As Expected, China Forces Harsh New Law on Hong Kong

National security legislation promulgated in Beijing

Beijing’s enactment of the national security law in Hong Kong on June 30 has prompted a strategic retreat among Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and sparked tit-for-tat retaliatory measures between the US and China.

With the security law now in effect, it will have teeth against protestors planning a demonstration for July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China. Demonstrations on July 1 have been an annual event since 2003. The law is designed to punish collusion with foreign forces, separatism, subversion and terrorism.

On June 30, Demosistō, a Hong Kong pro-democracy party, tweeted that it has accepted the resignations of its members Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Agnes Chow Ting, Jeffrey Ngo and Nathan Law Kwun-chung.

“After much internal deliberation, we have decided to disband and cease all operation as a group given the circumstances,” said the party, which was founded in 2016.

Demosistō is the first party to fall victim to fears over the national security law,” said a risk consultant who declined to be named.

However, Law, Wong and Chow, who are among the co-founders of Demosistō, intend to continue in politics and may seek election to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) on September 6, the risk consultant said.

“Today marks the beginning of the end of ‘one country, two systems,’” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

Under Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” Basic Law, the territory’s mini-constitution, which was promulgated to last until 2047, the Asian financial hub is supposed to enjoy a high degree of autonomy.

“How fast this process will go is not yet known, as the contents of the new law have not been released,” Tsang said. “This is in itself confirmation that Beijing no longer respects ‘one country, two systems’ as is commonly understood and now only upholds its own interpretation, as the passing of a law the contents of which cannot be revealed upon enactment goes against everything Hong Kong’s common law tradition requires.”

Unsurprisingly, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), passed the controversial bill unanimously, yet its details weren’t fully revealed prior to its enactment. After the Hong Kong government failed for 23 years to pass a security law as required under the Basic Law, the Chinese government bypassed LegCo to push the law through the NPC, unlike democracies where bills would be debated in the local legislature before passage.

“It is like a chapter from Kafka, Orwell, Solzhenitsyn,” said an international ex-banker. “And the punchline is that the Hong Kong government officials go out in public and say it is all fine – with a straight face. The ultimate in Vichy governance! It shows they don’t care about reaction.”

During a press conference on June 30, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said her administration would not be intimidated by the threat of international sanctions.

On June 29, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the US has revoked its special status for Hong Kong. With the loss of this special status, preferential treatment of Hong Kong, which is not granted to mainland China, including export license exceptions, is suspended. The US government is evaluating further actions to eliminate differential treatment for Hong Kong, Ross warned.

“With the Chinese Communist Party’s imposition of new security measures on Hong Kong, the risk that sensitive US technology will be diverted to the People’s Liberation Army or Ministry of State Security has increased, all while undermining the territory’s autonomy. Those are risks the US refuses to accept,” Ross said.

At a press conference in Beijing on June 30, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China will take countermeasures against this US action.

“Intimidating China will never work,” said Zhao.

On June 26, the US imposed visa restrictions on current and former Chinese officials who are believed “to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy,” US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced. These officials’ relatives may also be subject to the visa restrictions.

In retaliation, China’s Foreign Ministry said on June 29 that the Chinese government would impose visa restrictions on “US personnel who have behaved egregiously on Hong Kong-related issues.”

Later that day, Pompeo hinted at further US retaliatory measures in a tweet: “The Chinese Communist Party's threats to restrict visas for US citizens is the latest example of Beijing’s refusal to accept responsibility for breaking its commitment to the people of Hong Kong. We will not be deterred from taking action to respond.”

Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, a Hong Kong tycoon who is a proprietor of the popular anti-Beijing newspaper, Apple Daily, tweeted on June 30: “Business people who support National Security Law say they worry they’d be sanctioned by US. Yes, they should be. They should not be allowed to do business with US companies.”