28 October 2016
Calls for independence and an end to one-party rule in China could invite prosecution if Hong Kong adopts new legislation in the wake of China's national security law. Photo: Reuters
Calls for independence and an end to one-party rule in China could invite prosecution if Hong Kong adopts new legislation in the wake of China's national security law. Photo: Reuters

What does China’s national security law presage for HK?

Is the Chinese leadership preparing to indirectly implement its law in Hong Kong, on top of the city’s own constitution, under the pretext of safeguarding national security?

This is the thought that is passing through the minds of political observers following news that Beijing has approved a sweeping new law that aims to counter all possible threats to national unity.

On July 1, as Hong Kong marked the 18th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule, Beijing announced the adoption of a new national security law with immediate effect.

The new law set an expansive definition of national security, enabling authorities to “take all necessary” measures to safeguard China’s territorial sovereignty and unity as well as economy, cyberspace and other interests.

While Beijing stressed that the law does not apply to Hong Kong and Macau, the two Chinese special administrative regions, officials however hinted that Hong Kong should pass legislation of its own to safeguard national security.

Hong Kong and Macau must “fulfill responsibilities to safeguard national security”, says China’s new law, which covers crimes of subversion and inciting rebellion, among other things.

The reference has sparked fears that Beijing would push for fresh legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, and use the powers to clamp down on political opponents.  

A media report Wednesday cited Chinese government sources as saying that those who have been calling for an end to one-party rule in China could probably be convicted under the new security law, if they enter the mainland.

Leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, a group that was founded in 1989 to support the Tiananmen student movement and has been calling for an end to the one-party rule in China, are seen as potential targets for prosecution.

Chinese sources told Sing Tao Daily that political figures like Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho could face arrest if they cross the border, given China’s new law.

Activists could also be deemed to be in violation of the national security law if they post “harmful” political content online and champion causes that run contrary to China’s state goals.

“China’s national security situation has become increasingly severe,” Zheng Shuna, a senior official at the National People’s Congress, said following the passage of the new law.

The country needs to counter emerging threats to political and social security, while dealing with the internal society, he said.

Observers have pointed out that China’s new legislation, while being extensive, is couched in general terms, with few exact details such as the possible sentences for those violating the law.

It leaves authorities ample room to interpret the law as they like, a practice that Beijing is already notorious for.

Political commentator Johnny Lau said on Wednesday that he believes the implementation of the new national security law on the mainland will create some psychological impact in Hong Kong.

Also, future legislation on Article 23, which requires Hong Kong to pass laws on treason, sedition and subversion, could draw more or less on the Chinese law, it is feared.

Once the national security concept is applied, it could be deemed an offense to question the legitimacy of the Communist Party rule in China.

The media will have to be more measured in any criticism of the Chinese leadership, and it could be illegal for Hong Kong people to gather annually to mourn the victims of Beijing’s June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists.

Of course, these are just fears at the moment and things may not come to such a pass.

But given what is at stake, Hongkongers will be justified in stepping up their vigil and fight any fresh attempt to undermine their civil liberties and basic freedoms through new laws.

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EJ Insight writer

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