On May 25th, Hong Kong Security Chief John Lee said that China’s proposed security law is necessary “to tackle terrorism” brought about by protesters. According to the Guardian, the law would ban any activities that undermine Chinese national security, including separatism, subversion, sedition, and terrorism. It comes in response to the ongoing riots in Hong Kong over numerous issues, particularly a Hong Kong law that would allow extradition to mainland China, according to a BBC article. The protests have grown increasingly more violent. According to the Human Rights Watch, thousands of rounds of tear gas have been fired, and both protesters and police have been shot.
In a statement, Lee said, “the violence in Hong Kong has been escalating, with many cases involving explosives and genuine firearms. Terrorism is growing in the city and activities which harm national security, such as ‘Hong Kong independence,’ become more rampant. In just a few months, Hong Kong has changed from one of the safest cities in the world to a city shrouded in the shadow of violence.”
John Lee noted that recent clashes showed “the need and urgency of the decision to be deliberated by the NPC (National People’s Congress)” and defended the proposed law, explaining that it would ensure Hong Kong’s “long-term prosperity and stability.” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi explained that the proposed law should be passed “without the slightest delay.” Hong Kong Activist Joshua Wong said, “Although they won’t let us organize protests, we still need to gather. Now is the beginning of the end and time is running out … the international community must stand with Hong Kong.”
In a Facebook post, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen asked Hong Kong’s government to reconsider its stance on the protests: “With profound grief, I want to urge Hong Kong’s government to rein things in from the brink, since the people’s aspirations should not be responded to with violence, and you should not sacrifice the blood of Hong Kong’s youth for the sake of decorating Beijing’s face.”
According to the BBC, members of the international community have criticized the security law. In her Facebook post, President Tsai defended and offered her support to protesters, urging the government not to use force and violence against them. According to Al Jazeera, the United States, in a joint statement with the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, criticized China’s proposed law. The statement noted that the law would put China in direct violation of its international commitments, and that it would limit the autonomy and freedom of Hong Kong. On May 29th, President Trump declared that the United States would no longer recognize Hong Kong as being autonomous from China, deepening the United States’ tensions with China, according to Al Jazeera. The BBC notes that the European Union also criticized the proposed law, explaining that the law forces the European Union to call into question whether it can “respect and trust” China.
The law is not yet finalized, so details as to what actions will be banned are unclear. It is expected to be enacted before September. However, as BBC reports, the law is widely expected to criminalize secession (breaking away from China), subversion (undermining the power or authority of the Chinese government), terrorism (using violence or intimidation against people) and interference in Hong Kong by foreign entities.
The vote in Beijing on the law was nearly unanimous: 2,878 – 1 with six abstentions. Part of the draft notes read, “when needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People’s Government will set up agencies in Hong Kong to fulfill relevant duties to safeguard national security in accordance with the law.” This means, according to the BBC, that China could set up its own security agencies in Hong Kong alongside Hong Kong’s very own. Experts fear that protesters could be punished for criticizing the Chinese government; for example, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo was imprisoned for 11 years for subversion after he wrote a piece calling for political reform.
China and Hong Kong both face national security concerns as a result of increasingly violent protests. The proposed law is a reaction to the violence and instability created by protests. However, numerous Western powers have criticized China for suppressing Hong Kong’s freedom and autonomy. As the law is not yet finalized, the world will have to wait to see how China handles Hong Kong and its protesters.