THE Archbishop of Hong Kong, the Most Revd Paul Kwong, has backed the new security law introduced by China. International criticism of the law, which gives the state wide-ranging powers to suppress opposition, is not an expression “of Christian charity but of anti-China sentiment”, he says.
The UK Government has described the new law as a “clear and serious violation” of the terms under which it handed Hong Kong back to China. It has offered three million Hong Kong residents a path to British citizenship.
Archbishop Kwong defends the law in a strongly worded letter to the Church Times. He writes that he welcomes the new national security law, “although it is one that I wish were not necessary”. He insists that it will not threaten religious freedom.
He says that he supports the right to peaceful protest. But months of “wider violence”, which the Territory’s legislature had failed to quell, had made the law “necessary for our wellbeing”. The rioters had committed acts “which cannot be tolerated in any country”.
By contrast, Roman Catholic bishops, including the Archbishop of Yangon, in Myanmar, Cardinal Maung Bo, who is the president of the Asian Bishops’ Conferences, and the former RC Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, have attacked the new law, warning that it will lead to restrictions on religious freedom.
A statement issued by Cardinal Bo earlier this week warned the Chinese government not to interfere with religious organisations, and called for assurances that priests and pastors would not be criminalised for the content of their sermons.
He asks: “Will religious leaders now be criminalised for preaching about human dignity, human rights, justice, liberty, truth? We have learned from heavy experience that wherever freedom as a whole is undermined, freedom of religion or belief — sooner or later — is affected.”
Archbishop Kwong, however, cites the example of Macau, which, like Hong Kong, has the status of a Special Administrative Region, and where a National Security Law was introduced in 1999. “In these 21 years, Macau has not experienced any curtailment of religious freedom.”
The Archbishop goes on: “Many critics do not accept the fact that we are part of China. They only emphasise two systems, not one country. I cherish our Hong Kong freedoms — in particular the freedom of religion and way of life — as much as anyone, and I don’t think this law will change any of that. I am also proud to be living in China.
“Many of the protestors and rioters on the streets have carried British or American flags advocating independence of Hong Kong, inviting foreign nations to interfere in local affairs, and as we have seen, they have committed acts that cannot be tolerated in any society. I support the right to peaceful demonstration, but I cannot condone violence, nor can I support anti-China political views.”
Many other religious leaders in Hong Kong have not opposed the new law, he writes, but this is not understood by faith leaders in the West.
And he criticises the perspective in which Britian or the US “is praised as the benevolent protector and saviour of Hong Kong.
“In fact, China has been helping and supporting Hong Kong and our people all these years. We are part of China; we are dependent on China and we benefit from China.”
Archbishop Kwong’s letter in full:
10 July 2020
Thank you for soliciting my views about our situation in Hong Kong. We continue to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic, but Hong Kong has handled this rather well. The new element we have been discussing in recent weeks is the National Security Law, so allow me to share my views with you on this subject.
In June, I was in Beijing as a delegate to the yearly session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a national body which advises on issues and legislation before the National People’s Congress. Because of ongoing concerns about the Coronavirus, the session had been postponed and was shortened.
Among the many things we discussed was the proposed National Security Law for Hong Kong. There are more than 200 Hong Kong delegates, and we reviewed and discussed elements of the proposed law, although the legislation itself was not at that time finalised.
The law has now been promulgated and went into effect on 1 July, the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty.
I welcome this law, although it is one that I wish were not necessary. The introduction of this law follows months of unrest started in June of last year, triggered by a Bill to amend the Hong Kong extradition law.
The unrest changed into wider violence, not only against the police and local government, but against the central government, with rioters attacking people of different political views, vandalising pro-China business buildings, smearing the national flag and emblem. The riots continued even after the Bill was officially withdrawn in October last year.
The Hong Kong Legislative Council failed to enact a national security law, which has been shelved since 2003 because opposition lawmakers sabotaged it. Now, we will still have to draw up our own law, but the National Security Legislation is listed in Annex 3 of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution of the city. The law covers subversion, sedition, secession, terrorism, and foreign collusion in Hong Kong affairs.
This law is necessary for our well-being. Many critics do not accept the fact that we are part of China. They only emphasise two systems, not one country. I cherish our Hong Kong freedoms — in particular the freedom of religion and way of life — as much as anyone, and I don’t think this law will change any of that. I am also proud to be living in China.
What I hope the new law will do is diminish the agitation against the government that last year brought things to a standstill, and to restore law and order.
Many of the protesters and rioters on the streets have carried British or American flags advocating independence of Hong Kong, inviting foreign nations to interfere in local affairs; and, as we have seen, they have committed acts that cannot be tolerated in any society. I support the right to peaceful demonstration, but I cannot condone violence, nor can I support anti-China political views.
The new law targets only law breakers, and it does not undermine any freedom of Hong Kong, in particular the freedom of religion. It does not affect the Church or any other religious organisation.
In the Anglican Church, we continue to gather together for worship, mindful of the need for social distancing. We continue our work in education and social service. We hold committee meetings, usually by Zoom. We do Bible studies, and have prayer meetings and conduct theological training.
This is pretty much the same as Anglican Churches in other places. Our Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui has churches, schools, and welfare organisations in Macau also. Macau is, like Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, and it has had a National Security Law since 1999. In these 21 years, Macau has not experienced any curtailment of religious freedom.
There are people in the churches, including our Church, who are against the new law, but they are still held accountable to it. I can say that most religious leaders have not taken a position of opposition to the National Security Law. I know that our position about this law contradicts that of many in the West, but we believe this is what is best for us, and we ask countries overseas not to interfere in our affairs and to try to understand us.
In Western countries, and particularly the United States, governments have criticised the National Security Law, and have taken steps to change Hong Kong’s special trading status. In Great Britain and other countries, the government has offered passports or right of abode to those fearing “persecution” if they remain in Hong Kong.
These actions hurt Hong Kong and support those who have supported or committed acts of violence in protests last year. Such actions are not expressions of Christian charity but of anti-China sentiment.
China is consistently portrayed as evil, trying to destroy everything that is Hong Kong, in much of the Western media and by western politicians, whereas the British or American government is praised as the benevolent protector and saviour of Hong Kong.
In fact, China has been helping and supporting Hong Kong and our people all these years. We are part of China; we are dependent on China, and we benefit from China. We benefit in everything — from our trading status, to our supply of food and utilities, to our special and preferential place within the broader Chinese polity. Now Hong Kong and Macao are part of the Greater Bay Area Development Project, which will be of enormous benefit to us in the years to come.
Thank you once again for your continuing interest in and prayers for Hong Kong.
Archbishop of Hong Kong