The Chinese plan to enact its own security laws for Hong Kong has met with harsh criticism in China’s special administrative region and worldwide. The pro-democratic forces in the Asian economic metropolis called on Saturday the seven million inhabitants to oppose the plans.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke in Washington of a “ringing for autonomy” by Beijing “unilaterally and arbitrarily imposing Hong Kong’s national security legislation”. The EU also distanced itself significantly from the project.
International human rights groups said that legislation would “end the one-country, two-system agreement” under which the former British crown colony has been governed autonomously since it was returned to China in 1997. The U.S. organization Freedom House, which campaigns for human rights and democracy worldwide, warned that such security laws would be a threat to advocates of democracy, activists, journalists and members of religious groups and minorities who were persecuted in the People’s Republic.
At the Beijing People’s Congress annual meeting that started on Friday, the Chinese government announced a decision to mandate its Standing Committee to enact a law to protect national security in Hong Kong. It aims at activities that are classified as subversive or that could aim for independence. The law is also directed against foreign interference. It even provides that Chinese security organs can also set up branch offices in Hong Kong “if necessary”.
The use of Chinese security agencies in Hong Kong would be a breach of the autonomy practice according to which Chinese government agencies have so far stayed out of Hong Kong. The bill would also bypass Hong Kong’s parliament. Beijing argues that, according to Article 23 of the Basic Law, which has been in force since 1997, the Legislative Council should itself adopt such security laws. The project was put on hold in 2003 due to mass protests.
From the point of view of the European Union, such laws should continue to be discussed and passed by the Legislative Council – as provided for in Article 23 – said EU foreign policy officer Josep Borrell. “Democratic debate, consultations with key stakeholders and respect for Hong Kong rights and freedoms would be the best way to proceed.” The EU is very interested in stability and prosperity in Hong Kong and pays great attention to a “high degree of autonomy” in accordance with the Basic Law and China’s international obligations.
Since last summer, Hong Kong has seen protests every week against its own government, police brutality and Beijing’s growing influence. Some demonstrations escalated into violent clashes between radical activists and the police. Only after the outbreak of the new corona virus did the protests come to a standstill since the beginning of the year. Distance rules also apply today, which the police also use from the opposition’s point of view to resolve smaller protests.
The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), which had repeatedly organized demonstrations with millions of participants, said: “It is extremely difficult to take action at this time.” At the moment, nothing can be said about how to proceed. “But we want to let the Hong Kong people know that they should not only stand up for their job, but also for human rights, democracy and the freedom from the rule of law, regardless of political conviction.”
Former Hong Kong MP Lee Cheuk-yan said Beijing “directly controls” Hong Kong while testing the international community: “Are you going to do something for Hong Kong?” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was concerned about the impact of security laws on the business climate and a further escalation between the U.S. and China via Hong Kong.
The freedoms that differentiated Hong Kong from China “have long helped the city thrive as one of the world’s leading economic centers,” said one statement. The Chamber of Commerce is seeking clarification from Beijing on how security laws will affect personal freedoms or the rule of law. “Nobody wins if the basis for Hong Kong’s role as a leading business and financial center is undermined.”
Renowned American legal expert and China expert Jerome Cohen said that the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress may win with its purely technical legal interpretation, “but the political costs for the central government and the people of Hong Kong will be very high”.