On June 30, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in China passed the controversial National Security Law for Hong Kong. The Law took effect just before the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China that took place in 1997. China has opted to pass the law by bypassing Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Despite “grave concerns” expressed by major powers such as the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the High Representative of the European Union (EU) at the Group of Seven (G-7), China has maintained that the national security law does not dilute the “one country, two systems” principle.
Earlier on June 17, the G-7 countries said in a statement that “China’s decision is not in conformity with the Hong Kong Basic Law and its international commitments under the principles of the legally binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration. The proposed national security law would risk seriously undermining the one country, two systems principle and the territory’s high degree of autonomy. It would jeopardize the system which has allowed Hong Kong to flourish and made it a success over many years”. Furthermore, the G-7 leaders expressed concerns that this would “threaten the fundamental rights and freedoms of all the population protected by the rule of law and the existence of an independent justice system.”
Responding to G-7 statement on Hong Kong, the Chinese foreign ministry observed that matters related to Hong Kong are China’s internal affairs and thus meddling by any foreign governments or organisations or individuals will not be tolerated. China claims that the objective is to improve the legal structure and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding Hong Kong and has pressed “relevant sides to read through the Basic Law, take an objective and just view of the legislation, abide by international law and basic norms of international relations, and stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs.” Chinese media has maintained that the new Law is aimed at a “very small number of extremist forces that have colluded with foreign forces to destabilize Hong Kong.”
There are concerns that the new Law is aimed at suppressing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests which captured international attention in recent times. The new law extends far-reaching powers to crack down on any opposition to China and targets possible role of foreign elements in Hong Kong’s instability. Massive protests, some of which took a violent turn, were seen in Hong Kong in recent past. There are instances when protests affected airport and subway operations. China’s aim is to target any threat of “secession, subversion, terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security”. China will establish a national security agency in Hong Kong.
As Hong Kong’s autonomy gets eroded, the US has started taking important measures. Washington has imposed restrictions on American exports of defence equipment and high-technology products to Hong Kong. Additionally, the US has also decided to apply visa constraints on officials from the Chinese Communist Party who they think have been involved in undermining autonomy of Hong Kong. Chinese foreign ministry has emphasised that “intimidation does not work on China” and Washington will never be successful in wielding sanctions to impede Beijing’s endeavour to maintain national security in Hong Kong. The EU Council President, Charles Michel has “deplored” China’s decision on the Law.
Despite a global pandemic, Chinese assertive behaviour is in full play not just in Hong Kong but in other important theatres as well including Taiwan, South China Sea, East China Sea and also in the Himalayan borders.
Meanwhile, China has also not taken kindly to the fact that the US wants an expanded G-7 to include India, Russia and South Korea. US which is expected to host the G-7 Summit in the coming months has already invited India as a ‘special guest’. Washington’s move has further alienated Beijing, which has said that any attempts to draw a “small circle” against Beijing will become “unpopular”.
Script: Dr. Titli Basu, Strategic Analyst on East & South East Asia