Hong Kong National Security Law
TOPIC: General Studies 2
- India’s neighbourhood
- International Relations
In News: Chinese authorities announced plans to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature to enact a national security law that pro-democracy campaigners say is aimed at cracking down on dissent in the city.
- A motion to enable the drafting of the law—which targets secession, sedition, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong—was brought before the National People’s Congress, China’s lawmaking body, at its annual meeting in Beijing last week.
- The introduction of the legislation has sparked fear and outrage from pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong, who say that Beijing has fallen back on promises it made when it took back the former British colony in 1997.
- But Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam said it was a “responsible” move to protect the law-abiding majority. She denied that the law would curtail the rights of Hong Kongers. These rights – set out in the Basic Law which is Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – have been in place since it was handed back to China in 1997 by the UK. The Basic Law guarantees certain freedoms to the territory, such as the right to protest, which do not exist on the mainland.
Hong Kong was handed back to China from British control in 1997, but under a unique agreement – a mini-constitution called the Basic Law and a so-called “one country, two systems” principle. They are supposed to protect certain freedoms for Hong Kong: freedom of assembly and speech, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights – freedoms that no other part of mainland
The Basic Law is like a constitution that laid down the laws that would govern Hong Kong. It came into force in 1997, when Hong Kong was handed over to China. Hong Kong’s autonomy is guaranteed under the law, though over the years there have been changes. For instance, under Article 18, only national laws listed in Annex III, such as foreign affairs, defence and those that are related to matters outside the territory, can be applied to the territory. Under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the territory must enact its own national security laws. The local government attempted this in 2003, under pressure from Beijing, but had to face widespread opposition.
What is it?
Under Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the mini-constitution governing the territory, the Hong Kong government must enact laws to prohibit acts like treason, secession, sedition, and subversion against the Chinese government and the theft of state secrets. The local government’s failure to get such laws through the legislature is the reason that Beijing now takes matters into its own hands.
A law would make criminal any act of:
- Secession – breaking away from the country
- Subversion – undermining the power or authority of the central government
- Terrorism – using violence or intimidation against people
- Activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong
When the Hong Kong government attempted to introduce national security legislation in 2003, an estimated 500,000 people turned out to protest against the bill on July 1, 2003—the largest protest the city had seen since its handover from the U.K. The bill was eventually shelved.
Why pass it now?
Experts say that Beijing has grown weary of waiting for the local government to enact national security legislation.
The law will act as a deterrent to further protests: The introduction of the legislation will provide the legal basis for concrete actions to check the escalation of violence in [Hong Kong], and act as a deterrent to expedite the restoration of public order. Last year’s protests have also increased Beijing’s desire to crack down in Hong Kong. The often violent demonstrations—which began over an extradition bill that would have allowed suspected criminals to face trial in mainland China—paralyzed much of the city throughout the second half of 2019.
To prevent, stop and punish foreign and overseas forces using Hong Kong to conduct separatist, subversion, infiltration and damaging behavior
Why the protest?
- The ‘one country, two systems’ will not pave way for ‘one country, one system’.
- The legislation will surely encroach on the freewheeling city’s freedoms, which have already been backsliding. For example, press freedom has been on the decline and several activists critical of Beijing have been denied entry to Hong Kong in recent months. Critics of the proposed law say that it will have a chilling effect on dissenting voices.
- People fear that this national security ordinance will be used as a tool to threaten ordinary citizens and to criminalize those who dare to voice out.
- Critics can be silenced, sent for ‘re-education‘, exiled, or sent to prison. High tech surveillance and facial recognition softwares allow unprecedented ability to monitor and regulate. The government has even been working on giving citizens points for patriotism, low marks will exclude you from social services like buying tickets for trains. Regulation is not just confined to citizens on the mainland but covers all Chinese living abroad as well.
What is likely to happen next?
Relationship between Hong Kong and USA
The legislation is likely to fundamentally change Hong Kong’s relationship with the United States. In November 2019, after almost six months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, President Donald Trump signed into law bipartisan legislation aimed at safeguarding Hong Kong’s civil rights and freedoms. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act links the financial hub’s special trade status to continued autonomy from Beijing.
The act requires an annual assessment for Hong Kong to continue to qualify for Washington’s favorable trading terms. The U.S. on Thursday night issued a stern warning to China against imposing the law on Hong Kong, saying a high-degree of autonomy and respect for human rights were key to preserving the enclave’s special status.
Divert Global Attention
Economic growth in China is shrinking for the first time since the 1990s. And with rising unemployment, the government will be hard-pressed to meet its economic targets and deliver on its promises. The decision on Hong Kong may have been taken as a way to divert attention from this and other troubles.
Connecting the Dots:
- China’s ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy
- National security is the bedrock underpinning a country’s stability. Discuss.
- Does the introduction of the legislation spell the death of Hong Kong’s unique political model? Comment
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