China to suppress dissent in Hong Kong via national security legislation

Beijing will impose new national security laws following almost 12 months of anti-government protests, raising concerns that the “one country, two systems” principle no longer guides national authorities.

2019-09-29 全球反極權大遊行 Anti-totalitarianism rally (Hong Kong) courtesy of Studio Incendo.

Beijing announced its intent to introduce national security legislation applying to Hong Kong, bypassing the Hong Kong legislature. This move puts the city’s semi-autonomous status and civil liberties promised by China during the 1997 handover on the line. 

The law would criminalise “seditious activities and treason that aimed at overturning the Chinese authorities, terrorist acts, and external interference in the special administrative region’s affairs,” according to the National People’s Congress’ (NPC) document

Wang Chen, Vice-Chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said Friday that the law would be put into Annex III of the Basic Law and enacted by the Hong Kong government, circumventing the Legislative Council. 

Article 18 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law stipulates that no national laws could apply to Hong Kong with an exception for those listed in Annex III, and its enactment must be through government promulgation or legislature. It also allows Beijing to add or delete laws from the lists when it comes to matters of defence and foreign affairs.  

The NPC’s document also reveals that the Chinese government will need to set up agencies in Hong Kong for the purpose of “legally protecting national security”.

“This move affirms that Hong Kong as we know it is gone and rule of law is now rule by law, with the CCP determining what the laws are and how they will be enforced,” written by Bill Bishop, China watcher and author of the newsletter Sinocism.

Frances Hui, director of  “We The Hongkongers” which was newly founded in the US to promote Hong Kong’s identity and author of “I am from Hong Kong, not China“, believes that “the government will practice the law on people with well-known names”. 

Despite feeling “the threat [is] getting to her”, Ms Hui says the law will not stop her advocacy work. She thinks the details of the law are not yet concrete for any actions to be taken, but asked Hong Kong people to consider what they could and should do in the movement.

“Maybe they [Hong Kong authorities] would have even more reasons to arrest us in the future, claiming that our rallies are connected to foreign powers or so,” said Ventus Lau, a protest organiser, localist, and spokesman of Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team. He said he is not afraid and plans to continue to organise protests for the five demands even if the law becomes a reality.  

Mr Bishop thinks the reaction of the Hong Kong people would be “intense and violent”, and that the international community would take limited action due to the distraction of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law sets out the principle that sedition or treason or the like are illegal in Hong Kong. However, concerns that a mainland China style definition of what constitutes actions against the state could be imposed in Hong Kong have seen large protests against its implementation. The Communist Party now aims to bypass local legislative measures to implement security laws in the wake of last year’s widespread protests.

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the author

Sara is a journalism student at Hong Kong Baptist University. Her one-year exchange journey at Emerson College in the United States and high school experience at UWC Robert Bosch College in Germany have cultivated her interests in politics and social injustices.