No matter how hard US-led Western forces such as politicians and media outlets try to distort law enforcement on Hong Kong news site Stand News and use so-called freedom of the press to slander Chinese authorities, their ill-intentioned attempts won't change the fact that the site is suspected to have violated local laws, and Chinese authorities, including the HKSAR government, will spare no efforts to safeguard national security. Such resolute determination only makes foreign interference in Hong Kong affairs much weaker, even trivial, experts said.
On the same day when the case of Stand News was mentioned at a Hong Kong local court, China's Foreign Ministry announced detailed countermeasures to fight back against US interference in Hong Kong affairs - the US sanctioned seven Chinese officials in July. Five US individuals including former US commerce minister Wilbur Ross, USCC president Carolyn Bartholomew, and Jonathan Stivers, former Staff Director of Congressional-Executive Commission on China, were banned from entering China, including its Hong Kong and Macao SARs, and they are also not allowed to have transactions with Chinese citizens and institutions while their assets in China are frozen.
The countermeasures were imposed in accordance with China's Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law, which was passed in June and provides a comprehensive legal basis for blocking illegal foreign sanctions and preventing Chinese individuals and entities from suffering damage due to such illegal foreign sanctions.
"Although the Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law has yet to be introduced to Hong Kong, the central government has shown that by resolutely implementing the law, Beijing won't sit idle in the face of foreign forces meddling in Hong Kong affairs, firing a warning shot to those forces," Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday.
Since the implementation of the national security law for Hong Kong in June 2020 and the local electoral system reform in March, the overall social and political environment in Hong Kong has changed significantly, especially after those two steps fixed loopholes in local governance, as Hong Kong had been used by external forces as a bridgehead to instigate anti-China color revolutions and engage in sedition and subvension without a national security law in place.
The latest example was some foreign officials voicing their so-called concerns over the arrests of Stand News staff, which vividly shows that those foreign forces will back anti-China rioters and similar forces in the name of free press, Chinese officials said.
'Nothing to do with free press'
After officials such as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU external affairs spokesperson Peter Stano called for the release of Stand News staff, the HKSAR government and its chief executive Carrie Lam, the liaison office of the central government, the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry all slammed their claims as distorting the facts and confusing right and wrong, as the case of Stand News has nothing to do with free press.
Arresting relevant people from Stand News and freezing the firm's assets are legitimate moves that safeguard national security and Hong Kong's prosperity as well as stability, toward which we firmly support, a spokesperson from the liaison office said on Thursday, noting that the office also noticed that Hong Kong society views Stand News completely as a political group in the name of media, which has played an instigating role in the social turmoil in 2019 and stubbornly supported anti-China rioting since the national security law took effect.
The Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) arrested seven people on suspicion of sedition on Wednesday and searched the offices of Stand News in Kwun Tong. The online news site later announced it would cease operations after the police froze HK$61 million ($7.82 million) of its assets.
The police laid charges against two men from Stand News - former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen and acting editor-in-chief Patrick Lam Shiu-tung - and against the online site on Thursday on conspiracy to publish seditious content, and the case was mentioned at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts on Thursday afternoon.
They were accused of violating the Crime Ordinance by publishing inflammatory publications from July 7, 2020 until Wednesday which aroused hatred toward the central government and the HKSAR government, instigated Hong Kong residents to not obey the law, and sparked betrayal of the rule of law in Hong Kong.
The prosecutor claimed during the case on Thursday that there was abundant evidence to bring the charge against the defendant, and after searching the Stand News office, the police obtained a lot of new evidence, on which further investigation is needed, with the police saying they would not rule out the possibility of even more arrests.
While Stand News senior executives and former executives were arrested in accordance with the local law of Hong Kong, the national security department also stepped in as HK$61 million of its assets were frozen, making it the largest amount of money frozen since the national security department was established inside the HKPF. Local media outlets in Hong Kong like Wen Wei Po, former officials, and observers have questioned the connection between Stand News with foreign anti-China forces for a long time.
Some observers asked where such a huge amount of money came from, given it is a so-called non-profit online site. For instance, board members Denise Ho and Margaret Ng are both trustees of the "612 humanitarian support fund" which was repeatedly exposed for unclear financing and questioned over whether its UK division served as a hub for colluding with foreign forces and meddling in Hong Kong affairs, Wen Wei Po said.
Former chief executive of the HKSAR government Leung Chun-ying also pointed out in October that Stand News had been serving as an agent for the US, and he urged the organization to publicize its relationship with the US government, political figures and nongovernmental organizations.
"Press freedom can't be used as shield for criminal activities," Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a routine press conference on Thursday. The arrest of relevant people at Stand News and the freezing of its assets over seditious publications have nothing to with freedom of the press, he noted.
Sections 9 and 10 in Crimes Ordinance concerning sedition are long-existing sections implemented under the British colonial rule, and now the counterparts amended by the Hong Kong Reunification Ordinance after the city's return to the motherland stipulate that seditious intention is to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the central government or any other local governments including HKSAR government, Wu Yingpeng, a barrister-at-law in Hong Kong, told the Global Times on Thursday.
"With the implementation of the national security law for Hong Kong, via the new evidence collecting mechanism, relevant law enforcement authorities could collect evidence in a much more powerful, quick, and comprehensive way, which would be helpful for the courts to hear cases related to sedition in accordance to the aforesaid Crimes Ordinance " Wu said.
Resolutely fighting foreign interference
While several officials from the central and local authorities slammed the criticism of foreign officials over Hong Kong affairs on Thursday, Hong Kong is preparing to enhance national security-related regulations to further protect the city from foreign interference, and such resolute determination draws a contrast with noises made by foreign officials, who will only see their meddling become less powerful, and even trivial in the future, observers said.
Lam told a press conference on Thursday summarizing the HKSAR government's work in 2021 that the government will begin public consultation on Article 23 of the Basic Law in 2022, which has not been done for over two decades. "It's time that we should do it, because while the national security law for Hong Kong has been promulgated and implemented in Hong Kong for one and a half years, there are still other offences relating to national security that require a new local legislation," she said.
Although foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs will become less powerful with legal reforms, observers warned that US-led forces may not give up playing the Hong Kong card as another important election approaches.
"Foreign forces may try to influence the result of the election for chief executive, for example, they may slander candidates or send out dissuasion, but they won't succeed," Lau said, noting that all those external noises and moves would only lead to one result: the next CE will be a determined patriot without fear of foreign sanctions.