Pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 72, who faces charges of“illegal assembly” for attending a pro-democracy rally in August 2019, says many in Hong Kong fear the consequences of impending national security legislation to be imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, but will stay in the city to fight on regardless. Lai was among thousands of others who defied a police ban on a protest march on Aug. 31, a date that was marked by a violent assault by riot police on train passengers at Prince Edward MTR station. He spoke to RFA’s Cantonese Service about the ongoing fight to preserve the city’s traditional freedoms:
RFA: Are people in Hong Kong thinking of leaving because of the national security law?
Lai: There are a lot of Hong Kong people who are going to stay here. They will fight this to the end. I hope that with the support of the United States, even European countries, the United Kingdom and other European countries, we can preserve the rule of law and freedom. This is not impossible, because the current situation in China is not as stable as we think. [There could be a] power struggle going on [behind the scenes]. So it’s very important for other countries to try to put pressure on China at this time, and to impose sanctions on China to try to stop this arbitrary action.
RFA: Do you think Hong Kong will be able to retain its status as an international financial hub?
Lai: Hong Kong is losing its entrepreneurs; its most capable people, the mainstay of society, its specialists; the business people are all leaving. But why won’t Shanghai be able to fill its role? Because there’s no rule of law there. China has always wanted to boost Shanghai so it could supplant Hong Kong, but it hasn’t managed it to this day because there is no rule of law in Shanghai, so it can’t attain the status of financial center. It can’t attract talent without that sense of mutual trust. You can’t do business there without bribing people. Why would I want to do that? Why would talented people want to work in such a place?
RFA: What about your own personal safety if you stay in Hong Kong?
Lai: Everything I have was given to me by Hong Kong. I won’t be leaving. I will advance or retreat with the people of Hong Kong. When the national security law comes, that will be the beginning of the end for Hong Kong. It won’t be like it used to be; there will be no more rule of law and no more freedom. People will feel as if they have to leave. No matter how much they love this place, there will be nothing they can do about the situation. Nobody should try to stop them. Some people may think: ‘What’s the point? Once the national security law is implemented, I won’t have any freedom; I’ll just be like a citizen of mainland China. I still need to put food on the table and clothes on my back. I still want to enjoy life, so I’m done.’ I won’t blame people for leaving. I won’t blame my employees. That’s the nature of freedom. But I’m going to stay here and fight to the bitter end.
RFA: What other steps would you like to see other countries take to help Hong Kong?
Lai: I hope the U.S. will also consider accepting [immigration applications] from the people of Hong Kong. Also that the U.K. will give British National Overseas (BNO) passports to young people who were born after 1997, and who didn’t get one.
Reported by Wu Hoi-man for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.