By Ambassador Guo Shaochun
Last week, China’s top legislative body unanimously passed the national security law for Hong Kong, a move widely-hailed as a strong boost to Hong Kong’s security and prosperity.
Yet some fear-mongering politicians claim the law is against freedoms. It is time we get the basics right about this important piece of legislation.
It is a legal and legitimate exercise of power by the Chinese top legislature, not “a blow to Hong Kong’s autonomy”.
It is stated in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, its constitutional document, that “the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) shall be a local administrative region of the People’s Republic of China, which shall enjoy a high degree of autonomy and come directly under the Central People’s Government”.
The law also provides that the SAR shall enact laws on its own to safeguard national security. This is known as Article 23. However, this article has been so stigmatized and demonized in Hong Kong that nearly 23 years after Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, relevant legislation is still not introduced.
Article 23 does not change the fact that the central government holds the primary and ultimate responsibility for national security in all sub-national administrative regions, Hong Kong included. This is the theory and principle underpinning national sovereignty and a common international practice. In a joint statement delivered at the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, 52 countries confirmed in a statement that “in any country, the legislative power on national security issues rests with State”.
The legislation will not change the capitalist system or the high degree of autonomy of Hong Kong. It will not change Hong Kong’s legal system. Nor will it abridge the independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication, exercised by the judiciary in Hong Kong.
It is a response to serious crimes, not “a curtailment of fundamental rights”.
The law includes 66 articles and specifically outlaws four types of criminal activity: secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign or external forces.
The legislation upholds important legal principles, such as no retroactive application, presumption of innocence, and protection of the rights of the suspect. In Article 4, it states “human rights shall be respected and protected in safeguarding national security in the Hong Kong SAR. The rights and freedoms, including the freedoms of speech, of the press, of publication, of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration, which the residents of the Region enjoy under the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR and the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as applied to Hong Kong, shall be protected in accordance with the law.”
It is a boon for Hong Kong’s security, not “a cause for concern”
The absence of a national security law in Hong Kong has created a legal loophole conveniently used by anti-China saboteurs to jeopardize security in Hong Kong and the wider country. Since turmoil erupted in 2019, prolonged social unrest and escalating street violence had put Hong Kong at the greatest danger since its return to the motherland in 1997. Radical separatists chanted “independence for Hong Kong” while attacking innocent individuals and vandalizing public facilities. Any government that do not respond will be dismally failing their duty.
The four categories of offenses well-identified in the law are those that severely endanger national security. The people in Hong Kong will not have difficulties in enjoying their freedoms and rights as long as they are not involved in these crimes.
In contrast, some Western countries target national security crimes numbered in the dozens. Angus Ng Hok Ming, executive president of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Youth Association, said, “last year, the atmosphere in the city was extremely intense, making normal people unable to breathe. Now we are not afraid anymore, and rioters are now scared due to the enactment of the law.”
It is a lifeline for Hong Kong’s continued prosperity, not “the death of Hong Kong”
Hong Kong has long been the world’s leading international financial, trade and shipping center. But this enviable position, and even its economic viability, has been in question since last year. The rampage of rioters effectively shut down commerce. No one was going out, shops and restaurants closed early, and tourism took a massive hit.
Last year, Hong Kong officially slumped into its first recession in a decade. From September 2019 to March 2020, Hong Kong dropped from the third to sixth place in a twice-yearly ranking of the world’s global financial centers; it also slid from the top 10 to No.20 in the Safe City Index 2019 of the Economist Intelligence Unit.
After passing the national security law, the Chinese Government has put in place a number of new measures to improve the stability and prosperity of the Hong Kong economy. China’s central bank vowed to firmly support Hong Kong as a global financial hub and its economy and financial markets. Stocks in Hong Kong rose on their first trading day since the legislation was passed. The Hang Seng Index climbed 2.9%, led by property companies, and the city’s currency was near the strongest it’s allowed to trade. A measure of offshore China stocks surged 3.1%, the biggest gain in three months. The gains reflected investor expectation that the legislation will deter protesters, restore stability to the city’s streets and encourage consumption.
It is China’s internal affairs, not a “global problem”.
Every sovereign state has the inherent right to legislate in the interest of its national security; Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam supports the legislation and recognizes the constitutional power of the state over the SAR; during an eight-day campaign starting May 24, nearly 2.93 million Hong Kong residents signed a petition in support of the legislation; at the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council, 53 countries concurred in a statement that says, “we welcome the adoption of the decision by China’s legislature to establish and improve a legal framework and enforcement mechanisms for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) for the purpose of safeguarding national security…non-interference in internal affairs of sovereign states is an essential principle enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and a basic norm of international relations”.
Why do a handful of western governments and politicians overreact, or feel exasperated and frustrated, to such a just and necessary legislation? Why do they seem overly zealous about what is happening or not happening in Hong Kong? Their pattern of behavior is nothing new to you and me: behind the scene, they spread rumors, instigate actions, train and finance individuals and organizations. Then they make it all about human rights, drag the matter to an international institution they dominate, hastily cook up a guilty verdict, and slap sanctions and all kinds of restrictions. No one, no matter how forgetful, should forget the fact that Hong Kong never enjoyed any democracy or freedom during the 156 years under British colonial rule, none of the former 28 Hong Kong governors were elected by the Hong Kong residents, the Hong Kong residents never had the freedom to take to the street for demonstration, and the UK even applied the Treason Act to Hong Kong during its colonial rule. These facts are like clear mirrors that reveal the hypocrisy and double standards of Western politicians. The conclusion could not be clearer. What they really care about is not the freedom of Hong Kong residents, but their own “freedom” to sabotage China’s national security in whatever way they choose.
But times have changed. Those at the receiving end of such an abuse of international justice have changed. Now we are wide awake. We are stronger and more determined. Colonialism and imperialism is long dead in form. So should it be in substance.