Beijing has made it clear that it is aiming to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature to impose a new draconian “national security” law in the city that critics have slammed as destroying Hongkongers’ basic freedoms.
On May 22, Wang Chen, vice chairman of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp legislature, said the national security law was needed because Hong Kong was facing ever-increasing “national security risks” and the city’s “one country, two systems” model was being “seriously challenged.” It had also become clear over the years that a “national security” bill like Article 23 would not be passed by the Hong Kong legislature.
Article 23, an anti-subversion bill, was first proposed in the Hong Kong legislative council in 2003. But it had to be scrapped after half a million Hongkongers took to the streets in protest, with the view that such a law would threaten the city’s autonomy and their basic freedoms of assembly, belief, and expression if seen as a threat by the central government in Beijing.
Since then, there have been repeated calls by pro-Beijing lawmakers in Hong Kong to reintroduce the bill, particularly after anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sentiment swelled in June last year with the Carrie Lam government’s extradition bill. That bill was also scrapped after millions of Hong Kong people protested against what they perceived was Beijing’s increasing political influence in the city’s affairs.
The CCP’s draft on how to establish a compatible legal system and enforcement mechanism “for safeguarding national security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” was also revealed.
The draft said that the NPC’s standing committee will be empowered to draft related laws to prevent and punish any activities that are connected with secession, subversion of state power, terrorism, and foreign interference against the PRC government.
Beijing has repeatedly accused Western governments of “fueling” the protests in Hong Kong and “interfering with its internal affairs,” calling on the “One Country, Two Systems” framework.
The PRC has been known to accuse dissidents of “subverting state power” in an effort to silence them in the mainland and Macao, which passed the contentious Article 23 legislation in 2009.
The draft also called for Beijing to establish a new institution in Hong Kong to “safeguard national security.”
The national security law will be added to Annex III of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, meaning that the law would be implemented without going through legislative process at Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo).
Article 18 of the Basic Law states that “national laws shall not be applied in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region except for those listed in Annex III to this Law.”
Those laws can be effected once the city’s chief executive issues a legal notice in the Government Gazette, paving the way for the laws to be applied verbatim.
Wang added that the NPC’s standing committee will be reviewing a State Council report on how to “safeguard national security” in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu took to his Facebook page to criticize the PRC’s draft law, pointing to risks that Hongkongers will face if Beijing succeeds in establishing an institution “of the central government” to enforce the PRC’s “national security” needs.
Chu explained that the institute would pave the way for undercover police officers of the Chinese regime to “legally” enter Hong Kong. Chu questioned whether Hongkongers would still be protected by Hong Kong laws, such as having access to a lawyer if they are detained, interrogated, or arrested by Chinese officers.
Chu also expressed concerns about what authorities could protect Hongkongers if they are tortured by Chinese officers for endangering China’s “national security.”
Finally, Chu questioned what authority Hong Kong police will have under the proposed law if they receive reports of people being detained by Chinese officers.
Jimmy Sham, convener of pro-democracy group Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), said that the new law will destroy human rights, democracy, freedom, and the rule of law in Hong Kong, wiping out the city’s economic prosperity.
Sham called on people to support protests being organized by the group, adding that more than 2 million must show up if there is any hope for a Hong Kong free from the CCP.
The local pro-democracy Civic Party stated on its Facebook page that the communist regime in Beijing is a murderer that is intent to kill the protections and “high degree of autonomy” promised to Hong Kong under “One Country, Two Systems” with the introduction of the new CCP institution in the city.
Another pro-democracy party, Demosistō, wrote on Twitter that Beijing “completely ignores the will of Hongkongers” by implementing the law without Hong Kong’s legislative scrutiny.
Beijing’s move to impose greater political will over Hong Kong has already met with stern warnings from the Trump administration in the United States and lawmakers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Taiwan.