China’s Harsh New Security Law Likely to Spark HK Protest

Beijing puts definitive end to ‘one country, two systems’

The Chinese government’s plan to implement a national security law in Hong Kong is likely to revive the large protests which rocked the city last year, which ironically is what this law seeks to prevent.

“If the national security law is implemented, there will be massive demonstrations in pushback as in last June,” a risk consultant told Asia Sentinel.

Demonstrations of varying magnitude have persisted in the Asian financial hub since the middle of last year. On June 16, 2019, nearly two million people marched in protest against an extradition bill proposed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, according to the protest’s organizers although police estimated a lower number, in the hundreds of thousands. In 2003, the Hong Kong government tried to introduce a security bill but withdrew it after an estimated half a million people protested on July 1 that year.

The national security law, which was discussed at the “Two Sessions” in Beijing on May 21 and 22, is expected to be more wide-ranging than the shelved extradition bill. The “Two Sessions” are meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). At the Two Sessions on May 22, Wang Chen, the NPC Standing Committee vice-chairman, said the law would proscribe secessionism, subversive activity, foreign interference, and terrorism in Hong Kong.

The NPC, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, plans to promulgate the national security law without going through Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. This is due to the Chinese government’s fear that the Legislative Council will not have enough pro-Beijing members to pass this law after the council elections in September, said the risk consultant who declined to be named.

Pro-democracy politicians are likely to win many seats in September’s elections, enough to block legislation, the risk consultant predicted. One reason for this is the widespread support for democracy that has increased since the protests last year, the risk consultant explained. Another reason is localists advocating Hong Kong’s independence, pan-democrats which are the mainstream pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong, and independents will unite to minimize competition among themselves in order to win as many seats as possible, he added.

A pro-Beijing Hong Kong coalition, which includes Citizens Alliance of Hong Kong, presented a letter to Lam on May 21, calling for the enactment of the law before the current term of the Legislative Council ends in September, reported the Global Times, a nationalistic Chinese newspaper.

On May 21, Joshua Wong, the 23-year old founder of the Hong Kong student activist group Scholarism, tweeted: “Beijing is now scrapping its promise of 1 country 2 systems by circumventing Hong Kong’s legislature and directly imposing the most controversial national security law upon Hong Kong.”

Wong, who was arrested during the Occupy Central protest in Hong Kong in 2014, further tweeted, “This disputable legislation is promulgated without any legislative scrutiny.”

In a glaring omission, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang made no mention of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, during his speech at the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s Parliament, in Beijing on May 22. This is the first time that Li did not mention the Basic Law in his annual work report since becoming Prime Minister in 2013. Li said the Chinese government will “establish sound legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security” in the two semi-autonomous territories of Hong Kong and Macau.

"This is the end of Hong Kong, this is the end of One Country, Two Systems, make no mistake about it," Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok told reporters.

“Of course, it’s very concerning,” said Peter Shadbolt, an Australian resident. “Hong Kong is my home. As with much of the Basic Law, it’s open to all sorts of statutory interpretations. You don’t know what Beijing means until they do it, by which time it’s too late to argue.”

What’s behind the Hong Kong protests?

The national security law is necessary and cannot be delayed, said a column in Chinese state news agency Xinhua on May 22. The Hong Kong unrest, the column argued, has eroded the rule of law and poses a great risk to national security.

“Behind the Hong Kong unrest are internal and external forces colluding together. Hong Kong has become the main playing card of external forces in obstructing the renaissance of the Chinese people, the bridgehead for subversive destructive activities and a window for color revolution in mainland China,” alleged Xinhua.

Several international NGOs, some funded by the US government, are supporting the protest movement, said the risk consultant, who is not a Chinese citizen. “The US government has a vested interest in the Hong Kong protest damaging China’s rise. Hong Kong has become a test bed for tactical learning with the US-sponsored revolution industry.”

Of the more than HK$250 million (US$32.2 million) raised for the protests, 10 to 15 percent may have come from US-backed NGOs, while the vast majority of funding originated within Hong Kong through means like crowdfunding, said the risk consultant, who has researched the protest movement.

Although the aborted extradition bill sparked demonstrations last year, the protest movement was engineered before that from 2014 to 2019, the risk consultant said. Previously, the Hong Kong independence movement was viewed as an irrational fringe group, but since 2016 localism has risen sharply, he added. “The Hong Kong government failed to see the rising importance and power of the localist movement.”

Another Xinhua commentary, dated May 21, said the “malignant tumor” of “Hong Kong independence” must be eradicated.

International repercussions

“This is a comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy, rule of law, and fundamental freedoms,” said Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong.

On May 21, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, tweeted: “Beijing’s announcement of yet another attempt to bring an end to the “one country, two systems” framework in Hong Kong is deeply alarming. Attempting to circumvent the HK legislature shows a complete disrespect for the rule of law.”

“By proposing national security laws for Hong Kong, the Chinese government and Communist Party will push Hong Kong’s autonomy to the breaking point,” US Senator Marco Rubio said in a statement.

“Congress provided the US government with powerful tools when it passed my bipartisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, and the administration should use this law to hold Beijing accountable for its interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs and violations of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Rubio said.

In the same statement, US Senator Ben Cardin said, “As one of the lead authors of the bipartisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, I have been proud to voice our solidarity with the people of Hong Kong. The Trump administration must use the authorities granted to them through this legislation.”

Two other US senators, Chris Van Hollen and Pat Toomey, said on May 21 they will propose legislation to sanction Chinese officials, in response to China’s plans to introduce the national security law.

On May 20, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told the press, “In Hong Kong, our decision on whether or not to certify Hong Kong as having “a high degree of autonomy” from China is still pending.  We’re closely watching what’s going on there.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press conference in Beijing on May 21, “On Taiwan and Hong Kong issues, Pompeo …. should stop poking his nose into China’s internal affairs, otherwise he will definitely bump into a wall.”