With the world distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Communist Party of China is moving to enact a new national security law that could have severe ramifications over Hong Kong’s freedoms and a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” policy.
This comes just weeks ahead of the one-year anniversary of the start of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, which saw a dormant period during the peak of China’s coronavirus crisis earlier this year. Those early protests were over a now-withdrawn extradition law to China proposed by the Hong Kong government, but widespread protests continued over broader grievances.
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But the latest controversy arises from Beijing’s proposed legislation to impose a national security law on Hong Kong that is passed by the National’s People Congress. This is unprecedented.
According to the BBC, the new law would criminalize separatism, as well as the subversion and undermining of the authority of the Communist Party. It would also make broadly defined acts of terrorism and activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong illegal.
Attempts were made by Hong Kong to pass its own national security law in 2003, but mass protests caused officials to cancel their plans.
In what amounts to a clear affront to Hong Kong’s autonomy, The Guardian reports a draft version of the law would allow Beijing’s national security entities to establish outposts in the city.
There are fears the new law could provide both Beijing and Hong Kong with new tools to crush dissent, merely anyone that criticizes the government.
This could inflame tensions in the city even further, and it follows Hong Kong Police’s arrests last month of 15 pro-democracy activists.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration that resulted in the 1997 handover of the British colony to China included a mini-constitution, named the Basic Law. It secured the “one country, two systems” model of governance for a period of 50 years after the handover, with freedom of assembly and speech, the free press, an independent judiciary, and certain democratic rights protected during this period. These freedoms make Hong Kong unique from Mainland Chinese cities.
In a joint statement, foreign affairs ministers of Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia have criticized the proposed law.
“We are deeply concerned at proposals for introducing legislation related to national security in Hong Kong,” reads the statement. “The legally binding Joint Declaration, signed by China and the UK, sets out that Hong Kong will have a high degree of autonomy. It also provides that rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of the press, of assembly, of association and others, will be ensured by law in Hong Kong and that the provisions of the two UN covenants on human rights shall remain in force.”
“Making such a law on Hong Kong’s behalf without the direct participation of its people, legislature or judiciary would clearly undermine the principle of ‘one country, two systems,’ under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy.”
Last year’s protest movement also spilled into cities and university campuses around the world, including in Vancouver and Toronto.