National / Politics

Hong Kong democracy activists press Japan to reconsider Xi visit

by Jesse Johnson

Staff writer

A trio of prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activists has urged Tokyo to rethink a scheduled state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Japan as the international community continues to voice scathing criticism of Beijing’s plan to directly impose national security laws on the city as part of its crackdown on dissent there.

“We … hope that Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe … and the Japanese government can think twice about whether they really need to invite President Xi to Japan,” activist Agnes Chow said during an online news conference Wednesday set up by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.

Chow added that the timing “might not be very appropriate,” considering how “the human rights situation in Hong Kong is being criticized by the international community.”

Hong Kong has seen several months of pro-democracy protests and clashes, sparked initially by a plan to allow extraditions to the Communist-ruled mainland. The clashes have prompted widespread condemnation from Western governments, though Japan has been more subtle with its criticism.

That stance saw something of a shift last week, when two foreign affairs policy groups of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party urged the government to consider withdrawing the invitation to Xi, drafting a resolution citing “serious concerns” over the situation in the financial hub.

The resolution reportedly calls on the government to “carefully consider” whether the visit should go ahead. The visit, originally scheduled for March, was canceled amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Xi’s visit will take place sometime after November, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on a TV program Wednesday, according to Kyodo News.

Chow, who was joined by fellow pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong and Au Nok-hin, a former legislative councilor in Hong Kong, also voiced surprise after more than 100 Japanese lawmakers recently signed a letter drafted by the last governor of the former British colony denouncing China’s “flagrant breach” of its treaty obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration to transfer sovereignty over Hong Kong to China.

The treaty stipulates that Hong Kong will be directly under the authority of China, but that Hong Kong will enjoy a high degree of autonomy.

The statement, pushed by former Hong Kong Gov. Chris Patten, has been signed by 791 parliamentarians from 38 countries.

The three activists also looked to ramp up pressure on Japan over one area of particular concern to Tokyo — the economic ramifications of the security laws amid a U.S. threat of sanctions that would strip Hong Kong of its special treatment on trade and travel.

Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said Sunday that the standoff between Washington and Beijing over Hong Kong poses a risk to the global economy if the city ceases to be an international financial hub.

“I am quite concerned about the Hong Kong situation,” Nishimura said, adding that the potential for damage to its role as a financial center could have a “very negative” impact on the global economy.

Acknowledging Japan’s traditional low-key approach to broaching rights issues with China, Chow seized on these concerns.

“We believe that this law would not only be harmful to Hong Kong, but it also would be very harmful to Japan as many Japanese companies and even the Japanese government have very close economic and political and cultural relationships,” she said.

“So if the ‘one country, two systems’ or judicial independence or rule of law is being destroyed by Beijing, it would also be very destructive to the economy of Japan,” Chow added.

The remarks by Chow, who speaks fluent Japanese, came a day before the 31st anniversary of the massacre of pro-democracy protesters on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Police on Monday banned a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong marking the anniversary, citing the coronavirus outbreak — the first time the gathering has been halted in three decades.

Media reports quoted Lee Cheuk-yan, the head of the group that organizes the annual vigil, as saying that residents would on Wednesday light candles everywhere across the city instead.

The United States on Wednesday honored the Tiananmen protesters and reiterated its call for China to fully account for those killed in the 1989 crackdown.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also met with survivors of the crackdown, posting a photo to Twitter of himself meeting with four prominent figures, including Wang Dan, one of the most visible student leaders behind the massive pro-democracy demonstrations.

“We mourn the victims of June 4, 1989, and we stand with the people of China who continue to aspire to a government that protects human rights, fundamental freedoms and basic human dignity,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

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