Home >News >world >Hong Kong’s security law: What China is planning, and why now
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators protesting the proposed extradition bill aim their flashlights towards riot police as they are chased through the streets of Hong Kong, China, August 25, 2019. Reuters has been awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Photography for Hong Kong protests. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan (REUTERS)
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators protesting the proposed extradition bill aim their flashlights towards riot police as they are chased through the streets of Hong Kong, China, August 25, 2019. Reuters has been awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Photography for Hong Kong protests. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan (REUTERS)
wsj

Hong Kong’s security law: What China is planning, and why now

Some answers to why Beijing is looking to impose legislation on the city

Q: Why is China planning a security law for Hong Kong?

A: When Hong Kong’s de facto constitution, the Basic Law, came into effect in 1997, it left some important matters unfinished. One was a provision to grant universal suffrage, which hasn’t been implemented. Another was a pledge to outlaw national-security crimes such as treason, secession and espionage. That is what Beijing is pushing through now.

Article 23 of the Basic Law obliged Hong Kong to pass the national-security legislation itself. But fierce public opposition has derailed previous efforts, including one in 2003 that was abandoned after half a million people took to the streets in protest. Beijing’s plan is seen as a workaround to criminalize separatist, subversive and terrorist activities in Hong Kong, as well as foreign interference in the city’s affairs.

Q: Can China impose legislation on Hong Kong?

A: Beijing asserts that it has the power to do so—but the legalities are more complicated.

Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain in 1997 and has enjoyed wide latitude to write and adjudicate its own laws under a formula called “One Country, Two Systems." Article 23 specifically says Hong Kong “shall enact laws on its own" to address national security.

But Hong Kong’s Basic Law also offers ways for the mainland to add laws governing the city under certain conditions. Those powers are held by the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, the legislative body that met recently in Beijing.

Q: Why is China pushing through this law now?

A: China has installed a new set of officials responsible for Hong Kong who are determined to head off another bout of pro-democracy protests like those that rocked the city and embarrassed Beijing last year.

The marches have taken a pause while the city weathers the new coronavirus, but anger at the government runs high. Protests have been expected to resume this summer amid anniversaries of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, last year’s first big protest on June 9 and the July 1 handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese control.

In a message to foreign ambassadors, China’s Foreign Ministry said Hong Kong’s failure to pass the legislation created a national-security loophole under which the opposition camp has “colluded with external forces" against China.

Also, Hong Kong legislative elections this fall will give the pro-democracy camp a chance to win enough seats to block any attempt by Hong Kong’s government to get national-security legislation passed.

Q: What does the law mean for Hong Kong’s autonomy and status as a financial center?

Critics said forcing through a national security law is the most serious of a series of moves to erode Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy in recent years. Moves include the arrests last month of more than a dozen leading democracy advocates and earlier steps that include shutting down a political party that advocated independence, effectively expelling a foreign journalist and disqualifying political candidates.

“I feel sick," said Dennis Kwok, a pro-democracy legislator in Hong Kong. “This basically means the end of ‘One Country, Two Systems.’ "

Q: Why are people in Hong Kong worried about the law?

A: The legislation is expected to criminalize remarks and actions that authorities deem counter to China’s national security interests, bringing Hong Kong’s laws more into line with the Mainland’s.

In China, Beijing has used such laws to crack down on activists and to press political goals. This year, a former Hong Kong bookseller who sold gossipy titles banned on the mainland was sentenced to 10 years in prison on espionage charges. China also cited espionage last year when it arrested two Canadian citizens, a researcher and a former diplomat, in detentions that were seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a senior Huawei Technologies Co. executive.

Millions of people marched in Hong Kong last year, spurred on by similar concerns that a now-withdrawn extradition bill would have exposed them to China’s murky legal system.

Q: How might this affect China’s relations with the U.S.?

A: The State Department responded to the move by declaring that Hong Kong is no longer significantly autonomous from China, a decision that could end the city’s special treatment for trade and investment, and lead to U.S. sanctions. The new assessment and any U.S. policy actions could also diminish confidence among foreign businesses in the city.

Under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act passed by Congress last year, the State Department must make an annual assessment of whether Hong Kong is still operating with a high degree of autonomy under its “one country, two systems" arrangement. “No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said May 27.

A week earlier, two U.S. senators said they would introduce a bill to put sanctions on Chinese officials and entities who enforce the national-security law and penalize banks that do business with them.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

Subscribe to newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Click here to read the Mint ePaperLivemint.com is now on Telegram. Join Livemint channel in your Telegram and stay updated

Close
×
My Reads Logout