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Hong Kong Civic Party members hold a press conference on January 6, 2021, following the arrest of dozens of opposition figures. Photo: Anthony Wallace/ AFP via Getty Images.

On Jan. 6, Hong Kong authorities arrested more than 50 pro-democracy activists and politicians who participated in primary elections last year, charging them with "subverting state power" under the national security law that China forced on the city last year.

The big picture: The arrests indicate Chinese Communist Party leaders see any form of true participatory government as an illegitimate subversion of their power.

  • The arrests also suggest Beijing believes it will face no meaningful resistance from western countries. China enters 2021 as the only major economy that experienced significant growth in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Details: On Wednesday morning, a thousand Hong Kong police fanned out around the city, swarming 72 locations and eventually rounding up at least 53 pro-democracy activists and politicians, police said.

  • Most of those arrested, including former political candidates Tiffany Yuen, Gwyneth Ho, Alvin Yeung, Fergus Leung and Ventus Lau, had participated in unofficial primaries held in advance of the legislative elections originally slated for fall 2020 but canceled by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who cited the coronavirus pandemic as a pretext.
A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.
  • Among the detained is John Clancy, an American lawyer who serves as the Hong Kong-based chairman of the Asian Human Rights Commission, and the first known foreign citizen without a Hong Kong passport to be arrested in Hong Kong under the auspices of the national security law.
  • Police also searched the premises of three Hong Kong news outlets and demanded they turn over information.

What they're saying: "The operation today targets the active elements who are suspected to be involved in the crime of overthrowing, or interfering (and) seriously destroy the Hong Kong government's legal execution of duties," said Hong Kong security minister John Lee in a press conference.

What's next: The national security law prescribes harsh punishments for offenders, including prison terms of up to 10 years or life in prison for those deemed the worst offenders.

  • The law also allows defendants to be transported to mainland China and tried in its courts, which are fully under the political control of the Chinese Communist Party.

So far, China has subjugated Hong Kong with near impunity. Condemnations of the arrests poured in on Wednesday, as the European Union, Germany, and U.S. leaders called on China to respect rights in Hong Kong.

  • But while western leaders have frequently criticized China's actions in Hong Kong over the past year, few have taken substantive action.
  • The U.S. has levied sanctions on some top Hong Kong and Chinese government officials involved in the political crackdown and downgraded the city's special economic status. Britain, the city's former colonizer, has opened its borders to Hong Kong residents who wish to resettle there.
  • But there have been no sweeping sanctions, China has faced no lasting diplomatic repercussions and has not been sidelined in any international organizations.
  • Last week, the EU even agreed to an investment deal with China, in a move widely seen as a major geopolitical win for Beijing just weeks before the Biden administration takes up the mantle of U.S. leadership.

What to watch: The home of protest leader Joshua Wong, who is currently serving time in prison for organizing an "illegal assembly" last year, was also raided — suggesting that the prominent activist may soon face further charges.

The bottom line: With these arrests, Beijing demonstrated that what the national security law prohibits is democracy itself.

Go deeper

John Kerry: U.S.-China climate cooperation is a "critical standalone issue"

President Biden's special climate envoy John Kerry said Wednesday that the U.S. must deal with China on climate change as a "critical standalone issue," but stressed that confronting Beijing's human rights and trade abuses "will never be traded" for climate cooperation.

Why it matters: The last few years have brought about a bipartisan consensus on the threat posed by China. But as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China will be a vital player if the world is going to come close to reining in emissions on the scale needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

2 hours ago - World

In photos: Egypt unveils 3,000-year-old "lost golden city"

A view on Saturday of the city, dubbed "The Rise of Aten," dating to the reign of Amenhotep III, uncovered near Luxor. Photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty Images

A top Egyptian archaeologist on Saturday outlined details of a newly rediscovered "lost golden city" near Luxor that dates back more than 3,000 years.

Why it matters: Zahi Hawass told NBC News the large ancient city, unveiled Thursday, tells archaeologists for the first time "about the life of the people during the Golden Age." Johns Hopkins University Egyptology professor Betsy Brian said in a statement it's "the second most important archeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamen."

1 dead as severe storms pummel the South

A tree that fell on a home carport damaged a vehicle during a storm in Central, Louisiana. No injuries were reported, according to Central Fire Department. Photo: Central Fire Department/Twitter

Strong storms lashed the South early Saturday, spawning at least one tornado and unleashing powerful winds and hail. And forecasters warned more severe weather was expected to hit parts of the region in the coming hours.

Details: Thousands of customers lost power in Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, according to tracking site poweroutage.us. An F3 tornado that hit St Landry Parish, Louisiana, killed one person and wounded seven others.