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National Security Law Helps Hong Kong

Jun 05, 2020
  • Tian Feilong

    Associate Professor, the Law School of Beihang University

Hong Kong.jpg

The recent decision by the National People’s Congress to apply national security law to Hong Kong unleashed an outpouring of feelings in the special administrative region. Many people felt relieved, even reborn, as they believed a long-standing political defect has been cured. Hence a sublime mood settled in the community.

Nevertheless, it must be recognized that perceptions have long been twisted and skewed by domestic opponents and external forces, who dismiss it as something unwanted or even malicious. International practice and comparative law reveals that well-developed national security laws and associated enforcement mechanisms are always a part of sophisticated governments. The failure to enact the Basic Law's Article 23 in Hong Kong is a pronounced legal loophole, and national legislators simply stepped in to plug it. 

Global practice 

Imagine, what would have happened in the United States without the national security law it passed in 1947. Would it have been secure if it had failed to take action in response to new dynamics? Europe is pursuing a similar course. National security has always been the authoritative bedrock underpinning civil liberties and the protection of rights. 

Some people in Hong Kong clamor for “freedom” at the risk of national security, which only ends up inviting chaos and riots instigated by local extremists with the support of external players. Those things come at a cost to the livelihood of every normal citizen in Hong Kong. What more potent example than riots could be imagined against the proposed extradition law?

It stands to reason that national security is first promoted at the central government level and then supported by enforcement and follow-up measures at the local level and sensible discussions about how security legislation and civil liberties relate. It’s important to view of the process through an impartial and objective lens designed to uphold the rule of law under the “one country, two systems” principle. This is what is expected from Hong Kong as a modern and developed society that hosts an informed and high-caliber community and that observes a high level of rule of law.

Unfortunately, those who engage in underhanded collaboration with foreign forces in outright disregard of the rule of law in pursuit of “mutual destruction” with violence and riots are doing a disservice to the freedom and democracy of Hong Kong and only end up mired in the abyss of violent populism. The national security law will help identify and punish the four sins of secession, subversion, violence and foreign interference, and it will create a path of legal recourse against those who engage in such illegal behavior.

In the absence of political and moral cognition, legislation at the central level serves as an authoritative legal benchmark to label and separate law-abiding citizens from lawbreaking rioters. Law is the moral benchmark and yardstick that underpins social order. Applying national security law to Hong Kong provides the best textbook for educating the public on national security and the rule of law.

Under the NPC’s decision, the HKSAR government is legally obliged to promote public education of the national security law and formulate relevant structures and measures to ensure their enforcement. It must also report to the central government. Apparently, the chief executive and the HKSAR government are not mere spectators but are in the driver’s seat when it comes to enforcement of the law.    

Forestalling interference 

Hong Kong will be bolstered in the following dimensions after the enactment of the national security law:

First, the law will provide an authoritative foundation to shore up Hong Kong’s own rule of law. The current social order — when operating in stable environment — is standardized and advanced. The system is supported by highly professional lawyers and judges. However, as a result of radical social movements and the blatant interference of external forces, justice is under threat. Judicial processes applied in normal circumstances are inadequate to respond or cope with social incidents that have risen in both volume and complexity — not to mention the fact that the judiciary have yet to develop a balanced way of handling national security interests.

Hence, the judiciary has become the weakest link in the efforts to curb violence and chaos in Hong Kong, with synergy between law enforcement and the judiciary rendered all but impossible. Enactment and introduction of the national security law will effectively plug the adjudication gaps in Hong Kong, elevating the ability of the SAR to manage extreme circumstances and mete out punishments. It will make the judiciary system more rigorous and responsive in the face of extreme actions challenging government authority. 

Second, the law is essential in stopping external interference. Hong Kong is no stranger to that malady, in particular from the United States. But the so-called protection of freedom in Hong Kong by the U.S. is neither legal nor appropriate. Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China in accordance with the country’s Constitution and Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The HKSAR government derives its high degree of autonomy from the mandate entrusted to it by the central government, and it is under the supervision of the central government in the exercise of that autonomy.

The so-called U.S. “protection” of Hong Kong is a political travesty, an offense against the “one country, two systems” principle and a challenge to China’s sovereignty and national integrity. It does a disservice to the autonomy of Hong Kong and undermines its political foundation, which springs from the patriotic sentiments of the community, the love of the people for the motherland and their attachment to Hong Kong.

