Chinese authorities were planning to write a new national security law into Hong Kong’s charter, local media reported, in what would be a dramatic escalation of Beijing’s efforts to rein in dissent in the city.
China’s lawmakers were preparing to soon pass measures that would curb separation, sedition, foreign interference and terrorism in the former British colony, Hong Kong media reported yesterday, citing unidentified people. Hong Kong representatives were slated to be briefed yesterday before a formal announcement in Beijing, according to the news site HK01, which was the first to report the plan.
The newly appointed director of China’s cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Xia Baolong, was set to outline Beijing’s latest directives to numerous city officials, HKO1 reported.
“This is them saying, ‘I am calling the shots. I am setting the parameters. Resistance is futile,’” said Joseph Cheng, a retired political science professor and veteran pro-democracy activist. “It’s part of their approach of no concessions, no dialogue.”
Protesters sought to muster rallies across the city before the announcement, according to posts in forums popular among demonstrators. One poster circulated described the moment as a “battle of life and death.”
Earlier, pro-Beijing figures including local NPC deputies Chan Man-ki and Ng Chau-pei had said they would propose such measures by bypassing the city’s Legislative Council. The laws – including banning treason, sedition and secession – are vigorously opposed by pro-democracy politicians and have sparked mass protests in the past.
Although national security laws are required to be passed by Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, successive governments have failed to pass them, with one effort in 2003 resulting in widespread street demonstrations. This new strategy could potentially allow authorities to skip the local legislative process, although the mechanics of how that would remained unclear.
A spokesman for the Hong Kong government and a spokeswoman for Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s office declined to comment yesterday.
“The market is taking this news negatively for Hong Kong given the likely return of violent protest activities, higher risk for the U.S. to remove certain preferential terms for Hong Kong, such as the special tariff status, and risk-off sentiment,” said Becky Liu, head of China macro strategy at Standard Chartered Bank Ltd.
The city’s officials and China have since last year repeatedly slammed violent protests as “near-terrorist acts,” with the commissioner of police warning in recent months that Hong Kong “may be heading into an era of terrorism” and that there was a need to prevent it.
An attempt to impose security laws now could reignite the unrest that hammered the city’s economy last year and serve as a flash point amid broader U.S.-China tensions. The demonstrations only dwindled when the global pandemic put a stop to mass gatherings.
“It’s worrying, but I’m not surprised,” said Claudia Mo, an opposition lawmaker. “It really depends on how impatient Beijing has become with Hong Kong. The powers that be up north know perfectly well that such a move might just be considered savage, and there might be some heavy price to pay internationally.”
The proposal from the Hong Kong NPC delegates suggests passing the same security laws by using Article 18, which permits the national legislature to pass laws relating to defense or foreign affairs if, among other things, it believes there is “turmoil within the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region which endangers national unity or security and is beyond the control of the government” or a state of emergency. Laws passed using this method include ones on Chinese nationality, territorial boundaries and diplomatic and consular privileges and immunities.
The legislation would still require several procedural steps including approval by the NPC’s decision-making Standing Committee, which could come as early as next month, the SCMP said. The move comes before citywide elections in September in which opposition members hoped to gain a majority of the Legislative Council.
Scuffles broke out in the Legislative Council this month as pro-democracy lawmakers sought to block Beijing-backed bills, including one criminalizing disrespect for the national anthem. Some protesters have called for demonstrators to surround the legislature to block the second reading of the bill on May 27, almost 11 months after some demonstrators broke into and ransacked the chamber.
The new measure would be compatible with Hong Kong law and wouldn’t impact the city’s guarantee of an independent judiciary, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported, citing a person it didn’t identify. The law would only affect a “small number” of people, the Economic Times said.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Lam, whose legislation allowing extraditions to the mainland ignited unprecedented unrest in the city last year, said this week that she viewed the national security laws as an “important constitutional requirement for the government.” She said they were needed in light of the “violence and near terrorist acts” of the protests.
Danny Gittings, an academic who wrote the “Introduction to the Hong Kong Basic Law,” said a chief executive could only implement such laws by proclamation if the wording is identical to the Chinese national law. The anthem measure, which was similarly imposed in 2017, still hasn’t been passed by the Legislative Council.
“Even if it’s not a law enforceable in Hong Kong, it could still have a strong symbolic impact,” Gittings said. MDT/Bloomberg
NPC member wants Hong Kong to copy Macau-style land rentals
Cheng Yiu-tong, a Hong Kong member of the National People’s Congress (NPC), wants the central government to introduce a land rental agreement for Hong Kong that is similar to the agreement Macau has with Hengqin.
Cheng proposed that the central government allocate a land plot from mainland China to Hong Kong in order to build new neighborhoods for the special administrative region. For the first stage, he wants an area of 30 square kilometers to accommodate 600,000 to 700,000 people.
Cheng called it the “Hengqin Model.” It is not the first time he has made such a proposal. He said that he hopes the central government will refer to the “Hengqin Model” when considering the granting of land to the Hong Kong SAR. Cheng also hopes that Hong Kong law will be implemented on this land.
“The central government’s authorization [of the allocation of land] to Macau has greatly inspired us. If Macau can, why can’t Hong Kong?” Cheng asked, according to a report by the Global Times.
Cheng is not the only Hong Kong resident looking to have mainland China grant more land to Hong Kong. Pro-establishment lawmaker Starry Lee Wai-king shares similar sentiments with Cheng.
Lee previously announced that during the NPC meeting in Beijing, she will ask the central government to grant Hong Kong the authorization to build a “Hong Kong city” on Zhuhai’s Guishan Island, as well in the sea area to the south of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. She wants a large number of residential units to be built at these locations to help Hong Kong with its demand for housing. Julie Zhu
June 4th Museum makes timely reopening
The June 4th Museum in Hong Kong reopened to the public on Wednesday, even as the city’s annual Tiananmen Square Incident vigil remained banned on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. As reported by the Hong Kong Free Press, the exhibition at the museum this year is a comparison between the student movement in Beijing 31 years ago and the months-long protests in Hong Kong. According to the HKFP, the museum pointed to similarities between the two movements. It said that drawing links between the large-scale movements would help to both memorialize the June 4th incident and support Hong Kong’s democracy protests. Located in the Tsim Sha Tsui district, the museum first opened in April 2014. It closed just over two years later, allegedly due to pressure from the building owners’ committee.