DNA surveillance fears raised as Beijing intervenes in Hong Kong’s coronavirus efforts
10/05/2020 // Franz Walker // Views

Beijing’s move to directly intervene in Hong Kong’s management of its Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has led to fears that the former is trying to exert more control over the territory under the guise of support.

Last week, Chinese authorities announced plans to send a 60-person team into the former British colony to assist in conducting widespread COVID-19 testing through nucleic acid tests.

The move marks the first time that mainland health officials have assisted Hong Kong in its fight to control the disease. However, it comes amid growing distrust of Beijing’s presence in the semi-autonomous territory.

Intervention comes after spike in new infections

Hong Kong has only had 3,500 coronavirus cases and 34 deaths since January – well below the numbers reported in other metropolitan centers around the globe. However, the daily number of new infections has been at triple digits in the past 12 days. (Related: Hong Kong experiencing a record jump in coronavirus cases.)

On Saturday, August 1, Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam said that she had asked for help from Beijing because of the resurgence in cases. She also said that the government was looking into whether everyone in Hong Kong could be tested, according to local broadcaster RTHK.

On Sunday, a group of local Hong Kong councilors said that some residents fear that Beijing may be using the testing team as an opportunity to collect DNA samples for surveillance purposes.

This was denied by the territory’s government, which claimed that the virus testing would only be conducted in the city and that samples would not be transported to the mainland.


The intervention comes following a surge in locally transmitted COVID-19 cases in July. This prompted the territory’s government to introduce new rules, including a restriction on gatherings to two people and mandating face masks in all outdoor public spaces.

Laboratory involved in tests has spotty human rights record

According to Yu Dewen, leader of the 60-member team, the testing will involve the Hong Kong branches of three mainland laboratories.

“With the support team joining hands with the mainland institutions, we can greatly increase testing capacity,” Yu said on August 3.

One of the laboratories involved is run by gene sequencing and bioengineering firm Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) Group. Two subsidiaries of the BGI Group are currently blacklisted in the United States over their role in “conducting genetic analyses used to further the repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities” in the Xinjiang region, according to the Department of Commerce. This ban blocks the company from accessing American goods and technology.

The BGI Group, according to a recent Axios report, collected DNA samples from Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region in circumstances where consent was likely impossible. The report says that these acts were contractually agreed upon in a memorandum signed between BGI and local party officials in 2016.

Beijing’s DNA surveillance efforts have led watchdog groups to raise alarms.

“The Chinese Government is building the world’s largest police-run DNA database in close cooperation with key industry partners across the globe,” stated the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in a report last June.

“This program of mass DNA data collection violates Chinese domestic law and global human rights norms. And, when combined with other surveillance tools, it will increase the power of the Chinese state and further enable domestic repression in the name of stability maintenance and social control,” it added.

Beijing exerting more control over Hong Kong

Beijing’s intervention in Hong Kong’s coronavirus efforts comes after it imposed a controversial security law on the territory back in June. The law was supposedly meant to tackle what Beijing defines as secession, subversion and collusion with a foreign power, making these punishable with up to life in prison.

The law was widely criticized internationally as undermining Hong Kong’s territory. The latter was supposed to have been guaranteed under a “one country, two systems” formula when the U.K. returned the territory to Chinese control in 1997.

However, it seems that efforts to exert more control over the territory using the coronavirus pandemic extend much further.

On July 31, the government claimed that the new wave of positive cases had forced it to postpone the Legislative Council elections, originally slated for September 6. This move, which came 12 days after 12 pro-democracy candidates were disqualified from running, was immediately seen as an effort to use the coronavirus to suppress democracy.

Lam, conceding that the order went against Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, told media that she had asked Beijing to intervene.

On Sunday, the Bar Association, which regulates barristers in Hong Kong, labeled the move “alarming.” It said that there were “serious doubts about the legal and evidential basis of the Government’s decision.”

In their statement, the association said that the Hong Kong government had effectively invited Beijing to override relevant provisions of Hong Kong’s Basic Law and its legislation to get past any legal challenges.

“This is contrary to the principles of legality and legal certainty and degrades the rule of law in Hong Kong.”

Learn more about how Beijing is slowly destroying Hong Kong’s democracy at Tyranny.news.

Sources include:




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