Published: 02:00, May 28, 2020 | Updated: 01:44, June 6, 2023
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National security legislation defends nation by fending off attacks on Hong Kong
By Thomas Chan

For whatever reason(s), the Hong Kong SAR government has been reluctant to carry out its constitutional obligation to enact a local version of the National Security Law. Even recently, after the National People’s Congress announced its draft decision to pass a law to build and improve the legal system and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong, a principal SAR government official, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong, said the local enactment would be impossible during the current and following sessions of the Legislative Council. The SAR government has failed to fulfill its constitutional obligation 23 years after the city’s reunification with the mainland.

Meanwhile, the national security situation in the city has deteriorated rapidly. Riots and terrorist acts dominated the urban landscape in Hong Kong in the second half of 2019, with separatists and pro-independence elements inciting an increasingly violent rebellion against the government. The SAR government and the city have been paralyzed by the anti-government movement. It was stopped by the coronavirus epidemic for a few months, but only temporarily, waiting for any chance to break out again. Out of Hong Kong, the clash between China and the US has been escalating, and there is evidence that the local separatists have been funded and trained by organizations related to the US government. With all the demonstrations and riots targeting the political regime in the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong is now the battlefield for the “hybrid war”, composed of attacks by the US forces and defense by the Chinese government. The national security of China is nowhere more seriously threatened and actually undermined than in Hong Kong. 

Even with the urgent concerns, Beijing has not disregarded the uniqueness of Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” framework. The NPC draft decision still urges the SAR government to pass a local version of the National Security Law according to Article 23 of the Basic Law 

It is out of concern for this situation and probably also in view of impending troubles in Hong Kong planned by the US to serve its new Cold War with China that the National People’s Congress started to install national security legislation and an enforcement mechanism in Hong Kong. China cannot afford to be unprepared, especially with Hong Kong being the politically most-vulnerable and economically most-valuable city in the entire nation.

However, even with the urgent concerns, Beijing has not disregarded the uniqueness of Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” framework.

The NPC draft decision still urges the SAR government to pass a local version of the National Security Law according to Article 23 of the Basic Law. It does not work without the local law and local enforcement.

Even though there is the mechanism to apply national laws to Hong Kong by including them in Annex 3 of the Basic Law, the NPC will not simply include the existing National Security Law, but will take the trouble to formulate a new national law specifically for Hong Kong, thereby taking into account the particularities of the Hong Kong system.

The NPC draft decision has also stipulated that organs of national security of the central government will set up agencies in Hong Kong, whose operation will be according to law. The SAR government will also establish institutions and an enforcement mechanism for national security. The two will probably work together to close the loophole in China’s national security existing in Hong Kong. The explicit legal requirement will mean greater transparency and a rule-based regulation for their operation, the same as in many developed societies, and much more accountable than the system practiced by the British before the handover.

The logical implications of the NPC draft decision, slated to be approved within this week, are that the Chinese government, including the central and SAR governments, will address the issues of national security in Hong Kong openly and formally. This will close any windows of opportunity for separatists and foreign subversive forces that try to undermine China’s sovereignty over the city and create a local political disturbance. The initial responses to the draft decision have been sporadic local protests and international pressure, but both seem in no way to change the steadfast position of the Chinese central government. Instead, the use of violence in local unrest and the reaction of foreign governments that have been hostile to China simply confirm the need and urgency of the national security legislation. One may not see the impact of the legislation before the detailed contents and enforcement procedures are known after enactment. The information we get from the NPC draft decision is that the scope has been defined with an extensive coverage with no ambiguity, and that it will oppose interference in Hong Kong affairs by any foreign or external forces in any form by taking necessary countermeasures. The latter is all-inclusive and should be able to stop any direct and indirect political intervention by hostile overseas forces that we have been seeing involved in the present demonstrations and riots. The outcome will be a more-transparent political process that offers no pretext and cover for subversion and will allow the general populace, including the overseas press, an undistorted understanding of the inclinations and motives as well as the possible consequences for Hong Kong of any such subversive activities. It will probably also mean that one of the major tasks of the newly established agencies of the national security organs will be to stop overseas interference.

The new Cold War started by the current administration of the US government is undesirable from whatever perspective. But whether it is undesirable or not, China has to defend its territorial integrity and political stability by first driving away any attacks that target Hong Kong. Hong Kong is crucial to China’s resurgence. It represents institutional innovation that both defends and improves the political regime of China.

The author is director of the One Belt One Road Research Institute, Chu Hai College of Higher Education, Hong Kong.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.