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Explainer: Chinese Communist Party cracks down on Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper

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July 2, 2021

Last week, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took new steps in their ongoing campaign against Hong Kong’s democracy. Apple Daily, a popular pro-democracy newspaper that was often critical of Beijing, was forced to close down while a handful of its journalists were arrested.

What happened?

This most recent crackdown is months in the making. The CCP passed a broad national security law in June 2020 that criminalized secession, subversion, collusion, and other activities. Beijing has used the law extensively over the past year to arrest protestors, dissidents, and human rights activists. Jimmy Lai, the founder of Apple Daily, was even arrested late last year under the national security law for participating in an unauthorized assembly in October 2019. 

With Apple Daily’s founder in prison, it seemed as though the newspaper’s days were numbered. Police raided the paper’s office on June 16 and confiscated hard drives, arrested top editors, and froze the company’s assets. Less than one week after the raid, Apple Daily said that it was closing its doors permanently. Late last week, the paper printed one million copies of its final edition which sold out at stalls across the city.

On top of the office’s closure, Hong Kong police have arrested at least seven staffers from the shuttered newspaper. Most notably, Fung Wai-kong, a senior editor at Apple Daily, was arrested under the national security law on Sunday evening in the Hong Kong airport as he attempted to board a flight for the United Kingdom. He was released on bail two days later and is scheduled to report back to the police in late July.

What is Apple Daily?

Apple Daily was a pro-democracy newspaper that mixed both salacious gossip and investigative journalism and was unapologetically critical of the CCP. Apple Daily’s founder, Jimmy Lai, started the company in 1995 after Beijing threatened his lucrative international clothing brand in response to multiple articles he wrote criticizing the CCP’s response to the Tiananmen Square Massacre. In the newspaper’s 26-year run, it became a staple of daily life in Hong Kong and a thorn in the CCP’s side as it produced story after story investigating and ridiculing party officials.

What is the relationship between Hong Kong and China?

Hong Kong operates under the decades-old principle of “one country, two systems,” which defines the relationship between the city and the rest of mainland China. Under the agreement brokered by the British when they handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997, the city was guaranteed a “high degree of autonomy” without political interference from Beijing over the course of a 50-year transition period. As a result, Hong Kong has its own legal and political system that is strikingly distinct from the mainland. In exchange for guaranteeing these freedoms, western democracies treated Hong Kong with a special status, allowing Hong Kong to serve as an important banking and trading hub with mainland China and the region.

What does this mean for Hong Kong?

Apple Daily’s closure is a signal of Beijing’s intent to further restrict the freedoms that Hongkongers have enjoyed for nearly a quarter century. Article 27 of Hong Kong’s quasi-constitution, the Basic Law, says “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions; and to strike.” 

Unfortunately, Hong Kong’s unique autonomy may well be fundamentally weakened due to the new National Security Law. The closure of Apple Daily under the pretense of national security concerns directly undermines Article 27’s protections for free speech, freedom of the press, and the freedom to assemble. The crackdown on Hong Kong’s press seems to confirm many advocates’ worst fears — that Beijing is going to use the National Security Law to take away Hongkongers individual liberties. 

What will happen next?

The Biden administration has largely stayed the course set by former President Trump of increased pressure on China. Last year, the Trump administration declared that Hong Kong was no longer sufficiently autonomous from China to merit its special status which included trade privileges and other benefits. Antony Blinken, Biden’s secretary of state, concurred earlier this year, saying in a mandated annual determination regarding Hong Kong’s status that, “Over the past year . . . China has continued to dismantle Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, in violation of its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and Hong Kong’s Basic Law.”

In addition to maintaining the State Department’s determination, a bipartisan group of senators has called on President Biden to impose sanctions on the CCP over the closure of Apple Daily. The senators cited the July 2020 Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which gives the president the authority to sanction “any foreign person, including foreign businesses, that are ‘materially contributing’ to the ‘inability of the people of Hong Kong to enjoy the freedom of assembly, speech, press, or independent rule of law.” Biden appears likely to heed the senators’ advice as he also issued a statement last week declaring his administration’s unwavering support for Hongkongers and their democratic institutions. 

However, U.S. sanctions will likely only have a limited effect. When Hong Kong first changed hands to Chinese control, its economy represented almost 20% of China’s GDP. Today, that number is below 3%. In short, the backlash China has received from the West for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy simply matters less to Beijing than it used to. Therefore, while sanctions from the U.S. government are likely, it appears as though Hong Kong will continue to lose the freedoms it has enjoyed as the CCP hardens its stance against democracy at home and abroad. 

The ERLC is supportive of the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act, which designates Hong Kong residents as Priority 2 refugees and streamlines their admission process to the United States. This important bill would ensure that the United States can be a place of refuge for Hongkongers fleeing political persecution. The ERLC will continue to monitor the situation as it develops and advocate for policies that protect and promote fundamental human rights around the world.

Photo Attribution:

FREDERIC J. BROWN / Getty Contributor

Policy Staff

The policy staff works on behalf of the Southern Baptist interests in the ERLC's Washington, D.C., office, the Leland House. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24