This week, China’s National People’s Congress passed a decision on introducing a national security law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The proposed legislation is designed to deal with the offenses of secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in the internal affairs of Hong Kong, which has been rocked for almost a year by violent unrest.
The decision has not surprisingly been met with criticism from politicians and media in the West, who argue that it violates the principle of “one country, two systems” and Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy as committed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, arguing that laws must be imposed locally and not by Beijing. Some media outlets have been particularly assertive about this, including the BBC, which ran the headline “This is the end of Hong Kong” the day after the bill was announced.
But is this true? Is the move really a violation of “one country, two systems” and illegitimate? The Western line is in fact not offering a full portrayal of the facts nor an honest comprehension of China’s constitutional structure, with such a move being procedural and in accordance with China’s sovereign rights. Motivated by ideology, Western supremacy and the belief that they have a bigger stake in Hong Kong’s future than the country that it belongs to, Western nations at large are deliberately ignoring these details and in turn refusing to treat China as an equal partner in this matter, rendering any say or perspective as illegitimate or in bad faith. Thus, rather than fall for one-sided commentary, those observing this situation must understand the following:
First of all, Hong Kong is a legal and constitutional component of the People’s Republic of China. Although it is as stated a special administrative region, whereby given autonomies are promised to the city, it is not an independent territory and it does not, contrary to Western belief, exist exclusive or contrary to China’s legal and constitutional structure. Instead, what is known as the Basic Law, which is Hong Kong’s “mini-constitution” and legal arrangement, is in fact under the jurisdiction of China’s NPC, which is the legislative body of the People’s Republic of China and has a constitutional position in overseeing the laws of the country as a whole, even if via its committees.
Hong Kong’s Basic Law is a component of this. Although the document mandates that Hong Kong has autonomous right of policymaking in areas in which it specifies that the central government does not need to account for, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) holds a right of interpretation over it as specified in Article 158. Next, the Basic Law also sets out in Article 18 that the NPCSC holds the right to impose laws on the HKSAR related to “defence and foreign affairs as well as other matters outside the limits of the autonomy of the Region as specified by this Law”. It is able to do so by placing them in Annex III. These aspects, which include the provision of national security, are not autonomous.
Next, Article 23 of the Basic Law mandates that “The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region.” Although this is supposed to be done by the Hong Kong administration, it has not materialized because of local opposition. However, Article 18 further stipulates that if there is an event of “turmoil within the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region which endangers national unity or security and is beyond the control of the government of the Region”, the NPCSC also has the power to implement laws in the region.
And what is happening now? The city is in a constant state of unrest. Although the West points to local grievances, nevertheless the state of sporadic violence, collaboration with US politicians by some, and severe disorder have led the National People’s Congress to utilize their legitimate constitutional role over Hong Kong, via Article 18, to implement a national security law on the region’s behalf. In doing so, the “one country, two systems” principle is not being violated because the field of national security does not come in the jurisdiction of the local government, or even contrary to the principles of the Basic Law itself. Instead, the West makes a flawed argument that argues against these constitutional provisions and pushes the logic that Beijing is not a legitimate, or for that matter equal, partner in Hong Kong and does not have a say over its future.
Therefore, in conclusion, what should be understood from this is that Hong Kong is legally and constitutionally a part of China’s sovereign territory. While Hong Kong has been given autonomies mandated and pledged in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Beijing has exclusive rights over foreign policy, national security and defense matters, which given parties and individuals have sought to undermine. Those who are disagreeing place ideological assumptions over the legal specifications and fail to acknowledge Beijing’s position and rights over its own city. “One country” is not something that exists in name only, but on a constitutional and sovereign scale.
The author is a British political and international relations analyst.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.