China on Tuesday passed a new law in Hong Kong that expands the authority of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to investigate, prosecute and punish anyone considered a threat to national security.
What’s happening: Beijing enacted the wide-reaching law at 11 p.m. (local time) on June 30, just an hour before the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British rule.
- Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a presidential order to promulgate the law, officially titled the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), according to Xinhua.
- It was drafted in secret by members of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature, bypassing Hong Kong’s own Legislative Council.
- On Tuesday, it received all 162 votes of the NPC’s Standing Committee (NPCSC) in favor, according to The Standard.
- After 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Hong Kong police arrested more than 370 protesters, 10 of which allegedly violated the new legislation, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
- A man with a Hong Kong independence flag in Causeway Bay became the first to be arrested under the new law, according to the Hong Kong Police Force.
- Following the mass arrests, protesters in the city started to lay low. “It was and still is really scary, because a large part of what is important to me is now illegal to even talk about,” one told The Guardian.
- Demosisto, a pro-democracy group, announced its disbandment after the law’s passage. “I believe at this moment, there are countless pairs of eyes in the world caring about Hong Kong, and gazing at my personal situation under the national security legislation. I will continue to defend my home – Hong Kong – until they silence, obliterate me from this piece of land,” co-founder Joshua Wong said in a statement.
- The United Kingdom, which formerly colonized Hong Kong, is now offering the city’s residents a path to citizenship.
- The plan will let 350,000 UK passport holders and 2.6 million eligible others come to the country for five years, and apply for citizenship after one more year.
- UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson slammed the passing of the new law as a “clear and serious breach” of the 1985 Sino-British joint declaration, a legally-binding agreement that details how certain freedoms in Hong Kong must be protected 50 years after China assumed rule in 1997.
[End of Hong Kong, Beginning of Reign of Terror]
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) June 30, 2020
Why this matters: Critics have expressed fears that the new law could be used to override existing legal processes in Hong Kong — eventually decimating the city’s civil and political freedoms.
- The new law consists of 66 articles that penalize four major offenses: (1) separatism, (2) subversion, (3) terrorism and (4) collusion with foreign countries. Hong Kong residents convicted of such crimes can face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
- The new law allows the CCP to establish its own law enforcement presence in the city, known as the “Office for Safeguarding National Security.” A committee composed of Hong Kong officials and an advisor from the CCP will also be established, but its work “shall not be disclosed to the public.”
- The law also applies to non-permanent residents, who may be deported from the city upon violation.
- Chinese officials, however, maintained that the law will only punish a small number of people who pose a serious threat to national security.
- “This law is to punish a tiny number of criminals who seriously endanger national security — a sharp sword hanging high over their heads that will serve as a deterrent against external forces meddling in Hong Kong,” said Zhang Xiaoming, a deputy director of the central Chinese government office in the city, according to The New York Times.
- Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam also welcomed the law’s passage.
- “Safeguarding national security is the constitutional duty of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). The HKSAR Government welcomes the passage of the national security law by the NPCSC today,” Lam said, according to CNN. “I am confident that after the implementation of the national security law, the social unrest which has troubled Hong Kong people for nearly a year will be eased and stability will be restored, thereby enabling Hong Kong to start anew, focus on economic development and improve people’s livelihood.”
- On the other hand, some believe that the law could lead to the loss of Hong Kong’s freedoms.
- “It is clear that the law will have a severe impact on freedom of expression, if not personal security, on the people of Hong Kong,” Johannes Chan, a legal scholar at the University of Hong Kong, told the BBC ahead of its enactment. “Effectively, they are imposing the People’s Republic of China’s criminal system onto the Hong Kong common law system, leaving them with complete discretion to decide who should fall into which system.”
- The U.S. has heavily criticized the law following its passage. “The CCP’s draconian national security law ends free Hong Kong and exposes the Party’s greatest fear: the free will and free thinking of its own people,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet.
Feature Image: Hong Kong police arrest a man during a demonstration against the new national security law on July 1, 2020. Image via Anthony Kwan / Getty Images