[Burning Issue] National Security Law debate in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is burning again. Last year it was Fugitive Offenders Amendment bill, now it’s National Security Law. This anthem bill criminalises insulting China’s national anthem. No, this is not like the same dictum given to us by Supreme Court to stand up in multiplexes. But people actually fear that this law will take away Hong Kong’s basic freedoms.

Context

Chinese lawmakers have approved a proposal for sweeping new national security legislation in Hong Kong, which democracy advocates say will curb essential freedoms in the city.

About Hong Kong

  • A former British Colony and Autonomous Territory: Hong Kong is an autonomous territory, and a former British colony, in southeastern China.
  • It became a colony of the British Empire at the end of the First Opium War in 1842.
  • Sovereignty over the territory was returned to China in 1997.
  • Special Administrative Region (SAR): As a SAR, Hong Kong maintains governing power and economic systems that are separate from those of mainland China.
  • The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration guarantees the Basic Law for 50 years after the transfer of sovereignty.
  • It does not specify how Hong Kong will be governed after 2047.
  • Thus, the central government’s role in determining the territory’s future system of government is the subject of political debate and speculation in Hong kong.

The ‘Basic Law’

  • One country, two systems: Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China.
  • It has observed a “one country, two systems” policy since Britain returned sovereignty to China on July 1, 1997, which has allowed it retain certain freedoms, the rest of China does not have.
  • Basic Law: It is governed by a mini-constitution called the Basic Law – constitutional document is a product of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
  • Under this, China promised to honour Hong Kong’s liberal policies, the system of governance, an independent judiciary, and individual freedoms for a period of 50 years from 1997.

Why is Hong Kong fuming?

  • The handover agreement gave Hong kong special freedoms of press, speech, and assembly for at least 50 years.
  • These freedoms stand in stark contrast to China’s strict censorship and Jinping’s tight grip on power, which have seen dissidents jailed and interrogated in secret prisons.
  • This is why protesters here are desperate to protect their freedoms — because they fear Hong Kong to become just another Chinese city under Xi’s rule.

China vs. Basic Law

  • Mini-constitution: Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, says that ultimately both the leader and the Legislative Council should be elected in a more democratic way – but there’s been disagreement over what this should look like.
  • China dominated system: The Chinese government said in 2014 it would allow voters to choose their leaders from a list approved by a pro-Beijing committee, but critics called this a “sham democracy” and it was voted down in Hong Kong’s legislature.
  • Issue: The new proposal is also controversial because it is expected to circumvent Hong Kong’s own law-making processes – leading to accusations that Beijing is undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Why Hong Kong matters for China?

  • Legitimacy to PLA: The handover of Hong Kong by Great Britain was a major achievement of the CCP and had helped boost the party’s legitimacy.
  • Extending nationalism: The handover strengthened nationalism debates within Chinese society and was perceived as righting the wrongs of the century of humiliation.
  • Since 1978, the basic tenet of the CCP has been reform and liberalisation of the economic sphere and command and control of the political sphere.
  • Political reform (So-called): Today, after more than 40 years of reform, mainland China is yet to witness any breakthrough in political reform.
  • Beijing expects other countries to acknowledge that there exists only one China.

The National Security Law

  • Under Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong has to enact a national security law “to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, and subversion against the Chinese government.”
  • When the Hong Kong government first tried to enact the law in 2003, the issue became a rallying point for the city-wide protests which occurred that year.
  • Since then, the government has steered clear of introducing the legislation again.

Unrest in Hong Kong

  • Banning Sedition: The new law would ban seditious activities that target mainland Chinese rule, as well as punish external interference in Hong Kong affairs.
  • Many expect a revival of the protests that rocked the city last year.
  • China, on the other hand, has sought support and understanding of India and other countries for its controversial decision as a precautionary measure.

Rise of Taiwanese aspirations and Domino Effect

  • The upsurge in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement is more closely linked to the developments in Taiwan than is commonly acknowledged.
  • The Taiwanese election results have given hope to the pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong.
  • However, to imagine that Beijing will stop interfering in the territory’s domestic sociopolitical space is perhaps over-optimistic.
  • National unity and the “One China Principle” are core issues of the Chinese communist party (CCP).
  • Hong Kong, however, is already seen as a part of China under the “one country, two systems” formula.

implications of the Security Law across the globe

China’s authoritarianism stands exposed in Hong Kong and its assertiveness seriously damages its soft power. The developments in Hong Kong, therefore, have global consequences for Beijing’s search of power and legitimacy.

On Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong is a global financial hub – so a hit to its economy affects business worldwide as well.
  • Experts warn that if the unrest continues, international companies could look to pull out of Hong Kong and relocate their branches elsewhere.
  • The stock market would likely crash, followed by the housing market. A mass exodus could follow, and other countries could see migrants’ incoming from Hong Kong.
  • Many Hong Kongers hold foreign passports, a legacy of 1997, and it is easy for them to move overseas.
  • On a more abstract level, some people have framed the unrest as a tug-of-war between Chinese authoritarianism and the Western ideals of freedom and democracy.

India’s concerns

  • India and Hong Kong have signed a double taxation avoidance agreement (DTAA).
  • It gives protection against double taxation to over 1,500 Indian companies and businesses that have a presence in Hong Kong.
  • Hong Kong is similarly host to a large number of Indian companies and professionals in banking, IT and shipping.
  • India was Hong Kong’s third-largest export market (after China and the US) in 2017 and Hong Kong was India’s third-largest export market (after the US and the UAE).
  • Hong Kong has a very well established Indian diaspora and has much wealth and business influence within the territory.

India and Chinese diplomatic take(Informal take)

  • Possibly due to its leadership’s idolization of communism, India for long-neglected the basic principle of reciprocity in its relationship with China.
  • India has consistently upheld the “One China” policy. It was one of the first countries to recognise Tibet as a part of China.
  • Today, India is a democracy and only has to deal with the Kashmir issue.
  • But China is facing resistance movements in Tibet, Xinjiang and Southern Mongolia. Hong Kong and Taiwan, too, remain a concern for Beijing.
  • This makes Delhi’s One-China policy lopsided in terms of diplomacy.
  • China expects India to remain silent on 60 per cent of the contested area under China’s territorial control, and also Hong Kong and Taiwan, while China refuses to stand with India only on Kashmir.

Way forward

  • China and India should never let their differences shadow the overall bilateral ties and must enhance mutual trust.
  • India’s firm military and diplomatic posturing for the ongoing border dispute has made it clear to Beijing that India is in for the long haul.
  • Given its own problems at home and the focus on Hong Kong over the coming days, de-escalation on its borders with India suits China well.

Conclusion

China under Xi’s leadership is one of the most assertive and aggressive powers the world has encountered in a long time. Hong Kong’s protest has been continuing for a long time now. Not just Hong Kongers but even India feels the heat of Dragon’s assertiveness on borders. No one knows the result yet but it is going to be long fight that is for sure.

 



References

https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/how-china-is-seeking-more-control-on-hong-kong/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-48607723

https://www.epw.in/engage/article/hong-kongs-basic-law-and-history-popular-protest

https://swarajyamag.com/world/as-china-seeks-support-on-hong-kong-india-has-the-opportunity-to-revive-relations-on-new-terms

https://www.livemint.com/Politics/IiMAWzG8C7MRi85S9OSoUO/Hong-Kong-can-be-Indias-gateway-to-China-Gautam-Bambawale.html

https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/china-revisionism-hongkong-india-borders-67086/

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