Dozens of Hong Kong residents arrested . . .
On Wednesday, Hong Kong police conducted city-wide raids and detained over 50 people, all of whom were charged with violating the national security law passed last June. Detainees were targeted for their involvement in primary elections arranged by Benny Tai, one of the leaders of the 2014 Occupy Movement, to ensure votes would not be split among multiple pro-democracy candidates during the legislative elections scheduled for September 2020. Part of Tai’s ‘35-plus’ plan, which was to fill at least half of the 70 legislative council seats with opposition members, the primaries were also intended to unify Hong Kong’s several pro-democracy opposition groups. The election was ultimately postponed to September of this year over a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Implications of the arrests . . .
The raid has left some lawmakers confused about what law the detainees are supposed to have broken. It is not illegal to hold a primary election. However, if opposition members won ‘35-plus’ of the 70 seats on Hong Kong’s legislative council, they would have been able to prevent the approval of government budgets and make Beijing’s consolidation of power in Hong Kong more difficult. It seems the arrests were made based on the intent of the primary elections, which was to gain political leverage against Beijing and to further opposition goals.
Beijing’s gamble . . .
Many foreign leaders have responded negatively to the arrests. They were condemned by Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. may employ sanctions against those involved in detaining Hong Kong residents. Pompeo also indicated that, as an indictment of Beijing, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. would be dispatched to Taiwan, which has, unsurprisingly, angered Beijing. European parliamentarians have expressed outrage, though it is unlikely the arrests will lead Brussels to renege on the recent EU-China investment deal, which was tentatively approved late last year. It seems Beijing has calculated that the risk of international reputational and economic backlash is less than the reward of consolidating its power in Hong Kong.