China’s rubber-stamp Parliament is set to pass a controversial national security law on Hong Kong, a move that will almost certainly cause major upset in the former British colony.
- The new laws are expected to be formally discussed and passed on May 28
- Details are scant but they’re expected to significantly limit independence movements
- Protesters have already taken to the streets and scuffles with authorities have broken out
Hong Kong has enjoyed considerable independence since it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, however, pro-democracy activists in the city have long raised concerns that their freedoms were being eroded by Beijing.
This has occasionally led to sharp resistance against Chinese influence in Hong Kong’s governance the clearest example being the massive pro-democracy protests that rocked the Asian financial centre last year.
While those protests have been on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, activists say the new laws could threaten the future of the pro-democracy movement.
Lan Kwai Fong one of Hong Kong’s busiest nightlife districts is pictured before and after coronavirus restrictions.(Flickr: Tim Lam / Reuters: Tyrone Siu)
The latest move is potentially one of the most significant and controversial moves Beijing has made in Hong Kong since the end of British rule. Here’s what you need to know.
What is the new law, exactly?
Hong Kong’s anti-Government protests ramped up in June 2019.(ABC News: Sean Mantesso)
This is not yet known according to China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) agenda, a preliminary reading is expected later today while the final draft is pegged to be passed on May 28.
In the interim, all we have to go on so far are draft descriptions of the legislation from Chinese state media, which need to be taken with a healthy pinch of salt.
The official Xinhua news agency said the push to put a national security law in place came as a response to the Hong Kong protest movement.
The state-controlled news agency accused the city’s pro-democracy opposition of having “schemed with external forces in attempts to create a ‘colour revolution'”.
Beijing has repeatedly alleged that the Hong Kong pro-democracy camp was receiving support from the CIA in the United States, as well as other foreign governments.
Xinhua did not provide evidence to support this allegation, which pro-democracy leaders have previously denied.
An editorial in the state-controlled Global Times newspaper went further, saying the new law would “prevent internal and external forces from using the [Hong Kong] region as a tool or creating situations that threaten national security”.
“The draft law is a move aimed at preventing external forces from meddling in [Hong Kong] affairs,” the editorial said.
“It would also deter the power [of] Hong Kong extremists.”
Why is it so controversial?
Last year saw numerous violent and non-violent clashes between protesters and police.
While the protests in Hong Kong are obviously not to Beijing’s liking mass demonstrations of the scale seen in the city are unthinkable in mainland China they were supported by a large percentage of Hong Kong’s population.
Those who participated in the protests last year may no longer be able to do so under the new law, or may face serious repercussions.
Passing this national security law at a state level through China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s 3,000-member Parliament which largely acts as a rubber-stamping body for the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership, is particularly controversial.
Beijing is effectively bypassing Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, its local law-making body, which has until now not enacted a national security law.
A bit of a history lesson is needed here:
A timeline of key events
When Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, remaining citizens were promised British capitalism and laws. In the intervening years, some argue that Beijing has squandered its promises.
Under Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which acts as the region’s mini-constitution, the local government in Hong Kong has the power to enact laws against treason, secession, sedition, and a range of other anti-Beijing crimes.
Of course, doing so would be highly controversial in a city that has long valued freedom of speech, has a strong pro-democracy movement and enjoys limited independence from the central government in Beijing.
A proposal to pass such laws under Article 23 led to a massive protest in Hong Kong on July 1, 2003, which saw around 500,000 people take to the streets: the proposal was subsequently shelved.
Now, in light of the more recent protests last year, Beijing is essentially steamrolling over this long-term opposition to national security legislation within Hong Kong, where it is feared they could be used to prosecute people critical of the central government.
Hong Kong’s countdown to 2047
Hong Kong was handed back to China with no framework for what would happen after the year 2047, leaving the city to carve an identity out of two ideologically opposed empires.
Hong Kong lawyer and political commentator Kevin Yam told the ABC there was a risk that Beijing’s proposed national security law could be “much more draconian” than what was proposed back in 2003.
Those previous proposals made it clear that verbal advocacy for independence would not be considered to be in breach of national security.
“I cannot imagine any scenario now where the laws that are being proposed by the Chinese parliament would be that relatively tolerant,” he said.
There is also the tricky business of China’s so-called One Country, Two Systems principle, which allows the Hong Kong region to enjoy much greater freedoms compared to mainland China.
Critics argue the national security law would essentially kill One Country, Two Systems on the other hand, Chinese state media argues the law would protect the principle by safeguarding the region’s stability.
What would it mean for Hong Kong’s protest movement?
An overwhelming majority of Hong Kong’s protesters have been the city’s youth.(AP: Vincent Yu)
Pro-democracy activists in the city are, as you can imagine, not pleased by the latest developments and unauthorised marches have already kicked off to protest Beijing’s move.
Today, one march believed to have started around noon local time [2:00pm AEST] began near the central financial district and ending at China’s Liaison Office.
Hong Kong opposition lawmakers slam new national security law proposed by the Chinese government
Pro-democracy politician Joshua Wong accused the Chinese Government of attempting to “silence Hong Kongers’ critical voices with force and fear”, in a post on Twitter.
He accused Beijing of trying to force through the legislation despite the popular resistance to national security laws in Hong Kong.
It appears clear from official statements on the law that it is aimed at the pro-democracy camp and the demonstrations that rocked the city in 2019.
An explanatory document on the draft law, reported on by Xinhua, said “national security risks” in the Hong Kong region had reached a point where stronger action needed to be taken however, it did not name these risks specifically.
“Law-based and forceful measures must be taken to prevent, stop and punish such activities,” Xinhua reported, citing the document.
It said as Hong Kong had so far been unable to enact national security laws under Article 23, Beijing would be stepping in “to change the long-term ‘defenceless’ status”.
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The document blamed “sabotage and obstruction” by troublemakers for Hong Kong’s failure to pass national security laws, as well as “external hostile forces”.
Mr Wong said the protest movement in Hong Kong would continue despite any challenges posed by the legislation.
“We [persist] not because we are strong, but because we have no other choice,” he wrote on Twitter.