Hong Kong’s National Security Law

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[1] Having gained independence in 1997 from British rule, Hong Kong was returned to China under a special agreement or mini constitution known as the Basic Law that meant two different systems were implemented in the separate regions. The purpose of this was to allow autonomy for the city of Hong Kong and retain some rights which China does not permit, including freedom of assembly/speech and possession of an independent judiciary. Although it was known at the time that Hong Kong had to set out its own National Security Law at some point, it never came to light because of its unpopularity.

Despite the fact that the Basic Law means that Hong Kong has some guaranteed freedoms, changes in the law can be implemented by use of a  decree that are rules of law passed by the head of state which means they bypass the city’s parliament.

On 30 June 2020, the law was passed which gave China authority like it never had before, with key provisions including:

  • Crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with external forces being punishable by a life sentence (any action threatening or undermining the government).
  • Hong Kong will have a new security office led by Beijing who will be in charge of law enforcement personnel and Hong Kong’s chief executive will have the power to appoint judges to hear national security cases, thus causing concerns over judicial independence.
  • Beijing will have power over the interpretation of the law as opposed to any Hong Kong judiciary and any conflict between Hong Kong and Beijing law is overruled by Beijing law.
  • Furthermore, some trials will be heard behind closed doors which could have unintended consequences.
  • People suspected of breaking the law can be wire-tapped and put under surveillance.
  • Stringent management of media and news coverage to be put in place.

How will the law affect us? The law applies to non-permanent residents and people “from outside [Hong Kong]… who are not permanent residents of Hong Kong”. The law was kept under wraps until it was passed, causing uproar because of the widespread impacts both socially and economically.

Although the purpose of the law was primarily to protect national security, some believe it has become a means of silencing the people of Hong Kong as a result of its dire effects on freedom of expression and personal privacy/security. Further complications arise as Hong Kong operates in a capitalist society with a free market system whereas China holds communist ideologies.

[2] “Each day the government announces something new about this law,” says Fung Wai-wah, president of the pro-democracy Professional Teachers’ Union. “The red line is still moving.”“This censorship is as irrational as it is ambiguous.” Its effects on education and the combing through of books to ensure there are no violations of the law makes for an arduous job which could potentially endanger the quality of schooling and information available to future generations. Censorship has long been disputed and the importance of freedom of speech has been extensively explored in historical texts such as John Milton’s ‘Areopagitica’.

Some believe the ambiguity of the law may have been deliberate in order to encourage people to evaluate and reevaluate their actions and whether it could be a breach of the law, with many already deleting social media posts etc in fear for their security. The ambiguity in the law could steepen the drop in attractiveness of Hong Kong as a leading global business hub with a large economy in Asia, with companies potentially being fined or suffering from legal complications if they breach the law.

[3] In response to this the European Union has plans to restrict the selling of products that could jeopardise personal security or be used for “internal repression, the interception of internal communications or cyber-surveillance” in Hong Kong. The EU Council has drafted a ‘coordinated package responding to the imposition’ of the law which the EU and member states will abide by starting at the end of this month (JULY 2020). This is because of worries that the new law is “not in conformity with China’s international commitments under the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 or with the Hong Kong Basic Law”. 

[4] In the UK specifically, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is expected to suspend an extradition deal with Hong Kong as confirmed by Boris Johnson. The extradition treaty outlines that if someone in Hong Kong is suspected of a crime in the UK then they can be handed over to the UK for justice to be served and the other way around. The UK’s worries stem from the fears that anyone it extradites to Hong Kong could be sent to China. Other extradition agreements with Hong Kong such as with Canada and Australia have been revoked because of  the new security law outlining criminalisation of subversion. The UK addressed the new laws by calling them ‘deeply troubling’ and the foreign secretary commented on how the move is “a grave step”.

The future is unknown but until then, is the autonomy and independence of Hong Kongers threatened?


References

  1. Hong Kong security law: What is it and is it worrying?- 30 June 2020- https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-53463405
  2. ‘It’s So Much Worse Than Anyone Expected.’ Why Hong Kong’s National Security Law Is Having Such a Chilling Effect- 23 July 2020- https://time.com/5867000/hong-kong-china-national-security-law-effect/
  3. National security law: EU proposes cutting off Hong Kong’s access to goods used in surveillance and ‘internal repression’- 24 July 2020- https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3094637/national-security-law-eu-proposes-cutting-hong-kongs-access
  4. UK to change extradition deal with Hong Kong – PM- 20 July 2020- https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-53463405

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