Campaigners mourned ‘the end of Hong Kong as we know it’ today after China passed a sweeping new national security law which critics say will smother the city’s freedoms.
The legislation was unanimously approved by China’s rubber-stamp parliament, little more than six weeks after it was first unveiled.
‘It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before,’ said democracy campaigner Joshua Wong, adding that ‘sweeping powers and ill-defined law’ would make Hong Kong into a ‘secret police state’.
China promised the city 50 years of freedoms when it was handed over from British rule in 1997, but the UK, US, European Union and UN have all voiced fears that the new law will be used to stifle criticism of Beijing.
Pro-Beijing supporters wave Chinese and Hong Kong flags and drink champagne today as they celebrate a controversial new security law
The law bypassed Hong Kong’s fractious legislature and the wording was kept secret from the city’s 7.5 million inhabitants.
The opacity continued even after the law was passed, with silence from Beijing. Instead the news filtered out via pro-Beijing politicians and local media outlets.
At her weekly press conference on Tuesday morning, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam – a pro-Beijing appointee – declined to comment on what the law contained.
‘The fact that Hong Kong people will only come to know what’s really in this new law after the fact is more than preposterous,’ said Claudia Mo, an opposition lawmaker.
Hong Kong was guaranteed certain freedoms – as well as judicial and legislative autonomy – in 1997 in a deal known as ‘One Country, Two Systems’.
It formed the bedrock of the city’s transformation into a world-class business hub, bolstered by a reliable judiciary and political freedoms unseen on the mainland.
Critics have long accused Beijing of chipping away at that status, but they describe the security law as the most brazen move yet.
A summary of the law published by the official state agency Xinhua this month said China’s secret police would be able to set up shop publicly in the city for the first time.
Beijing has also said it will have jurisdiction over some cases, toppling the legal firewall that has existed between Hong Kong and the mainland’s party-controlled courts since the 1997 handover.
At her weekly press conference on Tuesday morning, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam (pictured) – a pro-Beijing appointee – declined to comment on what the law contained
A pro-China supporter takes a selfie at a rally in Hong Kong today as news filtered out that the new security law had been passed
Analysts said the security law radically restructures the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong.
‘It’s a fundamental change that dramatically undermines both the local and international community’s confidence towards Hong Kong’s One Country, Two Systems model and its status as a robust financial centre,’ Hong Kong political analyst Dixon Sing said.
Human rights groups have warned the law could target opposition politicians seen as insufficiently loyal to Beijing for arrest or disqualification.
On the mainland, national security laws are routinely used to jail critics, especially for the vague offence of ‘subversion’.
Beijing and the Hong Kong government both insist that the laws will only target a minority of people and will not harm political freedoms in the city.
They also say the measure will restore business confidence after a year of historic pro-democracy protests.
On Tuesday, four young democracy campaigners, including Joshua Wong, said they were stepping down from the party they founded while a small pro-independence group said it was disbanding.
Millions took to the streets last year while a smaller hardcore of protesters frequently battled police in violent confrontations that saw more than 9,000 arrested.
Hong Kong banned protests in recent months, citing previous unrest and the coronavirus pandemic, although local transmissions have ended.
Some Western nations warned of potential repercussions for Beijing ahead of the security law’s passing.
However, many are wary of incurring Beijing’s wrath and losing lucrative access to the mainland’s huge economy.
Pro-democracy campaigner Joshua Wong (pictured) said that ‘sweeping powers and ill-defined law’ would make Hong Kong into a ‘secret police state’
Taiwan, which has said it is willing to help Hong Kongers relocate to the island, was one of the first governments to react.
‘The government condemns this move that seriously affects freedom, human rights and stable development in Hong Kong society,’ the cabinet said in a statement.
Washington – which has embarked on a trade war with China – has said the security law means Hong Kong no longer enjoys sufficient autonomy from the mainland to justify special status.
In a largely symbolic move, the United States on Monday ended sensitive defence exports to Hong Kong over the law.
‘The United States is forced to take this action to protect US national security,’ Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
‘We can no longer distinguish between the export of controlled items to Hong Kong or to mainland China. We cannot risk these items falling into the hands of the People’s Liberation Army, whose primary purpose is to uphold the dictatorship of the (ruling Communist Party) by any means necessary.’
Britain had said it was willing to provide a ‘pathway to citizenship’ for millions of Hong Kongers if the security law went ahead.