Tag Archives: National Security Law

An Apple A Day For How Many More Days?

Offices of Apple Daily and its parent company Next Digital

BILLIONAIRE JIMMY LAI’S Next Digital media group will decide on Friday if its Hong Kong newspaper, Apple Daily, can carry on with its founder in jail, its top editorial and business executives in detention or on bail and its bank accounts frozen.

Some 500 police raided the company’s offices on June 17 on the grounds that the newspaper’s reports had breached the national security law. Six executives were detained in separate operations at their homes, including the company’s chief executive, Cheung Kim-hung, and the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Ryan Law, on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces or external elements to endanger national security.

Authorities subsequently said that Apple Daily had published more than 30 articles calling on countries to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and mainland China since 2019. Cheung and Law have been charged under the national security law. Lai, one of the most prominent supporters of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, is currently in jail for a series of charges, including participating in an unauthorised assembly in 2019 during the pro-democracy demonstrations.

The paper has continued to publish despite a lack of access to its bank accounts. Hongkongers have been buying copies in large numbers to show their support. However, its future is precarious, and it could be disbanded by authorities regardless if found guilty of breaking the national security law. If it fails to pay its staff at the end of the month, it would also be in violation of labour laws due to salary arrears.

There are two possible interpretations of authorities’ motivations. One is that closing Apple Daily is part of the continuing campaign against Lai and his continuing defiance. The other is that it is a broader strike against press freedom in its overall drive to impose stability. Whichever, the longer-term impact is likely to be the same, removing the most critical voice of Beijing within Hong Kong’s media and a chilling effect on any that attempt to fill the vacuum it leaves.

It will not, however, change any minds on whether Beijing intends to silence public dissent. That argument is already settled.

Nor is it likely to be instrumental in making companies decided whether to stay or leave. The raid on Apple Daily well illustrated how the ambiguity of the national security law could be applied, especially the ill-defined nature of colluding with foreign forces or external elements.

Any foreign company with experience of operating in China will be familiar with that aspect of the country’s legal system. 

Update: Apple Daily says Thursday’s edition will be its last and that it will close, citing staff safety in its announcement.

1 Comment

Filed under Hong Kong, Media, Politics & Society

Hong Kong’s Half-Life

ONE COUNTRY, TWO SYSTEMS survived in Hong Kong for less than half of its allotted 50 years. The sweeping changes to the city’s already limited democracy rubber stamped by the National People’s Congress this week dissolve any lingering hope that Hong Kong could end up as something other than just another big city in southern China.

The new arrangement for appointments to the Legislative Council (LegCo) ensure elected opposition voices will be numerical swamped even if by some unlikely chance they survive the vetting test of being ‘patriotic’. The National Security Law that Beijing imposed last year has similarly killed street protest.

This Bystander has heard several mentions of Hong Kong becoming an epistocracy rather than a democracy. Beijing would certainly agree that it is the one that knows what is best for the governance of Hong Kong’s many.

2 Comments

Filed under Hong Kong

Hong Kong Arrests Stifle Opposition Online

HONG KONG’S NEW National Security Law is being applied in exemplary fashion, in the sense that it is making examples of a few to discourage the many.

Police arrested four students, the oldest 21, the youngest 16, for violating the law, accusing them of posting to social media ‘content about secession, and inciting or abetting others for the commission of secession’. The postings appear to have been made since the new law took effect on July 1.

Eleven people had been detained under the law for carrying material promoting Hong Kong’s independence, most during protests on the day against the new law’s introduction, but these four additional arrests are the first targeted under the law. They are clearly intended to chill freedom of expression, particularly online.

‘The internet is not a virtual space beyond the law,’ police said it a statement.

The arrests, and the denial of bail to the four, will also instil a sense that anyone can be snared, thus further discouraging opposition groups from testing where Beijing’s red lines lie in implementing the new law.

Young Hongkongers are likely to be a particular target. Data newly released by police on protest-related arrests in the first half of this year show that two out of five of the 9,216 people detained were students, of whom 45% were high schoolers.

The arrests have also fuelled speculation of postponement of the Legislative Council elections due to be held on September 6. Opposition groups had hoped to use these to demonstrate widespread support against Beijing’s actions, including disbarring some opposition politicians from standing as candidates.

The government will want to avoid another embarrassment like last November’s district elections in which pro-democracy candidates won a landslide. The resurgent Covid-19 pandemic could provide it with an excuse.

Update: The government has announced a one-year postponement of the LegCo elections, citing the health risk. The delay will weaken the legitimacy of an electoral process that starts slanted in favour of pro-Beijing candidates and of an already unrepresentative legislature.

1 Comment

Filed under Hong Kong

US Adds To Sanctions Armoury With Hong Kong Law

US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP has signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act into law. This affords him sweeping powers to impose financial sanctions on officials, financial institutions and Chinese state entities that his administration deems to be aiding and abetting the new national security law Beijing has imposed on Hong Kong.

He has also signed an executive order that would end preferential trade treatment for the territory. Exports from Hong Kong will now be subject to the same tariffs the United States imposes on goods from the mainland.

The scope of the new sanctions will be far broader than the Magnitsky Act financial sanctions announced on July 9 on four Chinese officials it charges are responsible for human rights violations against the predominantly Muslim ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang.

