VIDEO: What Does China's Security Law Mean For Hong Kong?

6/30/2020 9:35 AM   

What laws are we talking about? The national security law is aimed at punishing acts of secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and “collusion with foreign and external forces to endanger national security.†(What would constitute collusion is unclear; Authorities in Beijing will have the final say on interpreting the law.)

Separately, Hong Kong lawmakers passed legislation on June 4 that would punish anyone who shows disrespect for China's national anthem -- something that is already a crime in the mainland. Why is Beijing doing this?

Hong Kong's "mini-constitution," the Basic Law, requires the local legislature to replace colonial-era security laws, still referring to "Her Majesty," with measures to protect the Chinese state. The first attempt to do so was withdrawn in 2003 the face of massive demonstrations. Some of the proposed changes then, such as for sedition, were described as "less draconian" than the British regulations still on the books. But many feared their rights and freedoms would devolve to mainland levels. Clerics warned it could lead to churches being banned. The protests killed the bill and likely contributed to the resignation in 2005 of the city's first chief executive, Tung Chee-Hwa.

None of his successors have tried since then. The new laws from Beijing are expected to be readied as soon as the end of June. Why now? The China-backed Hong Kong government faces another potential summer of unrest, after months of often violent protests last year that ground to a halt due to the pandemic but have since resumed. Police and other officials have repeatedly warned of the risk of terrorism. Thousands turned out for the traditional June 4 vigil to mark Beijing's crackdown on Tiananmen Square, even though it was banned this year because of coronavirus risks.

There's an election coming in September for the city's Legislative Council, with Beijing bracing for a repeat of the landslide victory by the pro-democracy opposition camp in last year's District Council elections. And China has seen its relationship with the U.S. worsen dramatically on various fronts including Hong Kong, trade, technology and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. How was it enacted? The National People's Congress in Beijing, China's rubber-stamp legislature, approved on May 28 the drafting of relevant laws to be added to Hong Kong's Basic Law, the city's mini-constitution.

The NPC Standing Committee unanimously approved the law on June 30. China didn't publish the full draft or allow a public debate, which is required under the Basic Law. The process also bypassed Hong Kong's elected Legislative Council. How will it work? According to the draft bill, China will establish a new bureau in Hong Kong to analyze the security situation and collect intelligence. Hong Kong will establish a national security committee that will be overseen by the city's chief executive but be accountable to Beijing.

The chief executive will appoint judges to handle criminal cases brought under the law, while the central government will have jurisdiction over an "extremely small" number of cases, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Prison sentences would reportedly range between three to 10 years. What's the reaction been? Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is supported by Beijing, has defended the plan, insisting it had wide public support and that the city's freedoms would be preserved.

She has dismissed concerns about the stability of "one country, two systems," the principle by which China has governed the city since its return from British rule. But U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said Hong Kong could no longer be considered sufficiently autonomous, and President Donald Trump is considering revoking some or all of its special trade privileges. The criticism was bipartisan, with likely Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden saying America should urge the world to condemn China on Hong Kong.