A string of figures critical of the Chinese Communist Party have said they have been denied visas to Hong Kong, sparking accusations of a secret “blacklist” that bears signs of Beijing’s growing influence over the territory.
Taiwanese academics Wu Rwei-ren (吳叡人) and Wu Jieh-min (吳介民) of Academia Sinica, due to speak at a conference in Hong Kong today, were the latest to say their visa applications had been rejected without explanation.
Their cases followed a high-profile incident in October, when British activist Benedict Rogers, deputy chairman of the governing Conservative Party’s human rights commission, was turned away by immigration after landing for what he said was a private trip.
Rogers has previously criticized the jailing of democracy campaigners in Hong Kong, calling it “one of the most grotesque miscarriages of justice I have seen.”
Semi-autonomous Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland since being handed back to China by Britain in 1997, under a “one country, two systems” deal. However, there are rising concerns that those liberties are under threat.
The territory’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, stipulates immigration affairs are managed internally, but analysts have said decisions over who is allowed in are increasingly arbitrary and nontransparent, sparking concern that immigration is becoming a political battleground.
“Things that were not considered a threat are now seen as threats,” Hong Kong Baptist University assistant professor of government and international studies Edmund Cheng (鄭煒) said.
In a controversial response to media questions over the Rogers case, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) refused to provide details about why he was refused entry, but suggested that matters of immigration can involve diplomatic considerations, for which Beijing is responsible.
“This redefines some of the boundaries in ‘one country, two systems,’” Cheng said.
China banned a cross-party delegation of British lawmakers from entering Hong Kong in 2014, at the height of the mass pro-democracy “Umbrella movement” rallies.
That visit was part of an examination of the former colony’s relations with the UK.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo (毛孟靜) said she believed Hong Kong was “giving up” its own authority on immigration issues.
“The whole thing was unthinkable 10 years ago, but now it’s happening,” Mo told reporters.
Wu Rwei-ren accused the Hong Kong government of having a “blacklist” that was expanding to academics.
Lawmakers from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Taiwan’s leading anti-China advocates have also previously been rejected from entering Hong Kong.
“Taiwan’s academics have actively participated in social movements,” Wu Rwei-ren told reporters.
He believes Beijing wants to block communication between Taiwanese groups and opposition forces in Hong Kong “to isolate its civil society and render it helpless.”
Wu is coauthor of a book on Hong Kong nationalism and took part in the 2014 Sunflower movement.
He said he could not get an entry permit when he applied online to attend a seminar in Hong Kong this month, although he had previously been permitted to visit the territory.
Wu Jieh-min has also been critical of Beijing and Hong Kong authorities, and participated in various social movements.
Asked about the academics, the Hong Kong Immigration Department said it could not comment on individual cases, adding that it would “consider all the factors” when assessing an application.
The department did not respond specifically to questions about allegations of a blacklist.
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