Looks like the pro-Beijing leader of Hong Kong has learned a lesson about crises: Never let them go to waste. And now she's using the city's stay-at-home practices during the coronavirus pandemic to crack down and arrest democracy advocates.
What's the background?
Last summer, thousands of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest their local government's push to pass a bill that would make it easier for China to extradite fugitives from the city to the mainland.
The protesters demanded the resignation of local officials, including Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who introduced the pro-Beijing bill.
Police armed with tear gas, water canons, and rubber bullets attempted to quell the pretests.
Then authorities brought in Chinese armored vehicles, leading to fears that a military crackdown was coming. And Communist officials in Beijing began planting rumors the the pro-democracy protests were showing "sprouts of terrorism."
President Donald Trump later revealed that U.S. intelligence was reporting that the Chinese government was moving troops to the Hong Kong border.
In early September, Lam finally scrapped the extradition bill that sparked the protests, but the democracy advocates still had other demands: free elections, a stop to prosecutions of protesters who had been arrested, and an investigation of the city's police.
At the end of September, as protests continued, at times descending into violence, and the Chinese national holiday marking the 70th anniversary of Communist rule approached, Beijing doubled its military presence in Hong Kong in an attempt to keep protests down.
But the protests have continued for months. Police have shot a few protesters and pepper-sprayed and tackled a pregnant woman. And masked men attacked a Hong Kong newspaper that had a record of being critical of Chinese authorities, setting fire to the printing press and papers.
With the streets currently more calm during the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong leader Lam decided now was the time to go after and arrest at least 14 leading pro-democracy activists, the Associated Press reported Sunday.
Those arrested Saturday for unlawful assembly included, "81-year-old activist and former lawmaker Martin Lee and democracy advocates Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan and Au Nok-hin. Police also arrested media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who founded the local newspaper Apple Daily," the AP said. Also arrested were Yeung Sum, a former Democratic lawmaker, and leaders of the League of Social Democrats, including its chairman, Raphael Wong.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr condemned the arrests. From the AP:
“Beijing and its representatives in Hong Kong continue to take actions inconsistent with commitments made under the Sino-British Joint Declaration that include transparency, the rule of law, and guarantees that Hong Kong will continue to 'enjoy a high degree of autonomy,'" Pompeo said. He was referring to the 1997 handover of the former British colony to China, which promised the city would enjoy political freedoms not afforded mainland China.
Attorney General William Barr also weighed in with a statement saying these events show how “antithetical the values of the Chinese Communist Party are to those we share in Western liberal democracies. These actions — along with its malign influence activity and industrial espionage here in the United States — demonstrate once again that the Chinese Communist Party cannot be trusted."
China, of course, accused the U.S. of instigating the protests and demanded that the West butt out.