As a British crown colony for more than 150 years, Hong Kong served as the gateway between the East and the West. With its unique position, this singular city rose and secured itself as the top trade hub of the Asian region. This resulted in Hong Kong’s GDP skyrocketing, topping 180 times the GDP of 1961 in 1997. This economic prosperity marked the birth of the first Asian Tiger. Moreover, as a British crown colony, the people of Hong Kong enjoyed basic human rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press – to name a few. However, the colony’s lease, which it signed in 1842, expired. In 1997, the British returned Hong Kong to China under the strict “One Country, Two Systems” agreement, which proclaimed that Hong Kong shall retain its rights until at least 2047.
China’s recent legislation, the Hong Kong National Security Law, effectively ends the ‘“One Country, Two Systems” agreement that was codified in The Basic Law adopted in 1990. The Basic Law defined the relationship between China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and included the protection of specific rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents. Now, under the new National Security Law, these human rights in Hong Kong – along with Hong Kong’s political, social and economic autonomy – are all but dissolved.
What Led to the National Security Law?
In February 2019, the Hong Kong Security Bureau proposed amendments to the then-current extradition laws, allowing extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China and other countries. This proposal resulted in immediate social outrage. Protests erupted in Hong Kong, with tens of thousands taking to the streets, demanding the revoking of the bill. For months the conflict continued to worsen – protestors rampantly vandalized public property and government police increasingly brutalized the citizens.
It was not until October 23, 2019, that the bill was officially withdrawn. By then, Hong Kong plunged into a recession. The people continued their protests, now a pro-democracy movement, and Beijing became increasingly agitated. In response to the upheaval and the pro-democracy movement, China’s legislature unanimously passed the Hong Kong National Security Law on June 30, 2020, effectively taking complete control over Hong Kong.
What is the new Hong Kong National Security Law?
The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is an ambiguously worded 66-article legislation that covers a broad spectrum of political crimes, some of which are punishable by imprisonment for life. The legislation is for political crimes such as collusion, separatism, subversion and terrorism. However, these crimes have such broad definitions that they cover most criticism of the Communist party.
For instance, on Monday, August 9, 2020, claiming “collusion with a foreign country,” the Hong Kong police arrested pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai. This arrest dispelled all hope that the law was only for rioters. Continuing their attack against the democracy movement, more than 200 police officers stormed the Apple Daily, Mr. Lai’s publication. The police arrested four executives of the company and then also arrested Mr. Lai’s two sons, who did not have an association with the publication.
On August 10, 2020, the Hong Kong police made its second prominent apprehension under the National Security Law, arresting Agnes Chow for “inciting succession.” Politician Agnes Chow’s pro-democracy views also disqualified her candidacy for running for election. According to the National Security Law, Hong Kong can hold the trials of those arrested in secret, without a jury or bail, and it can also extradite them to mainland China (Articles 41, 42, 46, and 56).
International and Local Responses
The people of Hong Kong are suffering. After enduring months of police brutality and civil unrest, they are now facing an economic recession and a totalitarian takeover. The adversity standing before the citizens of Hong Kong is truly overwhelming.
Countries are trying to help in the wake of this unprecedented violation of human rights in Hong Kong. The United Kingdom has pledged a path to citizenship for almost 3 million Hong Kong citizens. Those who were born before 1997 are receiving recognition as having British national overseas status. As a result, they can either enter and stay in the U.K. for five years, granting them “settled-status,” which allows them to apply for citizenship.
Taiwan has been helping Hong Kong citizens for months by offering asylum to pro-democracy activists. Furthermore, on July 1, 2020, the day after the passing of the National Security Law, Taiwan opened the Taiwan-Hong Kong Office for Exchanges and Services in Taipei city, which will provide relocation and humanitarian aid to Hong Kong refugees.
The United States responded to Beijing by passing the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which imposes sanctions on Chinese officials who are crushing democracy in Hong Kong. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), one of the act’s cosponsors, stated: “This legislation sends a strong, bipartisan message that the United States stands with the people of Hong Kong. We urge the Government of China to abandon their ongoing efforts to repress freedoms in Hong Kong. There will be a price to pay if they continue down that path.”
On August 9, 2020, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States issued a Joint Statement on the Erosion of Rights in Hong Kong. Countries around the world are condemning the Hong Kong National Security Law and are urging the Chinese Communist Party to reconsider.
In response to the foreign criticism, senior Chinese official Zhang Xiaoming replied: “It’s none of your business.” However, hopefully, with both local and foreign pressure, human rights in Hong Kong will improve over time.
– Jacob Pugmire