The National People’s Congress of China has undermined the autonomy of Hong Kong yet again with its decision to enact controversial security legislation. The law in question will see “separatism” and “foreign interference” outlawed along with “dissent.” Vague terminology like this deliberately confuses critics of China in Hong Kong and gives Beijing a reason to overrule the political autonomy of Hong Kong – central to the “One Country, Two Systems” approach.
In May, the Global Times (an outspoken supporter of the Beijing regime) described the law as a “remedy” and argued that Hong Kong’s “return to the Chinese mainland, enforcing local legislation has 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, positing that the laws in question were “a move aimed at preventing external forces from meddling in H.K. affairs.” It would seem that the irony of such a remark was overlooked at the time of publishing – perhaps deliberately.
The law is set to take effect on July 1, the anniversary of the handover of 1997, which is clearly Beijing’s intention. Flexing such authority on matters pertaining to Hong Kong’s independence through laws designed to stifle protest, criticism and dissent on the anniversary of “One Country, Two Systems” clearly shows that Beijing believes in “One Country, One System.”
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 are expected. 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 around 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 small history won’t be forgotten easily. 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 people to forget.