A Hong Kong-born student living in New Zealand says they fear going home to a place they don’t recognise anymore, and urges the Government here to take stronger action.
An international student living in Auckland, who asked not to be named because they were worried about reprisal from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), said they were “heartbroken” to see Hong Kong, their birthplace and home, lose its freedom following the passing of a controversial security law.
The student remembered their childhood in Hong Kong fondly.
“It was always peaceful. Nothing like this. Everyone was just happy,” they said.
“So, I’m really heartbroken about what I keep seeing in the news and I’m just worried about my family and friends in Hong Kong.
“Their freedom of speech is really being suppressed.
“It’s really scary and it doesn’t sound like home anymore.”
They said they last returned to Hong Kong toward the end of last year while pro-democracy demonstrations were continuing.
“What I witnessed in my home is worse than what you see on TV. I was really worried about my own safety.”
But, now that they were back in New Zealand to finish off their degree, they said it was hard to know what to do while they were so far away.
They said all they could do was remain active in the local Hong Kong community. They said they’d also taken part in an Auckland protest last year, but had to do so while wearing a mask and sunglasses to hide their identity out of fear.
They said they likely weren't recognised at the protest. Had they been, they said they would worry about the potentially broad-reaching effects of the security law.
Article 38 outlines that people can be charged for "offences under this Law committed against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region", whether inside or outside of Hong Kong and whether or not they’re permanent residents of Hong Kong.
The student, who had been in New Zealand for six years, said their student visa would be expiring at the end of the year.
They said they were scared to go home.
“I’m worried about my own safety.”
The comments follow months-long pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and overseas, including in New Zealand.
On Tuesday, Beijing passed a security law which criminalised what it defined as secessionist, subversive and terrorist acts. It also banned what it deemed collusion with foreigners.
Critics said the law effectively ended the "one country, two systems" framework and would stifle freedom of speech and protest. Penalties for breaking the law included a life behind bars.
The Associated Press reported that within a day of the law passing, dozens had already been arrested in the region - one person for carrying a flag calling for Hong Kong independence.
On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said he was deeply disappointed about the security law passing.
Mr Peters said the Government would be studying the legislation and monitoring its impact on people in Hong Kong,
He said the Chinese Government "consistently emphasised its serious concern about the imposition of this legislation on Hong Kong without inclusive consultation".
The Chinese Embassy then issued a statement that said: "Legislation for safeguarding national security in (Hong Kong) is purely China's internal affair.
"We urge the New Zealand side to respect China's sovereignty, abide by international laws and basic norms of international relations, stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs."
The statement asked that New Zealand “do more to promote the sound and steady development of the China-New Zealand relations”.
Mr Peters said New Zealand "was not interfering in anybody's affairs" but asked China to respect its "one country, two systems" pledge, which was meant to last until 2047.
The pledge, which China signed with Britain in 1997 after Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty, would have guaranteed Hong Kong its own legal system and human rights freedoms under its constitutional Basic Law.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian also said today external pressure couldn’t "shake China's determination”.
He said China was “safeguard(ing) national sovereignty and Hong Kong's prosperity and stability”.
It was comments like these that angered people from Hong Kong even more, the international student said.
“It’s lies, lies, lies.”
They said the New Zealand Government “hasn’t been doing enough”, but recognised the country’s reliance on China for trade.
They urged the Government to stand up to China by showing willingness to help people in Hong Kong like the UK and Australia.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was considering offering a safe haven to Hong Kong residents threatened by the new law.
Three million people living in Hong Kong were offered a pathway to citizenship in the UK.
The student said the New Zealand Government could look at a similar scheme as a “last resort” for people who needed it.
“Many just want to flee Hong Kong,” the student said.
University of Canterbury Chinese politics expert Anne-Marie Brady told TVNZ1’s Breakfast on Wednesday she believed the new law will affect more than just people in Hong Kong.
Professor Brady said the new security law was “terrifying” for Hong Kong residents who were involved in protests as Chinese security agencies were now able to have an open presence in the region.
“It’s the fall of a great city.”
She said that because the law was retroactive and the CCP defined what it meant by “subversion”, it was “very worrying” for residents.
She said the law sent a signal to Taiwan that the one-country-two-systems policy wasn't guaranteed, and showed the world the CCP didn’t recognise international agreements.
There were already examples of the CCP targeting those who practiced their religion, like the Uighur people, Professor Brady said.
It's estimated that over one million Uighurs have been detained in what the CCP called "re-education camps".