Suspension of HK chief executive candidate’s YouTube sparks urge to impose Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law
Published: Apr 21, 2022 10:54 PM
Secretary for Security of the HKSAR government John Lee Ka-chiu speaks during an interview with Xinhua in south China's Hong Kong on Jan. 28, 2021.Photo:Xinhua

John Lee Ka-chiu. Photo:Xinhua

The suspension of the YouTube account of John Lee Ka-chiu, the only candidate for Hong Kong's Chief Executive Election, sparked discussions in Hong Kong about whether it's necessary to come up with countermeasures - for example, by introducing the Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law into China's Special Administrative Region (SAR). As the suspension came after US sanctions on Chinese officials on Hong Kong affairs, some experts said the sanctions could be a badge of honor for true patriots, who will not be deterred by those unilateral moves. 

Lee's YouTube account for election campaigning was suspended on Wednesday as Google - the parent company of YouTube - complied with the US sanctions and shut the video channel down. Starting Wednesday, his election campaign channel can't be viewed. 

"It's unreasonable and regretful, but we think such a move won't stop us from releasing our information to the public or continuing our campaign," Tam Yiu-chung, a member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee from the Hong Kong region and Lee's campaign officer, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Lee was put on the US government's sanctions list in August 2020 for what the US said "undermining Hong Kong's autonomy and restricting the freedom of expression or assembly." The sanctions freeze any assets in the US held by those officials and prohibit the US from doing business with them. 

The relevant US firm serves as the political tool of the US government to interfere in other countries' internal affairs, which is completely wrong and unreasonable, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Thursday, commenting on the account's shutdown.

"This move again exposed the US' ill-intentioned political motives of using various excuses to interfere in Hong Kong affairs, sabotage the six-term Chief Executive election by playing out the double standards, and damage freedom of speech," he said. 

"Those who truly hope to serve the country and Hong Kong won't be affected by the sanctions. And those who have been sanctioned can be identified as true patriots," Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Faced with unreasonable sanctions, Hong Kong needs to work together with the central government on countermeasures, Lau said, who also referred to the Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law passed by China's top legislature in 2021, and its necessity to be implemented in Hong Kong. 

Top lawmakers in China voted to pass the highly anticipated law, providing a comprehensive legal basis for blocking illegal foreign sanctions and preventing Chinese individuals and entities from suffering the damage resulting from such sanctions. The new law will also offer sufficient legal foundation for taking an equal position with the West by imposing necessary countermeasures.

Though the law has not been implemented in Hong Kong, the suspension of Lee's YouTube account could have violated it in the mainland, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, an executive councilor in Hong Kong, told the Global Times on Thursday. "If he wants to hold it accountable, Lee has to go to the people's courts in the mainland, although it's difficult to prove his losses," he said. 

As the HKSAR government lacks the resources to fight the US sanctions in the past, some legal experts suggested that whether including the law into Annex III of the Basic Law or enabling the HKSAR government to revise or work on relevant anti-sanctions laws could both be part of the consideration.

"Western sanctions, more or less, affect the desire of capable people to join the government. Still, it's up to whether the person has strong faith," Tong said, noting that he hopes the aspiration of serving the people won't be deterred.

Some industry representatives in Hong Kong also urged that the IT industry should not be politicized. Francis Fong, Honorary President of Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, was quoted as saying in media reports. He said that the sanctions took effect two years ago, but whether the company would follow depends on their own consideration. 

Another US tech giant, Facebook, has not suspended the accounts of Lee or the account of Carrie Lam, the incumbent Chief Executive of the HKSAR government, which shows that the platforms won't necessarily follow the US government's move, according to the reports. 

Even if Lee could not use YouTube, there are many alternatives like social media tools developed by companies in the mainland such as WeChat, Weibo and Douyin - the Chinese version of TikTok, Fong said.