Business & Politics
Honk Kong’s New Security Law
3rd August 2020
The civil, political and cultural divides between Hong Kong and mainland China is rooted in the fallout from the First Opium war. In 1842 China ceded the island to Britain in the treaty of Nanking. The 150 years of segregation that followed saw sharp contrasts in the lives of Hong Kong and Chinese citizens. When Britain returned the former colony to China in 1997, it marked the beginning of Beijing’s attempts to re-integrate Hong Kong. The introduction of a new national security law signifies a more forceful and legally binding step in the removal of Hong Kong’s independence and autonomy.
The closed-door nature of the Chinese government creates an air of mystery surrounding the new law. It is assumed that Beijing has always sought to dissolve the distinction between Hong Kong and other cities within the country. While free speech and freedom of religion are values long enjoyed by those who live in Hong Kong, they counter the aspirations of the Chinese communist party. It is thought that the sooner the island could be aligned with Beijing’s ideals, the faster such values could be eradicated, thus discouraging other Chinese citizens from seeking such rights. One need look no further than China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims to understand the government’s view on religious expression.
So why now? No one is entirely sure, although there are many theories. The Chinese government is much stronger than it was in 1997, making the introduction of the new law easier now but near impossible 23 years ago. Also, the recent outbreak of COVID-19 has made large scale protests unfeasible.
In July 2014 Hong Kong saw one of the largest pro-democracy rallies in decades, and since then pro-democracy rallies and protests have been commonplace on the island. As large gatherings and rallies have been difficult during the pandemic this meant less pushback from civilians when the new law was introduced.
In September of this year, Hong Kong will hold legislative Council elections. This new law will help Beijing exert greater control over the political processes and developments. While these are only speculations, the events leading up its announcement meant that the introduction of the law has been rather seamless.
There have been concerns globally regarding the new legislation and for those unfamiliar with Chinese politics, the language used by most media outlets has been less than illuminating. The terms ’pro-democracy protests’ and ’national security law’ hardly seem menacing. But the law threatens the freedoms of those living in Hong Kong and those who have never set foot on the island in a way that has never been seen before. The vague language used makes it very difficult to predict what is now illegal.
There are four offences identified in the law — secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign or external forces. The term ’endangering national security’ is also used but not expanded upon. The lack of specifications means that the government in Beijing can name anything they choose as endangerment and arrest the culprit with no warning. The new law also threatens press freedom and makes it possible for authorities to remove online material and obtain individuals online data without a warrant or means of speculation.
Suspects who are accused of breaching the incredibly vague law can be extradited to mainland China and tried under mainland law, as the legislation trumps existing laws including current human rights legislation. Possibly the most astonishing thing is that these laws are applicable to everyone in the world. For example, although I have never set foot in Hong Kong or mainland China, the critical nature of this article puts me in breach of the new national security law.
“The lack of specifications means that the government in Beijing can name anything they choose as endangerment and arrest the culprit with no warning”
Director Zheng Yanxiong of the newly established Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, is the man tasked with the law enforcement. He is expected to show little leniency and has a reputation for being a tough taskmaster, a reputation earned through his involvement in the violent suppression of protests in Wukan in 2016. The effects of the new legislation have been felt almost immediately. Over 370 people who protested the introduction of the law were arrested for offences such as holding flags or signs. A further 8 were arrested for holding blank paper, a crime that can now incur a minimum of 3 years in prison or a life sentence. Reports of individuals deactivating social media accounts that they have previously used to share news on are widespread.
Many countries throughout the world are taking steps which will have a drastic impact on their political relationship with both Hong Kong and mainland China. For the past 30 years, the United Kingdom’s government has had an extradition treaty with Hong Kong. Since the announcement of the new Hong Kong security law the UK government has announced that it will suspend the extradition treaty “immediately and indefinitely”. This has come amid fears that any individual extradited to Hong Kong from the United Kingdom would be sent to mainland China and tried under mainland law.
Ivan Ko, a Hong Kong property developer and founder of the Victoria Harbour group has been looking at “Ireland and two other countries” in which to build ‘Nextpolis’. The autonomous city which would spend approximately 500 sq km would become home to tens of thousands of individuals looking to relocate from Hong Kong. The city which could be located in East Cork, East Galway, Drogheda or Dundalk among other suggested locations would consist of an estimated 50% Hong Kongers and 15-30% Irish and European citizens. With an initial population of 50,000, the city will have a “free reforming economic system” within Ireland along with a low taxation system, and independent relationship with the European Union as well as its own border control.
As were previous attributes in Hong Kong, democracy and freedom of religion and expression would be key pillars in the city. While the city remains in the discussion stage, Mr Ko has been in contact with Tim Mawe, The regional director in the Asia-Pacific unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs as well as David Costello, the Consul general of Ireland to Hong Kong. In a statement released on July 26 the Department of Foreign Affairs said “following an initial approach in December 2019, the department had limited contact with the individuals involved to provide helpful realistic guidance about Ireland. Since providing this guidance there has been no further action taken by the department in this matter”. Whether the city plans will go ahead remains unseen.
While the world is still struggling to comprehend this new legislation, we await further fallout from this new law and hope that it does not severely negatively impact the residents of Hong Kong.
Featured photo by Jonathan van Smit