Hong Kong passes second national security law, widening crackdown powers and aligning city more closely with mainland China

Hong Kong passes second national security law, widening crackdown powers and aligning city more closely with mainland China - Politics - News

New National Security Law in Hong Kong: Unprecedented Powers and Controversial Implications

The legislative body of Hong Kong unanimously passed a new set of far-reaching national security powers on Tuesday, with critics and analysts warning that this development would bring the financial hub’s legislation closer to China’s mainland laws and intensify an ongoing crackdown on dissent.

The national security bill, which consists of 39 new articles in addition to the existing law imposed by Beijing in 2020 following massive democracy protests, was expeditiously passed through the city’s Legislative Council in just 11 days at the request of city leader John Lee. The bill, which spans over 200 pages, will take effect on Saturday.

These new provisions include crimes such as treason, espionage, external interference, and unlawful handling of state secrets, with the most serious offenses carrying a life sentence. The introduction of this legislation marks a significant transformation in Hong Kong, resulting in the jailing of numerous political opponents, the disbandment or silencing of civil society groups, and the curtailment of free speech.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee described this as a “historical moment for Hong Kong” and an accomplishment that met the expectations of China’s Communist Party leadership. However, critics argue that these national security measures are unnecessarily broad and could potentially infringe upon political criticism, dissent, and even lawful business activities.

China’s leaders contend that the new legislation is crucial in “plugging loopholes” to restore stability and security in Hong Kong following the significant protests. They also argue that their measures align with other national security laws worldwide. Nevertheless, critics maintain that China’s definition of national security offenses is much more comprehensive and often targets activities that would not be considered criminal elsewhere.

As Hong Kong’s government works to revive the city’s business credentials in 2023, legal scholars and experts express concerns that the broad definitions and severe penalties within this new law could further suppress civil society and pose a significant threat to the city’s robust exchanges of information for businesses – particularly the financial sector.

Eric Lai, research fellow at Georgetown Center for Asian Law and an expert on Hong Kong’s legal system, expects a “chilling effect” to deepen across society. According to Lai, the business community will be particularly affected by new crimes like “theft of state secrets” and “espionage,” carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

The new legislation outlaws the unlawful acquisition, possession, and disclosure of state secrets alongside espionage. The vague definition of a “state secret” raises concerns about its potential application to various aspects of social and economic life in Hong Kong, potentially endangering foreign businesses.

In mainland China, national security laws have often targeted both local and foreign businesses with opaque investigations. In 2021, state security authorities raided multiple offices of international advisory firm Capvision in a broader crackdown on the consulting industry as Beijing tightened control over sensitive information related to national security.

The involvement of “external forces” – a euphemism for foreign governments and organizations – is labeled as an aggravating factor in the new law, warranting harsher sentencing.

Johannes Hack, President of the German Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, emphasizes that many German businesses remain committed to Hong Kong but express concern over maintaining its unique position offering a free flow of capital and a common law court system.

Former pro-democracy lawmaker Emily Lau shares this sentiment, expressing worries that the differences between Hong Kong and mainland China are increasingly blurred. “We want Hong Kong to prosper,” she stated, “but we are different from the rest of China. But the difference is getting less and less, which is very sad.”

In summary, the new national security legislation in Hong Kong brings about unprecedented powers with controversial implications. While China’s leaders argue that these measures are necessary to restore stability, critics contend that they could further stifle civil society and pose risks for businesses in the city. The impact of this legislation on Hong Kong’s unique identity, economic position, and international standing remains to be seen.