HONG KONG • Embattled Hong Kong publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai – one of the financial hub’s most prominent democracy activists – yesterday said he would fight “till the last” against Beijing’s imposition of a national security law and keep publishing.
“What I have, this place gave me, I will fight on till the last day. It will be (an) honour if I… sacrifice,” Mr Lai said from his office.
Mr Lai, considered a thorn in the side of China, has been identified by observers as one of the main potential targets of the new law that will outlaw subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign interference in the city.
While details of the law have not yet been finalised by Beijing, some critics say new sedition regulations could make it easier to muzzle media outlets like the tycoon’s.
Mr Lai’s remarks came ahead of an expected announcement by US President Donald Trump to specify what fresh action the United States would take against China over the move.
“Definitely outside support, the so-called foreign influence, is our only salvation… I think if the Americans support us very strongly, the other countries will follow through. America has to take the lead,” said Mr Lai.
He founded Next Digital, which is considered one of the key remaining bastions of media freedom in Hong Kong.
Next Digital publishes popular tabloid Apple Daily, known for its feisty and critical coverage of China and Hong Kong, that has been hit by dwindling advertising revenues as well as frequent attacks by pro-Beijing voices in the city.
The US State Department said the national security regime means Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, but Mr Trump has yet to specify what action, such as sanctions, he will take.
Chinese officials say the new law is vital to secure the city after protracted anti-government protests, but critics warn the legislation will erode the autonomy and freedoms promised to Hong Kong when Britain handed the former colony back to China in 1997.
Mr Lai has been arrested twice this year on illegal assembly charges, along with other leading activists, relating to protests in Hong Kong last year.
Mr Lai said he expected Mr Trump would scale up the pressure on China, possibly initially through asset seizures and other specific sanctions, in part to portray his rival Joe Biden as weak ahead of the US presidential election in November.
“The whole thing is not about Hong Kong, the whole thing is about China. You have to make them (Beijing) personally responsible so they feel the pain,” he said.