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In the summer of 2019, protests broke out in Hong Kong in response to Chinese attempts to permit the extradition of Hong Kong residents for trial in mainland China. Protestors feared that such attempts would destroy the “one country, two systems” rule under which China has governed Hong Kong since the autonomous territory transitioned from British to Chinese rule in 1997. Though the Hong Kong protests have continued since last summer, China recently introduced a new national security law that would not just permit the extradition of Hong Kong residents, but drastically increase Beijing’s presence in the autonomous territory.
The proposed new law, which is set to go into effect today, would permit Chinese authorities to operate in Hong Kong for the first time ever. Should the law pass, Beijing would build a national security office in Hong Kong and staff it with security forces from mainland China. These security forces would supervise Hong Kong police authorities. Additionally, under the new law, the leader of Hong Kong would choose the judges assigned to national security cases, a change that could jeopardize the autonomous territory’s independent judiciary.
Additionally, under the new law, Beijing would establish a national security commission for Hong Kong operated by mainland officials. All provisions in the new law would be followed in the event of conflicts with Hong Kong laws. Critics have claimed that the law’s stipulations would infringe upon the civil and political freedoms for which Hong Kong is known, and many of the territory’s opposition parties have already begun disbanding in fear of retaliation. China claims the laws are necessary to maintain civility and keep the mainland’s power over Hong Kong.
There may be additional stipulations to China’s national security law that have yet to be made public. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam had not seen the bill’s full text as recently as last week, though she defended the law to the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier today. Questions remain as to how any crimes meriting extradition will be defined. Also unclear is whether Hong Kong will be able to exert any checks and balances regarding Chinese activity in the region.
The new Chinese national security law is not the first of its type. In 2003, Hong Kong attempted to pass a similar bill, but protests caused the autonomous territory’s government to reconsider. China has never been satisfied with the lack of such laws in the territory, but Hong Kong citizens have remained steadfast in their sentiments that these laws would all but eliminate residents’ abilities to speak up against governmental abuse of power.
International response to the law has been swift and negative. Over 200 legislators from 24 countries have signed an open letter opposing the bill, and U.S. President Donald Trump lambasted Beijing for the law while reversing Hong Kong’s special trade status. Additionally, Trump has said that China’s new national security law will result in the U.S. treating Hong Kong with the same restrictions the global power has long placed on China. Many members of the European Union’s Parliament warned China that its law would violate the country’s international commitments and threatened to bring China before the International Court of Justice. In the U.K., which formerly ruled Hong Kong, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sworn to pave a path toward British citizenship for Hong Kong residents.