China’s ruling Communist Party, The CPC, has unilaterally moved to implement a controversial national security law upon Hong Kong.
A ‘draft version’ of the law was submitted at the annual National People’s Congress (NPC), the national legislature of the People’s Republic of China, on May 22nd and contains an introduction alongside seven articles. The NPC is expected to vote on the draft law at the end of its annual session, on 28 May. If passed it will then be forwarded to the NPC’s Standing Committee, China’s top legislature, which is expected to finalise and enact the law by the end of June.
What’s so controversial about the law?
Article 4 has caused significant controversy in Hong Kong with critics of the bill arguing the proposed law seriously threatens Hong Kong’s autonomy, independence and identity. This has resulted in Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong now leading renewed protests against China and the Chinese Liaison Office of Hong Kong.
This article states Hong Kong “must improve” national security, before going on to state that “When needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People’s Government will set up agencies in Hong Kong to fulfil relevant duties to safeguard national security in accordance with the law”.
The article’s obvious threat to Hong Kong’s autonomy, coupled with the ambiguity of the law’s language itself has concerned those in Hong Kong of China’s ultimate intentions. This is understandable considering offences named under the proposed law include, “Treason, Sedition, Subversion, Secession and Terrorism“. These terms are not only vague in detail but many also fear the interpretation of these ‘imprisonable offences’ could encompass a wide-range of acts and activities that are not considered crimes in Hong Kong or indeed the world. This particularly being the case considering the worst charge most arrested protesters in Hong Kong have faced so far has been ‘rioting’.
Many in Hong Kong are additionally concerned China could place the draft law into ‘Annex III of Basic Law’, a legal mechanism which would see the aforementioned law to be implemented upon Hong Kong by legislation or decree. This however doesn’t seem too necessary considering that the Hong Kong Government has stated it would fully co-operate with Beijing to enact the law, dismissing claims it would affect the city’s freedoms and praising the law’s ability to help authorities tackle illegal activity in the area.
Why are so many concerned by these developments?
Hong Kong is legally known as a “special administrative region” of China after the ratification of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1997, a treaty which legally stipulated Hong Kong would have “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs” for 50 years under ‘Basic Law’, which expires in 2047. Basic Law refers to a “one country, two systems” policy that has been in place since 1997 and has allowed Hong Kong to continuously retain the individuality and autonomy it has always had with mainland China.
The enactment of this proposed security law, which doesn’t pertain to foreign or defence affairs, would therefore mean that Chinese had violated a treaty that concerns both Hong Kong and Britain. While a legal violation is one thing, this law more worryingly sends a clear message to the world that President Xi Jinping is happy to discard any international laws which hamper his ultimate goals and is willing to utilise the chaos of the Covid-19 pandemic to do so with increased speed and reduced international attention.
President Trump reacted by stating the US would respond strongly to the passage of the proposed bill and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called it a “death knell” for the city’s freedoms. Meanwhile the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said:
“We expect China to respect Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms and high degree of autonomy. As a party to the [Sino-British] Joint Declaration, the UK is committed to upholding Hong Kong’s autonomy and respecting the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model”.
These developments also rattled the financial markets, causing Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index (HSI) to drop by more than 5% on May 22nd.
So why is China doing this?
On March 15th 2019, mass protests in Hong Kong were sparked by a proposed bill that would have allowed the extradition of Hong Kong citizens to mainland China for trial and possible imprisonment. While the bill was paused and then withdrawn, protests against the looming Chinese threat to Hong Kong’s autonomy continued until the coronavirus outbreak.
These protests had both political and economic consequences for President Xi and Chinese lofty global ambitions. They showed the Government’s inability to maintain national law, order and unity in its own backyard and similarly revealed to the world that not all was well in China, regardless of the targeted propaganda campaign which had been trying to tell the world the opposite since Jinping rose to power and prominence in 2013. Additionally these protests have thrown Hong Kong into a deepening recession it is yet to recover from. Developments which have had negative implications for Chinese national economy considering it makes up 2.9% of Chinese GDP and contributes $364 billion to the country.
In short, Xi Jinping wants to suppress dissent, stablise the nation and continue China’s regional and global political and economic expansion.