Beijing Collected Everyone’s ‘Honest Opinions’ on Hong Kong’s Security Law. Except for Its Critics.

As other countries urge the mainland to reconsider and local experts warn of an irreparable intrusion into the city's institutions, China's liaison office said consultations had yielded 'unanimous support' for the feared bill.
June 24, 2020, 2:09pm
liaison office, hong kong, beijing, national security
Police gesture as a pro-democracy activists protest against a proposed new security law outside the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong on May 24, 2020. ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP

Chinese authorities have hosted 12 forums to solicit “honest opinions” from 120 stakeholders across various sectors on the implementation of Hong Kong’s widely feared national security bill, but opposition voices appear to have been conspicuously absent from the consultations.

In a statement released by the Chinese central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, the outcome of the forums was “unanimous support” for the controversial legislation, which has left many fearful it could be used to stifle lawful dissent.

According to the liaison office, however, the stakeholders consulted agreed that the law would plug holes in the city’s legal system to protect national security, and would be beneficial for “long-term prosperity and stability” in Hong Kong, talking points very similar to views on the law expressed in state media.

“Attendees commonly hope that the law would be implemented as soon as possible,” the
statement adds.

The conclusion seems suspiciously out of character for the restive city, which was rocked by pro-democracy protests with a distinctly anti-Beijing bent for months last year. The protests, albeit diminished, were recently reignited following the National People’s Congress session that mandated the introduction of the national security law.

According to the South China Morning Post, however, critics and member of the city’s pro-democracy political parties were not included in the consultation sessions, and those who did attend were not given the chance to read the details of the draft legislation.

While the law’s drafting process has been predictably opaque, new details disclosed by state media outlets on Saturday revealed that a commissioner’s office will be set up in Hong Kong to oversee the implementation of the new law. The draft law also allows for the possibility of Beijing exercising jurisdiction over certain cases, up to and including extraditing suspects to the mainland, according to a source present at the recent consultations.

Hong Kongers’ fear of being subjected to China’s notoriously opaque court system were enough to spark last year’s protest movement, which was initially triggered by the introduction of a bill allowing extraditions to the mainland.

A new Hong Kong police unit will also be formed to work with the Chinese authorities to enforce the national security law.

Over the past weeks, the Chinese government has signalled its determination to pass the national security law, despite widespread opposition both at home and abroad. A Chinese official angrily rebuked the G7 nations last week after they jointly expressed “grave concerns” over the bill.

The national security law, which some think will spell the “end of Hong Kong,” was first brought up last month at the China’s National People’s Congress, and the state-run tabloid the Global Times said the legislation is now in the “fast lane,” and due to be passed within a month, though other outlets have reported it could happen as soon as the end of June.

The purpose of the law, according to Chinese officials, is to strengthen the “one country, two systems” model of governance—under which Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unheard of on the mainland—though critics say it’s more likely to render the arrangement moot.

The national security law will criminalize, in broad terms, any acts of secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities, and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security—many of which were terms used to describe last year’s protests.

If passed, the law could have a wide-reaching impact on various aspects of social life in Hong Kong, from trade agreements to cybersecurity. More importantly, it is likely to impose dangerous restrictions to the freedom of expression, and could even pose an impediment to pro-democracy candidates seeking to run for office.

Anthony Dapiran, a Hong Kong lawyer and author, called the rushed passage of the bill, without even making a draft available to local policymakers, “the behaviour of a colonial power.”

In his regular newsletter yesterday, Dapiran outlined the various ways in which the new law would irreparably intrude on Hong Kong institutions meant to remain autonomous under the “one country, two systems” framework, up to and including the city’s elections.

“Overall, the law marks a broad-based power-grab by Beijing over key elements of Hong Kong government, law, and society,” he wrote.

“The National Security Law opens up a gaping hole in Hong Kong’s rule of law: it is not an exaggeration to say that, in respect of national security matters (which is defined however Beijing wants it to be defined), rule of law is dead in Hong Kong.”