of National Security calls on them to return to Hong Kong to surrender themselves. It also appeals to those who know them to provide the police with the needed information.

The Hong Kong police must know precisely where these people are hiding and have in their possession evidence of their suspected infringements of the NSL. They must also understand that those Western countries that support and shield them will not extradite them to Hong Kong to face court trials at the request of the SAR government. Moreover, some residents in Hong Kong should have probably learned of various overseas activities of those people that endanger national security and damage Hong Kong’s interests through online and offline channels. For this reason, the purposes of the SAR government’s high-profile attempt to arrest and arraign them can be understood more from a political perspective than a legal perspective. They pertain to enabling the NSL to play a more effective and prominent role in maintaining national security and Hong Kong’s stability in the years ahead.

First, the SAR government’s action is to show the world its strong will and determination to strictly implement the NSL and comprehensively safeguard national security. On May 28, 2020, after the National People’s Congress passed the NSL, the lengthy riots in Hong Kong quickly subsided. Over the past three years, public struggles and violence have almost disappeared, but various “soft confrontation” behaviors, including clandestinely obstructing the implementation of SAR government policies, spreading false news and misinformation unfavorable to the central and SAR governments, trying to engage in underground activities that endanger national security, smearing Hong Kong’s current conditions, and spreading pessimistic sentiments about Hong Kong’s future, have not stopped. Many “anti-China and sedition elements” who have fled overseas spontaneously or under the coaxing of external forces have established many organizations abroad hostile to Hong Kong and instigated many malicious actions. They include the advocacy of “Hong Kong independence” and other secessionist claims, organizing “struggle” activities against the country and Hong Kong aimed at attracting the attention and applause of Western governments, politicians, and media, lobbying Western countries to sanction and harm Hong Kong, and asking Western governments to sanction Hong Kong officials, judges, prosecutors, and politicians, slandering Hong Kong by serving as “witnesses” at the “hearings” of Western countries’ parliaments and assemblies, acting as“pawns” or “frontmen” of Western anti-China forces, driving a wedge between Hong Kong residents and the central government, the country, and Hong Kong through online propaganda, and so on. In addition to seriously curbing and preventing all kinds of “hard confrontation” involving violence and open struggle, the central government and the SAR government have spared no effort in cracking down on all sorts of “soft confrontation” lately to eliminate the “residual toxins” in the educational, cultural and ideological fields. The fact that the SAR government issued arrest warrants for eight “anti-China and sedition” fugitives this time indicates that its strict implementation of the NSL has entered a new and comprehensive stage.

In short, notwithstanding the low odds of the SAR government’s move to bring the eight fugitives to justice, the political reverberations of this action will be vast and far-reaching, and it will significantly enhance the capacity and effectiveness of the NSL in safeguarding national security

Second, the SAR government’s move is to further enhance the national security awareness, sense of responsibility, and vigilance of Hong Kong residents and mobilize most Hong Kong residents to cooperate with the government to ensure that national security and Hong Kong’s stability are effectively maintained. After the government’s detailed explanation of the alleged crimes of the eight wanted persons is made widely public, Hong Kong residents should be more aware of and concerned about the threats to the security of the country and Hong Kong. There will be a more thorough understanding of the need to strictly implement the NSL and related laws in the community. Hong Kong residents will pay more attention to and be more vigilant against the destructive and malicious propaganda and activities of various internal and external hostile forces that endanger national security and Hong Kong’s stability. In due course, they will be more active in reporting the movements and conspiracies of the relevant organizations and individuals to the authorities. This will help build more robust and effective fortifications and barriers to safeguard national security in Hong Kong.

Third, the SAR government’s move has made all parties more aware of the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the NSL. Article 37 of the NSL stipulates, “The Law shall apply to a person who is a permanent resident of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region or an incorporated or unincorporated body such as a company or an organization which is set up in the Region if the person or the body commits an offense under this Law outside the Region.” Article 38 stipulates, “The Law shall apply to offenses under this Law committed against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region.” The behaviors of the eight wanted persons outside Hong Kong have involved violating the NSL and, therefore, can be held legally accountable. From a legal point of view, many Western anti-China organizations, politicians, and individuals who engage in anti-China and anti-Hong Kong activities and assist Hong Kong fugitives have thereby violated the NSL, so they can be held accountable by the Hong Kong SAR government and even the Chinese government. The action of the SAR government seeking the arrest and arraignment of the eight fugitives is aimed at warning and waking up the “anti-China and sedition elements” in Hong Kong and overseas and to urge them and the Hong Kong residents who are sympathetic to them to reflect and relent on their activities that endanger the security of China and Hong Kong, encouraging them to restrain or stop their acts of sabotaging China and Hong Kong. Otherwise, they will have to face the possibility of criminal prosecution. To a certain extent, this action by the SAR government should have the desired effect of “killing chickens to scare monkeys”. Many “anti-China and sedition elements” who have fled overseas have family members, friends, accomplices, and partners in Hong Kong. They should know that if they seek support or assistance from people closely related to them to undermine the security of the country and Hong Kong, it will bring disaster to their loved ones. Alternatively, their loved ones will be deterred from becoming their accomplices. In this case, the space for activities and the mobilization capabilities of overseas “anti-China and sedition elements” within Hong Kong will be significantly narrowed.

Finally, it is unsurprising that Western countries have reacted angrily to the SAR government’s move, accusing it of violating human rights and liberties. Oblivious to the “exterritorial jurisdiction” of many Western national security laws, they feign being “aghast” at applying the NSL to foreigners and Hong Kong residents living overseas. They are expected to refuse to hand over the eight fugitives to the SAR government. Not too long ago, to express their “indignation” with the NSL, they unilaterally abolished the previous agreements with Hong Kong on the mutual transfer of fugitives. However, in the mind of many Hong Kong residents, the fact that the Western governments, politicians, and media criticize the SAR government’s actions and the asylum they provided to the eight wanted persons proves that they had something to do with the riots in Hong Kong in 2019-2020, that they are deeply connected with the “anti-China and sedition elements” and that they are still actively abetting, supporting and funding the organizations and actions of those “anti-China and sedition elements” who have fled to Western countries. The words and actions of Western forces will inevitably deepen Hong Kong residents’ understanding of the role of Western countries in the 2019-2020 Hong Kong riots, the Western attempt to contain China’s rise, Western hostility and malice towards Hong Kong, and Western hypocrisy, unscrupulousness, and double standards. Hong Kong residents’ “fantasy” and admiration for the West will further dwindle, leading to more disillusionment and weakening of the influence of Western forces and cultures in Hong Kong, indirectly boosting national education and national security education in the city.

In short, notwithstanding the preordained failure of the SAR government’s move to bring the eight fugitives to justice, the political reverberations of this action will be vast and far-reaching, and it will significantly enhance the capacity and effectiveness of the NSL in safeguarding national security.

The author is a professor emeritus of sociology, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and a consultant for the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.