Decoding the new national security law China is set to impose on Hong Kong

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India May 22, 2020, 07.19 PM(IST)

China plans for security agencies in Hong Kong Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

China's annual session of parliament will deliberate on the plan, announced on Thursday, before it is grafted into Hong Kong's mini-constitution.

Beijing is set to impose a new national security law on Hong Kong in the aftermath of last year's violent anti-China unrest that plunged the city into its deepest turmoil since returning to Chinese rule in 1997.

The move is being seen as a turning point, as it would allow China to garner greater control and a sense of security over Hong Kong.

China has, for several years, expressed frustration over what it sees as a weak national security regime in the freewheeling city. It is now determined to thwart the so-called threats of terrorism, independence, subversion of state power, and interference by foreign forces.

China's annual session of parliament will deliberate on the plan, announced on Thursday, before it is grafted into Hong Kong's mini-constitution.

AN UNSOLVED PUZZLE

Hong Kong lawyers, however, are still puzzled over how the imposed provisions will work in practice.

Questions include whether all protections already in the Basic Law apply and whether locally based mainland agents have enforcement power.

Another issue is whether the standing committee of the National People's Congress has extra powers to ultimately interpret Hong Kong court rulings on national security.

China also said its intelligence agencies would have the right to set up offices in Hong Kong to "safeguard national security". It is not clear, however, whether, they will carry out enforcement activities.

ONE COUNTRY, TWO SYSTEMS?

The issue sits at the heart of the "one country, two systems" formula under which China agreed to protect Hong Kong's extensive freedoms, autonomy and independent legal system. Those freedoms are protected by the Basic Law, which guides the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing.

But Article 23 of the document also says Hong Kong must "on its own" enact laws against treason, secession, sedition, subversion and the theft of state secrets. It also seeks to outlaw ties between local and foreign political groups.

The Basic Law also gives Beijing the power to annex national laws into the document - which the local government must then legislate for or effectively impose by executive fiat.

Scholars have questioned whether this power of promulgation applies to Article 23.

One can find a suitable example in Britain -- which left behind a raft of old laws covering most of the elements of Article 23, aside from subversion and secession - the act of formally withdrawing from a state.

Most are decades old and hard to deploy, given more recent protections on freedoms of speech, assembly and association written into the city's Bill of Rights and the Basic Law itself.

THE CONTROVERSIAL PLAN

The plan is highly controversial -- given Hong Kong's protest movements and polarised politics, a fresh push even for local legislation would be tough.

Many fear that new national security legislation would prove a "dead hand" on the city's large press and traditions, while curbing its broad political debates.

Any step by Beijing to impose its own version via promulgation risks panic and chaos, many observers believe, potentially sparking a flight of people and capital and denting Hong Kong's international financial role.

(with inputs from Reuters)