China’s Communists Once Used Hong Kong To Subvert A Mainland Government – Analysis


By Ching Cheong 

Beijing insisted Hong Kong pass stringent security legislation known as Article 23 due to fears that the city would be used as a base from which to bring down the government — because that’s exactly what the Chinese Communist Party used the city for.

Hong Kong passed the Safeguarding National Security Law on March 23 as a mandatory obligation under Article 23 of the city’s Basic Law. It was billed by the government as a way to close “loopholes” in the already stringent 2020 National Security Law, which was imposed on the city by Beijing, ushering in a crackdown on dissent in the wake of the 2019 protest movement.

But its roots go much further back in history, according to a veteran journalist and a legal expert, to when the Chinese Communist Party was itself trying to overthrow the Chinese government led by the Kuomintang nationalists.

Secret documents recently declassified by the Chinese government reveal how the Chinese Communist Party used Hong Kong as a base from which to subvert the 1911 Republic of China regime founded by Sun Yat-sen after the fall of the Qing Dynasty.

Reading these documents, I found that the Chinese Communist Party turned Hong Kong into a base for propaganda, for United Front[outreach and influence] operations, organizational operations and mass mobilization.

The setting up of these various bases can be traced back to the 1930s, and were documented in a report made by Wu Youheng, then secretary of the Hong Kong municipal party committee, to the Central Committee.

The Chinese Communist Party really did turn Hong Kong into a base for subverting the central government and dividing China. This is a key reason why Beijing has always seen Hong Kong as a potential threat to its grip on power, due to its relative freedom and connectedness to the outside world.

From Hong Kong, Chinese communists raised funds to finance their campaigns, stored equipment and other reserves, and trained new cadres, according to party documents and other historical texts.

Supply and communication line

Hong Kong also formed part of a secret supply line that ran along the southeastern coast to Shanghai, then to the party’s Central Revolutionary Base in the eastern province of Jiangxi, and people also moved along the route.

Through this secret communication line used to move supplies and arms, more than 200 important leading cadres of the Communist Party of China including Zhou Enlai and Liu Shaoqi were sent to Hong Kong for rest and recuperation.

This secret supply line was also an important channel for the communists to receive arms from the Soviet Union.

Even more importantly, the Chinese Communist Party took advantage of the relative freedom enjoyed by Hong Kong residents under British rule to set up a command center from which to run its entire military operation for the South China region in the city.

Even the first provincial party committee for Guangdong province was set up in Hong Kong, on Aug. 7, 1927.

By January 1939, the party had set up a southern branch of its Central Committee to direct political, military, mass struggle and other work throughout southern China, and held a major conference in the city’s Wanchai district in 1947. The Wanchai Conference, where participants talked about waging guerrilla warfare against the Kuomintang regime, including a concept they termed “red separatism.”

The Chinese Communist Party has itself made full use of Hong Kong’s freedoms to subvert the central government of the Republic of China and implement armed separatism to split the country.

It is precisely because of this historical experience that the party is very aware of Hong Kong’s potential to overthrow a corrupt regime, and is very afraid that others will use their own tactics against them. This is the deep-seated reason why Beijing is afraid of Hong Kong.

‘Political city’

Those fears were brought into far sharper focus on June 4, 1989, when around a million Hong Kongers turned out in protest at the massacre of civilians in and around Tiananmen Square by the People’s Liberation Army, according to Eric Lai, a research fellow at the Center for Asian Law, Georgetown University.

“With so many Hong Kong people supporting the Tiananmen student movement, they thought it would likely continue to be a thorn in the Chinese Communist Party’s side after the 1997 handover,” Lai said. 

He said Beijing revised Article 23 of the planned Basic Law after that event, adding in a number of “national security” crimes including “subverting the central government,” “collusion with foreign forces,” a crime for which pro-democracy media magnate Jimmy Lai is currently on trial.

Since that day, Chinese officials including former Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office director Lu Ping resolved that Hong Kong could never be allowed to become “a political city.” 

Lu said that once Hong Kong becomes a political city, there will be endless internal disputes that will give opportunities for foreign forces [to interfere], Lu Ping’s view was shared by almost all the communists I knew in Beijing.

Today, Hong Kong is once more a power base for the Chinese Communist Party, with the city’s Committee for Safeguarding National Security wielding huge power on Beijing’s behalf, according to Eric Lai.

“The Article 23 legislation … once again confirms that the Committee for Safeguarding National Security has supreme power and further consolidates the legitimacy of its rule,” Lai told RFA Mandarin in a recent interview.

What’s more, the legislation has become a vehicle for the translation of legal concepts previously only used in mainland China’s judicial system to Hong Kong’s courts, compromising their independence, Lai said.

“Hong Kong used to have an independent judiciary, civil society, and an independent legal profession,” Lai said. “The overall situation is very unfavorable for that [now].”

Additional reporting by Chen Zifei for RFA Mandarin. Translated and compiled by Luisetta Mudie.


Radio Free Asia’s mission is to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press. Content used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

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