Activist Nathan Law left Hong Kong before the national security law was enacted, but he has told HKFP that relocating was the best thing he could do in order to serve the city’s protest movement.

Now settled in London, the former student leader has been reaching out to politicians and lobbying for the pro-democracy cause. Last Tuesday, he met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – a meeting Law described as constructive and fruitful.

Nathan Law. Photo: Demosisto.

“I learned from his staff that he was the one who made the decision to set up the meeting,” he said. “It is sending a signal that the US government and the secretary of state are also paying attention to what’s happening in Hong Kong, and ready to take measures to counter the implementation of the national security law.”

He added that the US had a strong bipartisan consensus on Hong Kong issues, and that Washington had displayed progress in implementing policies.

In mid-July, US President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, ending the city’s special trade status with the US and authorising the imposition of banking sanctions on Communist Party officials.

Nathan Law and Mike Pompeo. Photo: Nathan Law.

Law said he had learned from other sources that some Hong Kong officials involved in the national security legislation may also be sanctioned in the future.

The move came after China’s rubber-stamp National People’s Congress decided to introduce a Hong Kong security law to criminalise subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers. Experts have suggested that the legislation may target those who lobby foreign governments, like Law.

‘Tough and assertive’ stance

HKFP spoke with Law days before he discovered through Chinese state media that he was being sought by the Hong Kong police. It was the first time that the authorities had used the extraterritorial power in the new law to target exiled activists.

However, it is because of Beijing’s overreach that Law said he would continue his work in the UK to expand the democracy movement’s influence in Europe: “The world should have a more coherent strategy for combating China’s totalitarian expansion.”

A collection of different factors in 2020 triggered a significant change in the attitude of the international community towards China’s role in the world, he said: “The Covid-19 pandemic really made the world more sceptical with China.”

The former Demosisto activist said that Hong Kong caught global attention as it was a case of a “free city being eroded and going backwards… Concentration camps in Xinjiang have also been getting much attention,” he added. “People have shifted to a much more tough and assertive stance towards China.”

Several countries have announced plans to end extradition treaties with Hong Kong and introduce various lifeboat schemes for Hong Kong residents following the passage of the new law. The UK, which ruled Hong Kong before 1997, has laid out a path to citizenship for three million British National (Overseas) passport holders.

Extinction Rebellion protesters block the entrance to the military pyrotechnics manufacturer PW Defence in Draycot, UK on July 13, 2020. Photo: Vladimir Morozov/akxmedia.

While China’s foreign ministry and embassies have repeatedly slammed countries for interfering in Hong Kong affairs, Law said that he was not concerned as China’s threatening messages would backfire.

“I would see it as further intimidation,” he said. “It’s actually the aggressiveness from the Chinese government that irritates a lot of ordinary citizens… That kind of sentiment… bounces back to the political scene.” He added that public sentiment has prompted more foreign politicians to become aware of China issues.

Protest violence

Beijing was not alone in hardening its stance. The year-long protests in Hong Kong often saw tear gas, brutality and rubber bullets from the police, but also occasional firebombs, vandalism and assaults against detractors on the protester side.

But Law said that the scenes of unrest do not justify Beijing’s crackdown or the implementation of the security law, stating that the authorities had used the legislation to ban a protest slogan: “The national security law is clearly not targeting violent protesters. It’s clearly targeting peaceful demonstration and people’s freedom of expression.”

Blank Lennon wall . Photo: Cezzna/United Social Press.

The government had already created “legal weapons” including rioting charges – which carry ten year jail terms – to punish violent protesters, Law added. He was a believer in non-violent resistance but “we have understood the root cause of these more aggressive conflicts, and the reasons why people are so desperate to do so.”

Many protesters, he said, were fully aware of the possible consequences of imprisonment, yet nonetheless opted for more violent tactics towards the latter stages of the protests. The police, meanwhile, were never properly investigated or held accountable for any misbehaviour.

Law said one cannot simply oppose all of the protesters’ violence and end the discussion: “You don’t necessarily have to support their tactics or their strategy, but you have to realise that actually these kind of conflicts are triggered by systematic corruption and a lack of accountability by the government and the police force.”

When asked about his future plans and whether he would ever try to return to his home-city, Law said it was tough for him to plan ahead and he would focus instead on his advocacy work: “I made a decision that I consider… as contributing to the movement most. I hope that people would understand… I hope that what I will do – and have been doing – can really show them my devotion.”

Yet days later – with a “wanted” sign over his head – the chances of Law being able to return diminished, as he admitted that he had cut off communication with his family for their safety.

“What I now face is far greater than my own gains and losses. The price of displacement is what I’m willing to pay,” he said on Twitter on Friday. “I’ll also try my best to protect my safety. Please don’t worry about me. I still have faith in the future.”

Hong Kong Free Press

Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.