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Friday, June 12, 2020, 00:16
National security law’s cure to HK’s festering political wounds
By Chow Pak-chin
Friday, June 12, 2020, 00:16 By Chow Pak-chin

As last month’s announcement regarding the National People’s Congress’ (NPC’s) decision to enact a tailor-made national security law for Hong Kong still dominates the political scene in the SAR, questions about the upcoming legislation need clarification.

As expected, verbal protestations by the opposition camp have been chucked around since shortly after the announcement, with some even questioning the city’s future, long-term stability, and its chances of prosperity — should it ever prosper again.

In summary, the proposed legislation — which is expected to be passed in a matter of weeks rather than months — will be bearing down on any acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, or foreign interference.

And Hong Kong will enact a local-version national security law to prohibit other national security offenses, as set out in Article 23 of the Basic Law.

Why do the central authorities have to act on the matter of national security?

Firstly, the law is needed to plug a loophole that has continuously allowed the opposition camp and radicals to take advantage of and bring chaos to an already shaky political establishment. Case in point, the city grounded to a painfully abrupt halt in 2014 when the “Occupy Central” movement overtook Central.

If Hong Kong has any chance of recovering from all the pain it has been enduring in the last few years — especially the strife over the last 12 months — then the first thing it needs is stability

As for the current protests that have been ravaging our city since last June, it is more than fair to say that Hong Kong reached its breaking point long ago.

Secondly, Hong Kong has failed to fulfill its obligation to enact a national security law 23 years after its return to China. Multiple attempts to do so in the past by then-chief executive Tung Chee-hwa and then-security secretary Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee met with strong resistance by the general populace. Today is no different than it was back then, except that the opposition in the Legislative Council deploy their despicable filibustering tactic. If Hong Kong had been able to enact its own national security law as prescribed by Article 23 of the Basic Law, the central authorities, including the Standing Committee of the NPC, would not have to be troubled to take action. However, 23 years into the special administrative region, we have not done our job.

Thirdly, Hong Kong and its Legislative Council cannot go on in its current state, with controversy after controversy surrounding the open invitation for foreign governments to intervene, including invitations to sanction the country and the Hong Kong SAR raising more than a few eyebrows in the city and in the capital.

Beijing may have made a surprising decision, but in time, all will be able to see the need. This is the hallmark of leadership that requires difficult decisions for the greater good, sometimes incurring short-term pain, and the NPC has done just that.

As for the claims that foreign investors will pull out of Hong Kong as a result of this new law, I would remind everyone of the fact that the number of foreigners currently working in the Chinese mainland is far greater than those working in Hong Kong.

In fact, according to the 2019 World Investment Report, China’s mainland was ranked the second-largest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) after the United States and before Hong Kong. Further to this, the mainland’s economy was thrice ranked as the second-most attractive economy for multinationals to invest in, from 2017 to 2019.

Every investor in real estate, which is an immovable asset, has not been deterred by the incoming national security law. Prices of housing units, which are a good barometer of the level of confidence among the residents here, have been rock solid. New units coming onto the market have been quickly snapped up. And Hong Kong remains an important offshore funding platform for mainland businesses, and this in turn means that the financial and professional services sector will remain robust.

As for the US’ and President Donald Trump’s reactions, on which the opposition in Hong Kong has pinned its last hopes, a quick examination of a few facts will quickly tell you that their threats are empty and completely unfounded.

First, the US has been running handsome trade surpluses with Hong Kong — a rare relationship with any sizable economy. Secondly, US investment in Hong Kong currently stands at US$30 billion annually, and over 1,000 US companies have offices and businesses in the city. So any sanction against Hong Kong would be a double-edged sword, and indeed would probably do far more damage to the US economy than it would to ours.

On top of that, China’s phase-one trade deal with the US is currently well underway, as China purchased over 200,000 metric tons of US farm products last month and went on to purchase an additional 264,000 for September this year.

On the surface, Beijing and Washington are at loggerheads, but the reality is that to keep their own economies going, both governments continue to need the cooperation of the other. In short, our Sino-US trade deal and the US dollar payment system will remain intact.

As for the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s gesture of allowing British National (Overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong to stay in the UK for up to 12 months is hollow, and if one is to be frank, cheap.

Whatever politicians in the UK say, this move will have little attraction to the 350,000 BN(O) passport holders residing in Hong Kong. At present, these passport holders are already able to visit and stay in the UK continuously for six months and could easily extend their stay by another six months by making a short trip to continental Europe and then returning to the UK for an additional six-month period.

Those who are tempted by the offer have to consider the risk of having their Chinese citizenship, or even their Hong Kong residency, revoked.

At the same time, with or without losing Hong Kong residency, British National (Overseas) passport holders may lose their right to vote. There is no good reason why in “truly democratic practices” foreign citizens should have the right to vote.

If Hong Kong has any chance of recovering from all the pain it has been enduring in the last few years — especially the strife over the last 12 months — then the first thing it needs is stability.

So everyone should first reflect on what has caused us to arrive at this critical juncture in the first place.

To begin to heal the festering wound, we must act drastically and cut out the rot. The right decision is not always the easy one, but Hong Kong people will soon see that this national security law is the only cure, and the right one in the face of difficult challenges.

The author is president of Wisdom Hong Kong, a think tank.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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