Since its passage by the National People’s Congress on June 30, 2020, the legal impact of the National Security Law for Hong Kong has been quite evident. Public order and social stability in Hong Kong have been rapidly restored. Compared with its legal effects, the political and social effects of the NSL are equally, if not more, significant and far-reaching, for they provide a solid foundation for Hong Kong’s effective governance in the long run.
In the first place, the NSL has thoroughly changed Hong Kongers’ political culture and political expectations. All along, many Hong Kongers, particularly the young people, have been misled by both internal and external hostile forces into believing that Beijing will succumb to the political pressure generated by mass protests and riots in Hong Kong, concede to their demands for electoral reforms, and even allow the political opposition to run Hong Kong. The sudden, unexpected and powerful move by Beijing to enact the NSL and the decisiveness of the Hong Kong government to enforce the law have drastically changed the many Hong Kongers’ political expectations for Beijing. From then on, Hong Kongers realized in no uncertain terms the determination of Beijing to safeguard national sovereignty and security and to comprehensively and accurately implement “one country, two systems”. To challenge Beijing on vital issues would only wreak havoc on Hong Kong. What is more is that the challengers will have to pay a hefty price for their temerity.
The impact of the NSL on the community, education, the media, social media, culture, law, movies, the arts and religious sectors is increasingly obvious. The closure of the notorious “anti-China” and “anti-communist” Apple Daily is a prominent example of the power and effectiveness of the NSL. External and internal hostile forces have been able to dominate these sectors all along and thus are able to exert tremendous political influence on public opinion. Their pernicious effects on the young people are particularly serious and enduring
Secondly, the NSL has devastated the political opposition in Hong Kong. The space of operation of the opposition has shrunken drastically, putting their long-term survival at serious risk. For a long time, the opposition depended on “anti-communist”, “anti-China” and “anti-government” propaganda to gain public support and organize radical collective actions. And, in view of the fact that a substantial proportion of Hong Kongers have anti-communist sentiments, this strategy enabled the opposition to win handsomely in the arenas of direct elections and public opinion. The NSL in effect deprives the opposition of this “sure-win” strategy forever and significantly reduces its capability of political mobilization. More importantly, the opposition has lost credibility among Hong Kongers, who not only no longer believe in its appeals and persuasions, but also begin to blame it for Hong Kong’s woes. The fact that public reactions to the arrests and convictions of dozens of opposition figures for violations of the NSL and other local laws are mute, calm and even cynical testifies to the widespread political alienation of Hong Kongers from the opposition.
Thirdly, the NSL has greatly raised the patriotic camp’s morale, courage and will to serve Hong Kong. The patriots are fully convinced that they will be firmly backed by Beijing in their fight against internal and external hostile forces. They also believe that from now on, they will no longer be harassed, threatened and vilified by the opposition. Accordingly, more talent is now willing to join the patriotic camp. The patriots have also started to play an active role in the suppression of riots and the restoration of order in Hong Kong. They also enthusiastically support Beijing’s policies and measures with regard to ending turmoil and putting “one country, two systems” back on track. Through the ordeals of political conflicts, the patriots have become more united, combative and battle-hardened.
Fourthly, the NSL has dealt external forces a ruthless blow as well as exposed their hypocrisy, weakness and unreliability. Under the NSL, the opposition finds it tremendously difficult to obtain political support and financial assistance from external forces. At the same time, it is well-nigh impossible for external forces to use their agents in Hong Kong to instigate radical collective actions. In fact, both foreign organizations and Taiwan independentists have adopted a low profile after the strict enforcement of the NSL. Some external organizations have chosen to leave Hong Kong for good. Needless to say, external forces will continue to do harm to Hong Kong in various ways “outside of Hong Kong” in order to undermine Hong Kong’s international reputation, Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, and Hong Kong’s economic value to China. In any case, Hong Kongers are increasingly aware of the sinister motives of external forces and their limited ability and desire to “protect” their agents. The political influence of external forces in Hong Kong will continue to decline.
Fifthly, the NSL provides the Hong Kong government a potent legal instrument to restore and maintain public order. It significantly increases the courage and determination of the government in safeguarding national security and Hong Kong’s stability. Importantly, the NSL has effectively “activated” those local laws relating to the maintenance of public order. These local laws have not been actively used by the government before for fear of provoking the opposition and their sympathizers. In the past year, the Hong Kong government had rigorously used both the NSL and local laws to suppress Hong Kong’s turmoil and bring the lawbreakers to justice. As of now, more than one hundred people have been arrested and prosecuted for violating the NSL. A much larger number of people have been penalized for breaking local laws.
Sixthly, the NSL has brought about pleasant changes in the relationship between the executive and the legislature. All along, opposition legislators used various filibuster tactics to paralyze the functioning of the legislature in order to make governance difficult, and in turn use ineffective governance as the reason to challenge the legitimacy of the government and Hong Kong’s political system. The NSL and other measures adopted by Beijing have forced almost all the opposition legislators to leave the legislature. The so-called legislative front of the opposition has completely collapsed. Today, the relationship between the executive and the legislature is smooth and cordial. The original intention of the Basic Law to forge a “cooperative and check-and-balance executive-legislative relationship, with emphasis on cooperation” has been basically realized. The efficiency of the legislature has increased palpably. Legislative work has been much expedited. A case in point is the speediness of the legislature in passing the bills relating to the new electoral arrangements stipulated by the National People’s Congress and prescribed by its Standing Committee, thus enabling the elections of the Election Committee, the Legislative Council and the chief executive to take place in successive order in the coming year.
Seventhly, the NSL creates a favorable political space for active and effective governance for the Hong Kong government. After the implementation of the NSL, progress has been made in many policy fronts by the government, including the promotion of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area project, Guangdong-Hong Kong cooperation, Shenzhen-Hong Kong cooperation, development of innovation and technology industries, control and prevention of COVID-19, labor rights enhancement, poverty reduction and livelihood improvement. All these will work toward the resolution of the deep-seated social and economic problems of Hong Kong in the long run.
Lastly, the impact of the NSL on the community, education, the media, social media, culture, law, movies, the arts and religious sectors is increasingly obvious. The closure of the notorious “anti-China” and “anti-communist” Apple Daily is a prominent example of the power and effectiveness of the NSL. External and internal hostile forces have been able to dominate these sectors all along and thus are able to exert tremendous political influence on public opinion. Their pernicious effects on the young people are particularly serious and enduring. After the enforcement of the NSL, still quite a number of influential people in these sectors are resorting to various covert and seemingly “not illegal” actions to propagate discontent with Beijing and the SAR government. In order to counter these “soft” confrontations rigorously, the Hong Kong government has taken strong actions to control the dissemination of misinformation on the web. It plans to make doxxing illegal. Cultural and artistic products are carefully screened to eradicate illegal contents. Radio Television Hong Kong is undergoing large-scale rectification. Radical teachers and students who break the law are given stern treatment. There is evidence that many influential people in these sectors have become more alert and cautious and are lying low so as not to be caught breaking the law. Accordingly, more space is available to Beijing, the SAR government and the patriots to undertake cultural and educational activities and gradually to gain dominance in the ideological arena. The government has strengthened the Chinese history curriculum in the schools. The controversial Liberal Studies will be replaced by Citizenship and Social Development, with much more emphasis on understanding of and identification with the motherland.
All in all, the NSL has built a solid political and social foundation for Hong Kong’s long-term effective governance and political stability.
The author is a professor emeritus of sociology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS