What you need to know about Hong Kong’s new national security law

Everything has developed at breakneck speed. Beijing only submitted the proposal a month ago, and the law is expected to take effect in July.

Here’s what you need to know about the bill, and what it means for the city.

Beijing has been asking Hong Kong to pass a national security law since 1997, when the former British colony was returned to China. There is even an article in the city mini-constitution asking her to do it.

Hong Kong politicians have tried to pass the legislation before, but faced fierce public opposition.

On May 22, Beijing decided to take matters into its own hands and proposed the Hong Kong bill in the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s parliament.

While Hong Kong has an independent legal system, a back door in its mini-constitution allows Beijing to make laws in the city, which means there isn’t much the Hong Kong public or leadership can do about it.

Under the proposed law, criminal offenses will include secession, subversion against the Chinese central government, terrorist activities, and collusion with foreign forces to jeopardize national security, according to the state news agency Xinhua.

Chinese President Xi Jinping votes on a proposal on Hong Kong's security law during the closing session of the National People's Congress in Beijing on May 28.

What would the law do?

The law will allow mainland Chinese officials to operate in Hong Kong for the first time and give Beijing power to override local laws.

According to the proposed law:

  • Beijing will establish a national security office, With the staff of the continental security services to supervise local authorities in monitoring the law, according to Xinhua.
  • Hong Kong’s top official will choose which judges hear national security cases, jeopardizing the city’s independent judiciary.
  • Mainland Chinese authorities can “exercise jurisdiction” on cases in special circumstances, which means that certain crimes in Hong Kong could result in trials on the mainland.
  • The city will establish a national security commission, with an adviser appointed by Beijing and operating under “the supervision of the central government”.
  • The bill trumps local law. If there is a conflict with current Hong Kong law, national security law prevails.

What are the unanswered questions?

There is still much that we do not know. Much of the drafting process takes place behind closed doors, and there have been no public consultations on the bill, including Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, the city’s top official, said she has not seen the “full details ”

It is not yet clear how well defined these crimes will be, or what exactly will constitute general terms such as collusion or foreign subversion.

We do not yet know how the law will protect the rights of the accused and what special circumstances will prompt the Chinese authorities to intervene or demand the extradition of suspects to the mainland.

It is also unclear whether there will be checks and balances that allow local government to regulate what mainland agents do in Hong Kong, and what role those agents could play in any possible impeachment of opposition figures in the city.

Why did Hong Kong not pass the law itself?

The local government tried to pass a national security law in 2003, but after mass protests, it shelved the legislation and no administration has dared to try again, much to China’s frustration.
Hong Kongers back then had the same fears as now: that a national security law could infringe on their freedoms and be used to crush dissent.

Then the 2019 protests followed, this time against another bill that would have allowed suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to the mainland. Many Hong Kong people once again feared that Beijing would extend its reach to the city’s independent judicial system.

For more than six months, Hong Kong was rocked by often violent pro-democracy and anti-government protests, which represented a major challenge to local city leaders and the police, who deployed tear gas and water cannons.

Beijing’s patience, worn down by the failure of the local government to pass the law, ran out, so the central government took action on its own.

Before we dive deeper, some background

Although Hong Kong is part of China, it enjoys more freedoms than any other Chinese city.

Hong Kong was a British territory until it was returned to China in 1997. The delivery agreement It granted the city special press, speech and assembly freedoms, protected for at least 50 years, in a government model called “one country, two systems.”

Under this model, Hong Kong also has its own currency, judicial system, identity and culture, freedoms that contrast with censorship and China’s authoritarian government on the mainland.

Hong Kong people have long feared the Chinese invasion of their autonomy and have lobbied for greater democracy, one of the drivers of last year’s protests, as well as the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

Why is this law so controversial?

The law dramatically expands Beijing’s power over the city and could change daily life and society.
China revealed some details of Hong Kong's national security law and may be as bad as critics feared
Many are concerned that the law could be used to attack dissidents, a fear stemming from China’s judicial record.

On the continent, national security laws have been used to prosecute pro-democracy activists, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists. Arbitrary punishment and secret detention are almost unknown in Hong Kong, but people are concerned that this new law may change that.

Critics say the law could also cause increased media self-censorship, the exclusion of pro-democracy figures from the city legislature and threatening Hong Kong’s reputation as a secure base for international companies.

All of this remains speculation until the law is enacted and used, but it represents what Hong Kong people fear most: the end of their freedoms and of “one country, two systems.”

What did Hong Kongers say?

China’s announcement of the law met fierce resistance from much of Hong Kong society.

After it was announced, crowds of protesters returned to the streets and clashed with the police, who again fired tear gas and deployed water cannons.

Democracy lawmakers, including Claudia Mo, condemned the law as “taking away all the core values ​​we have come to know,” while the Hong Kong Bar Association criticized the law as a major blow to judicial independence.

Some Hong Kong people told CNN that they are considering fleeing the city to safer shores such as the autonomous island of Taiwan, where authorities set up an office to help Hong Kong citizens move there for “political reasons.”

But some have also welcomed the law. Business officials have argued that it could bring the much-needed stability of the city after last year’s riots, which devastated the city’s economy, closed dozens of shops and restaurants, and damaged Hong Kong’s international reputation. HSBC and Standard Chartered, two of Hong Kong’s largest banks, support the bill.

Riot police detain a protester in Hong Kong on May 24.

What has the Hong Kong government said?

Lam, the Hong Kong leader, said the central government “had no choice but to act” after last year’s political unrest, and that Hong Kong had a “constitutional duty” to defend China’s sovereignty.

She has repeatedly denied that the law violates citizens’ basic rights, saying it will not undermine the city’s “judicial independence and high degree of autonomy”.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, Hong Kong’s second-highest ranking official, has also insisted that only terrorists and separatists will be targeted by the law, but has little influence on the wording of the details.

Hong Kong Police Commissioner Chris Tang told the Chinese state television channel CCTV in May that the law “will not affect the rights and liberty of the people of Hong Kong” and will help the city to “be more stable and safe”.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam at a press conference in May after the bill was announced.

What have other world leaders said?

The proposed law has been received with concern and condemnation from the international community; More than 200 legislators from 24 countries have signed an open letter opposing the bill.

United States President Donald Trump criticized Beijing over the law and revoked Hong Kong’s special status in trade, saying in May that the United States will apply the same restrictions to its territory with China.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson argued that the law “would reduce (Hong Kong’s) freedoms and dramatically erode its autonomy,” and promised to provide a path to British citizenship for potentially millions of Hong Kong people.

The leaders of the European Union (EU) expressed “serious concerns” about the possible threat to fundamental rights and freedoms. Lawmakers in the European Parliament warned that China was violating its international commitments and proposed bringing China before the International Court of Justice.

CNN’s James Griffiths contributed to this report.