Proposed without warning a week ago, the national security law for Hong Kong has just been passed without event at the closing of the National People’s Congress (NPC) session.
The Chinese central government kept its move under wraps perfectly — the law was in the works for a good six months, but there was no leak. In a way, this shows the solid power base of the central leadership, while Beijing’s unexpectedly strong push for the law highlights its resolve in doing what it takes to get what it wants without allowing room for negotiation.
...even amid the strong will of the central government, there were seven people who expressed their reservations about the security law.
The only slight surprise was that out of 2,880 votes cast yesterday, there was one vote against, and six who abstained, showing that even amid the strong will of the central government, there were seven people who expressed their reservations about the security law.
In Hong Kong, the opposition camp has clearly been caught off guard by Beijing’s “big move”, and has been unable to put together an effective resistance. As expected, there have been violent street demonstrations, but on a much smaller scale than last year. In contrast, the Hong Kong police are prepared, with anti-riot personnel turning up where there are mass gatherings, using tear gas, dispersing crowds, and making arrests before any damage can be done, and enforcing the law to keep the situation under control.
Beijing has planned very carefully for this... the decision makers in the central government have thought of “everything”.
The rapid response by the Hong Kong police is just one facet of Beijing’s detailed preparations for any fallout from strong reactions to the security law. Bloomberg reported that starting from early last year, funds from mainland China have been flowing into and propping up the Hong Kong stock market at an unprecedented rate. After a sharp drop in Hong Kong’s stock market following Beijing’s announcement of the security law last Friday, mainland China funds have ramped up on buying up Hong Kong stocks. While we cannot be sure whether the flow of funds from mainland China into Hong Kong is purely about “bottom-fishing” or whether there is a political mission, it is indeed the usual practice for China’s “national funding team” to step in and “bailout” the Hong Kong stock market during politically sensitive times.
Hong Kong’s democratic camp is in shock, with many commentaries showing a sense of hopelessness at a lost cause, and lamenting the end of “one country, two systems”.
A source familiar with the matter disclosed that Beijing has planned very carefully for this. From operational details such as making arrangements for the central government’s national security agencies to set up branches in Hong Kong and how national security cases are tried, the timing of the security law in relation to elections in Hong Kong, to the possible backlash from the people of Hong Kong, the reaction of the international community, and countermeasures from the US — the decision makers in the central government have thought of “everything”.
In contrast, Hong Kong’s democratic camp is in shock, with many commentaries showing a sense of hopelessness at a lost cause, and lamenting the end of “one country, two systems”.
But is this really it for “one country, two systems”? Definitely Hong Kong will change. But will “one country, two systems” become “one country, one system”? On reflection, maybe not.
Not unravelled just yet
First, even if the central government has passed the security law and the central government’s national security agencies are allowed to set up branches in Hong Kong, enforcement and legislation still have to be done by Hong Kong’s enforcement and legislative personnel. The key is that Beijing does not plan to violate or destroy “one country, two systems”, which would not do mainland China any good at all.
Beijing needs Hong Kong under “one country, two systems”, not just to safeguard its international image or to fulfil its so-called commitment to the international community, but out of real necessity.
Responding to a question yesterday on whether the central government has abandoned the “one country, two systems” policy, Chinese premier Li Keqiang reiterated that it is China’s basic national policy, and the central government is committed to comprehensively and accurately implementing “one country, two systems”, with Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy” (港人治港、高度自治). The constitution and Basic Law will be strictly enforced, and the SAR government and administrative officials will be supported in governing according to the law — that is the norm.
His reply was short and at first glance, seems to be just repeating the same old phrases. But Beijing’s bottom line is in there. Beijing needs Hong Kong under “one country, two systems”, not just to safeguard its international image or to fulfil its so-called commitment to the international community, but out of real necessity.
Last year, former Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan succinctly noted Hong Kong’s irreplaceable position. Besides being an important channel of global funds coming into mainland China, more importantly, “no matter how open China is, it will not implement a capitalist system. And Hong Kong is a trade and finance hub where a capitalist market framework is implemented.”
However, considering US interests in Hong Kong, its sanctions will not be too strong, and Beijing has probably assessed the consequences.
Given the current growing tension in China-US relations, Hong Kong’s position as a springboard is even more important to mainland China. Of course, Beijing would not tolerate Hong Kong being used by external powers against China as a base to disrupt mainland China’s political power, or for Hong Kong to be in unrest or to split from mainland China. In the face of the chaos in Hong Kong, Beijing needs to take action, and have a basis to do so. And so the national security law was born. However, in order not to violate the “one country, two systems” policy, the law needs to operate under the framework of the Basic Law. And for it to really work with minimal resistance from the community, it has to narrow its scope and target only the minority.
As for international sanctions, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that Hong Kong should not continue to enjoy special status under US law. However, considering US interests in Hong Kong, its sanctions will not be too strong, and Beijing has probably assessed the consequences.
Following the passing of the security law by the NPC, the legislative work will probably be quickly completed in time for it to be implemented before the Hong Kong Legislative Council elections in September. It is expected that some Hong Kongers will be arrested and there will be general anxiety, but in the long term, the national security law will not change the overall situation.
In the end, there will be no fundamental change to Hong Kong’s raison d’etre. And how could rolling out a law or setting up national security agency branches resolve once and for all the general sentiment among Hong Kongers? At the moment, Beijing needs to move towards the “one country” in the “one country, two systems” policy, and achieve a balance that is better for the central government. Many Hong Kongers will not be satisfied, but at least the end result will not be “one country, one system”.
Australia, Britain, the US, and Canada issued a joint statement on Friday (29 May), noting that China's direct intervention in Hong Kong's lawmaking would breach a 1984 agreement between London and Beijing to protect the city's autonomy until 2047.
The statement said: "Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of freedom... Direct imposition of national security legislation on Hong Kong by the Beijing authorities, rather than through Hong Kong’s own institutions as provided for under Article 23 of the Basic Law, would curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties, and in doing so, dramatically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous."
It said the law would undermine the "one country, two systems" framework, and undermine existing commitments to protect the rights of Hong Kong people. It also expressed concern that the move would exacerbate the existing deep divisions in Hong Kong society.
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