China’s secretive spy agency, known for kidnapping and torturing dissidents, could operate openly in Hong Kong under new national security laws

Beijing’s Great Hall of the People reflected in a journalist’s binoculars at the opening ceremony of the 17th Party Congress in October 2007. Reuters
  • China’s secretive Ministry of State Security could establish a more official presence in Hong Kong if new national security laws are passed.
  • Last month, China voted to move forward with new national security legislation for Hong Kong in a major blow to the city’s autonomy.
  • While China has not yet released the full details of the proposal, a previous draft said that “national security organs of the Central People’s Government” would be allowed to set up in Hong Kong “when needed.”
  • According to Axios, in a worst-case scenario, the new law could allow Chinese agents to grab people in Hong Kong and send them to the mainland for interrogation or imprisonment.
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China’s secretive state security agency, which is known to monitor and detain those deemed a threat to the Chinese state, could operate more overtly in Hong Kong if new national security laws are passed.

The new legislation that China is unilaterally pushing on Hong Kong may give way for the Ministry of State Security to establish an official presence in the city, Axios reported.

Little is known about the highly secretive spy agency, though it has been accused of masterminding operations to steal US state secrets and torturing dissidents.

The agency is also believed to have orchestrated the highly-publicized kidnappings of the five Causeway Bay booksellers, who were taken from Hong Kong and turned up in mainland custody.

Xi Jinping Hong Kong
From left to right: Former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying, current chief executive Carrie Lam, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and his wife Peng Liyuan in Hong Kong. Reuters/Bobby Yip

Last month, China voted to move forward with new national security legislation for Hong Kong in a major blow to the city’s autonomy.

The proposal was voted on by the annual National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, and allows the country to unilaterally draft and force national security laws in Hong Kong in the near future.

The next step is for China’s top legislative body to draft the official text for the new laws, which Beijing said should be done “at an early date,” according to Agence France-Presse.

Chinese authorities have not yet released the full details of the proposal, though it will likely outlaw the promotion of secession, subversion, and foreign interference.

A previous draft of the proposal said: “When needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People’s Government will set up agencies in Hong Kong to fulfil relevant duties to safeguard national security in accordance with the law.”

Hong Kong
Riot police clash with civilians during protests in Hong Kong on May 27, 2020. Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

According to Axios, the new laws will likely allow China’s security agency to create a framework for extraditing targets in Hong Kong to the mainland.

Or, in a more alarming scenario, the legislation could allow the security agency to simply apprehend people and sweep them over the border.

“If Chinese intelligence agencies are allowed to operate openly and officially, then that becomes an alternative centre of power to the law enforcement agencies that the Hong Kong government currently has, one that would undoubtedly have legal primacy in the jurisdiction,” Rodney Faraon, a former senior CIA officer, told Axios.

Critics have said that once the bill is passed, it could spell the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Hong Kong currently operates under a “One Country, Two Systems” rule with China, affording it a high degree of autonomy from the mainland and allowing it to maintain its own political, legal, and economic systems separate from China until 2047.

But China has grown increasingly overbearing in its policies towards Hong Kong in recent years, leading to intensified protests and heightened calls for the city to move towards full democracy.

“Beijing has been intensifying the pressure on the city over the last decade and this moves the campaign of repression to a new, more concerning phase,” Ben Bland, a research fellow at Australia’s Lowy Institute and author of a book on Hong Kong, previously told Business Insider.