When the British returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, at the end of a 99 year lease, China agreed to implement the concept of “One Country, Two Systems” under which Hong Kong would continue to enjoy, for 50 years, its Western-oriented economic, political and judicial systems while being part of Communist China with its one-party rule and regimented system. The “One Country, Two Systems” was part of the “Basic Law” of new Hong Kong, the name of which was changed to the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” (HKSAR).
But over the years, Beijing has tried to abridge Hong Kong’s autonomy for two reasons: First; the two systems, which are like chalk and cheese, cannot coexist. Western-oriented Taiwan, which China has been trying to take over, has rejected it outright. Second; China has been feeling increasingly threatened by the West led by the US. The West has been extremely uncomfortable with Beijing’s power projections in the Indo-Pacific region. It sees China’s infrastructure projects under the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a determined bid to dislodge it from dominant positions in various parts of the world. Given the West’s stridently anti-China moves on the strategic and economic plane, Beijing has felt the need to tighten its grip over weak links like Hong Kong where Western influence is strongest.
This is the reason for Beijing’s resort to a series of security measures in Hong Kong since 2003, of which, the June 30 Hong Kong National Security Law is the latest, the hardest, and the most comprehensive.
Inherently uncomfortable with the “One Country, Two Systems” concept, Beijing tried to outlaw speech, assemblies, or political activities endangering China’s security in 2003. But mass protests led to the Act’s withdrawal. Explaining the clashing stances of Beijing and the Hong Kongers, Brian Wong and John Mak wrote in Time last year: “Beijing took the stance that democratization in Hong Kong must be accompanied by the guarantee that any such progress would not threaten China’s national security, while the Hong Kong public gradually developed the antagonistic perception that Beijing was reluctant to grant the city genuine political freedom.”
The attempt to substitute Cantonese by Mandarin as the official language of Hong Kong, the building of high speed rail links with mainland China and the big influx of Mainland Chinese into Hong Kong created fears of demographic change and cultural annihilation. Hong Kongers also wanted universal suffrage (as promised in the 1997 Basic Law) in place of choosing the territory’s leadership by an electoral college of 1,200 carefully screened persons. But for Beijing, instantaneous universal suffrage was dangerous as Chinese leaders were scared of instability and uncertainty which free elections could bring about. In 2010, a compromise was struck by which, universal suffrage would be introduced by 2017 but with the candidates being vetted by Beijing.
To change the anti-China mindset of the people, the Hong Kong government introduced “Moral and National Education (MNE)”. But this was dubbed as “brainwashing”, and the program had to be withdrawn. However, on Aug. 31, 2014, Beijing issued a White Paper in which stringent selection criteria for electoral candidatures were stipulated. This triggered the 79-day mass “Umbrella Movement.”
In 2019 came the Extradition Law by which a trouble maker could be whisked away to the Mainland for interrogation. Following huge protests, this move was given up. China alleged that the movement was funded and mentored by some US NGOs.
National Security Law 2020
However, the 2020 National Security Law for Hong Kong still says that China is wedded to the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. It says that the new law is for “ensuring the resolute, full and faithful implementation of the policy of One Country, Two Systems under which the people of Hong Kong administer Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy; while safeguarding national security; preventing, suppressing and imposing punishment for the offences of secession, subversion, organization and perpetration of terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security in relation to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).”
It further says that human rights shall be respected and protected in safeguarding national security as stated in the Basic Law. The rights and freedoms, including the freedoms of speech, of the press, of publication, of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration, which the residents of the Hong Kong enjoy under the Basic Law and the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as applied to Hong Kong, shall be protected.
Article 5 says: “A person is presumed innocent until convicted by a judicial body. The right to defend himself or herself and other rights in judicial proceedings that a criminal suspect, defendant, and other parties in judicial proceedings are entitled to under the law, shall be protected.”
Center Acquires Over-riding Powers
What is noteworthy is that the new law gives the Central government in Beijing over-riding powers over the Hong Kong Establishment. “The Central People’s Government has an overarching responsibility for national security affairs relating to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR),” the new law says.
The Chief Executive of Hong Kong shall be accountable to the Central government for affairs relating to national security in Hong Kong and shall submit an annual report on it. There shall be a Committee for Safeguarding National Security which shall be under the supervision of and accountable to the Central government. Decisions made by the Committee shall not be amenable to judicial review. The Committee shall have a National Security Adviser, who will be designated by the Central government.
Article 16 says that the Hong Kong police shall establish a Department for Safeguarding National Security, which may recruit qualified professionals and technical personnel from the Mainland. There shall be a separate prosecution division for offences under the law and a special unrestricted fund.
Among the crimes listed under “subversion” are: seriously interfering in, disrupting, or undermining the performance of duties and functions in accordance with the law by public servants of China and Hong Kong; and attacking or damaging the premises and facilities used by the officials. Seeking foreign assistance to commit an act of subversion or terror is banned.
Among the listed terrorist activities are: Sabotage of means of transport, transport facilities, electric power or gas facilities, serious interruption or sabotage of electronic control systems for providing and managing public services such as water, electric power, gas, transport, telecommunications and the internet; or other dangerous activities which seriously jeopardize public health, safety or security.
As regards punishments, there is no death sentence. The maximum punishment is Life Imprisonment. The law states that a person who is a principal offender or a person who commits an offence of a grave nature shall be sentenced to life imprisonment or a fixed-term imprisonment of not less than ten years; a person who actively participates in the offence shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than ten years; and other participants shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years, short-term detention or restriction.
Trouble Already Brewing
While the US is planning sanctions against China and Hong Kong to make China rescind its decision, hundreds of protesting Hong Kongers who took to the streets on July 1, were arrested. The slogans shouted called for Hong Kong’s “independence”, clearly defying the new law.
Hong Kong’s Secretary for Justice, Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, said that the slogan was punishable, but hinted that the authorities will treat the protesters leniently. Government would take into account “the context and intention of the offender,” Teresa said. “By looking at the overall behavior, we will see whether evidence can prove the arrested person has a criminal intent,” she added. (The Citizen/Ceylon Today/newsin.asia)
(The picture at the top shows Hong Kong protesters waving American flags in the last agitation against the Extradition Law).