Overnight, and without consultation, Hong Kong essentially became a legal and security jurisdiction of China, denying its citizens the 27 more years of semi-autonomy that Beijing had promised under the “one country, two systems” model. which would have been in force until 2047.
A new national security law, dubbed the “anti-protest law,” was sealed by the National People’s Congress in May and signed by Chinese President Xi Jinping this week. With 66 articles and some 7,000 words, it represents a surprising and blatant rejection of Deng Xiaoping’s Sino-British Joint Declaration and the city’s Basic Law.
The new law, which includes many ambiguities, penalizes any act of succession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign or external forces. Even meeting with foreign diplomats is supposed to be a crime. Article 38 is directed at foreigners who meddle in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, possibly subjecting them to prosecution if they enter Hong Kong or the mainland.
What just happened? While the world is distracted by the Covid-19 pandemic and antics by the Trump administration, China has moved to suppress Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. This step is consistent with a regime that knows it has to act quickly in today’s depopulated geopolitical environment.
No cool down period
As if to underline the practical implementation of the law as an effective tool to quell dissent, the Hong Kong police began making arrests just hours after the law went into effect, obediently tweeting that they made their first arrest of a man who He carried a banner pleading for Hong Kong Independence. Before Tuesday, engaging in such action would have been seen as much less risky.
Crowds gathered for an annual protest that was first banned, and police said 370 people had been arrested, including 10 under the new security law, including a 15-year-old girl. In practical terms, there is much in the law to nullify dissent and nullify it quickly. The South China Morning Post noted that a police placard had warned protesters of its provisions.
If there was any good news, it was that the law is not retroactive, meaning that protesters who damaged public property in the months of protests last year will not be subject to its severe penalties. However, given the scope of the liberal interpretation of the law, especially by the Chinese courts, past actions can be used to target people for future prosecutions.
China’s most assertive acts
China never had to roll in tanks to crush Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, as it did in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Some observers feared that the Chinese army would move to Hong Kong in a virtual repeat of that crackdown. After the Covid-19 lockdown put the protests on the ice for several weeks, the new law has dealt a heavy blow to pro-democracy activism, and activists reportedly removed social media posts and the leadership of a pro-democracy group, Demosisto, announced it. Another pro-democratic leader, Nathan Law, announced that he had fled the city.
Beijing acted as a gavel in response to months of often violent protests that caused significant destruction of public property, including vandalism and fires at transit stations, and caused the economy to stagnate. The last thing the central authorities would like is for the protest movement to spread to the mainland, especially at a time when its own economy is feeling the negative effects of the long battle with Covid-19.
Around 9,000 Hong Kong residents have been arrested since the start of the pro-democracy and anti-government protests last year, and almost 600 have been charged with riots. The new law appears to be Beijing’s latest move against them.
And seen from a broader perspective, the measures are fully in line with Xi’s authoritative stance in dealing with issues at home and abroad, projecting himself immune from criticism. As an official with the Beijing Affairs Office in Hong Kong said of foreign critics of the law on Wednesday: “What does this have to do with you?”
The reaction in the West to the imposition of the law was predictable. Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on the floor of the House on Wednesday: “The United States is with you, and the United States will always support you … This is a battle between democracy versus dictatorship, freedom versus “tyranny and freedom versus oppression”.
Rather than expressing rhetoric to feel good, Washington needs to follow the example of the United Kingdom and its “new tailor-made immigration route”, which could pave the way for British citizenship for some 2.9 million Hong Kong people who have special passports as subjects. British abroad. prior to 1997 surrender, and proceed with adjustments to immigration or citizenship laws to allow entry of Hong Kong residents.
Hong Kong pro-democracy leader Emily Lau told me that the law will have a chilling effect on many sectors of society, including the media. Territory is the regional base for many foreign media operations, including CNN, Bloomberg, and foreign news services like AFP.
“Everyone is now vulnerable and I am especially concerned about the local people who work as undercover, producer and proofreader of overseas publications and broadcast organizations,” Francis Moriarty, former chief political correspondent for Radio Television Hong Hong, told me, adding that organizations such as the Hong Kong Association of Journalists and the Foreign Correspondents Club could be targeted.
There is a Chinese saying widely attributed to former leader Deng Xiaoping that he urges “cross the river feeling the stones.” It suggests that China carefully and slowly feels its way towards introducing open, market-led economies.
It is now clear that the Xi regime has thrown this doctrine out the window, that the Hong Kong experiment first promoted by Deng has passed its “Best By” date.
The international community, led by the United States, has consistently said it will endorse the people of Hong Kong. While sanctions are the international community’s punishment tool when it comes to holding regimes accountable for their actions, Hong Kong’s defense must include accelerated refugee status for members of the city’s pro-democracy movement and alleviate immigration restrictions for anyone else who is fearful. In the case of China, that could be more significant. And freezing China’s flagship tech giant Huawei of global 5G construction would also deliver an unequivocal and painful blow.
Those would be the best and most significant steps to take after the passage of the security law. Now is the time to replace the rhetoric with action and provide an emergency lifeline to those in Hong Kong looking for one.