'The end of Hong Kong': Experts say China's push to pass strict national security laws further erodes the city's autonomy

Jerry Lampe/ReutersChina’s national flag is raised during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the National Stadium, August 8, 2008. The stadium is also known as the Bird’s Nest.
  • On Friday, China began to move forward with controversial national security laws for Hong Kong.
  • 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.
  • It’s unclear what happens next and how Hong Kong will react.
  • Experts say Beijing’s decision to implement these laws unilaterally rather than through Hong Kong’s own legislature “represents a major blow to Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy.”
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

China is moving forward with a set of controversial national security laws for Hong Kong aimed at cracking down on anti-Beijing sentiment and further eroding the region’s autonomy.

Chinese authorities have not yet released the full details of the proposal, which is set to be discussed at the annual and largely rubber-stamp National People’s Congress (NPC) that reopens on Friday.

According to the BBC, Wang Chen, the vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC, explained that the proposal will have seven articles, including one that state’s Hong Kong “must improve” national security.

“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,” the draft states, according to the BBC.

On Friday, Hong Kong’s government signalled support for the legislature and said it would cooperate with China in order to enforce the laws in Hong Kong.

‘The end of Hong Kong’

Critics have likened the move to bullying and say it could have dire consequences on the city.

Maya Wang, a senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that the bill could spell the end of Hong Kong.

“The end of Hong Kong is alarming not only for its people but also for the world,” she said, according to Hong Kong Free Press news website.

“Today’s Hong Kong, tomorrow’s the world: Hong Kong has been the safe [harbour] for dissent; it’s the light, the conscience, the voice that speaks truth to an increasingly powerful China.”

Leah Millis/REUTERSA child sits in carrier wearing a mask as anti-government protesters hold hands to form a human chain in a sign of solidarity in Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong, China, November 30, 2019.

Pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong tweeted that the move was “retaliation” for the last several months of protest spurred by the deeply unpopular extradition bill proposal that was ultimately shelved indefinitely.

“Beijing’s move is a direct retaliation on #hongkongers’ efforts to arouse awareness over the past one year,” he said in a tweet. “[Hong Kongers] will not scare off in the face of wolf warrior policy.”

What is it?

While Hong Kong technically operates under a “One Country, Two Systems” rule with China, its relationship with the mainland is growing more fraught as time passes.

Hong Kong operated under British colonial rule for more than 150 years until its sovereignty was passed on to China in 1997 through an agreement called “the Basic Law.” This allows Hong Kong to maintain its own political, legal, and economic systems separate from China until 2047.

Hong kong carrie lamHK01Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam gives a press conference in Hong Kong on June 18, 2019.

The Basic Law, or Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, already calls for the city to enact national security laws to prohibit “treason, secession, sedition [and] subversion” against the Chinese government. It is referred to as Article 23.

Here is what it states in full:

“The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organisations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organisations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organisations or bodies.”

While the article already exists as a part of the basic law, it has never been enacted.

Hong Kongers have been vigilant about it being used to tighten China’s control over the city. In 2003, the Hong Kong government attempted to put forward a national security bill under Article 23, which resulted in mass protests. The bill was eventually withdrawn and shelved indefinitely.

This new proposal would be tacked on to the Basic Law, according to the BBC, which also means that China would be modifying the agreement without Hong Kong’s approval.

Why bring it up now?

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

Ben Bland, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute in Australia and the author of “Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow,” told Business Insider that China’s decision to bring Hong Kong’s national security laws into the spotlight again is a response to last year’s protests.

“Beijing is moving now as part of a wider crackdown following last year’s unprecedented pro-democracy protests,” he said.

Hong kong protestAnthony Kwan/Getty ImagesRiot police detain a protester during a demonstration on August 5, 2019 in Hong Kong.

Bland added that the COVID-19 outbreak has preoccupied foreign governments and provided them with an opportunity to clamp down on its province gone rogue.

“The timing is also favourable with foreign governments distracted by the COVID-19 crisis,” he said.

What happens next?

It’s unclear what happens next. According to Bland, Beijing’s decision to implement these laws unilaterally rather than through Hong Kong’s own legislature “represents a major blow to Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy.”

“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,” he said.

Maple Yau, a 23-year-old involved in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, told Business Insider that it was “hard to tell” if renewed protests will take place at this stage.

“Suppression in Hong Kong is now harsher than ever,” he said. “The logic of China is that if you don’t support the communist party, then you are jeopardizing the national security of China.”

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