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Chinese secret police warned exiled Hong Kong businessman over parliament plan

China’s state security police threatened an overseas Hong Kong businessman who recently announced plans to set up a parliament-in-exile with repercussions for his family members who remain in the city, RFA has learned.

Hong Kong’s national security police said last week they are investigating former pro-democracy lawmaker-elect Baggio Leung, overseas businessman Elmer Yuen and journalist Victor Ho for “subversion of state power” under a draconian national security law after they announced plans to set up the overseas parliament.

“They warned me in advance [not to go ahead with the plan], but I ignored them,” Yuen told RFA in a recent interview, saying he had been contacted by state security police in Beijing, not the national security unit of Hong Kong’s police force.

“They gave me a number of warnings, [including] saying I still have family members in Hong Kong,” he said, adding that there “no point” in worrying about it.

Yuen’s comments came as his daughter-in-law Eunice Yeung, a New People’s Party member of the current Legislative Council (LegCo) whose members were all pre-approved by Beijing ahead of the last election, took out an advertisement in Hong Kong’s Oriental Daily News, publicly severing ties with her father-in-law.

“I Eunice Yung, a Chinese person with the blood of our mighty motherland running in my veins … hereby declare that I am cutting off Elmer Yuen as my father-in-law, following his investigation under the national security law for suspected incitement to subvert state power,” the ad, signed by Yung and dated Aug. 5, said.

Yuen said he still plans to go ahead with the Hong Kong Parliament, which will offer a fully democratic vote to all Hongkongers, regardless of location.

“This definitely is a touchy subject for [the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)] right now because nobody who lives in Hong Kong or mainland China is legitimately represented in government,” he said, drawing parallels with Yung’s actions and the political divisions sown within families during the public denunciations, ‘struggle sessions’ and kangaroo courts of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

“Stuff like this never used to happen in Hong Kong, but now that the CCP has enacted the national security law, they have forced [Yung] to draw a clear line between her and me,” he said.

“This used to happen in mainland China during the Cultural Revolution, when they would get family members of somebody they planned to denounce to cut them off,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal, but you have to understand that this is the CCP, something that we Hongkongers have never experienced before, so we think it’s a big thing.”

“First of all, [Yung] wants to keep her seat in LegCo … she wants to protect her family; she has a husband and two kids,” he said.

Former Beijing adviser Lew Mon-hung said Yung’s move likely didn’t go far enough.

“I think she should draw an ideological and political line, not just talk in terms of … family ethics and relationships, which isn’t very specific, and is cultural [rather than political],” Lew told RFA. “She is just trying to politically correct, but lacks political wisdom.”

Lew said Yung should give media interviews illustrating the political reasons for her split with Yeung, or write an article backing up her position in terms of the national security law and Hong Kong’s Basic Law.

Chinese political commentator Lin Feng said the comparisons being drawn with the Cultural Revolution are apt.

“During the Cultural Revolution … those being cut off were generally intellectuals or officials who had just lost their social status, and reduced from being intellectuals or officials to the status of ordinary people,” Lin told RFA. “But for Hong Kong people, what is really unbearable is the freezing and confiscation of their assets under the national security law.”

“It’s hard for them to cope with the slightest change in social status, which makes the middle class very vulnerable.”

Forty-seven former opposition lawmakers and democracy activists are currently behind bars awaiting trial on the same “incitement to subversion” charge for their involvement in a 2020 democratic primary election aimed at maximizing the number of opposition seats in LegCo.

Soon after the primary, the government postponed the LegCo elections and rewrote the rules to force candidates to undergo vetting by a committee overseen by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and national security police, effectively barring any pro-democracy candidates from running.

“The Security Bureau appeals to the public to dissociate themselves from individuals contravening the Hong Kong National Security Law, and the illegal activities those individuals organized, so as to avoid bearing any unnecessary legal risks,” a spokesman said in a statement.

Yuan, Ho and Leung are part of a group that announced the parliament-in-exile plan in Canada on July 27, along with plans to hold the first election under universal suffrage in late 2023.

Leung, who is also known by the English names Baggio and Sixtus, was expelled along with five other newly elected Legislative Council (LegCo) members after China’s National People’s Congress ruled their oaths of allegiance invalid in 2016.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.