China's Approval of Hong Kong Security Law Sparks Widespread Jitters
By Verna Yu June 30, 2020
China's legislature has passed a controversial national security law for Hong Kong that is causing widespread jitters among activists and ordinary citizens. Passage of the law has prompted several activist groups to immediately close while individuals delete social media posts out of fear that the new measures could send them to jail.
The official Xinhua news agency reported that China's top lawmaking body, the standing committee of the National People's Congress, adopted the measure on Tuesday and President Xi Jinping signed an order to endorse it. Xinhua said the new measure will be added to a list of national laws that apply to Hong Kong in an annex of its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
According to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the law was to be enacted late Tuesday local time, the eve of the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule.
Aimed at stopping the often-violent protests in the anti-government movement that roiled Hong Kong over the past year, the legislation will criminalize secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
Xinhua quoted Li Zhanshu, chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, as saying the legislation has adopted the principle of "punishing a minority while protecting the majority." He said the move will safeguard the country's security and Hong Kong's "long-term stability."
The full text of the law has not been revealed, but local media reports quote sources as saying that Hong Kong's top leader and the Beijing-led national security agency in Hong Kong could send "serious" national security cases to mainland Chinese courts to be tried under "special circumstances.''
Local reports also say the penalties for national security crimes will range from three- to 10 years in prison, with life imprisonment for "serious cases." While the law is not supposed to be applied retroactively, acts from the past two years that have "endangered the state" could be used as evidence in courts, they say.
Henry Tang, a member of the standing committee of the advisory body Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, told reporters that China will only exercise jurisdiction on a minority of cases that the Hong Kong government has "no ability, no power or no authority" to handle.
Just hours after passage of the bill, high-profile young political activists including Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Agnes Chow announced they would quit their group Demosisto and the group itself also announced it would fold. Two pro-independence groups, Hong Kong National Front and Studentlocalism, also said they would close.
Wong, 23, said on his Facebook page that for democracy activists, it is "no longer a joke to fear for one's life," adding that they also face jail terms, interrogations in special detention centers and being sent to China for trials. China's state media have repeatedly accused Wong as well as other prominent pro-democracy figures such as Jimmy Lai and Martin Lee of "collusion with foreign powers" for their engagements with U.S. and other foreign governments. Collusion will be one of the four national security crimes under the new law.
"No one is sure about what will happen tomorrow," he said, vowing to continue fighting for his belief in his personal capacity. "[But] the will of Hong Kong won't be crushed by a national security law or any other bad laws."
Ordinary Hong Kongers say they are also anxious about the loss of basic freedoms and the rule of law.
"I'd be scared whatever way they use the law. You don't know when you'd step on the red line," said a university student who identified himself as Michael. "From now on, we have to learn how to survive under a dictatorship." Michael said he and many of his friends have been deleting social media posts in case they are implicated under the new law.
The national security measure, according to an explanation of the draft law released earlier, is also supposed to override Hong Kong legislation "should conflicts arise," while the power of interpreting the new measure is vested in the National People's Congress Standing Committee.
Lam said in a statement that the city's government will establish a commission for safeguarding national security and that it will be chaired by her as soon as possible. Dedicated units in the Hong Kong police force and the department of justice will be responsible for implementing the relevant legal provisions in the law, the statement added.
China will also establish an agency to analyze the national security situation in Hong Kong and "monitor, supervise, coordinate and support" the local government's efforts, collect intelligence and handle relevant cases, according to state media earlier.
"After the implementation of the National Security Law, the social unrest which has troubled Hong Kong people for nearly a year, will be eased and stability will be restored, thereby enabling Hong Kong to start anew," Lam said.
But political scientists disagree. They say using a draconian law to coerce superficial stability would only fuel resentment among citizens and is not a long-term solution.
"In the eyes of many Hong Kongers, this is the end of one country, two systems and Hong Kong will be just like any Chinese city and people have to behave likewise," said Joseph Cheng, retired political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong.
"Beijing has achieved crushing the opposition in Hong Kong, but the price to pay is very high," he said. "The international community is now reassessing the nature of the Communist regime and is more reluctant to engage with it."
The Trump administration took a series of steps after China announced its intention to approve the national security law back in May. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced earlier in June that the United States no longer considers Hong Kong autonomous from China, and on Monday ended exports of defense equipment and dual-use technologies that originate in the U.S. to Hong Kong, citing national security purposes.
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