China is expected to impose a controversial national security law on Hong Kong imminently. Many worry this could spell the end of the territory’s unique freedoms. So what do we know, and what do people fear the most?
What is this law all about?
Hong Kong was always meant to have a security law, but could never pass one because it was so unpopular. So this is about China stepping in to ensure the city has a legal framework to deal with what it sees as serious challenges to its authority. We know the law would make criminal any act of:
What could it do in Hong Kong?
The draft law has not been made public – even Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam says she has not seen the full text. But some details have emerged:
The law is likely to be passed on 30 June as China’s Standing Committee meets to vote on new laws. Hong Kong officials have already said it will be effective immediately.
Why are people in Hong Kong afraid?
Beijing has said Hong Kong should respect and protect rights and liberties while safeguarding national security – but many still fear the loss of Hong Kong’s freedoms with this law.
“It is clear that the law will have a severe impact on freedom of expression, if not personal security, on the people of Hong Kong,” says Professor Johannes Chan, a legal scholar at the University of Hong Kong.
There are reports of people deleting Facebook posts, and concerns that candidates opposing the national security law will be disqualified from running in elections.
Many are also afraid Hong Kong’s judicial independence will be eroded and its judicial system will look increasingly similar to mainland China’s. The city is the only common law jurisdiction in China.
“Effectively, they are imposing the People’s Republic of China’s criminal system onto the Hong Kong common law system, leaving them with complete discretion to decide who should fall into which system,” says Professor Chan.
Some pro-democracy activists – such as Joshua Wong – have been lobbying foreign governments to help their cause. Such campaigning could become a crime in the future. Many also worry that the law might be retroactive.
People also worry that a threat to Hong Kong’s liberties could affect its attractiveness as a business and economic powerhouse.
Why did China do this?
Hong Kong was handed back to China from British control in 1997, but under a unique agreement – a mini-constitution called the Basic Law and a so-called “one country, two systems” principle.
They are supposed to protect certain freedoms for Hong Kong: freedom of assembly and speech, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights – freedoms that no other part of mainland China has.
Under the same agreement, Hong Kong had to enact is own national security law – this was set out in Article 23 of the Basic Law – but it never happened because of its unpopularity.
Then, last year, protests over an extradition law turned violent and evolved into a broader anti-China and pro-democracy movement.
China doesn’t want to see that happen again.
So can China just push this through?
Effectively, that is what is happening.
The Basic Law says Chinese laws can’t be applied in Hong Kong unless they are listed in a section called Annex III – there are already a few listed there, mostly uncontroversial and around foreign policy.
These laws can be introduced by decree – which means they bypass the city’s parliament.
If you want a deep dive into the tensions between China and Hong Kong read more here:
Critics say this amounts to a breach of that “one country, two systems” principle, which is so important to Hong Kong.