The leadership of the National People’s Congress (the Chinese Parliament) has promulgated the new National Security Law for Hong Kong on Tuesday, following a speedy process. The dreaded measure, signed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, is already in force after being published in the Hong Kong official gazette. The rule, which provides life imprisonment for those planning “terrorist,” “seditious” or “subversive” activities, introduces the biggest changes to the legal framework and way of life of the international financial center since the former British colony returned to sovereignty China in 1997. Its critics consider that it deals a mortal blow to the regime of liberties that China promised to guarantee until 2047 in the autonomous territory.
The measure also punishes “collusion with foreign forces” to cause harm to China or the territory. For the first time since the enclave’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, it authorizes the operation of mainland security services on its soil. According to the standard, “the central government will establish an office for the protection of national security” in Hong Kong. This office, and not the Hong Kong government, will have jurisdiction in cases where foreign countries are involved, “there is a serious and imminent threat affecting national security” or the autonomous government cannot apply the law by itself for any reason. Serious circumstance. A National Security Committee is created, which will be headed by the head of the autonomous Executive, Carrie Lam, and whose decisions will not be subject to judicial review. Among the components of the committee will be an adviser appointed by Beijing.
Secession will be considered any attempt to separate Hong Kong or any part of the People’s Republic of China or “return it to the foreign mandate.” Planning this type of activity will carry a life sentence; participate in them, between three and ten years in prison. Similar punishment will receive activities considered “subversion of the powers of the State,” which include the use of force to change or depose the Chinese government system or the Hong Kong autonomous government, as well as interference to impede the normal functioning of the institutions.
The crime of terrorism can carry more than ten years in prison or life in prison. The latter will be awarded to those who organize or lead terrorist organizations. Terrorist activities will be considered not only violence against people, but also damage to transportation networks, communications, or gas and electricity lines—those who help them face five to 10 years in prison.
Collusion with foreign powers includes carrying out or planning certain activities for foreign organizations against Hong Kong, including those that prevent central or autonomous government policies. Interactions with foreign institutions that aim to control local elections, or encourage hatred against Beijing or the self-employed Executive, will also have this consideration.
The entire procedure has been carried out in just 40 days, an unusual speed in the bureaucratic Chinese parliamentary system, and its greatest opacity. It was not until an hour before midnight that the text was finally published, and the measure went into effect. There has been no public consultation process, to the point that not even members of the Hong Kong autonomous government have been able to see the draft. It also authorizes, for the first time since the enclave’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, the operation of mainland China’s security services in the former British colony.
Its approval pits China against the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom, very critical of the measure. Washington had warned that it would withdraw the special commercial status it granted to Hong Kong, considering that the new law eliminates the high degree of autonomy of the enclave agreed between Beijing and London in the negotiations for the transfer of sovereignty. After the approval is known immediately, it has announced that it will stop exporting defense or dual-use material – with possible civil or military use – to the enclave. “We cannot risk these assets falling into the hands of the Chinese Army, which aims to maintain the dictatorship of the Communist Party of China in any way possible,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus has tweeted. Hours later, the Chinese Foreign Ministry promised to respond with retaliatory measures.
International protest reactions multiplied throughout the day. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, described the decision as “deplorable” and the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, affirmed that the bloc is studying response measures with international partners. British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has reiterated the offer of passports for Hong Kong-born before the transfer of sovereignty and their families. In Tokyo, the Japanese government has described the passage of the law as “extremely regrettable.”
The rule could be tested for the first time this Wednesday, July 1, when the 23rd anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty is celebrated. The police have vetoed, for public health reasons due to the pandemic, the protest demonstration that is held every year. However, it is expected that some type of citizen gathering will take place.
“In light of the increasingly pronounced national security risks facing the autonomous territory, the application of a national security law by the state is necessary and urgent,” said the head of the Hong Kong autonomous government, Carrie Lam. “Legislation is an important step to improve the One Country, Two Systems institutional system (which guarantees the enclave’s freedoms regime) and to restore stability in Hong Kong society as soon as possible.”
Not unexpectedly, the enactment’s announcement stopped falling like an enormous jug of cold water among supporters of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Throughout the day, many systematically deleted the accounts they had created on social networks in defense of last year’s protests, although the vast majority were anonymous. They disappeared from nicknames popularizing flames to accounts specialized in publicizing the art of protests.
Entire political parties also disappeared. The activist and former student leader Joshua Wong, who had assured that it would be a “preferential objective” of the new law, announced his departure from the formation he founded, Demosisto, along with the rest of its young leaders. A little later, the party declared its dissolution on social networks. Two other formations, the Hong Kong National Front and Studentlocalism, of independence sympathies, have announced that they will cease their activities in the autonomous territory and will only operate from abroad.
“Even under the bad winds of China’s direct and authoritarian mandate, Hong Kong people will continue to fight for our freedoms and democracy for the next generations. When justice fails, our fight continues,” Wong tweeted.
With this law, Beijing seeks to prevent a repetition of the protests, sometimes violent, that paralyzed the enclave last year. That was only stopped due to the health alert against the coronavirus pandemic. The move may also have an impact on next September’s Hong Kong legislative elections. For the first time, the Democratic opposition was looking to win a majority in the local Parliament. The new rule may make it easier to disable some opposition representatives as candidates.
The Basic Law, the Hong Kong mini-constitution, provides for the autonomous territory to develop its own national security legislation. But protests against the first attempt in 2003 forced the bill to be shelved.