An update on Hong Kong as new security laws loom

17 Jun 2020
By Hayley Shiel-Rood
An update on Hong Kong as new security laws loom
As the threat of COVID-19 appears to recede, protesters are once again returning to the streets of Hong Kong. In recent weeks, the Chinese Congress has announced and carried new security laws intended to combat secessionist rebellion within the city. The laws were met with mass protest, and to many Hong Kongers they signal the end of ‘One Country, Two Systems’.
 
Protests resume across Hong Kong
 
After a pause in physical protests over the last few months, demonstrations have once again returned to the streets of Hong Kong. While physical protests were constrained during the height of the pandemic, the movement remained active online and had already planned to regroup on the streets.
 
Further background on the progression of the Hong Kong protest movement this year can be read here.
 
As lockdown restrictions began to ease, protestors resumed last week against the Chinese Communist Party’s plan to introduce new security laws. The laws are to purportedly combat terrorism, foreign intervention, secession and subversion - and include criminalising ridicule of China’s national anthem, and the restructuring of Hong Kong’s education system to reinforce ‘National security’ in all schools.
 
While Hong Kong’s Basic Law guarantees freedoms that are not permitted on the mainland, on 28 May the Chinese Parliament voted 2,878 to 1 in favour of the security proposal. The proposed laws now need drafting and are expected to be enacted as soon as September.
 
Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, has publicly argued the national security legislation will not threaten the HKSAR’s semi-autonomous liberties. Chen Daoxiang, a senior member within the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison, has said the laws “will contain and punish any acts of sabotage towards national unity and would deter foreign interference, all the while maintaining national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
 
The laws are expected to predominantly target secession and subversion, terms that have been used to describe the pro-democracy protests. Opponents view the bill as being a violation of their freedom of speech, and right to assembly.
 
Thousands of Hong Kongers have since congregated on the streets, stating the new laws are inconsistent with the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, and that the city is becoming a police state with a looming threat of authoritarianism.
 
As riot police dramatically increased their presence across the city, protesters were urged to participate in flash protests at Causeway Bay and Mong Kong. At Admiralty Station, activists were led by former legislator Leung Kwok Hung, who was arrested earlier this year for organising protests.
 
Police activity has included the use of teargas, pepper spray and water cannons. This sparked outrage, as police were recently cleared of allegations of brutality towards protesters during the 2019 protests.
 
The International Response
 
The global response to the passing of the bill has been one of international criticism. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed that Hong Kong no longer warranted special economic treatment and tariff exemptions, as the city no longer held a high degree of autonomy. Days later, President Trump announced the US would begin eliminating further Hong Kong policy exemptions as previously agreed in the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.
 
Australia, Canada and the UK have also delivered statements voicing their deep concern towards the security laws. Australia’s statement by Foreign Minister Marise Payne stated that such a law would undermine the legitimacy of 'One Country, Two Systems', yet Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would not be implementing any sanctions against China. Taiwan's President, Tsai Ing-wen has voiced her support to citizens of Hong Kong.
 
These developments have the potential to jeopardise Hong Kong’s status as a trading hub, and China’s gateway to the West. The current Hong Kong system has allowed the city to uphold a low tax rate and open market, making it one of the world’s most business-friendly economies.
 
The Future of ‘One Country, Two Systems’
 
As protests continue, the future of the city must be considered. Officially, 1 July 2047 will mark the end of Hong Kong’s special administrative region status, afforded to the city when it was returned to China by the UK in 1997.
 
Yet, recent events demonstrate a more pressing concern - that the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ arrangements are already dead. These laws suggest a further hardening in China’s stance toward Hong Kong. It is believed that until the proposed introduction of last year’s extradition bill, the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ doctrine was still in practice. Since mid-2019, the reality of such a policy remaining intact began to falter.
 
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has maintained that the city even could continue its freedoms beyond 2047, as long as current temporary misunderstandings did not prevent future cooperation. Others are not so sure. In the wake of the new security laws, pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo claimed “Hong Kong as we knew it is finally dead.”
 
Notwithstanding Hong Kong’s landing point, mounting tensions in the city have the capacity to significantly harm economic stability across the Indo-Pacific, and further strain already-tense regional political relations.
 

Authors

Hayley Shiel-Rood
Hayley Shiel-Rood
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