Monday, July 22, 2024

Democracy-in-Exile: Overseas Hong Kong Parliament 

The National Security Law of Hong Kong is one of the most highly controversial laws ever in Hong Kong’s history, giving the government complete authority to deem any action of any individual as a violation of national security. Last month, the Hong Kong government placed a bounty of HK$1 Million on dissidents living abroad. Elmer Yuen, a Hong Kong businessman turned activist, was among those named on the bounty list. Apart from his activism, Yuen was targeted for his efforts of forming an overseas Hong Kong Parliament.

Event at the National Press Club 

At an event organized by Global Strat View at the National Press Club moderated by senior correspondent Se Hoon Kim, Elmer Yuen explained several topics ranging from the status of the Chinese economy to the degradation of freedoms in Hong Kong to the newly formed Overseas Hong Kong Parliament. 

Chinese Economy

In terms of the Chinese economy, Yuen explained that China is essentially facing an economic crisis, particularly in its job market. “The unemployment is huge.” Yuen said, “I will say in terms of absolute number, [it is] almost 200 million in the urban area and the rural area. We believe, but they never reported. They do a play with numbers, and so they have huge unemployment.” 

According to official figures, China has been experiencing a high unemployment rate this year, where working-age youth aged 16 to 24 experienced 21.3 percent joblessness in June alone. According to a recent Reuters report, Peking University Professor Zhang Dandan stated in a financial magazine Caixin that the unemployment rate in March alone could have been as much as 46.5 percent, more than double the reported 19.7 percent rate by the National Bureau of Statistics. 

“Only half have no job and no income, and they have to pay their mortgage,” Yuen said as he explained the state of the property market in China. He went on to say that as mortgage payments are becoming increasingly challenging to meet, the banks can stop anyone’s credit. “They would stop your credit in China. It’s very easy because you pay by your phone. You don’t even use credit cards anymore.” Yuen said. 

Payments through Chinese apps like WeChat and Alipay are some of the leading payment methods used in China. Both payment apps have over one billion users, as apps like WeChat have over 800 million users in China alone and have recently accepted foreign credit cards like Visa and Mastercard. The Chinese government has control over the direction that the parent companies of these two apps, Tencent and Alibaba Group, can take, particularly as regulatory shareholders. In 2021, the disappearance of Jack Ma, founder of the Alibaba Group, after his criticism of China’s regulators is one example of the tight grip of the Communist Party on major companies in China. 

Initial Start 

The initiative to formulate an overseas Hong Kong Parliament dates back to 2022 when a group of activists (including Elmer Yuen) founded the Hong Kong Parliament Electoral Organizing Committee. Since its establishment, the Committee has been pushing for “Popular Sovereignty” with a push to ensure the future of Hong Kong under Hong Kongers. 

The Committee states its mission as the following: 

To aid Hongkongers in creating the Hong Kong Parliament, where elected members collaborate to develop the Parliament’s objectives, plans, and strategies through established British Parliamentary procedures. The primary goal is to draft the New Constitutions. At this juncture, the EOC envisions the future HKP potentially accomplishing the following:

Strengthening and empowering Hongkongers’ global presence by bolstering the legitimacy of the HKP.

Establishing a transparent and inclusive system that ensures diverse Hongkonger voices are heard on the international stage.

Reinforcing and empowering Hongkongers worldwide, thus promoting the identity of “Hongkonger” across the globe.”

The initiative to formulate an Overseas Hong Kong Parliament has active members in several countries, including US, UK, Canada, Japan, and Australia. 

Overseas Hong Kong Parliament 

During the event, Yuen stated that voting is a fundamental democratic value emphasizing that if the topic of democracy is mentioned in China, it could be interpreted as an effort to overthrow the communist regime; thereby, one would face subversion charges. “So what they’re trying to do is to have absolute control,” Yuen said, as he explained some of the typical characteristics of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) after stating that the current economic realities of China are in a severely dire situation. 

“So what I’m trying to do is to give basic rights, basic democratic rights to people so that they can vote. We have a mobile secure mobile voting system via the internet that’s not traceable or hackable.” Yuen also stated, “It’s nothing, really nothing’s historical about it. But when you face the communists, this is a huge crime.”

“What’s happening in Hong Kong can happen in China. They (CCP) are afraid of losing power,” said Yuen. “So what I have done is nothing special. Just everybody has the right to vote, including those people in Hong Kong.” 

The CCP has always maintained a firm grip over its people and has swiftly dealt with any form of what it considered to be “dissent” since its founding. A famous example is the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, where the government crushed the demand for democratic reform and several other freedoms. The Chinese government has successfully implemented its form of governance in Hong Kong since 2019, since the establishment of the National Security Law. Under its legal premises, any action, particularly pertaining to personal expression, can be interpreted by the government as an act of violation of state security. According to Human Rights Watch report, under the National Security Law, slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times” can lead to subversion charges as it “connotates to Hong Kong Independence.” Yet, those expressing the slogans shared a wide range of opinions regarding Hong Kong’s future, which is prevalent in any society with a level of free thought and expression. 

Regarding its potential for success in the overseas Parliament, Yuen said, “And so far, we still don’t have a firewall yet in Hong Kong. So [the number of] people in Hong Kong is around seven million who are eligible to vote and about three million Hong Kong people outside of Hong Kong. So we’re talking about a total of maybe 10 million people, but I’ll be very happy if one million outside Hong Kong would dare to vote.”

When asked as to why he has decided to take the initiative to form the Hong Kong Parliament in addition to his activism, Yuen said, “In China, because the communists have such a good system of really keeping people from rising up. So, for Hong Kong, we have a chance to rise up and do something. And I had a very good, successful and good life. Very successful. For me, I have to do the right thing for my final years. I’m 74 years old, I probably will have another five good working life, so I have to make use of it to the end and do the right thing. And it’s not only my family but the entire Hong Kong. And also, I’m Chinese. I think I need to do something for China.”

Since the bounty announcement, Hong Kong authorities recently detained and questioned Yuen’s family members. Among those questioned by the police were Eunice Yung, a pro-Beijing lawmaker at the Hong Kong Legislative Council and Yuen’s daughter-in-law. Yung has previously disowned her father-in-law for alleged “subversion” against the Chinese state in a newspaper advertisement in 2022. 


Author profile
Se Hoon Kim
Assignment Editor/Senior Correspondent, East and South Asia

Se Hoon Kim is the Assignment Editor and Senior Correspondent, East and South Asia at Global Strat View. He is also a columnist for the Sunday Guardian.

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