By Tom Shakely, graduate student of Catholic University’s M.A. in Human Rights.
On Wednesday, October 27, 2021 the M.A. Human Rights cohort met with Fr. Vincent Woo, a priest of the Hong Kong diocese, who is finishing his dissertation in Canon Law at Catholic University. Fr. Woo presented on the Chinese Communist Party, the past, present, and future of Hong Kong as a territory, and the consequences of the loss of Hong Kong’s autonomy for the region and wider world.
“Hong Kong,” Fr. Woo reflected, “may be the first city to experience a change from freedom to totalitarianism since the Cold War.” The focus of Fr. Woo’s presentation was on the loss of Hong Kong’s distinctive status within China since British rule, and particularly since the imposition by Beijing of the Chinese Communist Party’s “National Security Law” in 2020. Hong Kong had enjoyed Western-style liberty due to its social, cultural, and political structures dating from the time of British rule. These included Hong Kong’s common law system, legislature, and freedom of speech, press, and assembly as well as free practice of religion and civil association.
Despite a commitment by Beijing to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy at the time that the territory was returned to China by the British, the Chinese Communist Party engaged in cultural and political infiltration of Hong Kong’s institutions that led to the closure of anti-Communist media, the introduction of mainland pro-Communist Chinese professors in universities, and even the arrival of pro-Communist “patriotic” Catholic priests within the Diocese of Hong Kong.
Increasing pro-democracy demonstrations starting in 2014, precipitated by Beijing’s refusal to honor its commitment to universal suffrage, continued in 2017 with Beijing’s declaration that its Sino-British agreement concerning Hong Kong’s autonomy would no longer have practical significance. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy leaders, both political and grassroots, orchestrated massive demonstrations protesting Beijing’s actions and led to more than one third of Hong Kong’s entire population publicly opposing the actions of the Chinese Communist Party in protests over the course of June and July 2019. These events culminated in Beijing’s efforts to legalize extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland Chinese for trial, the targeting and imprisonment of key pro-democracy leader within Hong Kong, and ultimately the destruction of its status as an autonomous territory within China—the “one country, two systems” constitutional principle—with the imposition of Beijing’s National Security Law.
Fr. Woo’s presentation concluded with questions and discussion between Professor Saunders, Fr. Woo, and the students on Hong Kong’s legacy as the last beacon of freedom within Communist China.