Authored By: Upama Nandy
The word democracy in Hong Kong has always had the word turmoil lingering behind it. Understanding the devastating connotations of the National Security Law imposed upon Hong Kong by the Chinese legislature, National People’s Congress (NPC)[i], needs an analysis of the events that preceded the same. The complex history of Hong Kong shows how, due to a twist in political fate, the majority population which evaded China as a means to escape Communist rule, was strung back to the NPC under a policy of adopting Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Unit. The cry of Hong Kong to become independent from the Chinese claws, has been gradual but not sudden. The people of Hong Kong has seen very little change in extradition or border agreements due to the heavy dominance of the NPC acting as a hurdle for bringing about better security laws for the nation. However, the National Security Law (2020) acted as yet another pin on the grave of Hong Kong’s democratic prowess, strategically nailed in by the Chinese magisterial government.
The Chinese infringement into the Hong Kong administration was widely noticed with the proposal of the Hong Kong legislative to pass the Fugitive Offenders Amendment Bill (2019)[ii]. It promoted extradition to nations with which Hongkong did not have extradition agreements and the citizens would be forced to endure the legal consequences under the jurisdiction of the Chinese legal system. This debatable human rights violation saw worldwide protests and unveiled the supressed citizen’s claim for better rights all over the mainland of Hong Kong. It was also used as the ground for the enactment of the National Security Law (2020)[iii]. The original law had seen several amendment attempts. In 1993, it tried to ban certain societies, essentially curtailing freedom of association without any evidence, in 1997, it tried to legalise dissenting of the government, however it was short lived as the Chinese interference demanded even the ‘sedated’ version of the same law be nullified. 2002 saw a demand for amendment of Article 23[iv] along the lines of what despotic China would have wanted, but the public unrest was able to fight it off. The 2010 demand for amendment encompassing the ideal of less Chinese control was commented on by the latter using the following quote- “[Beijing] will absolutely neither permit anyone advocating secession in Hong Kong nor allow any pro-independence activists to enter a government institution”. This created widespread stir all among the Hong Kong population and the muffled voices for sovereignty and freedom from the Chinese clutch was finally loud enough to gather ears.
The 2019 protests[v] highlighted the citizens who were against China’s extra-territorial infringement in the Hong Kong justice system. The scenario also acted as a catalyst for the controversial amendment to Article 23, passed by the NPC legislature as a weapon against the Hong Kong uprising. Thus, the National Security Law was seen by the citizens as a negation of security laws hence also threatening basic human rights. The public opinion of the same was expressed through aggressive protests and public demonstrations and demanded its refrainment from becoming a law. The law in itself was passed without any knowledge or arbitration in the Hong Kong legislature, needless to say the citizens too were kept in dark until it was too late. The domineering Chinese then took over the policy through the NPC, and in May 2020, it got approved. This was followed by a situation of helplessness where Hong Kong citizens started re-locating to move away from the grasp of the Chinse dragon[vi]. This law fundamentally damaged their rights to freedom and expression of the citizens and the immigration number shot up. Hong Kong also experienced the first documented political detention[vii]. Irrational government logistics were finally disclosed internationally. The ‘one country, two systems’[viii] policy has always been a major hurdle in Hong Kong’s demand for independence from China. China has thus constantly manipulated the same system to dominate the political and social structure of Hong Kong, essentially also damaging the trade relations that it has with the same. The Chinese legal justification of the National Security law being imposed on Hong Kong is banked upon Article 18 of the Hong Kong’s Basic Law which provides validation to Chinese laws in Hongkong. However, it doesn’t talk about the jurisdiction of a law to take place in a foreign legislation and be imposed on Hong Kong with no former intimations or scope for public opinion. The clutch of the Chinese gets stronger every passing year, suffocating the fundamental rights of the citizens. The contrast in Chinese and Hong Kong cultures has often seen the rise of more tension between the nations, this has directly affected the economy of Hong Kong[ix]. The year 2019 and 2020, especially saw a decrease in the growth rate of Hong Kong’s domestic production, this of course, was also aggravated by the corona virus pandemic.
Educators and student communities have relentlessly tried to establish how they do not associate with the Chinese[x] and have shed light on the Chinese aggressive subjugation of Hong Kong’s liberation. Prominent pro democratic activists Joshua Wong, Nathan law etc, have reported given up on their fight for human rights in the nation, some have also fled the country. Thus, hope for Hong Kong’s liberation is constantly diminishing. The British declaration of a British National Overseas Passport (BNO)[xi] to be enabled for citizens fleeing Hong Kong has further promoted the idea of evasion from the country as the only way to escape its fallacies. However, Article 38[xii], allows China to have extra-territorial jurisdiction, a huge loophole that constantly threatens the human rights of the citizens as they are legally sanctioned to be tried by the judicial system of China. Hong Kong police has also issued a warrant list for wanted activists who have left the nation thus further enraging the people. The Beijing power house has done very minimal to compromise and provide a legal backing to the citizens of their ‘special’ regime. They have demanded Hong Kong’s national security law force to have a Beijing advisor thus controlling the nation’s judicial system and by extension its legislature. It is safe to say that they have turned a blind eye to the democratic demands of the nation and instead instilled more fear among the people by subjecting them to the NPC extra-judicial criminal system. Indirect dominance on Hong Kong has been a major characteristic of the Chinese ever since the majority of the non-communist population moved away.[xiii]
The fierce threat of the Chinese dragon has always made nations hesitant when it comes to supporting and recognising the Hong Kong claim of Chinese dominance. However, the major Chinese human rights contravention has finally put an end to this hesitancy. India in its opening address as a temporary member of the United Nations Security Council[xiv] prompted the Hong Kong cause for human rights. They also faced simultaneous tension from the Chinese army along its shared borders acting as a new hurdle to its already diminishing ideal of China. This ideal is based on Chinese disregard of many international convention hence showcasing a whimsical approach to world politics.[xv] Not just India, nations worldwide (including US and Britain) have expressed their dissent for the Chinese violation of Hong Kong’s democratic principles especially due to the National Security Law which was hastily passed during the corona virus pandemic. The pandemic has already brought about a ton of negative press for China, its constant stubborn and aggressive policy decisions is creating a very dangerous climate for the nation’s International prowess. It wouldn’t be entirely wrong to state that the Chinese dragon if not controlled might just get slaughtered at the hands of the International community.
