The Communist Party of China has moved swiftly to pass its new national security law on Hong Kong, just a week after it suddenly revealed its plans to impose such a policy, sparking new mass protests and widespread condemnation.
On Thursday, the National People’s Congress in Beijing rubber stamped the law, which has been called by critics as a draconian measure that will end Hong Kong’s unique freedoms and high-degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” model of governance.
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There are mounting concerns that the law’s components — criminalizing separatism, subversion, terrorism, and activities by foreign forces — could be applied broadly to crush dissent in the city.
As well, the law stipulates Beijing’s national security forces would be able to establish a presence in the city, potentially supplanting local police.
With the approval, further details of the law are expected to be finalized over the coming weeks, and it could be enacted before September. The law completely bypasses Hong Kong’s legislature, and amounts to the most severe affront to the city’s guaranteed autonomy under international law.
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, and have allowed it to become an international financial capital.
Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia have issued a joint statement that condemns the approval of the law:
Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of freedom. The international community has a significant and longstanding stake in Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability. Direct imposition of national security legislation on Hong Kong by the Beijing authorities, rather than through Hong Kong’s own institutions as provided for under Article 23 of the Basic Law, would curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties, and in doing so, dramatically erode the autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous.
China’s decision to impose the new national security law on Hong Kong lies in direct conflict with its international obligations under the principles of the legally-binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration. The proposed law would undermine the One Country, Two Systems framework. It also raises the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes, and undermines existing commitments to protect the rights of Hong Kong people – including those set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
We are also extremely concerned that this action will exacerbate the existing deep divisions in Hong Kong society; the law does nothing to build mutual understanding and foster reconciliation within Hong Kong. Rebuilding trust across Hong Kong society by allowing the people of Hong Kong to enjoy the rights and freedoms they were promised can be the only way back from the tensions and unrest that the territory has seen over the last year.
The world’s focus on a global pandemic requires enhanced trust in governments and international cooperation. Beijing’s unprecedented move risks having the opposite effect. As Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity are jeopardized by the new imposition, we call on the Government of China to work with the Hong Kong SAR Government and the people of Hong Kong to find a mutually acceptable accommodation that will honour China’s international obligations under the UN-filed Sino-British Joint Declaration.
Approximately 300,000 Canadians reside in Hong Kong, and the uncertainty over the future of Hong Kong’s free society could prompt a mass migration returning to Canada. This migration pattern, of course, also occurred in the years leading up to the handover, especially after the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
The United Kingdom has also stated it would extend visa rights for the estimated 300,000 Hong Kong British National Overseas Passport holders if the law is enacted.
As a measure of retaliation, on Wednesday, United States secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the White House would terminate Hong Kong’s special trade status. This is a significant blow to the Hong Kong economy and limits China’s access to international investment.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said her country will develop a streamlined settlement plan for Hong Kong citizens fleeing Mainland Chinese rule.