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China fear

31 July 2020

THE use of bland corporate-speak is irritating when used by bland corporations, but chilling when employed by a repressive government. The announcement on Tuesday by the University of Hong Kong that it had “resolved a personnel issue concerning a teaching staff member” after a “stringent and impartial due process” referred to the sacking of a law professor, Benny Tai, over his involvement in the umbrella protests in 2014, forerunners of the extradition-Bill protests last year.

The National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong last month begins with the declaration that its purpose is to ensure “the resolute, full and faithful implementation of the policy of One Country, Two Systems under which the people of Hong Kong administer Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy” — and then proceeds to undermine this with a list of penalties against anyone who indicates an unhealthy preference for the second half of the formula, so that anyone found guilty of “overthrowing or undermining the basic system of the People’s Republic of China” can now receive life imprisonment.

The first crime listed in the new law is secession, and it is clear from the wording that this is the chief fear of the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party. The threat of it triggered the successful repression in Tibet. Now it dictates policy in Xinjiang, the far western province where at least one million members of the regional Uighur race are said to be incarcerated in vast “training centres”, their children separated from them in state-run nurseries. When, on a PR visit to a sanitised centre a year ago, a BBC reporter asked what happened if someone did not want to be “trained”, an official said: “We’ve never encountered that before — but we’d proactively guide them.”

In such an atmosphere, it is perfectly understandable for the Archbishop of Hong Kong, Dr Paul Kwong, not to want to criticise the new National Security Law. To praise it quite so proactively as he did three weeks ago, however, has nonplussed and angered many Hong Kong Anglicans. One correspondent wonders how the Archbishop can condemn violence by protesters “but not the violence of the government and the police against Hong Kong citizens”. A group of others cite the Five Marks of Mission, and conclude: “Hong Kong is no longer only on the brink of losing our freedoms. Sadly, we . . . have already lost them.”

Having seen what is happening to the Muslim Uighur population, the work done by earlier generations to convince the Chinese authorities that Christianity was compatible with patriotism can be viewed with admiration. It is little wonder that Dr Kwong chooses not to jeopardise that understanding. But, if he has seen what is happening to the Uighurs, together with what has happened to peaceful protesters in Hong Kong, he must wonder whether patriotism in present-day China is compatible with Christianity.

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