Is Beijing dropping the hammer on Hong Kong?

This week, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) signaled its intention to force a new, sweeping security law on Hong Kong that would ban sedition, secession, and treason. While Hong Kong has its own Legislative Council that operates with a certain amount of autonomy from Beijing, this national security bill would be passed and imposed by the mainland’s National People’s Congress, which began its annual meeting today, on Hong Kong.

This move would represent a dramatic erosion of the decades-old principle of “one country, two systems,” which has defined the relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China since 1997. Under this system, Hong Kong operates with a “high degree of autonomy” and without political interference from Beijing. For Hongkongers, this meant they enjoyed significant individual freedoms relative to their mainland neighbors. The city’s Basic Law, a constitution of sorts adopted by the national government in Beijing in 1997, guarantees these liberties. In exchange, 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.

China’s move to impose a new draconian security law on Hong Kong puts the individual liberties of Hongkongers at risk—and potentially the city’s special status as well.

The bigger picture

Under the leadership of President Xi, Beijing has taken an increasingly aggressive posture toward Hong Kong, a posture that has escalated over the last 12 months. Last year, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who was appointed with Beijing’s consent, introduced and attempted to pass a bill that would allow extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China. This bill sparked months of prolonged protests, at times grinding Hong Kong to a halt, and involving a number of student-led takeovers of college campuses.

These protests died down as the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Hong Kong, leading to a public health shutdown. But the underlying issues fueling this political movement in Hong Kong were still simmering below the surface.

This week, Hong Kong’s government signaled it would give priority to a controversial bill entitled The National Anthem Bill. This legislation would make it a crime punishable by up to three years in prison "to insult China’s national anthem." Criteria are laid out in the bill for when and how the National Anthem should be played and sung, and legally requires school children, including international schools, to learn the anthem.

Curious timing

Beijing officials face increasing global pressure for their slowness and lack of transparency with the outbreak of COVID-19. In response, the communist officials kicked off a global public relations campaign attempting to salvage its image after public criticism for their response to the virus.  In recent days, President Trump announced he would permanently end all funding from the United States to the World Health Organization (WHO), a specialized agency of the United Nations with a broad mandate to act as a coordinating authority on international health issues. The threat to cease funding was contingent on the WHO “committing to substantive improvements within the next 30 days.” The U.S. is the largest contributor to the WHO, however, President Xi followed Trump with his own announcement that China would voluntarily contribute an additional $2 billion.

But this comes at a time when China is relatively isolated and the international community is frustrated with Beijing’s continued deception throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Further, China’s move to reach into Hong Kong’s sovereignty comes at a time of increased scrutiny on Beijing’s relationship with Hong Kong.

In November of 2019, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act overwhelmingly passed the U.S. Congress and was signed into law by President Trump. The legislation requires a regular reassessment from the U.S. State Department as to whether Beijing is holding up its obligations to maintain Hong Kong’s autonomy. The administration would then have the option of adjusting or revoking the special economic treatment the U.S. has afforded the island-city since 1997. Such a move by the U.S. would carry significant economic repercussions for mainland China and its relationship with not only the U.S. but the entire Western world.

What’s next?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delayed the release of the department’s report to Congress on Hong Kong, which would answer whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous to continue receiving special economic treatment by the United States. According to Sec. Pompeo, the delay was “to account for any additional actions that Beijing may be contemplating in the run-up” to China’s May 22 National People’s Congress (NPC) “that would further undermine the people of Hong Kong’s autonomy.”

In recent days, Sec. Pompeo asserted that the “recent treatment of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists made it more difficult to assess that the territory remains highly autonomous from China.”

Whether the administration is willing to take such a significant step remains to be seen. U.S.–China relations have deteriorated significantly over the last several months, and China’s human rights record continues to draw attention

Hongkongers enjoy a level of freedom and autonomy that people in mainland China do not, such as the freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly. There is palpable fear that those freedoms will soon be restricted if China asserts its power and dominance over Hong Kong. Indeed, the fact that the CCP systematically detained over 1 million Uyghur Muslims in “re-education” camps, uses Uyghurs for forced labor, and persecutes Christians and other religious minorities looms large in the worries of Hongkongers.

Hong Kong is more than an important trading hub—it is a symbol of freedom for the region. Hong Kong is also a coal mine canary, an early warning system for the consequences of the path President Xi has chosen for his country. 

This administration has the tools to stand up for Hong Kong and stand up to President Xi. Now, it’s time to use them.

Chelsea Sobolik

Chelsea Sobolik serves as the Director of Public Policy with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in the Washington, D.C. office. Previously, she worked on Capitol Hill on pro-life policies, domestic and international religious freedom, adoption, and foster care issues. Chelsea has been published at the Wall Street Journal, USA … Read More

Travis Wussow

Travis Wussow serves as the Vice President for Public Policy and General Counsel. Travis led the ERLC’s first international office located in the Middle East prior to joining the Washington DC office. He received a B.B.A. in Finance from The University of Texas at Austin and a J.D. from The … Read More

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