The opposition in Hong Kong feels threatened by the new security law. Since then, the question has arisen how Germany deals with activists who seek refuge. Now there is a first answer.
For the first time since the controversial security law for Hong Kong came into force, Germany has granted asylum to a refugee from the Chinese special administrative region. This comes from the asylum statistics of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees for September, which is available to the German Press Agency. The case could lead to new tensions between Germany and China. The Hong Kong government had already asked Consul General Dieter Lamlé for an interview on Wednesday after the first unconfirmed reports about the granting of asylum.
According to figures from the Federal Office, a total of three decisions on asylum applications were made by citizens of the former British colony of Hong Kong in the first nine months of this year. Two were negative, one was positive in September. In addition, further cases of refugees from Hong Kong could be hidden in the statistics for Chinese citizens without special status. For the whole of China including Hong Kong, asylum was granted in a total of 61 of 416 cases between January and September.
“I am concerned about my family’s safety”
On Monday, the Hong Kong activist group Haven Assistance announced on Facebook that a 22-year-old supporter of the protest movement in Germany had received political asylum. The student calls herself Elaine and claims to have applied for asylum in Germany at the end of last year. She came to Germany in November after being temporarily arrested at a demonstration in Hong Kong, she told the dpa. “I am grateful to the German government for providing me with everything I need.”
Elaine doesn’t want to say where she is currently for security reasons. “I am still concerned about the safety of my family in Hong Kong, too.”
Elaine’s notification of asylum, which the dpa has received, dates from September 4th and was given to her on October 14th. She can imagine that Hong Kong’s new security law was “one of the factors” in deciding on her asylum application, she says.
One country, two systems
After months of mass protests against the government, China passed the highly controversial law in late June. It is directed against activities that China sees as subversive, separatist or terrorist.
Since July 1, 1997, Hong Kong has been part of China again, but is governed according to the principle of “one country, two systems”. The agreement from that time actually provides that Hong Kongers enjoy “a high degree of autonomy” and many freedoms for 50 years until 2047. The security law is now considered to be the most extensive encroachment on this autonomy and gives China’s state security extensive powers.
Two prominent Hong Kong activists had already received political asylum in Germany in 2018. One of them is 27-year-old Ray Wong, who is now studying politics in Göttingen. He doubts that activists from Hong Kong will now flee to Germany on a large scale. Since the security law came into force at the end of June, he has not been aware of a single case, he told the dpa.
The Chinese government protested as early as 2018
Wong sees three reasons for this. The first is the corona pandemic, which has led to massive entry restrictions for non-EU citizens. English-speaking countries such as Great Britain and Canada are also more attractive to Hong Kong residents. And then there is the lengthy asylum procedure in Germany, which Wong describes as “not very friendly”.
The fact that Germany granted asylum to Hong Kong residents led to protests by the Chinese leadership after the 2018 cases. As in the past, the government in Hong Kong called the German Consul General for an interview, which this time the Deputy Prime Minister Matthew Cheung led.
Possibly further tensions between Germany and China
If the reports on the granted refugee status were received, this would be “decidedly rejected”, it said in a statement afterwards. Cheung said that foreign governments should not interfere in the internal affairs of Hong Kong and China. Granting asylum would send the wrong message to criminals that they could evade prosecution, it said.
The confirmation of the granting of asylum could now lead to further tensions between Germany and China. The federal government had already reacted to the security law with sanctions. An extradition agreement for criminals with Hong Kong has been suspended and the export of goods that could be used by the police or other government agencies to suppress or monitor the population has been suspended.
The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had forbidden any outside interference during a visit to Berlin in early September. China’s actions in Hong Kong fall “under the category of internal China affairs,” he said.