They will also make it more difficult for US and European firms to preserve all of their operations in Hong Kong, especially those that require confidentiality and data protection. The Catch-22 is that Hong Kong’s national security law makes it illegal to comply with US sanctions against Hong Kong and China.

Coming the same day as Trump administration officials were celebrating the exclusion of Huawei Technologies from the United Kingdom’s 5G network, the new sanction powers are only likely to hasten the day when companies will have to choose between doing business with the United States or China. The day Hong Kong is just another big city in southern China is even closer to hand.

Update: The Foreign Ministry has condemned both the signing of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act into Law and the removal of Hong Kong’s special trade status as ‘gross interference’ in internal affairs. China promises retaliatory measures for both.

3 Comments

Filed under China-U.S., Hong Kong, Trade

China Puts Its Hong Kong Enforcers In Place

A vessel bearing the slogan 'celebrating the passage of the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region' seen in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong, July 1, 2020. Photo credit: Xinhua

THE HONG KONG government has appointed its committee to oversee the territory’s new National Security Law. It will be headed by Chan Kwok-ki as secretary-general. but the man who matters is Zheng Yanxiong, newly appointed to be head of the office Beijing is setting up to oversee the law, an office that will report directly to Beijing.

Zheng has most recently been the Party boss in Guangdong, best known for his crackdown in Wukan, a village in the province that had a short-lived exercise in local democracy following a citizen’s revolt against local officials’ land grabs back in 2011.

Luo Huining, who heads Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, has been appointed as National Security Advisor to the city’s chef executive, Carrie Lam.

Six judges have been appointed to the special courts that will hear cases under the new law. The first case brought before it was that of Tong Ying-kit, a 23-year-old motorcyclist accused of riding into a group of policemen during the protest on July 1 carrying a flag calling for the liberation of Hong Kong. Chief Magistrate Victor So Wai-tak presided. The other five judges are not yet known.

Meanwhile, US lawmakers have passed legislation imposing sanctions on Chinese officials involved with the imposition of the new law.

That will cut no ice with Beijing. Indeed, Deng Zhonghua, deputy chief of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told CCTV that the new National Security Law ‘is not a one-off’.

1 Comment

Filed under Hong Kong

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.

6 Comments

Filed under Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s National Security Law Smothers Dissent

Hong Kong skyline, September 2014

FLESH IS BEING put on the bones of the new national security law that Beijing is imposing on Hong Kong. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress reviewed a draft late last week. The full text has yet to be made public but the summary that was released will do little to reassure many in Hong Kong that the territory’s independent legal system under ‘one country, two systems’ will be anything but undercut.

Even state media’s assurances that under the new law, ‘anyone shall be presumed innocent until convicted by the judicial organs’ managed to convey that conviction was the inevitable endpoint of the process. As there is to be a new class of courts dealing with national security cases, with judges chosen by Hong Kong’s chief executive, herself handpicked by Beijing and to be advised by a new national security adviser appointed by Beijing, that very likely will be what the future holds.

At the same time, the chief executive is to appoint a commission to oversee national security in Hong Kong which will report directly to Beijing. Other key aspects of the law include Beijing’s ability to intervene directly in national security cases, taking them under mainland law. Beijing will also supervise the policing of threats to national security in the territory. These are broadly defined under the headings of secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities and collusion with foreign or external forces, a swathe of offences broad enough for the Party to pursue any activity that it does not like.

The official narrative is one of the need for the new legislation to secure law and order in Hong Kong so it will remain attractive to foreign businesses and investors. That may betray a misunderstanding of what made Hong Kong attractive to foreign capital in the first place. Mainland firms will readily fill any vacuum, however, accelerating the absorption process. For residents, protest looks decreasingly viable or sustainable, but that is the intent.

Update: The South China Morning Post reports that the full text of the new law will not be published until after it is passed, which is expected to be by June 30, the eve of the 23rd anniversary of China’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong.

2 Comments

Filed under Hong Kong

China’s New National Security Law Emits An Icy Blast

CHINA HAS PASSED a National Security Law that sweeps a broad range of economic, political and social activities within its remit. The new legislation is far more all-encompassing than the counter-espionage law that it replaces. Pretty much anything Beijing wants to consider as a matter of national security it now has the legal footing to do so.

That can include ideology and culture, energy security, economic development, information, financial stability and just about everything in between. Civil rights campaigners have expressed disquiet about China’s growing crackdown on activism and dissent. Those concerns are only likely to be amplified by forthcoming counterterrorism and foreign NGOs legislation.

However, the greatest impact of the new law could be felt by companies. It requires that internet and information systems must be “secure and controllable” by the government. That makes foreign financial firms and IT companies extremely uncomfortable, but all foreign firms should be uneasy.

Much will depend on how discriminating China chooses to be in implementing the new National Security Law. Many ministries and agencies can make use of it to pursue policy objectives, including the promotion of domestic national champions. Some parts of government may use the new law aggressively, others sparingly.

The selectiveness of application can give foreign companies the impression that they risk having the law brought down on them seemingly randomly. That, in itself, will have a chilling effect.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics & Society