It “spells the death knell for Hong Kong”. These were the words which Jimmy Lai, entrepreneur and one of the main contributors to the Hong Kong Democratic Party, used to describe the new Security Law passed by the Chinese Government on 30th June 2020. This piece of legislation, which already raised considerable concerns and negative reactions from many international actors, will enormously increase Chinese control over the region, with the alleged goal of completely silencing its political opponents.
The National People’s Congress had already manifested its intentions to address the protests when, in May, it had authorised the NPCSC (National People’s Congress Standing Committee) to develop a national security law for Hong Kong. The rationale behind this decision was to contain and suppress the growing calls for independence, considered by high-ranking Chinese Government officials as being tantamount to terroristic stances.
But how will these new laws concretely affect Hong Kong’s citizens? The legislative text, which had been kept secret from the public until after it came into effect, is composed of 66 articles covering a vast array of different topics and circumstances. Some of the most worrisome passages, it is argued, will completely silence freedom of speech and cancel any semblance of checks and balances in the region. The new law includes the following provisions:
- The vaguely defined acts of “secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with external forces” will be criminalised;
- The maximum possible punishment for the aforementioned crimes will be life sentence;
- Even actions relatively negligible such as damaging public transport facilities will fall under the definition of “terrorism”;
- Beijing will decide how the law will be interpreted by Hong Kong’s institutions, and the Chinese Security Law will take priority over any of the region’s conflicting legislation;
- Some of the trials will take place in secret and/or in mainland China;
- Individuals suspected of violating the new provisions will run the risk of being put under surveillance;
- The Chinese Government will have a security office in Hong Kong with its own legal enforcement corps operating outside of the region’s jurisdiction.
The first and harshest reactions to the adoption of such radical legislation came from the leading figures within the pan-democracy camp. Demosisto, the pro-democracy political organisation led by Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, which played a crucial part in the 2014 Umbrella Revolution and aimed at obtaining autonomy for Hong Kong, had its leadership resigning and was dismantled immediately after the Security Law’s approval. Wong himself justified this decision by expressing his worries on the concerning scenarios faced by Beijing’s opponents, and on how the new law would put at risk their very lives and personal safety.
Many other international actors manifested their concerns regarding Beijing’s decision. Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, firmly attacked the law by describing it as “draconian” and “destroying the territory’s autonomy”. More than this, he denounced the Chinese Government for its unwillingness to respect its commitments and for violating agreements taken in several international organisations. Finally, he stated that, to oppose these decisions, the United States will not only maintain the already adopted visa restrictions on CCP officials but will also cancel most of the policy exemptions currently granting a particularly favourable treatment to Hong Kong.
Milder, but nevertheless perturbed words were also expressed by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union. His statement highlighted the troubling methods employed by China to develop the new legislation as well as the detrimental effects that it will have over the rights of Hong Kong’s citizens. At the same time, it also pointed out that the EU will continue to monitor the situation in the region, especially given the upcoming elections for the Legislative Council, which will take place on the 6th September.
Another international actor who, in the past months, had already been fairly vocal about its perturbation with the current situation in Hong Kong was, understandably, the United Kingdom. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, described the Chinese decision as “a grave step” and reiterated the intention to see through the already discussed plan to modify visa regulations to grant Hong Kong’s citizens a way to obtain the UK citizenship.
China’s responses to these accusations and reactions have been focused on expressing how a security law for Hong Kong was a long-needed one and that it will achieve the goal of bringing back stability within the region. High-ranking Beijing’s officers have repeatedly downplayed the actual number of individuals who will be punished by the new provisions, as they will allegedly target only “a tiny number of criminals who seriously endanger national security”.
As these disputes took place at the international level, in Hong Kong, the protesters adapted themselves to the Security Law. In an attempt to avoid the usage of pro-democracy slogans, which could be deemed as “terroristic” and punished accordingly, activists have started to hold up blank signs as a visual representation of their opposition to Beijing’s rule.
- Will this new regulation further increase the tension, already at unprecedented levels due to the current COVID-19 crisis, between China and the United States?
- Does the Hong Kong Security Law represent the end for the “One Country, Two Systems” principle?
- How will the pro-democracy camp rearrange and organise itself to survive under the new provisions?
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