Visit of Premier of China – the cost of speaking up

In the coming days, the Premier of China will be visiting New Zealand and Australia.

This is significant, although the role of the Premier—nominally number two in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hierarchy—is not quite as important as some may think.

Much of the power is now deeply centralised in President Xi Jinping.

Don’t get me wrong—it is still a positive sign for our trading relationship to have Li Qiang here, but as his predecessor found out, he holds little actual power.

The visit, however, reminded me of the court case in Hong Kong in which I have been recently named as part of sedition and foreign collusion charges against democracy activists.

Being named

in a Hong Kong

court case

colours my view

of the

upcoming visit to New Zealand

of the CCP Premier

but provides a reminder

of the regime

he represents.

I thought I would share this story below as a reminder of what sort of regime Premier Li Qiang represents.

Currently, several court trials are occurring in Hong Kong involving democracy activists.

These cases result from the relatively new National Security Law that Hong Kong passed at Beijing’s behest.

It ensures that any questioning of the CCP is unlawful.

One case involves Jimmy Lai and Andy Li.

Jimmy is a 74-year-old Hong Kong businessman and publisher of the now-closed Apple Daily newspaper.

Some may even recall the clothing brand Giordano, which Jimmy created.

Andy Li is a young Hong Konger who co-founded a pro-democracy group during the 2019 protests.

Both have been accused by the Hong Kong government of sedition and colluding with foreign forces.

In Jimmy’s case, he’s accused of being behind the massive protests in 2019-2020.

The CCP knows these protests were spontaneous across the populace, but they are keen to scapegoat one man.

That he shared thoughts with journalists overseas, such as my friend Benedict Rogers in the United Kingdom, is now deemed a crime by the CCP.

Andy Li – who we reliably understand has been tortured by the CCP authorities – is also accused of talking to foreigners about the situation in Hong Kong.

He is further accused of voluntarily posting web content for the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC).

For this action in particular, I have been named along with Louisa Wall.

She and I wrote a letter, as IPAC co-chairs, back in 2020, asking the New Zealand government to rule out any extraditions to Hong Kong.

Andy is accused of publishing our letter on the IPAC website.

Yes, you have read that right – a man has been arrested, tortured, and taken to court partly because he published a letter two New Zealand MPs wrote to their own government.

Importantly, we are not the only ‘foreign’ Members of Parliament mentioned in the case—ours is but a passing mention.

Others from overseas are accused of much more and named specifically as co-conspirators.

So why is Beijing (and Hong Kong) so keen to name people such as Louisa and me, along with at least fifteen others?

As I told Sam Sachdeva at Newsroom, this is the CCP interfering with the work of democratic Members of Parliament.

It intends to create a chilling effect, or warning, to current MPs to not say or write anything that criticises the CCP or calls into question its actions.

The CCP is making it clear that speaking up has a cost—not just for those in Hong Kong but also for those who support them.

Sadly and wrongly, Jimmy and Andy will be found guilty.

The CCP has already determined this result.

If Jimmy and Andy are said to have colluded with ‘foreign forces,’ then we are, by extension, the other party involved and also guilty.

This is not a formal charge, of course, but it still means that travel to Chinese-aligned countries comes with serious risk.

There is also a psychological aspect.

It is deeply upsetting to consider that the normal work of a Member of Parliament can be misused in such a way that innocent people will go to prison.

Let’s be clear—the trial is a sham, and good people are caught up in it. But this reflects the heart of autocratic regimes, a regime that Premier Li Qiang represents.

So, as New Zealand Ministers meet this man and roll out the red carpet, they might want to spare at least a thought for Jimmy and Andy.

They are ‘just’ two people but represent many, many more who are repressed by this Communist regime.

  • Simon O’Connor is a New Zealand politician and a former member of the New Zealand House of Representatives for the National Party. He represented the Tāmaki electorate from 2011 to 2023. He chaired the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee from 2017 to 2020 and was a member of the Justice Committee from 2021 to 2023.
  • First published by Simon O’Connor from On Point
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