Features

Repression made in China

"Repression made in China" Continued...

Issue: "Truth or CAIR," March 22, 2003

The show of concern seems to double resolve in Beijing. Speaking at a press conference March 6 for the National People's Congress, the first under new Communist Party Leader Hu Jintao, Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan defended Article 23 this way: "It is common practice for all countries to make law [sic] to prohibit criminal activities which endanger national security and unity." He also warned, "Outsiders shouldn't make irresponsible remarks on it."

Although the National People's Congress will have the final word on Article 23, protest groups aren't giving up. Over 1,000 trade unions, democracy parties, journalists, faith-based groups, and social activists, including homosexual-rights groups, organized under the banner Civil Human Rights Front. They are planning late March protests and staging write-in campaigns, according to Human Rights in China spokesman Nicolas Becquelin. Support also comes from the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Law Society of Hong Kong.

Catholics make up a little less than 5 percent of Hong Kong's population, but the Roman Catholic bishop, Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, has become a celebrity for his stand on Article 23. He topped polls by Hong Kong's leading Chinese- and English-language dailies for most important city figure of 2002. "The church supports peace. But they really angered us and a lot of others. The lack of sincerity on the part of the government is disgraceful," he said.

The 70-year-old Mr. Zen is a newcomer to his office (appointed six months ago by the Vatican) but not to controversy. He is a native of Shanghai but was banned from the mainland in 1998 for support of China's underground Catholic church. Mr. Zen warns that Hong Kong could gradually lose freedoms and become like cities in mainland China: "An unjust situation made stable by oppressive structures is not peace but a state of violence."

He galvanized opponents of Article 23 when he publicly debated Secretary of Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, the government's point person on the legislation. During a statutory comment period, the Security Bureau received 97,000 comments. But thousands of those comments were excluded from the public record, including those of Mr. Zen. Security Bureau officers said they lost some due to computer glitches and ruled others unacceptable. The Security Bureau ruled comments of the Democratic Party, a leading opponent of Article 23, as neither supportive nor opposing.

Non-Catholic church leaders identify with Mr. Zen's views. "I have the same concerns as Bishop Zen," Mr. Chao told WORLD. Protestant Christians in Hong Kong date back to the mid-19th century. Hong Kong churchgoers now number roughly 260,000 in 1,200 congregations. Their reach into the city of 7 million is deep: Churches and affiliated organizations operate more than 300 primary and secondary schools, dozens of hospitals and medical clinics, 100 centers for the elderly, 15 camps, and other varied social-service organizations. Many rely on overseas funding and worry that, with or without ties in mainland China, their work will be regarded as suspect under Article 23.

Christian organizations already perform a balancing act, avoiding outright criticism of Beijing policies even as they work to encourage religious activity in the mainland. Yin and yang in Hong Kong is more and more about who's pulling the strings, however. The peninsula, for most an icon of freewheeling commerce, has long proved itself capable of managing its own equilibrium. With handover to China, increasingly the strings are pulled in Beijing.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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