By Lyndsey Reeve
Lyndsey Reeve is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania studying International Relations.
In June, the historic “one country, two systems” principle outlined in Hong Kong’s constitution--allowing the polity to retain economic, governmental, and legal independence from mainland China--was violated with a crushing national security law. The legislation allowed Beijing to set up its own national security agency in Hong Kong and granted China total legal jurisdiction in “complex” and “serious” national security cases. Additionally, the law imposed a public “national security education” in schools and media and aimed to quell protests with jail time . Both closed-door trials and wire-tapping are permissible under the law, while internet providers may have to hand over private data, and a wide range of behaviors such as damaging public transport facilities can be considered terrorism . Pushing back against the national security law, protestors took up “five demands,” among them amnesty for arrested protestors and universal suffrage. They also advocated for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, an end to the protests’ characterization as riots, and the legislation’s withdrawal .
The national security law and ensuing protests sent shockwaves through the international community. While multilateral institutions’ ability to constrain Beijing have been limited by China’s economic might and seat on the UN Security Council, the U.S., Taiwan, the U.K., E.U, Australia, and New Zealand, among others, have publicly condemned the legislation and several have offered safe havens for migrants . Responses also include American efforts to impose sanctions on Chinese government officials responsible for implementing the national security law, the most recent of which were announced on November 9th .
Although the extradition bill--which would have sent Hong Kong’s criminal suspects to mainland China--was withdrawn, tensions remain high, especially for students.
Individuals around the world who criticize Beijing can still be prosecuted if they travel to Hong Kong. Even Hong Kong’s citizens who study abroad face close scrutiny, with some anonymously describing how they “[feel] like [they] are still being monitored,” and must limit speaking out against the Chinese government in class for fear of retribution once they return to their home country . This legislation is also particularly worrisome because not only does it criminalize national security threats, but it also forbids acts that illicit “hatred” of China’s government. This language is quite ambiguous--likely purposefully so, to spark fear and dismay that will keep citizens quiet.
By the end of July, four students between the ages of 16 and 21 were arrested for organizing and “inciting secession” on social media, including Tony Chung, the former leader of a pro-independence group called Studentlocalism. Although the organization planned to continue its campaign from abroad, overseas activists could still face prosecution according to national security officials . To track similar violations, the government has also launched a troubling multi-platform tip line where individuals can report suspected violations of the national security law, which garnered over 10,000 messages in its first operational week .
Student-led protests (often met with police retaliation) have long been a fixture of Hong Kong’s college campuses, but the situation is escalating. Beijing has already demanded that Hong Kong’s schools remove books that contain content “which is outdated or involves the four crimes under the law,” including pieces by leading pro-democracy activists. Lecturers have reported feeling unsure of how to prepare for class amidst the new legislation’s vague wording, while the China University of Hong Kong insists that the law does not threaten academic freedom . Still, universities have dismantled protest posters on their campuses and denied promotions to professors due to their political dispositions. From retracting $200 million in funding for universities (allegedly due to student involvement in protests) to reviewing textbooks as part of larger-scale efforts to improve “patriotic education,” Beijing’s government sends a clear message: critique will not be tolerated. 
One professor was deregistered for spreading a pro-independence message after teaching students about the banned pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, despite an internal investigation that cleared him. Another was fired for letting students play a protest anthem in music class. Adding to this constant threat of censorship, teachers are always fearful about the risk of attack from pro-government groups .
Applications to universities abroad have risen amidst concerns of protests in Hong Kong, but attending college at a foreign university isn’t the perfect remedy . As previously mentioned, these academic constraints extend beyond China or Hong Kong’s national universities. Chinese nationals and Hong Kong’s citizens studying abroad must still grapple with an ever-present threat, and even foreign academics focused on China fear the consequences of critiquing Beijing .
In a Daily Pennsylvanian interview, an anonymous Wharton junior mentioned that “people wearing masks now—for privacy, not even COVID—is a common theme,” while others expressed fears that getting a Visa for graduate studies abroad may become even more difficult .
Along with Penn, both Harvard and Princeton have taken measures like anonymous discussion and content warnings for courses that may be impacted by the legislation. Likewise, five major Australian colleges have taken steps to educate students from China and Hong Kong about the extraterritorial national security legislation. They also permit students to submit papers anonymously so students can turn in work criticizing Beijing without fear of tracking (a practice Oxford University has also adopted). . La Trobe University in Melbourne has even created a process to notify students about particular courses in which there was potential for them to be reported to authorities by their peers.
However, this can pose an ethical dilemma--as Warwick University politics and international studies professor Shaun Breslin describes, discouraging Hong Kong students from enrolling in some courses“[denies] them an opportunity that every other student from every other part of the world” can freely participate in .
This is a clear human rights and grievous free speech violation, constraining students and professors’ ability to cover crucial facets of their country’s history and participate in classroom discussions and activism. Beijing’s oppressive national security law demands global outcry, not only for its obvious implications on pro-democracy protestors and activists within the country, but for the unlawful pressure it has placed on Hong Kong and Chinese students and academics both at home and abroad.
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