Mass protests triggered by repatriation laws proposed by the Chinese Hong Kong authorities are now entering their third month with no signs of abatement. On August 18th, one such protest in downtown Hong Kong sparked fears that Chinese military forces would intervene to suppress it. The protest fortunately ended non-violently and there was no intervention.
Analysts believe that if China suppresses the protests in Hong Kong with military force, there will be significant ramifications for what many view as China’s Achilles’ heel – its human rights record. For its part, China has promised to preserve Hong Kong’s capitalist economy and democratic political system for 50 years after the territory was returned by the British in 1997.
It is up to the international community to ensure that the situation in Hong Kong is resolved peacefully and humanely. However, in stark contrast, North Korea has instead urged China to rule Hong Kong with an iron fist.
On August 13, North Korea’s state mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun said in an article entitled “Stand of Chinese Party and Government Supported,” that “the DPRK fully supports all measures taken by the Chinese party and government to invariably maintain the line of “one country and two systems” and firmly defend its territorial integrity, political stability and socialism.” It further continues, “But the Western forces are obtrusively interfering in China’s internal affair to add fuel to the reckless moves of the dishonest elements, saying this or that,” and that “[t]o take measure for internal affairs belongs to the sovereignty of relevant country.”
“The most pressing matter is to restrain violence and confusion and to restore order in Hong Kong,” the article continues. “The ‘anti-China and Hong Kong disorder’ forces should not misjudge the situation, nor should they perceive the Chinese central government’s self-control as weakness.”
Earlier on August 11, a North Korea spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a Q&A with Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) declared support for the Chinese government and criticized the interference of external forces. “It is our principled stand that any county, organization and individual should not be allowed to destroy the sovereignty and security of China and ‘one country and two systems’ as Hong Kong is Hong Kong of China,” he said.
At the same time, the North Korean regime has kept its population in the dark as to the reasons behind the mass protests in Hong Kong. The contentious criminal extradition bill, if passed, would allow ‘criminal suspects’ in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. Although perceivable as potentially innocuous, the bill would in effect give the Chinese authorities the freedom to forcibly extradite Hong Kong citizens to China for diverse and questionable reasons. Targets of the proposed law could include Chinese dissidents, publishers, human rights activists, and other pro-democracy and community leaders perceived as a threat to the Chinese Communist Party.
Precedence was set in 2015 when China arrested and interrogated five Hong Kong booksellers who were alleged to have sold books critical of the Chinese Communist Party. The international community broadly condemned the Chinese government for what was essentially viewed as illegal abductions of the booksellers. However, if the extradition bill passes, the Chinese authorities could take similar measures in future with full legal support.
North Korea’s support for the extradition bill can be seen in the context of an existing agreement currently in place between North Korea and China permitting the extradition of criminals between the two countries. Under this law, China regularly arrests and extradites North Korean defectors who flee to China to escape poverty and oppression, referring to them as “illegal economic migrants.”
If the Hong Kong extradition bill passes, North Korean refugees living in South Korea who travel to Hong Kong for work or study can be extradited at the request of the Chinese authorities and repatriated to North Korea. It is therefore critical that vigilance and pressure on China is stepped up by the international community to ensure that North Korean defectors are not placed at further risk of harm when traveling abroad.
*Views expressed in Guest Columns do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.