The National People’s Congress of China has once again undermined the autonomy of Hong Kong with its decision to pass controversial security legislation. The law in question will see “separatism” and “foreign interference” and “dissent” outlawed. When Hong Kong was formally handed over to China in 1997 as a Special Administrative Region, the expectation was that a “one country, two systems” constitutional approach to Hong Kong would be upheld.
In May, the Global Times (a tabloid outlet of the CCP’s People’s Daily) described the law as a “remedy” and argued that Hong Kong’s “return to the Chinese mainland” had been “problematic.” The Global Times also reported that the then draft legislation – formalized on July 30 – was necessary to uphold the One Country, Two Systems policy and argued that the laws in question were “a move aimed at preventing external forces from meddling in H.K. affairs”.
The law is set to take effect on July 1 which coincides with the anniversary of the handover of 1997 – clearly Beijing’s intention. While the plight of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong may see this recent development as a major setback, the movement’s real challenge lies in September 2020 when Legislative Council elections will be held. Given the positive performance of pro-democracy parties in the 2019 Local Elections, where pro-democracy candidates won 17 out of 18 District Councils, the expectations for September 2020 should be somewhat similar.
The prospects for a completely independent Hong Kong are highly unlikely. The economy is too small, Chinese assets in Hong Kong have increased steadily over the last five years, and the SAR has a porous border with China. However, it is also unlikely that the memory of Chinese interference in Hong Kong will be forgotten. The largest civic demonstrations the SAR has ever seen in its history won’t be forgotten. The attempts to control what the SAR can and can not say about Beijing, the huge swell of pro-democracy sentiment and the international community’s support will also be hard for Hong Kong citizens to forget.