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.