[i] The National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, normally referred to as the National People’s Congress (NPC), is the highest organ of state power and the national legislature of the People’s Republic of China. With 2,980 members in 2018, it is the largest parliamentary body in the world.
[ii] The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 was a proposed bill regarding extradition to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance in relation to special surrender arrangements and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance so that arrangements for mutual legal assistance can be made between Hong Kong and any place outside Hong Kong.
[iii] The Hong Kong national security law, officially the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, is the piece of national security legislation concerning Hong Kong. Such a law is required under Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law, which came into force in 1997 and stipulates that the law should be enacted by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Regio. In June 2020, a partially equivalent law was enacted by the Chinese Standing Committee of the NPC, rather than by the Hong Kong Legislative Council.
[iv] Article 23 in the Basic Law of Hong Kong, states that Hong Kong “shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organizations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies.
[v] The ongoing 2019–20 Hong Kong protests were triggered by the introduction of the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill by the Hong Kong government. The now aborted bill would have allowed extradition to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong did not have extradition agreements, including mainland China and Taiwan. One of the major threats was that the citizens would be exposed to extra-territorial jurisdiction without any say of the State.
[vi] Hong Kong has been rocked by its biggest political crisis in decades in the past two weeks – millions have thronged to the streets in downtown business districts to protest a proposed law allowing for the extradition of suspects to mainland China, where the Communist Party-controlled court system has a conviction rate as high as 99%. According to a survey conducted in December 2018 and published in January by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, 34% of Hong Kong adults would emigrate if they had the chance. Among this group, 16.2% have already made plans to move. Those who wanted to leave were disproportionately young and well educated: 51% were between the ages of 18 and 30 and 47.9% had college degrees. (‘We have no other choice’: as China erodes democracy Hong Kong citizens prepare to leave – Verna Yu – Guardian)
[vii] A new Amnesty International field investigation has documented an alarming pattern of the Hong Kong Police Force deploying reckless and indiscriminate tactics, including while arresting people at protests, as well as exclusive evidence of torture and other ill-treatment in detention. In several cases, detained protesters have also been severely beaten in custody and suffered other ill-treatment amounting to torture. In multiple instances, the abuse appears to have been meted out as “punishment” for talking back or appearing uncooperative. (Hong Kong: Arbitrary arrests, brutal beatings and torture in police detention revealed- Amnesty International)
[viii] “One country, two systems” is a constitutional principle of the People’s Republic of China describing the governance of Hong Kong and Macau since they became Special Administrative Regions (SARs) of China in 1997 and 1999 respectively. It was formulated in the early 1980s by Deng Xiaoping during negotiations with the United Kingdom over Hong Kong.
[ix] Hong Kong’s government announced that it has lowered its 2019 GDP growth forecast to between 0% and 1%, from the original range of 2% to 3%. The protests over an extradition bill have spilled over into issues of freedoms and democracy, are almost into their third month and have crippled the Asian financial hub. Various sectors have reportedly been affected, and markets are said to be hit hard as demonstrations turn increasingly violent. Most notably, the airline, retail, real estate sectors have seen their sales decline, while the city’s public transit system has also been disrupted on multiple occasions. (Hong Kong protests will be ‘settled or crushed’ ahead of China national celebrations – Grace Shao)
[x] Members of a student’s group that advocates for Hong Kong’s independence from China camped out in front of the US Consulate to demonstrate against what they view as a rising tide of political repression, calling on Washington to intervene of behalf of the semi-autonomous region. (Pro-independence student activists in Hongkong – Eli Meixler)
[xi] The British National (Overseas) passport, commonly referred to as the BN(O) passport, is a British passport for persons with British National (Overseas) (BN) status. The passport was first issued in 1987 after the Hong Kong Act 1985, from which this new class of British nationality was created.
[xii] The text of the legislation’s Article 38 is blunt, and makes an unprecedented jurisdictional claim: “The Law shall apply to offences under this Law committed against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region.” If the provision is enforced as it is written, Hong Kong authorities could charge and prosecute individuals who have never stepped foot in the city but whom Beijing deems to have violated the law. (In Hong Kong Security Law, China Asserts Legal Jurisdiction over the Entire World – Jimmy Quinn)
[xiii] Article – A Look at Hong Kong and China 20 Years After Reunification – John.P.Rafferty
[xiv] The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations (UN), charged with ensuring international peace and security, recommending the admission of new UN members to the General Assembly, and approving any changes to the UN Charter. Its powers include establishing peacekeeping operations, enacting international sanctions, and authorizing military action, etc.
[xv] Article – China’s unconventional levers of power in world affairs – The Japan Times.
The author is an undergraduate student at Symbiosis International University, Pune.