Remarks by National Democratic Institute Senior Advisor Adam Nelson to the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations 

Monday, November 9, 2020

Remarks by National Democratic Institute Senior Advisor Adam Nelson to the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations 

House of Commons, Canada

November 9, 2020

(As prepared)

Watch video here.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I’m Adam Nelson, Senior Advisor on the Asia-Pacific team at the National Democratic Institute dialing in from Washington, DC. I want to acknowledge that Washington DC is the traditional lands of Anacostan/ Piscataway people.

I am always happy to speak about the future of democracy and human rights in Hong Kong. The city is near and dear to my heart as I spent nearly a decade living, working, and studying there - primarily focused on democracy, human rights, and social entrepreneurship in both mainland China and Hong Kong. With offices in over 50 countries, NDI is a non-partisan, non-governmental organization that has worked for over 35 years to promote democratic principles of transparency, accountability and inclusion worldwide and support the development of democratic institutions. We work closely with our sister organizations -- the International Republican Institute, Center for International Private Enterprise, and Solidarity Center. 

Along with many other global donors, Global Affairs Canada has been a strong supporter of our work -- particularly in the Middle East and Eurasia. We thank them for that support.  

Before I speak about NDI’s work in Hong Kong. I would like to note, in the realm of relations with China, NDI stands for pro-democracy, not anti-China. Since 1997, NDI has worked with partners from across the political spectrum to help Hong Kong realize the democratic promises made in the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration. We have done this by partnering or working with Hong Kong academic institutions, the entire range of political parties and civil society groups to advance nonpartisan research, education and dialogue to support inclusive and citizen-responsive governance. 

In addition, NDI has conducted regular, comprehensive assessments of Hong Kong's democratic progress, including rule of law and protection of civil liberty as part of our ongoing "Promise of Democratization in Hong Kong" series. 

Clearly our efforts have had an impact. Fearing our work, Beijing singled us out as an organization -- and NDI's president for sanctions to get us to stop our programs. We are not. In fact, we are looking at ways to expand to continue supporting the people of Hong Kong in their democratic aspirations. 

The fundamental challenge with Hong Kong’s new NSL -- barring succession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces -- is mainly that the law can be and is now being used for whatever Beijing or Hong Kong’s leadership want it to be. They will fit any action, whether peaceful protest or criticism, into the law. 

We have seen pro-democracy champions arrested and charged, young people grabbed off of Hong Kong’s streets, legislators harassed, and independent media attacked. 

Some have found the operating environment so fearful that they have fled the city to the UK, Europe, Taiwan, the US and Canada. We also see Beijing’s strident wolf warrior diplomacy in play when their ambassadors strike out and threaten the west in response to any criticism of China’s abuses under the NSL.

NDI itself is seeing a rising fear among our historic partners. Some partners fear the NSL enough to curtail their relationship with NDI -- thereby having the intended impact, a chilling effect on democratic discussion. Many pro-democracy groups, aside from certain key leaders, fear standing out in advocacy or statements -- for fear of their families being targeted back in HK, or arrest upon return. 

But NDI will continue to support efforts on two lines: 

  • Support pockets of democratic resilience in Hong Kong’s now closing space. 
  • International advocacy - Liaise with the international community on democracy and governance issues facing Hong Kong, primarily working to amplify HK citizen views. 

We are currently finalizing the report for our latest public opinion poll. In the last several years, we have conducted a series of surveys to gauge Hong Kong citizens’ perspectives on democratic development and political reform. The second survey was conducted in the Fall 2018, and this latest was done in Fall 2019, which has provided a direct comparison on how the protest movement affected people’s attitudes. One notable result -- prioritization of democracy over the economy -- especially among young people. 

We have also just begun a comprehensive remote analysis that will examine the political environment in the aftermath of the NSL and the decision to delay the Legislative Council elections. 

We are working with Canadian partners to conduct polling and social media monitoring to look at the information environment and map the sources and proliferation of dis and misinformation -- work we are also now doing strongly with civic technology partners in Taiwan.The polling is still in the field, but shows some indication of lack of trust in a credible polling environment ahead of the LegCo elections next year and a strong desire for Hong Kongers to leave the city. 

We would appreciate the opportunity to reconnect to share the findings. 

Canada has a long history of leveraging its moral standing within the global community to push and advocate on democracy and human rights.  I would be happy to speak about how the Government of Canada can continue to play a constructive role in light of the situation in Hong Kong.

Merci encore. 

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