Thank you very much.
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.