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China’s proposed national security law could end Hong Kong as we know it

Long before the Umbrella Movement or last year’s protracted political unrest, that reputation was strengthened in 2003, when mass marches against a proposed anti-sedation law known as Article 23 forced the government to postpone legislation. In the 17 years since, despite promises to do so and to take advantage of Beijing very quickly, no Hong Kong administration has dared to begin the process.
Beijing’s patience ran out this week. In the wake of more than six months of often violent anti-democracy protests in Hong Kong last year, the National People’s Congress (NDK), China’s rubber-stamped parliament, unveiled plans to introduce a national security and anti-sedition law on behalf of the city, circumventing legislative Hong Kong power through a rarely used constitutional ass.

The details of the proposed law go beyond what was proposed in 2003. In addition to criminalizing “treason, secession, incitement (s) undermining”

; the central government, it will also allow Chinese national security authorities to operate in the city. the relevant obligations to protect national security in accordance with the law. “

It is expected to be adopted by the National Palace of Culture later this month and promulgated in Hong Kong shortly thereafter, the law will have drastic effects on entire sections of Hong Kong society, from the city’s tumultuous and challenging political sphere to media, education and international business.

Police detained a group of people during a demonstration in the Mongkok district on May 10, 2020 in Hong Kong, China.

Wide application

Hong Kong has always prided itself on upholding the rule of law, with an independent judiciary and civil liberties far beyond what is allowed across the border in mainland China. The kind of arbitrary punishment, secret detention and naked political persecution common in the mainland is almost unheard of in the city.

These rights are enshrined in the basic law – the de facto constitution of the city – and guaranteed (in theory) by an agreement between China and the United Kingdom when Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997. Hong Kong, unlike China, is also a party to international treaties guaranteeing various civil liberties.

The new law challenges all this. By criminalizing such a wide range of improperly defined actions, this could give the authorities the freedom to continue following the city’s opposition as they see fit.

In China, comprehensive national security laws have been used to target human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and democracy activists. Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who died in 2017 after more than a decade behind bars, has been convicted of “inciting subversion of state power”.

Allowing the Chinese security apparatus to operate in the city also raises the spectrum of emergency persecution. Dissidents and activists in China often disappear from power or are threatened with arrest for sensitive events, and many journalists and lawyers are lured to “take tea” with the security services, during which they receive subtle threats about the potential consequences of their work.

Speaking at a news conference convened by opposition lawmakers on Friday, Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong said even local authorities “will not be able to regulate what agents do in Hong Kong.”

Her colleague Claudia Moe told CNN that the news was proof that Beijing “will do everything to take over Hong Kong at any cost.”

“It is clear that Beijing cannot be less interested in what people think,” she added.

Enforcement in Hong Kong could also be a nightmare for city courts – which operate separately from the Chinese legal system and are free from political pressure on continental judges.

However, this does not mean that the law is at great risk of being repealed. The NPC is the court of last appeal in Hong Kong and can issue an “interpretation” of any constitutional issue, essentially rewriting the Basic Law in motion.

But the confusion and uncertainty that the new rules could create, and the potential protracted struggle in the courts, could seriously damage the city’s reputation for upholding the rule of law, which has long been seen as vital to Hong Kong’s international financial position. and a business center.

Proponents of democracy hold placards and shout slogans as they march during a New Year's Eve rally on January 1, 2020 in Hong Kong, China.

Cooling effect

Unlike the proposed extradition bill, which launched last year’s unrest, the scope and effects of the anti-sedation law could be broad and public. A major chilling effect can be expected on the urban media and political spheres – journalist groups have long warned of increased self-censorship as pressure from Beijing increases and newspapers and television stations fall under the control of Chinese owners.

The fate of the city’s large international press corps is unclear. Foreign journalists are now free to work in Hong Kong without hindrance to the type of visas and other restrictions imposed on Chinese counterparts, but before the new law, there were indications that this was coming to an end. New control over reporting in Hong Kong could lead to the relocation of many media organizations from the city, a traditional reporting base for the wider Asian region.

A reaction to the city’s legislative system, in which democracy lawmakers occupy about a third of the seats, could also be a result. In recent years, lawmakers have been expelled from the body, and some candidates have been barred from standing on political grounds. The new law could give the Hong Kong authorities more power to remove obstructive lawmakers from their positions or even prosecute them for blocking key legislation, especially for national security reasons.

The effects of the proposed change are likely to be felt outside the city. U.S. senators must issue an assessment under the Hong Kong Democracy and Human Rights Act (HKDA) as to whether the city remains autonomous enough from China to justify its special trade status. It is difficult to see how Beijing, which bypasses the Hong Kong parliament and passes legislation on its behalf, will not shape this decision.

Late Thursday, several U.S. lawmakers vowed to impose sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong law enforcement officials, whom they described as a “gross violation” of China’s agreement with Britain to preserve the city’s freedoms when it gained sovereignty in 1997. .

Beijing can count on the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has weakened the ability and determination of the international community to put pressure on Hong Kong – in particular, the United Kingdom, recently outside the European Union, depends on increased trade with China to boost its economy.

As the new rules are enforced by Hong Kong’s high-jumping legislation, it is unclear what protesters or opposition lawmakers can do to avoid becoming law. Lawmakers have been able for years to present a proposed law criminalizing any insult to China’s national anthem, while protesters physically blocked parliament last year and prevented further discussion of the irritated extradition bill. No tactic would work against the new national security law.

The time coming as coronavirus restrictions are still being applied in Hong Kong, which is only now fully under the control of the internal epidemic, may mean that people are less inclined to join the mass protests than they were last year.

However, amid widespread despair late Thursday night, Nathan Lowe, a former lawmaker and protest leader in 2014, urged people not to give up altogether: “At that time last year, didn’t we all think the extradition law definitely will be the people of Hong Kong can always work wonders. “

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