International Trade

China Implements National Security Law that Threatens to Violate Hong Kong’s Sovereignty

The 1989 Chinese, Tiananmen Square protests for greater democratic, educational and economic freedoms became infamous because of the massacre on June 4-5, 1989, when Chinese soldiers opened fire into a crowd of student protesters and killed approximately 10,000 people.

Fast forward 31 years, China has squelched democracy domestically and steadily eroded rule of law in Hong Kong as well. How did we get here?

China governs Hong Kong using the one country, two systems model, contained in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration which formalized Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997. The Declaration provided for Hong Kong to retain near autonomy over its government and basic freedoms until 2047.

Recently, Hong Kong has faced increasing political instability as alarm over rapidly disappearing political freedoms intensifies. China selects both Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and half of its Legislative Council which allows it to control Hong Kong’s politics, which is inconsistent with the one country, two systems agreement.

Opposition to China’s increasingly authoritarian rule in Hong Kong has been persistent. Protesters occupied Hong Kong for 79 days during the Umbrella Movement in 2014 to press for more political freedom before police arrested and pepper sprayed them. Conflict also broke out in 2015, with the playing of the Chinese national anthem at Hong Kongese soccer matches and again in 2017, when arguments over interpretations of freedom of speech bubbled over on university campuses. China’s actions against pro-democracy activists are detailed in the ALEC article Hong Kong: Courageous Protests in Defense of Freedom. Chinese officials defended their actions through conservative interpretation of Hong Kong-China laws and continued limiting Hong Kong’s independence.

Then, in spring 2019, a bill was introduced in the Hong Kong Legislative Council that would facilitate the extradition of “criminals” from Hong Kong to mainland China. If adopted, Hong Kong citizens could be subject to the Chinese judicial system, effectively undermining Hong Kong’s sovereignty and rule of law. China could arrest political opponents, despite Hong Kong’s freedom of speech laws and judge them in Chinese courts where there is a 98% conviction rate.

The bill was withdrawn in September 2019. However, demonstrations continued and became violent in October when police shot protesters and allowed activists to be attacked, prompting President Trump to approve the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. This law requires the U.S. State Department to investigate Hong Kong’s autonomy annually to assess whether to continue their special economic relationship.

Beijing took a giant step forward in effectively dismantling Hong Kong’s sovereignty with the unanimous adoption of a national security law on June 30, 2020 that criminalizes foreign interference, secessionist activities, collusion with foreign actors, and subversion in Hong Kong. This legislation violates Hong Kong’s independence and deals a crushing blow to the one country, two systems principle. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam supported the legislation and announced it would come into effect that same day. As of this writing, nine arrests have already been made in Hong Kong invoking the new law.

The U.S. has responded announcing it will no longer export defense technology to Hong Kong due to the possibility that it could end up on the mainland in violation of the Export Administration Act. Sanctioning China is another American response being considered by the Administration. This decision could have grave economic consequences for the province if other global markets follow suit. Hong Kong recently lost its perch atop the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom for the first time in 24 years.

The international community is alarmed by China’s rapid dismantling of the one country, two systems configuration. Taiwan stands in solidarity with Hong Kong, and fear of Chinese aggression informed their recent presidential contest as outlined in this ALEC article. Hong Kong’s citizens support the one country, two systems approach according to the 2017 Centre for Communication and Public Opinion survey which found only 11% of people surveyed (Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong residents over the age of 15) favor Hong Kongese independence, but a 2019 University of Hong Kong poll found that 81% of Hong Kong residents were dissatisfied with the current government.

China’s aggressive regional posture requires a new response to ensure Hong Kong’s and other countries’ independence is honored. The UK has already offered Hong Kong citizens (born before the transfer) access to British national overseas passports, enabling them to live and work in the UK without applying for a visa or seeking asylum. Taiwan has also launched a program to accept Hong Kongese who want to escape China’s crackdown, and hopefully other countries in the international community will facilitate safe emigration for the people of Hong Kong who fear China’s rule and want freedom.