Playing it safe as security law kicks in

Editorial | Mary Ma 30 Jun 2020

It's no secret that the national security law will be passed in Beijing today, with effect from midnight, and ushering in uncertainties that Hongkongers have not experienced since 1997.

Nobody can confidently predict what will happen next, not even those few who flew from the SAR to the capital to be present at this historic moment.

But it cannot be any clearer that those who have been active in politics - whether pro-democracy or pro-Beijing - have started drawing lines in the sand to protect themselves from the direct impact.

The most prominent of all must be Martin Lee Chu-ming.

Long dubbed by pro-Beijing media as a member of the SAR's "gang of four" - although his diminishing die-hard fans liken him to the "grandfather of democracy" - Lee declared in a recent interview that he had always been opposed to the advocacy for an independent Hong Kong. He said such appeal might be romantic, but it was also dangerous.

He also voiced opposition to the US slapping sanctions against Hong Kong, saying this would hurt the city but would not be powerful enough to change Beijing.

Was it a statement of self-vindication at a sensitive time when Beijing will impose a security law that poses unprecedented challenges to the political opposition?

Then, another "gang" member and pro-democracy icon, Anson Chan Fang On-sang, suddenly announced she was stepping back from political life, citing her age and the death of her daughter.

What do Chan's pan-democratic comrades think about her decision?

Her departure is part of a trend. Elsewhere in the opposition, scholar Horace Chin Wan-kan - better known by his pen name "Chin Wan" - was given the nickname "the godfather of localism" following his publication series On the Hong Kong City-State.

If the subject was permitted in the past, it will be absolute taboo to touch upon it under the security law.

On Sunday, as Beijing met on the first day of the three-day meeting, Chin left a post on Facebook declaring that he was quitting the social movement in the SAR -giving the reason that most people no longer wanted his theory.

Even opposition publisher Jimmy Lai Chee-ying's Apple Daily played up a report quoting former mainland student leader Wang Dan as saying that Lai and student activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung would both be arrested immediately.

In highlighting the threat, was Lai trying, instead, to actually protect himself from arrest?

The national security law has undoubtedly created a strong psychological impact. But will Beijing be so foolish as to initiate a massive arrest exercise immediately? I doubt it.

The scramble for safety is not limited to pro-democracy activists. Even some Beijing loyalists are apparently trying to step back a little from the front line amid the US threat to impose sanctions on individuals "guilty" of damaging Hong Kong's system as promised under the one country, two systems arrangement.

All Hong Kong deputies to the National People's Congress were expected to be in the capital to observe the law's passage.

Ironically, it was reported that only five turned up.

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