HKDC Blocked from Internet After Criticizing Foreign Firms for Helping HK Government Suppress Human Rights

The Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC), an American non-government organization with a number of exiled Hong Kong pro-democracy figures as its core members, issued a report on Oct. 25, criticizing the Hong Kong government for lobbying international companies to support the “Hong Kong National Security Law (NSL).” The report also revealed the names and conduct of the businesses concerned. Hours later, some people in Hong Kong reported being unable to browse the HKDC website and read the related report. Some scholars analyzed that it was the Hong Kong government that blocked the HKDC website, primarily out of revenge. This is a reflection of the Hong Kong government’s fear that the report might trigger the U.S. government to put pressure on foreign firms and capital, resulting in bringing about a series of boycott effects. Or it might have a negative impact on the forthcoming international financial summit in November when Hong Hong’s intention to “tell the good story of Hong Kong” becomes a “tell the Hong Kong scandalous story” instead.

Established in Sept. 2019, HKDC is an overseas organization concerned with the development of democracy in Hong Kong. It had participated in lobbying the U.S. government to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. The Chinese government announced in July last year that it would impose sanctions on organizations such as HKDC under the Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law. The founder of HKDC, Samuel Chu, is the son of Chu Yiu-ming, one of the “Three Founders of the Occupy Central” campaign. He immigrated to the U.S. in his early years and was previously reported to be wanted by the Hong Kong police for allegedly violating the NSL. He resigned as HKDC director in August 2021.

In Sept. 2021, HKDC announced that Alex Chow Yong-kang, the former secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, would take over as chairperson. Brian Leung Kai-ping, one of the authors of “Hong Kong Nationalism” and a protester of the 2019 occupation of the Legislative Council, was appointed as the executive director. Nathan Law Kun-chung, former Legislative Councillor, remains an advisor. Other appointments include Sunny Cheung Kwan-yang, a former spokesperson for the HK Higher Institutions International Affairs Delegation, and Ted Hui Chi-fung, a former legislator, as advisory members.

HKDC Website Blocked After Publication of Human Rights Report

On Oct. 25, HKDC published a report entitled “Business Not As Usual: International Companies in the New Authoritarian Hong Kong,” pointing out that some foreign companies in Hong Kong, at the request of the Hong Kong government, expressed their support for the NSL and incidentally foster the government’s vicious actions to suppress human rights and freedoms. Such actions include selling equipment to the Hong Kong police force, closing bank accounts of Hong Kong dissidents, and the like. The report also names the companies involved and their actions in detail.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) will hold a “Global Financial Leaders’ Investment Summit” on Nov. 2. The Hong Kong government announced that about 200 financial leaders would attend. This HKDC report specifically named and criticized financial institutions such as HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, Citibank, Goldman Sachs Group, Blackstone Group, and Carlyle Group, who are sending their executives to come or even as guest speakers. Such acts are construed as being used by the local authority to rationalize its authoritarian rule, as an attempt to “reclaim” the lost image of Hong Kong as an international city.

Just hours after the report was published, some people in Hong Kong reported being unable to browse the HKDC website or read the report. HKDC issued a statement on social media condemning the Hong Kong government for eroding internet freedom. Anna Kwok, director of HKDC’s strategy and campaign, criticized in a Twitter post that with the Hong Kong government’s decision to eliminate opposition and more frequent website blockades, it is not difficult to imagine that Hong Kong will establish its own “Great Firewall” in the future. She also said that the Hong Kong government’s blockade of the HKDC website has helped them warn businesses of the “new authoritarian reality in Hong Kong.”

Radio Free Asia also quoted Anna Kwok, the Strategy and Campaigns Director of HKDC, who said that after the report was published, there have been voices in the U.S. Congress calling on U.S. companies to boycott the International Financial Summit to be held in Hong Kong next month. She believed that the report had gained traction.

Scholar: The HKDC Website Blocked

Benson Wong Wai-kwok, a former assistant professor of politics and international relations at Baptist University, pointed out in an interview with the Epoch Times that no doubt revenge is the prime intention of the Hong Kong government in deliberately blocking the HKDC website. It further validates the fear of the Hong Kong government about the pressure this report might have upon the U.S. government. One possible outcome is the result of bringing a series of boycotts, which turns the forthcoming international financial summit in November from “telling the good Hong Kong story” to “telling the scandalous story about Hong Kong.”

Wong believes it is time for foreign investors to decide whether to continue to do business with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s authoritarian regime and lose their money in a series of sanctions that may be introduced by the U.S. government or to turn back down early and prepare to “decouple” themselves from Hong Kong and China.

Political Analyst: A Harbinger on Further Blocking of the Internet

Current affairs commentator Martin Oei described on his YouTube channel this is the first Internet shutdown since the CCP’s 20th National Congress.

Earlier, the Hong Kong government had blocked the website of the British civil group “Hong Kong Watch,” which has long been critical of the human rights situation in Hong Kong, as a gesture of opposing the British BNO visa programme. This time, the blocked HKDC report is about international companies being lobbied to support the “National Security Law” rather than directly “criticizing the central government.” Therefore, Oei speculates that the Hong Kong  government wants to use this incident to test whether it can further block the Internet on a larger scale. He estimates that after the 20th National Congress, Hong Kong will block more overseas websites, starting initially with some YouTube channels and Facebook pages carrying “sensitive content.” By then, foreign capital will leave Hong Kong for good.

HKDC and NGOs Write to US Officials Calling for Boycott of HK Financial Summit

Twenty overseas Hong Kong organizations, including HKDC, sent a letter on Oct. 17 to the U.S. President, Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, members of the House Financial Services Committee, Senate Banking Committee, House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticizing many major U.S.-owned banks of their attending a financial summit in Hong Kong. They claimed such participation of the banks with the U.S.-sanctioned human rights abusers in Hong Kong would be seen as a sign of support for the Hong Kong government’s misdeeds.

The joint letter stated that when financial institutions such as Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Blackstone Group, Goldman Sachs, and other financial institutions come and attend the Hong Kong Financial Summit, they are acting as support to the Hong Kong government. They also criticized the Hong Kong government as using the presence of senior executives of Western financial institutions to whitewash the Hong Kong government’s actions over the past few years in order to reclaim Hong Kong’s status as an international financial centre. The Hong Kong government even praised the executives of these financial institutions as the “solid backers of Hong Kong.”

The joint letter calls for action from the US government, warning JPMorgan Chase Chairman and Chief Executive Jamie Dimon, Citigroup Chief Executive Jane Fraser and others participating in the summit as violating U.S. policy, which is liable to legal and regulatory consequences.

Nie Law

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Harry McKenny

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