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Treason, Secession, Armed Rebellion, Subversion And State Secrets – China’s Paranoia Takes Hold Of Hong Kong

On its 18th birthday, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) received an unwelcome gift from the Beijing authorities: a new sweeping national security law which, despite not applying directly to Hong Kong, is likely to raise pressure on the government of the former British colony to enact its own national security legislation. According to the controversial Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law, the HKSAR "shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government, or theft of state secrets". When the first Chief Executive of the HKSAR, the pro-Beijing magnate Tung Chee-hwa, tried to enact such laws, about half a million Hongkongers took to the streets. Popular anger ultimately led to his resignation in 2005.

On July 1st, 1997, the British colony of Hong Kong was handed over to the People's Republic of China. The televised ceremony was watched by millions of people all over the world. The Hongkongers themselves were but passive bystanders of this historical event, some of them cheerful and proud, others deeply worried about the uncertain future of the post-handover period. They had never been consulted, either by London or Beijing, over whether they wanted their dynamic, liberal, capitalist city to be incorporated into a one-party state with a government-led market economy. They had to accept a fait accompli and try to make the most of it.

On the same day eighteen years later, while pro-Beijing lawmakers celebrated the anniversary of Hong Kong's 'return to the motherland' and pro-democracy groups staged a protest march from Victoria Park to Admiralty, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing passed the new national security law with 154 votes in favour, 1 abstention and no vote against. The law replaces the one promulgated in 1993. 

One of the innovations introduced in the document is the reference to the duty of Hong Kong and Macau in safeguarding China’s national security. This is widely seen as a move to bring the mainland and the two SARs ever closer together and to tighten the grip on anti-Beijing, pro-democracy groups in the former Western colonies.

At a press conference following the meeting of the NPC, Zheng Shuna  (郑淑娜), the Vice-Chairman of the NPC, explained the Communist Party's point of view on national security. “National security,” she argued, “is the most basic and important prerequisite for the country’s existence and development.” According to Zheng, the 1993 national security law was outdated, as new "domains of national security" have emerged over the past decades, a reference not only to internet censorship and cybersecurity, but also to China’s growing interest in the South China Sea as well as in space. As Zheng put it,

After New China was established, the Party and the country have always attached great importance to the task of safeguarding national security ... Over 20 years have elapsed since 1993. Following the country’s development, dramatic changes have occurred in the general situation of our national security ... Currently, the circumstances of our national security are increasingly grim. Externally, we must safeguard our national sovereignty, security and development; internally, we must safeguard political security and social stability. Both tasks are putting great pressure upon us. Dangerous factors, both foreseeable and unpredictable, are clearly increasing, while non-traditional domains of public security are emerging ... The extent and meaning of national security have never been more significant, the spatial domains of national security have never been wider, internal and external factors have never been more complex.

As to Hong Kong and Macau, Zheng reiterated the firm stance adopted by the Communist Party under Xi Jinping, laid out in last year's white paper,

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Macau Special Administrative Region are inalienable parts of the People’s Republic of China. They are under the Central People’s Government’s direct jurisdiction and enjoy a high degree of autonomy. According to the Constitution and the Basic Law, they are responsible for safeguarding national security … Article 11 of the national security law states that “safeguarding national sovereignty, unification and territorial integrity is the common duty of the whole Chinese people, including the compatriots in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan”; Article 40 paragraph 3 states that “the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Macau Special Administrative Region shall fulfil their duty in safeguarding national security. 
The Great Hall of the People, where the NPC convenes. (source:"Great Hall Of The People At Night" by Thomas.fanghaenel - via Wikimedia Commons)

According to Article 23 of the Basic Law of the HKSAR and the MSAR, she continued, Hong Kong

shall enact its own legislation prohibiting acts of treason, secession (分裂国家, lit. “splitting up the country”), incitement to armed rebellion, subversion of the Central People’s Government and theft of state secrets; prohibiting foreign political organisations and groups to carry out political activities in the SARs, and prohibiting political organisations and groups of the SARs to establish connections with foreign political organisations and groups.

The national security law therefore is supposed to reflect China’s key national security concerns as defined by the CCP. It is important to note that ‘secession’ also includes the issue of ‘Taiwan independence’. 

Zheng Shuna denied that the national security law is too vague and its scope too broad. She used a typical rhetorical tactic of the CCP, which is to imply that what China does is no different from what ‘every government in the world’ does, without, however, providing any specific examples. As she put it, 

Safeguarding core national security interests means to safeguard the core interests of the country and other important interests … including the country’s existence, independence and development. Any responsible government, in safeguarding the core national interests, will act with determination, tolerate no dispute, no compromise and no interference. Every country in the world would do the same. Of course, China is no exception … What are China’s core interests? The white paper entitled “China’s Peaceful Development”, issued in September 2011, clearly explains it and the new law reaffirms it. It is … the country’s political regime, sovereignty, reunification and territorial integrity, people’s welfare, continuous economic and social development, among others. The meaning of national security is clear and its scope is by no means wider than in any other country.

While the new national security law will not be implemented in Hong Kong, the general path China is following is clear: more state control, increasing international assertiveness, incorporation of Taiwan in the PRC, as well as the steady ‘mainlandisation’ of Hong Kong and Macau.

Only two days before the anniversary of the handover, Joshua Wong, a pro-democracy activist, leader of Scholarism, and one of the most prominent faces of last year's Umbrella Revolution, was assaulted while walking to Mong Kok MTR Station with his girlfriend. According to reports, a man in his 20s grabbed Wong by the neck and punched him in the face. The man, whose identity remains unknown, was accompanied by a woman; after the attack they fled in different directions. Wong's girlfriend sustained minor injuries. 

Whether the assault was politically motivated, as many people suspect, will probably never be known. But the silence of the pro-Beijing camp is revealing. To my knowledge, no member of the establishment has expressed sympathy with Wong and his girlfriend. Nor have they ever addressed the simple fact that the government is obviously incapable of keeping law and order. While it blamed peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators, it never sounded particularly alarmed about the knife assault on liberal journalist Kevin Lau, who sustained severe injuries; about the famous soy sauce attacks on pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and other assaults against its owner Jimmy Lai. What do 'national security' and 'rule of law' mean when the streets of Hong Kong aren't safe for those who oppose the Communist Party?

Is gangsterism the future of Hong Kong, the prelude to the end of a unique city?

Read: Why Hong Kong's 'One Country, Two Systems' Was Doomed To Fail 


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