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Updated Dec 4, 2023, 10:56am EST
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Agnes Chow will likely never return to Hong Kong

Reuters/Tyrone Siu
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One of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists, who was arrested as part of the city’s broad crackdown on dissent, has announced that she has skipped bail and moved to Canada.

In a letter published on Instagram on her 27th birthday, Agnes Chow wrote that she had moved to Toronto in September to pursue her masters. She said she would not be following the police’s orders to return to Hong Kong in December as required to meet her bail conditions.

“I’ve decided not to go back, and probably will never return for the rest of my life,” Chow wrote.

Her potentially permanent departure from Hong Kong symbolizes the silencing of dissent and ongoing crackdown on basic freedoms that has worsened since the imposition of Beijing’s national security law in 2020.

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Chow’s announcement is likely an embarrassment to Hong Kong authorities who have ramped up threats towards dissidents living in exile, the New York Times reports. Chow wrote on Instagram that in order to get her passport back, she was required to visit Shenzhen — where she was escorted to the headquarters of Chinese technology giant Tencent — as well as attend an exhibition detailing the Communist Party’s accomplishments. After the trip, she had to write a letter of thanks to the police for exposing her to the “great developments of the motherland.” In allowing Chow to travel to Canada and her apparent willingness to visit the mainland, Beijing authorities may have wanted to use the activist as an example of a compliant and reformed dissident who was “‘repentant’ enough to be re-educated,” Steve Tsang, the head of SOAS’s China Institute in London, told the Times. It may have worked, but authorities “underestimate the spirit of the young people in Hong Kong,” he added.

Chow’s visit to the mainland is reflective of China’s decades-long history of attempting to indoctrinate citizens through “re-education.” The most widely-known example is the government’s crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang –– many who have been forced into re-education camps which China has claimed helps combat extremism. Hong Kong, under China’s influence, will introduce “patriotic” education in schools, including requiring elementary school students in 2025 to learn about national security and China’s achievements under the Communist Party’s rule. Secondary school textbooks will state that Hong Kong was not a British colony, and that there were external forces behind the 2019 pro-democracy protests, framing them as a national security threat. Chow’s announcement of self-exile and pressure from authorities shows “Hong Kong’s wholesale curtailment of basic freedoms,” writes Quartz reporter Mary Hui on X.

Chow’s announcement comes in the wake of reports that a South China Morning Post journalist has been unreachable for a month after a trip to Beijing to cover a defense forum — stoking fears that she could have been detained by Chinese authorities. A statement from Minnie Chan’s family that was published in the Alibaba-owned newspaper stated that Chan was on “personal leave” in Beijing and needed time to “handle a personal matter.” The SCMP has not addressed concerns about her welfare, and has dismissed her disappearance as speculation. In 2022, Al Jazeera reported that another SCMP reporter — who was not identified — had returned after a 9-month disappearance with a new assignment to cover less politically-sensitive topics.

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