Hong Kong pro-democracy activists exiled in London called for toughened British Government responses to match China’s repression in the former British colony.
The appeals came at the Ealing launch of Hong Kong March, a festival to promote the culture of the territory all across the UK.
Activist Nathan Law, 29, told North West Londoner: “The UK government can definitely do a bit more in reacting to China’s aggression, like condemning China’s extra-territorial aggression and at least target those high-level officials who are responsible for the crackdowns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.”
Law was the youngest ever lawmaker in Hong Kong, though he is now barred from legislating.
Simon Cheng, 32, a former trade officer at the British Consulate in Hong Kong who was detained and allegedly tortured by Chinese authorities for 15 days in 2019, drew attention to when a pro-democracy protestor outside the Chinese Consulate in Manchester was last year dragged into the consulate grounds and beaten up.
He said: “China cannot tolerate any legitimate and legal protest, even on British soil.”
Law echoed Cheng’s concerns regarding the Manchester incident and said: “The British government has not been reacting as we expected them to, and I think that has damaged Hong Kongers’ confidence, but in general the community still has high trust in the government and think they understand our worries.”
Benedict Rogers, cofounder of advocacy organisation Hong Kong Watch, underscored the need for “targeted sanctions against individual officials in the Beijing or Hong Kong governments or entities that are directly responsible for what’s happened.”
However, activists also spoke extensively of their appreciation for the government’s BNO scheme which, since June 2020, has facilitated the migration of some 144,000 Hong Kongers to the UK and was last week renewed for a third year.
The scheme was launched in June 2020 in response to Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law (NSL) in Hong Kong that same month – a law which critics condemned as a major crackdown on the region’s autonomy.
In July 2020, the Hong Kong police issued arrest warrants for alleged violations of the NSL for Nathan Law, Simon Cheng, and four other activists.
On the BNO scheme, Cheng said: “We need to profess our great gratitude to the UK government for letting us come and for providing the various funding for outreach activities like this, like employment training, like mental health support.”
Law emphasised that more could be done by the government to support cultural activities and boost social cohesion, but praised the scheme
He said: “In terms of continued support, they are providing funding that supports grassroots Hong Kong organisations and host events.”
For Adrian Chow, an activist and prominent Hong Kong music producer who performed at the event in Ealing, it is the freedom he appreciates most since arriving in London in 2021.
He said: “The thing I found most striking is the freedom from fear. I’ve never felt that so strongly before.
“The moment I landed here I burst into tears – I really did – I can really feel what is meant by freedom from fear.”
Activists also promoted the importance of building ties with the communities they are now living in and professed their hopes to do so through Hong Kong March.
Isaac Cheng, vice-chairperson of pro-democracy student party Demosisto until it was forced to suspend operations by the NSL, said: “The community here is quite welcoming already, but we want to do more to connect with them which is why we launched our invitation card scheme to encourage Hong Kongers to bring friends from the local community to our events.
“Ultimately, we need to do more to allow the local community to get to know us more.”
“We feel that discussing it through our recent trauma would be quite heavy and politically sensitive, but culture is always accessible,” Simon added.
He highlighted that these activities are not without risk for the Hong Kong activists though: “Even those engaging in HK March fear they will be regarded as violating the national security law because of the activism-links of some organisers making them ‘trouble-makers’ from Beijing’s perspective.”
According to research by ChinaFile and Georgetown University, at least 227 people have been arrested under the NSL, including teenagers, journalists, and former opposition lawmakers.
Hong Kong March runs cultural events across the UK throughout March, including feature film screenings, Cantonese workshops, and art exhibitions.
The UK Foreign Office and Chinese Embassy were contacted for comment. They did not respond by time of publication.
Featured image credit: Oisin Mcilroy