ALERT: HONG KONG – ELEVATED RISK OF DISRUPTIVE UNREST, AS BEIJING ADOPTS SECURITY LAW ON THE EVE OF HANDOVER ANNIVERSARY

EVENT

At 1800 hours (CST) on 30 June, China’s official news agency Xinhua released a statement confirming that President Xi Jinping has signed off on a national security law for the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region (SAR), which will come into effect immediately. After passing unanimously through China’s rubber-stamp legislative body the People’s Congress Standing Committee earlier in the day, the presidential signature marks the end of a fast-tracked and opaque promulgation process for this highly controversial law.

SIGNIFICANCE

The new law increases Beijing’s power over the former British colony, thus undermining Hong Kong’s semi-autonomy, as enshrined in the Basic Law under the ‘one county, two systems’ framework. The civil liberties and rule of law that underpin the city’s free-market economy are at risk of being eroded.

The timing of its promulgation – just a day ahead of the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997 – indicates Beijing’s attempt to use the new law to curtail the large pro-democracy protests that take place annually on 1 July, and became a regular occurrence last year.

Both the Beijing and the SAR governments claim that the new legislation is crucial for protecting Hong Kong from acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference that threaten national security, and preventing a repeat of the mass civil unrest experienced in 2019. Nonetheless, this law will likely reinforce the perception of Beijing’s creeping control over Hong Kong, which may serve to turn more of the city’s residents towards the pro-democracy camp.

Although it is now in effect, China has yet to release the full terms of the new law. The fact that the legislative process bypassed Hong Kong’s lawmakers adds to concerns over the city’s much-cherished independent judiciary, with Beijing likely to have the power to influence rulings on cases pertaining to the new law.

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