New HK National Security Law
On May 22, China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) began deliberating a new bill, supported by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, which would allow Beijing to be a more potent force in Hong Kong over matters of national security. The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office echoed Lam by claiming that Hong Kong has failed to uphold Article 23, which delineates Hong Kong’s responsibility to develop its own national security policies and laws.
Other pro-Beijing Hong Kong officials echoed similar talking points. Chan Yung, a HKSAR representative in the National People’s Congress, referenced the protests last year in an argument for the bill, stating protestors were subverting state power and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership. These points stem from the Hong Kong government’s inadequate response to the protests and the formidable will of the Hong Kong people to continue protesting for their rights. Under the guise of national security concerns, Beijing is ensuring it can respond without input from Hong Kong’s leadership, eroding the region’s semi-autonomous status.
The NPCSC expects to pass the national law by the end of May. Two articles of note are Article 4 and Article 5. These two articles will include some of the changes China has tried to encourage Hong Kong to make on its own, with each attempt resulting in mass protests.
Article 4 states that “when needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People’s Government will set up agencies in the HKSAR”. If Beijing is basing the necessity on the presence of pro-democratic elements in Hong Kong, these agencies will establish offices shortly after the law passes. Article 5 creates a formal reporting requirement on the region’s performance “to safeguard national security, carry out national security education, and forbid acts of endangering national security.” This seeks to accomplish two things: (1) revive the Hong Kong government’s attempt in 2012 at bringing the “Moral and National Education” curriculum to the island and (2) formally make it a crime to criticize the CCP.
The erosion of rights under Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the slow destruction of “one country, two systems” have led to protests over the past eight years. As promised in the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, the Chinese government agreed to allow the Hong Kong system to remain in place for 50 years. Over the years, Beijing has encroached on Hong Kong’s autonomy to bring the region more under its control, whether it be ensuring that only pro-Beijing politicians run for the Chief Executive position or attempting to force pro-Communist Party education topics into public schools. Each time Beijing or the Hong Kong government introduces such laws, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy citizens have protested. In 2014, the former encroachment on rights ignited the Umbrella Movement. In 2019, protests erupted again when the Carrie Lam administration attempted to pass an extradition law, which protestors claimed ran afoul of their Article 28 rights.
Invoking national security to justify situations of domestic political repression is not new. Nor is the CCP’s use of the term “terrorist” as a description of protestors. Both are common when Beijing intends to use a heavy hand to oppress specific populations. For example, President Xi ordered one million Uighurs and Kazakhs in Xinjiang to “reeducation camps” as a component of his anti-terrorism campaign. Xi could be looking at similar tracking and movement control methods for Hong Kong to stamp out pro-democracy efforts in the SAR.
Hong Kong will now be subject to the national security law passed in 2015, which included criticism of the government as a threat to national security. The protests carried out over the last six years have featured intense criticism of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments. These protests have been a black eye for Xi, as he has failed to suppress them successfully. The international community has a keen interest in Hong Kong, which means any actions taken would result in scrutiny.
Article 4 can lawfully enable the People’s Armed Police to rapidly suppress pro-democracy protests before they reach the massive scale seen in 2014 and 2019. The goal would be to prevent the international community from taking notice and minimize damages to foreign investment in the region that result from uncertainty. The appearance of stability will be at the expense of Hong Kong citizens’ rights.
The other side of this is Beijing will be allowed to explicitly interfere in Hong Kong affairs, under the guise of national security. Foreign companies with headquarters in Hong Kong could face harassment if the Chinese government believes they are supporting the protestors—verbally, or materially. China could thus use its presence in Hong Kong to control the international narrative surrounding the government’s actions taken to control the population.
Forecast and most recent developments
The first instance of a large-scale protest after this law passes may be the deadliest in Hong Kong. Tens of thousands will likely be arrested, tried, and convicted for national security crimes. Pro-democracy politicians could be swept up as well, for supporting protests, criticizing the CCP, or simply being bystanders. For Xi Jinping, it may seem as though Beijing has found a solution to the “Hong Kong problem.”
Outside of Hong Kong, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that “he certified to Congress today that Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997”. This has implications for the future of the city’s special trade relationship with the United States. The US-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 gave the US the option to treat Hong Kong as a separate entity for trade after the 1997 handover. This status is now threatened should Beijing pass the law. Trump has openly stated Hong Kong exports could fall under future tariffs if the law passes. Some Senators are calling for sanctions on China. US support for Hong Kong has escalated since the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, which requires annual reviews of Hong Kong’s political status.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen vocally reiterated her support for the pro-democracy protestors just today, proposing a plan for humanitarian relief. Details have not yet been released. As a part of her proposal, Tsai is considering revoking Hong Kong’s special trade status, similar to the status it shares with the US. The revocation caused concern among Hong Kongers who live and work in Taiwan; however, Tsai has stated that the Taiwan government will assist where it can to ensure they can still do so.
Protests have already broken out regarding the bill, exacerbated by the proposed National Anthem Bill today, with up to 300 arrested. Tear gas, water cannons, and other tactics used in 2019 are being used to disperse the smaller crowds. As Beijing continues its attempts to crack down on dissent, it will embolden Hong Kong’s citizens to continue to fight for the rights, freedoms, and autonomy they have enjoyed for the last two decades.
(Image: An opposition lawmaker holds up a copy of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, during a news conference in April, 2020; Source: South China Morning Post)
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