Opposition groups moving funds overseas, digitising historical records ahead of Hong Kong national security law

Lee Cheuk-yan (centre) of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.
PHOTO: Felix Wong

Hong Kong opposition groups are moving funds overseas and digitising historical records of mainland China’s 1989 pro-democracy movement in preparation for the national security law that Beijing is about to impose on the city.

But even as they make contingency plans, the groups have ruled out changing their manifestos, with one saying it will continue to call for an end to one-party rule in mainland China.

Demosisto, a political party co-founded by former Occupy Central student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung in 2016, said it was setting up a backup fund in the United States.

Authorities could use the new law against activists working on the “international front” of last year’s anti-government protests, which were sparked by opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill, said party chairman Ivan Lam Long-yin.

“It is hard to imagine how far the retaliation might go, but it is obvious that those who lobbied for the passage of the US’ Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act will be targeted,” the 25-year-old said.

Demosisto was a high-profile backer of the act, which allows Washington to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and mainland officials it deems responsible for human rights violations in the city.

It also opened up a path for the US to strip the city of its unique trade privileges promised under the 1992 Hong Kong Policy Act.

Demosisto and other opposition groups, such as the Civic Party, were accused by the pro-Beijing camp in the city of “colluding with foreign forces” – an offence that the new law seeks to punish, alongside acts of secession, subversion and terrorism.

Demosisto’s Joshua Wong was barred from running in local elections for advocating self-determination.
PHOTO: Felix Wong

Lam said the funds would be entrusted to a party member living in the US, although there were no immediate plans by activists to flee the city.

The party removed advocacy for Hong Kong’s self-determination from its manifesto in January before the law was announced, but Lam said there would be no further changes.

Critics had said that move was to prepare for the Legislative Council elections in September, after Wong and another party member, Agnes Chow Ting, were barred from running in local polls during the two previous years for advocating self-determination.

The national security legislation could be passed by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee next week as it reconvenes for a second time in a month, a rare event.

Even with the law imminent, Hongkongers remain in the dark about most of its details, including the scope of offences and what penalties offenders face.

The June 4 Museum in Mong Kok run by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.
PHOTO: Nora Tam

Amid the uncertainty, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which was formed during the 1989 protests, plans to set up a “digital museum” of photos and documents from the crackdown, taken from public and private collections.

Alliance chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said authorities might condemn or even ban the group once the law came into effect.

He is most concerned about preserving the collection of artefacts, which includes helmets and clothing worn by the student protesters.

“It would pain me most if authorities confiscated our relics, as they cannot be digitised and we will be failing the families [of the owners],” Lee said, adding he had no plans to move the items overseas.

The alliance’s museum is located at a property it bought in Mong Kok in 2018.

The alliance’s Lee Cheuk-yan gives out candles at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay on June 4.
PHOTO: Sam Tsang

Lee rejected the idea of changing the group’s manifesto, which calls for the end of one-party rule in mainland China, the release of dissidents there and the creation of a democratic nation.

“The whole law is being defined by the mainland and you never know where the landmines are,” Lee said.

“If we change [our manifesto], we would not be the same alliance.”

Lawmaker Wu Chi-wai, who chairs the city’s largest opposition political group, the Democratic Party, said its manifesto was a “historical” document and ruled out modifying it.

Party sources said their members had been working on a new document to “better respond to societal situations” that emerged during the past year’s political crisis, but denied the move was triggered by the impending security law.

The document, expected to be published before the September elections, will touch on mass arrests and police’s use of force during the anti-government protests, as well as concerns over Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.