Hong Kong’s National Security Legislation: Iron-fisted Rule Undermines China’s Credibility

The international promise of a “one country, two systems” framework, guaranteeing a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong for 50 years after its return to China, can be said to have been completely shredded.

The administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping should be aware that his iron-fisted rule is undermining China’s credibility.

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, the parliament for the territory, unanimously passed a national security bill that cracks down on acts that endanger “national security.” The new legislation includes tighter controls to prevent theft of state secrets, espionage and interference in Hong Kong by foreign forces.

In Hong Kong, the National Security Law has been in effect since 2020 to prohibit antigovernment activities such as overthrowing the government. The new legislation criminalizes a wider range of activities than the National Security Law.

With the enactment of the National Security Law and the legislation this time, the institutional arrangements that form the foundation for iron-fisted rule in Hong Kong has been completed.

The Basic Law, which serves as Hong Kong’s constitution, mandated the enactment of the new legislation. The Hong Kong government announced its intention to enact the legislation in 2002, but abandoned it after massive protests broke out.

This time, however, the Legislative Council, which is almost completely dominated by pro-China lawmakers, passed the national security bill with unprecedented speed, in less than two weeks after it was submitted by the Hong Kong government. Some observers believe that the Xi administration, which prioritizes national security above all else, hastened the enactment.

The enactment of the legislation was reportedly met with no notable protests. If people were hesitant to criticize the government, it effectively proved the effects of the National Security Law.

While it is quite natural for authorities to crack down on the theft of state secrets, regardless of country, the problem with the new legislation is that the definition of secrets and others is ambiguous.

The legislation only defines state secrets subject to tighter control as those relating to national defense, diplomacy and science and technology, or those relating to the economic and social development of China and Hong Kong. This does not dispel concerns that the authorities could apply the legislation in an arbitrary manner.

The legislation will also be applied to human rights organizations from foreign countries, among others. The apparent aim is to intimidate such foreign forces so that they will not criticize the political situation in Hong Kong.

Since March last year, China has held in detention a China-based Japanese employee of Astellas Pharma Inc. on suspicion of espionage without giving a clear reason. A similar incident could occur in Hong Kong.

Many foreign companies have advanced to Hong Kong, Asia’s international financial center. But since the National Security Law took effect, there have been a noticeable number of companies withdrawing from Hong Kong, wary of iron-fisted rule. And there is no end to the number of residents who have emigrated overseas.

If the enactment of the new legislation accelerates this trend, it would run counter to China’s national interests.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 22, 2024)