Hong Kong’s New Security Act and What it Means for Human Rights
In recent years, tensions between Hong Kong and mainland China have greatly escalated, while the “one country, two systems” policy has diminished in veracity.
The “one country, two systems” policy is a result of Hong Kong’s complex history and relationship to China, currently a communist country, and the United Kingdom, a parliamentary democracy.
Historically, Hong Kong was a British colony.
Following a lengthy war between Britain and China in 1842, a part of Hong Kong was ceded to the British; China also leased the rest of Hong Kong to the U. K. for 99 years. In the 1980s, as the 99-year lease came to an end, the U. K. began talks with China on how to handle the returning of Hong Kong. This proved to be rather difficult considering the differences in forms of government between China and the U. K. (China wanted Hong Kong to follow Chinese laws and regulations, which meant limited rights). Eventually, both countries came to an agreement that Hong Kong would function with “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defense affairs” for 50 years.
On paper, Hong Kong does have more rights (freedom of speech, protest, etc.) than China; however, Hong Kong’s autonomy has been declining as China limits its functions. For instance, China has the ability to meddle in Hong Kong’s civil affairs by citing international implications as a reason. Citizens of Hong Kong are also at a disadvantage when it comes to electing their leader. Hong Kong’s “constitution” states that there are two main governing bodies: the chief executive and the Legislative Council. The chief executive of Hong Kong is elected by a 1,200-member committee, most of whom are “pro-Beijing,” meaning they support Hong Kong’s full integration into China, and the Legislative Council is made up of 70 lawmakers who are not directly elected by citizens of Hong Kong.
Young citizens also refuse to identify themselves as Chinese, a trend that seems to be growing.
China’s treatment of Hong Kong has sparked many protests amongst its citizens, the most famous being in June 2019. The June 2019 protest against the allowance of extradition of citizens of Hong Kong to China ended with arrests of high-profile Democratic activists and the complete replacement of the extradition bill.
Currently, protests in Hong Kong have died down as a result of the pandemic, but China has already imposed a new security act over the citizens to “cover their bases.”
The new security act, passed on June 30th, 2020, undermines rights granted by the Hong Kong constitution. The act states that any resident of Hong Kong (permanent or non-permanent) who commits terrorism, speaks against the Chinese central government or the regional government, colludes with a foreign government, or damages public transport facilities can be punished by a minimum of 3 years in prison and a maximum of life imprisonment. It also states that certain trials can be held behind closed doors, the Justice Secretary decides the presence of a jury, those convicted cannot run for office, and the law can be violated by non-resident citizens. Importantly, the Act establishes a Chinese legal presence in Hong Kong by creating the “Office for Safeguarding National Security” and a vaguer national security committee made up of Hong Kong officials led by a Chinese-appointed advisor. Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader, Carrie Lam, defends the law, saying it was “overdue” and fills a “gaping hole in national security.”
There was an immediate reaction in Hong Kong as the act was announced. Most pro-democracy businesses took down any signs against the government or in support of protesters. Pro-democracy activists were silenced over the punishment they might receive if they spoke. Opposition leader, Ted Hui told BBC, “Beijing's promise to the world that Hong Kong will have a high degree of autonomy is proven to be a lie,” echoing the sentiments of many Hong Kongers. “The announcement also saw the international reaction, specifically from the U. K.’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, claiming that China had broken the deal made as part of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong. The act was even discussed by the UN Human Rights Council, as it “has clear implications for human rights.”
The security act seems to be a large step in ending the “one country, two systems” policy that was initially agreed upon by China and the U. K. Many Hong Kongers believe this to be the impingement on their autonomy that will end the democracy of Hong Kong.
Authored by Sanjana Sharma