HONG KONG (Reuters) – For 23 years, Hong Kong has been an anomaly.
PHOTO PHOTO: Women pass by a government-sponsored advertisement promoting the new national security law, as a meeting on national security legislation is being held in Hong Kong, China, on June 29, 2020. REUTERS / Tyrone Siu
A free and partially democratic city ruled by China, protected by a tradition of hard rule of law from the British colonial era and a promise by Beijing of freedoms for its 7.5 million people, which were unthinkable on the mainland.
However, on June 30, China imposed a harsh new paradigm on Hong Kong, ending the liberal pledge, government, political and diplomatic sources said.
Legislation seems to have been passed to tackle terrorism, collusion with foreign powers, secession and undermining. But his 66 articles have far deeper implications for Hong Kong.
The Chinese Bureau of Hong Kong and Macao said the law would be a “sharp sword” hanging over the heads of “a small number of people” threatening national security.
At the same time, the law will be the “guardian” of the rights, freedoms and peaceful life of the rest of Hong Kong’s people, the office of the State Council of China announced.
The legislation already has a significant impact on the financial center, as the city government reacts to it, at times with the participation of China.
A source in the Hong Kong government familiar with Beijing’s thinking said the law may have shocked many people, but it set China’s limits on what is tolerable, not the political reality that people must accept.
“This is no longer the old era,” said a government source.
“The bottom line is much worse than we expected and people are shocked. But with regard to China’s political bottom, the situation is clearer. No one has to guess anymore. “
The law introduced the freezing and withdrawal of pro-democracy books from library shelves, the disqualification of Democrats from the city elections and the arrest of three teenagers for Facebook posts considered secessionist.
New weapons have been created by China’s state security apparatus, including the National Security Service in a leafy neighborhood on Hong Kong Island.
In several outbursts of opposition to the law, protesters were arrested for once legal banners and for shouting slogans that are now subversively labeled.
Foreign governments and human rights groups have described the law grimly: an attack on Western-style freedoms and a de facto dismantling of the “one state, two systems” formula that supports Hong Kong’s role as one of the world’s financial centers.
Leaders of the Chinese Communist Party have differing views at a time of growing tensions with the United States, seeing the restoration of order and the disappearance of foreign intervention in the city as a priority.
The Hong Kong and Macao Office called the law a “cornerstone” and a “turning point” to end the chaos in Hong Kong.
Some Asian and Western diplomats say they were surprised by the passage of the law and the speed with which it is changing Hong Kong.
“In a coup, it shattered all assumptions governing Hong Kong’s place in the world as an essentially free, open and well-run city,” the Western envoy said.
“The crime was shocking, and many of us fear it’s just the beginning.”
Another government source, who declined to be identified, said more of Beijing’s red lines would soon be revealed by its relentless gripping of the city with a white knuckle.
The Chinese authorities are no longer limited in their scope and can intervene in urban affairs whenever they wish. The law can circumvent all local laws.
The new National Security Service has the power to investigate and enforce and can make “proposals for basic strategies and important policies for the protection of national security”.
In parallel with the legislation, Beijing’s program is to impose greater patriotism in Hong Kong and deal with its long-standing thorns, including the city’s free press, rights groups and the opposition, activists say.
For a schedule of the National Security Act, click
But there are risks for Beijing.
International pressure is growing, and several Western countries have been offering passports to Hong Kong people, attracting Chinese anger and increasing the risk of a brain drain.
Some businesses are calibrating their perceptions of Hong Kong, in part because of concerns about customer confidentiality and data, given new powers under the law on supervision, asset freezing and requesting information.
Hong Kong’s financial markets are largely positive, although the US’s withdrawal from Hong Kong’s preferential trade status in response to the law will weigh economically.
Some argue that suppressing open disagreement and rubbing social media accounts does not mean that sentences have changed.
“If I fall behind, if I give up, it means the regime wins,” said activist Sunny Cheun.
“It’s not just something very intangible or ontological … We have to try our best to protect the distinctiveness, the identity, the values of Hong Kong.”
Additional reports by Greg Torode and Jesse Pang; Edited by Robert Birsel