As many had expected and feared, China has announced that it plans to impose a sweeping national security law upon Hong Kong in what government critics are calling the end of “one country, two systems” and the end of Hong Kong as we know it.
On Thursday, Zhang Yesui, a spokesperson for China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), told reporters that the country’s rubber-stamp legislature would soon deliberate over a draft bill that is aimed at “establishing and improving the legal framework and enforcement mechanisms for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in order to safeguard national security.”
Zhang said that the new measures were necessary to respond to “new circumstances and needs” and that the NPC would exercise its power under the Chinese constitution to “improve” Hong Kong’s governance.
Those “new circumstances are”, of course, the large-scale anti-government, pro-democracy protests and unrest that began in Hong Kong last June and only startled to fizzle out this year due to public health restrictions following the coronavirus pandemic.
While the demonstrations began as a response to a proposed law which would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be taken to mainland China for trial, they soon morphed into a broad rejection of the ways in which Beijing has encroached upon the former British colony’s political freedoms in recent years.
Though it’s not yet certain what exactly the national security law will look like, critics say that it undoubtedly will be the heaviest blow yet to Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the political freedoms guaranteed to the city under China’s handover agreement with the United Kingdom in 1997.
Reportedly, the law will make it easier for Beijing to handle future political protests by prohibiting sedition, subversion, and secession along with foreign inference in Hong Kong affairs.
The law will likely be proposed on Friday and could be passed as early as next week. By passing the law, the NPC will be able to completely bypass Hong Kong’s own legislature.
China has the power to implement national security law in Hong Kong under the controversial Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution. However, the last time it was tried in 2003, large-scale protests caused the effort to be scrapped.
Considering what has happened over the past year, it seems unlikely that will work again. Since Beijing announced its intentions on Thursday evening, very strong reactions have been emanating from the China Twittersphere.
Watching the fate of Hong Kong people being decided in Beijing tonight was like watching the Tiananmen Massacre in Beijing in 1989–that same feeling of powerlessness, the sadness, about the rights of people being trampled upon.
— Maya Wang 王松莲 (@wang_maya) May 21, 2020
It's hard to describe the feeling I have right now, and I'm sure it's the same for everyone else who have been covering and following what's happening in #HongKong. I feel rage running through my veins yet I find no strength to scream or even think clearly.
— William Yang (@WilliamYang120) May 21, 2020
Hong Kong as we understood it has died. If you know anyone from Hong Kong, or whose family came from Hong Kong, understand today is a day like no other, and that a part of our hearts have died. If you're in a position to, send them your love, support, and courage.
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) May 21, 2020
After covering Hong Kong for years, Beijing's abrupt end to its "one country, two systems" management of the city is brazen but it doesn't surprise me; especially the timing, while the rest of the world is too distracted battling a pandemic. How will the global community respond?
— Rob Schmitz 史明智 (@rob_schmitz) May 21, 2020
And, of course, in Hong Kong itself:
The pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong regards the legislation as a confirmation of “one country, one system” in Hong Kong, saying that was a “huge setback”. “This is one of the saddest days in Hong Kong,” said Tanya Chan. pic.twitter.com/SsYhiGJehy
— Ezra Cheung (@ezracheungtoto) May 21, 2020
— Richard Pyne (@richardjpyne) May 21, 2020
some of my hk friends are scrubbing their social media of any “dissent”; writers wondering if they need to ask editors to change their bylines. i’m too “out there” already so i’m just wondering if shit will happen to me or my fam next time i’m back. shit is real. and scary.
— wilfred chan (@wilfredchan) May 21, 2020
One of the big questions in the coming days will be how the United States will react.
When he was asked about it on Thursday, President Donald Trump said that the US will respond “very strongly” if China does indeed impose the new national security law on Hong Kong.
Minutes ago, asked about the #HongKong national-security law Beijing just announced, @realDonaldTrump said on the South Lawn before boarding his chopper: “I don’t know what it is, because nobody knows yet. If it happens, we’ll address that issue very strongly.” 😅 pic.twitter.com/Ur0cFomDOU
— Jeffrey Ngo 敖卓軒 😷 (@jeffreychngo) May 21, 2020