Tag Archives: Basic Law

Hong Kong’s National Security Law Is Being Enacted

‘TIS DONE. Hong Kong’s new National Security Law has been approved, following another round of no doubt pro-forma discussion at the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. It will now become part of the city’s Basic Law.

State media reports that President Xi Jinping signed a presidential order to promulgate the law, which goes into effect as of the date of promulgation. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said the city’s government would complete the necessary steps so that the law would come into effect on June 30, the day before the anniversary of China’s resumption of sovereignty from the United Kingdom, a day of planned pro-democracy demonstrations.

At the time of writing, the full text is still yet to be made public, though its broad outlines are known. It criminalises activity in four areas — secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with a foreign country or ‘external elements’ to endanger national security — which gives authorities open-ended scope to suppress political dissent at will. The law will also extend the reach of mainland security forces into the city.

London and Brussels have been critical of Beijing’s imposition of the new law, which critics such as former governor Lord Patten say will end ‘one country, two systems’. Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Agnes Chow, among the best-known of Hong Kong’s democracy activists, say they are withdrawing from Demosisto, the party they founded in 2016 and which now says will disband.

Meanwhile, Washington has suspended Hong Kong’s trade privileges and banned weapons exports to it.

A statement from Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong indicates that none of that will carry much weight in Beijing:

Nobody should underestimate the central government’s determination to safeguard national security in Hong Kong, underestimate the firm binding powers of the law after it’s in force or underestimate the central and Hong Kong government agencies’ enforcement abilities.

Done and dusted.

Update: The text of the National Security Law has now been published (English translation).

Postscript: Mao Zedong told US President Richard Nixon that he could wait 100 years for the reunification of Taiwan, a diplomatically deft delay for both sides that allowed mutual acknowledgement of the One China policy that was to be the basis of re-establishing US-China relations. Beijing’s de facto truncation of the 50 years of ‘one country, two systems’ in Hong Kong, makes this Bystander wonder what time frame Xi has in mind to foreshorten Taiwan’s reunification.

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Beijing Takes Hong Kong Law Into Its Own Hands

Hong Kong skyline, September 2014

THE NIGHTMARE OUTCOME for Hong Kong of Beijing’s resumption of sovereignty in 1997 was that it would become just another large city in southern China.

That fate looked a huge step closer with the National People’s Congress reviewing a new security law for Hong Kong on May 22 that it is expected to approve by its conclusion on May 28.

The security law, which is required under the Article 23 of the Basic Law that sets outs the governance of Hong Kong’s ‘one country, two systems’ arrangements, would ban ‘treason, secession, sedition and subversion’ as well as foreign political organisations from conducting political activities in Hong Kong and Hong Kong political organisations from establishing ties in the opposite direction. It will also allow state security agencies to operate overtly in Hong Kong (they now operate covertly).

Moving the law forward now is a clear signal that Beijing has run out of patience with Hong Kong lawmakers’ inability to pass such legislation themselves. Not that its impatience was not already obvious. Thus Beijing is taking the law into its own hands, taking advantage of the NPC Standing Committee’s right to write law directly into the Basic Law that the Hong Kong administration then has to promulgate and implement.

Beijing is making no bones about its intent to have legislation in place so authorities can take ‘forceful measures’ to squash the mass pro-democracy protests that roiled the city last year and which were only brought to a halt by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Like all Chinese law, Hong Kong’s new national security law will have a broad, generalist framework. What will matter is how it is administered, and especially in a city like Hong Kong’s whose courts and legal system are distinct from the mainland. We have seen in other troublesome parts of China that what is locally held to be the expression of autonomous rights in the face of Party dictates can be readily labelled in Beijing as any or all of treason, secession, sedition and subversion, or even terrorism, also included in the draft security law.

Hong Kongers will be back on the streets, but Beijing’s discarding of the velvet glove, which has been in increasing evidence, may give any mass protests a different cast. The law’s provisions are even more severe than many Hong Kong activists had expected. More intimidatory tactics and the use of force against activists (and mainland dissidents based in the city) look certain.

Although Hong Kong does not have the death penalty, crimes endangering national security are capital offences in China.

The new law will also throw a dark shadow over September’s Legislative Council (Legco) elections in Hong Kong, which could deliver Beijing another bloody nose at the polls.

International reaction will be condemnatory, but whether this is followed up by action is debatable. The timing is provocative, given the deterioration of relations with the United States. The Trump administration has until the end of this month to certify Hong Kong’s autonomy from China under the Human Rights and Democracy Act that the US Congress passed last year. If it fails to do so, the city’s preferential US trading and investment status will be at risk.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose public support for Taiwan and sharp criticism of China over the pandemic and the recent arrests of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists infuriates Beijing, is signalling that that certification is far from certain. However, the mood in Beijing appears to be to drive ahead regardless, and to ride this moment of opportunity for an ascendant China. That is the bigger prize.

However, the two systems in ‘one country, two systems’ will then mean two systems run by Beijing, not one by Beijing and the other by Hong Kong. Because that is how it works in Chinese cities.

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