Washington has issued an alert advising US citizens to reconsider travel to Hong Kong, citing the threat of arbitrary law enforcement following the enactment of security legislation which grants authorities broad powers to crack down on dissent.

Tuesday’s advisory – placed at the second-highest level – said Americans now face the same risks of arbitrary arrest and detention in the city as in mainland China.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

“Since the imposition of national security legislation on July 1, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] unilaterally and arbitrarily exercises police and security power in Hong Kong,” it read.

“The new legislation also covers offences committed by non-Hong Kong residents or organisations outside of Hong Kong, which could subject US citizens who have been publicly critical of the PRC to a heightened risk of arrest, detention, expulsion, or prosecution.”

It also warned that mainland security personnel now operate in the territory under the new Office for Safeguarding National Security in Causeway Bay.

Security legislation

Beijing drafted sweeping laws designed to prevent, stop and punish acts in Hong Kong it deemed to threaten national security, following months of protests calling for democratic reform and police accountability.

The legislation was inserted into the city’s mini-constitution without local legislative oversight and criminalised “subversion,” “secession,” “foreign interference” and “terrorism,” broadly-defined to include interference with transportation and other infrastructure. Such powers have been used to silence and punish dissidents in China.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

The advisory said Beijing has carried out arbitrary detentions of US citizens and other foreign nationals using exit bans, without due process of law, in order to urge participation in government investigations. The bans also “pressure family members to return to the PRC from abroad,” resolve civil disputes in favour of Chinese nationals and gain “bargaining leverage over foreign governments,” the advisory said.

Beijing officials have repeatedly accused the US of meddling in domestic affairs while weighing in on Hong Kong. Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Wang Wenbin dismissed the advisory as manipulative at a regular press conference on Tuesday: “China protects the safety and legitimate rights and interests of foreign nationals in our country. China is one of the safest countries in the world.”

“Of course, foreign citizens in China are obliged to abide by our law. The US should fully respect facts and refrain from political manipulations when issuing the travel advisories.”

Also on Monday, the State Department lowered its travel advisory level for China from “Do not travel” to “Reconsider travel” owing to “improved” coronavirus conditions. Meanwhile, the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office also updated travel advice, warning that Britons in China risk arbitrary detention.

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Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.