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China’s security law for Hong Kong

Topics Covered: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.

China’s security law for Hong Kong

What to study?

For Prelims: Overview of the new law, how is Hong Kong administered?

For Mains: International concerns expressed over this law, implications and ways to address these concerns.

Context: Seventeen years after half a million street protesters in Hong Kong forced the government to shelve a proposed national security bill, Beijing this week introduced an even stronger proposal.

What’s the main concern now?

This time, the Chinese government will not need a nod from local citizens or lawmakers, as mainland Chinese authorities are running out of patience after months long anti-government protests, which have greatly tarnished Beijing’s carefully managed international image.

What exactly is in the national security bill?

The draft legislation would pave the way for Beijing to set up national security institutions in Hong Kong. It is largely seen as a replacement of the controversial national security law, Article 23, which was suspended after the massive protest in 2003.

But unlike Article 23, which requires local legislation, the new national security law proposal would bypass Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, the equivalent of the city’s parliament. Instead, it will be included as an annex to the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

The new proposal targets activities such as “splitting the country, subverting state power,” as well as terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong. Anti-government demonstrators in Hong Kong have been referred to as terrorists by some mainland officials.

Why is the law being proposed now?

Beijing’s timing has raised questions among many in Hong Kong.

Some say it was chosen to minimize global attention as the world — in particular the U.S. and Britain, the primary supporters of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement — is preoccupied with containing the coronavirus pandemic.

Another factor in the decision may be that Hong Kong is unlikely to see a return of large-scale protests while social-distancing rules remain in place, although flare-ups of unrest are possible.

Analysts say the move shows Beijing has lost confidence in the ability of pro-establishment Hong Kong lawmakers to push through controversial legislation since that side suffered a major setback during last November’s district council elections. Pro-Beijing parties also are not expected to claim a big win in the upcoming vote for the Legislative Council in September.

What is Washington’s position on the issue?

China has frequently condemned what it describes as foreign interference in its domestic matters. In particular, Beijing has singled out Washington as a driving force behind street protests in Hong Kong.

Two members of the U.S. Congress quickly responded to the latest developments by proposing a bipartisan bill that would essentially sanction any Chinese officials who enforce the proposed national security law. The measure would impose sanctions on people or entities that violate China’s legal obligations to Hong Kong under the Basic Law, as well as on banks that do “significant transactions” with them.

Last year, amid some of the most violent demonstrations in Hong Kong, Congress overwhelming passed — and President Donald Trump signed into law — the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. The law calls for mandatory sanctions on Chinese officials found responsible for human rights violations, and requires the State Department to annually review Hong Kong’s special status, which awards it preferential trade treatment.


What happens next?

  • The law, potentially allowing Beijing to arrest anyone whom it deems as a threat to national security, could lead to restrictions on free speech and prompt media as well as individuals to adopt self-censorship. In an extreme scenario, opposition broadcasters and newspapers could face closure, while pro-democracy politicians and activists could be imprisoned.
  • Such moves would take a toll on the city’s status as a rule-of-law international financial hub — the free flow of information is vital to Hong Kong’s economic success.
  • If foreign investors’ confidence dwindles, hundreds of multinational corporations headquartered in Hong Kong could consider relocating elsewhere in Asia, posing a risk to the city’s long-term prosperity. Social instability could also push expatriates and local professionals to seek job opportunities elsewhere, leading to brain drain.

So can China just push this through?

The Basic Law says Chinese laws can’t be applied in Hong Kong unless they are listed in a section called Annex III – there are already a few listed there, mostly uncontroversial and around foreign policy.

These laws can be introduced by decree – which means they bypass the city’s parliament and Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam has already said she will co-operate.

Critics say this amounts to a breach of that “one country, two systems” principle, which is so important to Hong Kong.


Prelims Link:

  1. Geographical location of Hong Kong.
  2. What is one country two systems rule?
  3. Relationship of Macau with China.
  4. What is UNCLOS.
  5. Difference between ICC and ICJ.

Sources: the Hindu.