External forces seek to turn Hong Kong into an outpost for U.S. infiltration, whose goal is to subvert China. They are attempting to foment a “color revolution” and even to use terrorism to contain China and damage Hong Kong’s prosperity. Opposition forces readily accept — even invite — U.S. sanctions against China. This is by no means driven by love and responsibility for Hong Kong, or for China overall. Rather, it reveals their duplicity, their selfishness and opportunism and their traitorous pursuit of an ultra anti-China position.

Foreign forces engaged in illegal activities will be liable under Article 23 of the Basic Law and the proposed national security law. That’s why agitators are alarmed at the prospect of changes to Article 23. They could no longer perpetrate offenses against the law with impunity. That is why they are going to such great lengths to sow confusion and pit the people of Hong Kong people against the central government.

It is all the more important that the national security law be enacted to distinguish Hong Kong people from external forces  and to make sure that the instigators behind destructive acts face the full strength of justice. This is fundamental to preserving both Hong Kong’s identification with the motherland and its trust in the HKSAR government. It will shore up the political foundation and ensure the steady success of “one country, two systems.”  

Third, it is vital to curb homegrown terrorism in Hong Kong. Local opposition forces use the term “democracy” as a pretext for stoking populism and encouraging terrorism as they strive for power. They feel no compunction about trampling the rule of law and human rights of Hong Kong in pursuit of their own political agenda. Employing a Nazi-style methodology for social movement, these groups are bent on “mutual destruction” with their sweeping and irrational behavior. They pursue the secession and independence of Hong Kong at the cost of the prosperity of the city and rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong people. They even seek an imaginary “cold war medal” from outside supporters.

The national security law takes extreme social movements, some of which can fairly be called terrorism, in Hong Kong into consideration and will mete out codified punishments and restrictions. This is vital to safeguarding the authority and enforcement of a legal form of containment, upholding the rule of law and securing the safety of society.

Fourth, it is vital to drive forward with integrated development, which features prominently in the central government’s policy on Hong Kong. It is a viable path for the social transformation of the SAR.

But Hong Kong opposition forces have been pursuing full autonomy, regardless of the interests of the majority and the development prospects of the city. They advocate self-determination and a “yellow economic circle,” which run counter both to modernization and globalization, and the integrated development strategy of “one country, two systems.” They even go so far as to collude with external forces. The anti-extradition law movement has done great harm to the integrated development of Hong Kong and the mainland, including the Greater Bay Area development strategy. The national security law, by contrast, represents a forceful move to eradicate the disruption and destruction brought by local extremists. It fosters a stable social order, which is conducive to integrated development, along with a dominant set of social values that put the national interest at the center.

Fifth, the new law will serve as an institutional underpinning for the governance of Hong Kong by patriotic Hong Kongers. The anti-extradition law movement and Legislative Council election have sapped the moral of the patriotic establishment in Hong Kong and damaged the rule of law. They leaned toward radicalization and have created malicious political dynamics that work against fair elections and have led to discrimination and life-threatening violence against patriotic groups, shops, families and individuals.

Without action at the central level to stem the political damage and restore the rule of law — in short, fostering a fair and free democratic order and stability in Hong Kong — the political system will continue to cascade toward radicalization. Law-abiding citizens will be exposed to verbal and political attacks and threats. Some will dare not step forward to speak up against violence, to defend the motherland or even to cast an honest vote.

Thus, the radical local forces, if left unchecked, would crowd out and marginalize patriotic forces, and Hong Kong will end up in the hands of the radicals, which will only jeopardize “one country, two systems.”

The central government has taken stock of the risks in Hong Kong and set up political and legal parameters by introducing the national security law. This shows its support for patriots and provides a fundamental guarantee of political support for them in the governance of Hong Kong.

The enactment of the national security law will empower pro-establishment elements in Hong Kong to restore morale, and it will prompt moderates and the silent majority to reconsider their options rationally and make choices in light of the unequivocal policy bottom lines of the central government. This will leave the extreme local and foreign forces high and dry.   

To sum up, the national security law will empower the Hong Kong SAR with more constitutional authority and provide effective instruments of governance. It will give the SAR government a keener sense of its responsibilities and help it recognize where improvements are needed. Meanwhile, the citizens of Hong Kong will gain a clearer understanding of the true nature of violent movements, and to recognize that national protection is crucial for the survival of civil liberties.

The national security law is based on morality, constitutional authority and institutional enforcement capacity. It is a new milestone, an enabling factor that shapes a prosperous, stable, free Hong Kong, where democracy can flourish. And it will promote benign interaction between Hong Kong and the motherland.  

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