China Passes National Security Law, ‘Suffocating’ Hong Kong

Delegates applaud as Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives for the closing session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, Thursday, May 28, 2020. China's ceremonial legislature has endorsed a national security law for Hong Kong that has strained relations with the United States and Britain. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), its rubber-stamp legislature, passed a draft law on Thursday eliminating Hong Kong’s autonomy, allowing the Communist Party to punish anyone in the nominally autonomous city for crimes such as “secession” and “acts against national security.”

Under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy that Beijing agreed to when the United Kingdom handed over Hong Kong in 1997, the Communist Party is banned from imposing or enforcing laws in the region. The policy requires Hong Kong to accept that Beijing has sovereignty over it – meaning it cannot maintain its own army or engage in global diplomacy alone – but Hong Kong authorities have the ultimate authority to write and enforce local laws.

After a year of protests against a growing number of attempts by dictator Xi Jinping to override “One Country, Two Systems,” the NPC asserted that Hong Kong’s authorities had not done enough to protect China’s “national security” from the existence of peaceful protests and Beijing needed to step in.

The Chinese propaganda outlet Global Times explained:

The new Hong Kong national security legislation entitles the central government’s national security organs to establish agencies in the SAR [special administrative region, Hong Kong’s official designation] to safeguard national security, while the chief executive of the Hong Kong SAR government will report to the central government at regular intervals.

The reports will include performance of duties in maintaining national security, conducting national security promotion education, and prohibiting acts that endanger national security according to law, details of the draft show.

The Global Times explicitly stated that the law would allow China to intervene in Hong Kong to stop “attempts to split the country, subvert state power, organize and perpetrate terrorist activities, including other actions that seriously endanger national security.”

Xinhua, the official Communist Party news agency, insisted the law was necessary “after prolonged social unrest” in Hong Kong, quoting a senior lawmaker in the NPC who stated the law was intended to replace “weak links” in Hong Kong’s laws that allowed residents too much freedom to dissent from the Party.

The version of the law passed on Thursday is a “draft,” meaning it does not have specific provisions in it yet, such as legal definitions of the crimes it covers or the sentences judges will be allowed to hand down to those found guilty. The NPC typically passes general versions of laws that then go into more detailed legal drafting by its “Standing Committee,” but its approval ensures that the bill is now officially a law. This ensures that the public will not see the law before it takes effect.

Despite the fact that the law usurps powers China promised would remain in the hands of Hong Kong officials, Premier Li Keqiang insisted at a press conference Thursday that the law does not violate the “One Country, Two Systems” policy.

“One Country, Two Systems is China’s basic state policy. The central government has all along fully and faithfully implemented [it] … under which the people of Hong Kong rule Hong Kong under the strict accordance of the constitution and Basic Law,” Li insisted.

Hong Kong’s senior officials, hand-picked by the Party, celebrated the law, which takes power out of their hands.

“Safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests is the constitutional duty of the HKSAR and concerns every Hong Kong citizen,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in a statement Thursday. Lam blamed Hong Kong’s legislature itself for not passing a similar law to silence dissent, making Beijing’s intervention necessary.

“Given the difficulty of the executive and legislative authorities of the HKSAR to complete on their own legislation … there is the need and the urgency for the passage of the Decision by the NPC to establish and improve the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for Hong Kong to safeguard national security at the state level,” Lam said. “It also shows the care of the country towards the HKSAR.”

Lam insisted the law would only affect “an extremely small minority of criminals who threaten national security.”

“It will not affect the legitimate rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents,” she added.

Prior to the law passing, Lam had alarmed many Hong Kong residents by repeatedly describing the fundamental rights and freedoms for which Hong Kong’s government brokered a deal with Beijing to safeguard as existing merely temporarily.

“For the time being, people have this freedom to say whatever they want to say,” Lam said this week. “Some of the things you have said about mainland [Chinese] agencies coming down to arrest people undergoing protests and they will be arrested for calling the chief executive to step down – at the moment are [in] your imagination.”

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy leaders described the law as “suffocating” on Thursday.

“The world needs to wake up because everyone has a stake here, whether you are an international business, whether you are an academic, a professor, a journalist, a student,” Dennis Kwok, a lawmaker for the pro-democracy Civic Party, told broadcaster RTHK. “The air has gone out of Hong Kong today, and it is suffocating.”

RTHK quoted Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung as saying, “2,878 people voted on Hong Kong’s future, of those 2,878 people, how many of them have never been to Hong Kong? Or seen the situation in Hong Kong?”

Another lawmaker for the HK First party, Claudia Mo, accused China of having “practically taken away our soul, our soul being the values we’ve been treasuring all these years: rule of law, human rights.”

The leader of the anti-China Demosisto movement, Joshua Wong, argued in remarks on Twitter that the international community must respond to the “national security” law because it allows China to persecute foreign nations on Hong Kong soil. As a global financial hub, Hong Kong attracted many foreigners, who are now fair game for China’s communist enforcers, according to Wong.

“With the ill-defined law interpretation and a secret police agency imposed in HK, the law will harm all foreign interests and ex-pats in this global city,” Wong wrote. “Xi Jinping proposed in 2017 that China’s national security covers economic and social aspects.”

“Foreign companies can be victims under this new evil law,” Wong warned:

The United States moved against the “national security” law prior to its passage on Wednesday by declaring officially that Hong Kong was no longer autonomous from China. Under a law passed last year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo must certify to Congress on an annual basis that Hong Kong is either autonomous or colonized by China to guide U.S. policy on the region. Hong Kong currently enjoys special economic benefits from Washington in recognition of its autonomy from China.

Pompeo announced on Wednesday that that autonomy no longer exists.

“Last week, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) National People’s Congress announced its intention to unilaterally and arbitrarily impose national security legislation on Hong Kong,” Pompeo said in a statement. “Beijing’s disastrous decision is only the latest in a series of actions that fundamentally undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms and China’s own promises to the Hong Kong people under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a U.N.-filed international treaty.”

“While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself,” he said.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong police violently arrested hundreds of people protesting against the national security law, as well as a proposed law in the Hong Kong legislature to make “disrespect” of the Communist Party anthem, “The March of the Volunteers,” a crime.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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