Hong Kong’s security chief Chris Tang has said the government cannot allow acts that undermine the city’s national security under the pretext of “peaceful advocacy” and “artistic creations.”
Tang made the remarks in response to a demand from Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt who called for the return of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown monument, Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported on Aug. 22.
“No country will watch with folded arms acts and activities that endanger national security,” Tang warned.
“It is a common modus operandi of those seeking to endanger national security to engage in such acts and activities under the pretexts of ‘peaceful advocacy,’ ‘artistic creations’ and so forth,” Tang said.
The eight-meter towering sculpture representing the Tiananmen massacre had stood on the University of Hong Kong (HKU) campus for 24 years before it was removed by the authorities citing security concerns in December 2021.
The statue was reportedly seized by the national security police in May.
The Tiananmen crackdown on June 4, 1989, saw the Chinese military brutally crush months of student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died in the crackdown.
Galschiøt sent a letter to the Hong Kong administration on Aug. 11 seeking clarification on charges and arrest warrant against him.
Media reports say Galschiøt cited the Aug. 2 report on Sing Tao Daily indicating that he has been charged for creating “political disturbances” in Hong Kong through his sculpture.
“Are there charges filed against me, and if so, what are they? Has an arrest warrant been issued or is there a plan to issue one against me?” Galschiøt asked.
He told HKFP that he thought it was “completely crazy” that the sculpture was allegedly being used as evidence against pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.
Tang, in his response, had warned that the national security police will not hesitate to bring “any person who has violated the National Security Law to justice.”
Galschiøt, in a newsletter published on Aug. 21, pointed out that the Hong Kong administration had failed to give him a “clear answer” regarding his queries.
Galschiøt said that Tang’s idea that artistic creations were often used as a pretext for people to engage in acts jeopardizing national security amounted to “criminalizing Hong Kong arts.”
“In reality, this means that all advocates of peace and artists become suspects of criminal deeds,” Galschiøt said.
He lamented that the city was one of Asia’s freest art markets, but Tang’s comment could spark fears among artistic creators.
“As an artist, and I am sure I speak for the majority of artists, this is an extremely scary logic which can crush all types of artistic or creative creations,” Galschiøt said.
He also questioned the removal and seizure of his sculpture “The Pillar of Shame.”
Tang said that the removal and custody of the sculpture was under the sole discretion of the police “with legal or judicial authorization.”
“Any such property or exhibit seized will be handled and disposed of (if appropriate) in accordance with the law,” Tang said.
The former British colony has been in turmoil since 2019 when a massive pro-democracy movement engulfed the city after the pro-Beijing regime attempted to introduce an extradition bill that sought to deport fugitives to mainland China for trial.
The bill was dropped due to unrest. However, Beijing imposed the national security law in June 2020 bypassing Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the mini constitution.
The law gives sweeping powers to the police and criminalizes subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces, and terrorist acts, which were all broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.