LOS ANGELES — As protests continue around the nation against police brutality and use of force against Black Americans, protests for democracy and human rights continue in Hong Kong.
China passed a wide-ranging new security law on June 30 for Hong Kong, which makes it easier to punish protesters and reduce the city’s autonomy. Many activists have been arrested since this law was put into effect.
Since then, they have begun to target foreigners and recently issued an arrest warrant for the first American citizen who is also an Angeleno.
What You Need To Know
- China extends their symbolic reach targeting the first American citizen on U.S. soil for allegedly colluding with foreign powers and secession
- The new national security law was put into affect on June 30, 2020 in Hong Kong, which makes it easier to punish protesters and reduce the city’s autonomy
- On July 30, 2020, the Hong Kong government did not allow a dozen pro-democracy candidates who won primaries to run in legislative council elections, while also postponing the elections for a year — citing the pandemic as the reason
- Many activists have been arrested and detained since this law was put into effect, including media mogul Jimmy Lai on August 9, 2020
It would have been a typical day working from home in L.A. during the global pandemic for Samuel Chu — except that now, the founder of the Hong Kong Democracy Council, also known as HKDC, has become the first American citizen who is wanted by the Hong Kong government under the new national security law.
Chu is wanted for allegedly inciting secession and colluding with foreign powers.
“This is my home, and the fact that they were so bold as to essentially target a foreign citizen, a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil and say that I am somehow being criminalized and punished under their law for doing what is my constitutional right here in America — for lobbying my own government, is just outrageous,” he said.
Although he was born and raised in Hong Kong when it was a British colony, the now 42-year-old and his brother were sent to live in L.A., as it was deemed a safer place for them to grow up. His life’s journey is a reflection of the city’s melting pot.
Chu grew up in South Pasadena and then went to UCSD and Fuller Theological Seminary. He then spent nine years working at a Presbyterian Spanish-speaking church in Koreatown, became one of the first straight people to run a statewide LGBTQ organization, and served as a national organizer for the Jewish Response to Hunger.
Chu had to learn to adapt independently during his formative years, and he attributes much of who he is today to the kindness and generosity he received from strangers growing up.
“That is part of what makes L.A. particularly interesting to me, how rich and how much of the raw material there is to build that kind of community and to make change out of those communities," he said. "There is something really unique about that civic, public relationship that you build beyond your family.”
Someone the Chinese government has been trying to silence for decades is his father, Rev. Chu Yiu Ming. A leading pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong, Rev. Ming co-founded Occupy Central, which led to the 2014 Umbrella Movement, where protesters used umbrellas to protect themselves from the tear gas used by police. He was later tried, convicted, and sentenced from 2018-2019 for his role in leading the peaceful protest.
Chu wasn’t surprised or scared when he heard the news of the warrant out for his arrest.
“I knew that, because of my family and what my father had gone through, I knew sooner or later there were going to come after people who threatened them — the CCP [Chinese communist party] and the HK government,” he said.
Chu created the HKDC last year out of need to harvest the energy of the protests into tangible action. They are the first and only U.S. based organization that focuses specifically on the democratic development and human rights of Hong Kongers, essentially creating a whole new front line of battle between the CCP and the free west.
"You can Google us, you can [see] exactly what we are saying, we don’t use fake names, we don’t hide our faces" he said. "We are the only ones that can speak freely, with at least minimal risk of being immediately taken or imprisoned. We spent the last year trying to warn the U.S. government and the international community that this is not just happening in Hong Kong. This is going to come to you sooner or later and it's already here, and I think that my experience is exactly the illustration of this coming to your front door.”
To understand why the Chinese government is after Cho, here is a little historical context:
After the first Opium War in 1842, China cedes Hong Kong island to the British. In the following decades, the Kowloon Peninsula and New Territories are also acquired by the British Empire.
In 1898, China leases Hong Kong to Britain for 99 years. In the decades that follow, the city becomes an important, global financial center.
Fast forward to 1997, when the British handed Hong Kong back to China — and communist rule. But, under the “one country, two systems” agreement, Hong Kong is able to retain its capitalist economy and democratic system for 50 years after the handover.
Those freedoms make Hong Kong unique and are a stark contrast to mainland China, which is authoritarian. Its legal system is often used to arrest, silence, and punish anyone who speaks out against the government.
However, after the handover in 1997, the mainland Chinese government tightened their political control. With unfulfilled promises, bridled with hope for a free future, the citizens of Hong Kong took to the streets multiple times throughout the last decade in protest.
The 2019 protests, which at first started against an extradition bill, saw millions take to the streets demanding full democracy and called for action against police brutality. Violence escalated between protesters and police, as the world watched it unfold on social media and mainstream news.
On July 30 of this year, the Hong Kong government did not allow a dozen pro-democracy candidates who won primaries to run in legislative council elections. They also postponed the elections for a year, citing the pandemic as the reason.
This happened on the same day Chu heard he was a wanted fugitive.
“This means that if I be targeted, I’m not going to be the last one, and it opens up a whole new arena of provocation from China to say that we believe our reach goes beyond our soil and onto American soil," he said. "The CCP and the Hong Kong government has done something that is remarkable overnight. They have turned all of us who have been supportive and in solidarity of Hong Kong from afar, it has made us all into Hong Kongers who are directly threatened by this unjust law.”
Although the warrant out for Samuel’s arrest is mostly symbolic, for many activists in Hong Kong, the threat of being silenced, taken, and arrested is very real. The HKDC plans to continues to shine an international light on the fight for Hong Kong’s democratic freedom.