China has been accused of using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to take some bold and provocative actions, including expansions in the South China Sea, crackdowns on activists in Hong Kong and further detention of activists in the mainland. Some analysts have suggested Beijing is sending a message that China’s aggressive foreign policy is still business as usual, or testing its adversaries for weaknesses.
The frequent protests that have rocked Hong Kong for months were already in a lull when the outbreak started, but amid fears of an epidemic in Hong Kong they have almost completely stopped. The Chinese government and its supportive Hong Kong counterparts are taking advantage of the break to try ensure they don’t start up again. More than 7,000 people have been arrested on charges relating to the protest rallies, some of which drew millions to the street, but the arrests of senior figures in February and then again on Saturday have drawn sharp rebuke.
Martin Lee, the 81-year-old founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic party, has said there will be more fatalities and protests if authorities try to pass anti-subversion laws – which would outlaw “sedition, subversion and the theft of state secrets” – before the September legislature election. “The Communist party won’t show any mercy” he told the Guardian. “They have already stated their stance.”