China has boasted of holding ‘a sword over lawbreakers’ heads’ after Beijing passed a new security law giving it unprecedented jurisdiction over Hong Kong.
President Xi Jinping signed the law into effect Tuesday after it was unanimously passed by Beijing’s rubber-stamp parliament, side-stepping a vote in Hong Kong.
The law bans acts of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with a maximum penalty of life in jail for some crimes.
It also allows China’s feared security services to openly set up shop in the region.
Pro-democracy campaigners have warned that the law will be ‘the end of Hong Kong as we know it’, but China insists it is necessary to restore order after violent protests.
Beijing has boasted of having ‘a sword over lawreakers’ heads’ after its parliament passed a new security bill which gives it unprecedented jurisdiction in Hong Kong (pictured, police watch over a pro-democracy protesters in a mall in the city today)
Activists say the bill will be ‘the end of Hong Kong as we know it’ while China insists it is necessary to restore order after months of violent clashes in the city (pictured, police search pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong today)
Hong Kong independence protesters gathered in a mall in the city today to observe a minute of silence after the security bill was passed
‘It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before,’ said activist figurehead Joshua Wong, as he quit the pro-democracy Demosisto party he founded during the 2014 umbrella protest amid fears of reprisals.
‘With sweeping powers and ill-defined law, the city will turn into a secret police state. Hong Kong protesters now face high possibilities of being extradited to China’s courts for trials and life sentences,’ he added.
But Beijing and Hong Kong’s government have insisted that the laws will only target a minority of people and will restore business confidence after a year of pro-democracy protests rocked the city.
‘For the small minority who endanger national security, this law will be a sword hanging over their heads,’ said China’s main body for Hong Kong affairs.
But ‘for the vast majority of Hong Kong residents and foreigners in Hong Kong, this law is a guardian spirit that protects their freedoms,’ the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said.
The statement said that the central and city governments would ‘jointly’ work together to make sure the law is implemented, and ‘usher in a turning point, for chaos to turn into governance.’
Amid the tension, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam joined former chief executives in attending a flag-raising ceremony to celebrate Establishment Day.
This year, July 1 marks the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong being handed over to China
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam (central) stands with former chief executives as they attend a flag-raising ceremony to mark China’s National Day celebrations early
The Chinese and Hong Kong flags are unfurled during a flag-raising ceremony at the Golden Bauhinia Square in Hong Kong
Helicopters fly the Hong Kong and China flags over Victoria Harbour as Hong Kong marks the 23rd anniversary of its handover to China
Pro-democracy groups disband amid fears of a backlash
Pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong were quickly dismantled on Tuesday as news spread that Beijing had passed a new security law which extends the reach of its courts into the city-state.
Demosisto, founded by prominent campaigner Joshua Wong, was the first to go – followed shortly by Hong Kong National Front.
Nathan Law, who helped found Demosisto, warned of a ‘bloody cultural revolution’ on the horizon, but vowed to keep fighting in a personal capacity.
‘Stay strong, my friends. Hong Kong people will not give up,’ he said.
Baggio Leung, spokesman for National Front, announced he would be leaving the group as it disbands in Hong Kong.
The group said it will continue to fight for freedom, but will now operate out of its offices in Taiwan and the UK.
The Taiwanese government, which is thought to be sheltering several hundred pro-democracy activists, condemned the new law on Tuesday, saying it will ‘severely impact Hong Kong society’s freedom, human rights and stability.’
Amnesty International also condemned the move, saying it gives China the power to impose its laws on the city-state.
CY Leung, former Hong Kong chief executive, was offering a HK$1million ($130,000) reward to anyone who was willing to offer information on those breaking the new security law.
He posted the reward on Facebook, along with a hotline number to call with tips.
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.
The law was approved in Beijing in order to side-step Hong Kong’s parliament, with no announcement made by the Chinese Communist Party.
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.
Instead, she urged world leaders to ‘respect our country’s right to safeguard national security’.
‘I urge the international community to respect our country’s right to safeguard national security and Hong Kong people’s aspirations for stability and harmony,’ eh said.
Speaking about the law back in May, Lam insisted there is ‘no need to worry’ and that ‘the core values in terms of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, the various rights and freedoms enjoyed by people, will continue to be there.’
Claudia Mo, an opposition lawmaker, said today: ‘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.’
Hong Kong was guaranteed certain freedoms – as well as judicial and legislative autonomy – in 1997 in a deal known as ‘One Country, Two Systems’.
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
Pro-Beijing supporters wave Chinese and Hong Kong flags and drink champagne today as they celebrate a controversial new security law
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.
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’.
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
Hong Kong police detain a pro-democracy protester during demonstrations in May
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.
US leads global backlash against China’s new security law
The United States has ended sensitive defense exports to Hong Kong, saying it could ‘no longer distinguish’ between the territory and mainland China.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US cannot risk items such as weapons and ammunition being given to the People’s Liberation Army.
The State Department last year approved $2.4million in defense sales to Hong Kong, of which $1.4million worth were actually sent.
Mike Pompeo has announced the US will no longer send sensitive military equipment to Hong Kong because it ‘cannot distinguish’ between the territory and mainland China
The Commerce Department simultaneously said it was revoking its special status for Hong Kong.
It will now treat the region the same as China for ‘dual-use exports’ that have both military and civilian applications, meaning they will be highly restricted.
‘It gives us no pleasure to take this action, which is a direct consequence of Beijing’s decision to violate its own commitments under the UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration,’ Pompeo said.
Beijing on Tuesday threatened retaliation against the United States over the sanctions.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warned that China ‘is not afraid of threats’ from America.
He claimed that ‘the plot’ from the U.S. ‘will never succeed’ and urged the Trump administration to stop meddling in its domestic affairs.
‘In response to the erroneous actions from the U.S. side, the Chinese side will take necessary countermeasures and resolutely maintain its national interests,’ Mr Zhao said.
President Donald Trump’s administration has already declared that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous in US eyes and has been rolling out a series of measures in response.
On Friday, the State Department said it was restricting visas for an unspecified number of Chinese officials seen as responsible for infringing on the autonomy of the Asian financial hub.
In response, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday that the US ‘scheme… to obstruct the passage of the Hong Kong national security law will never prevail.’
‘To target the US’s above wrongful actions, China has decided to impose visa restrictions against American individuals who have behaved egregiously on matters concerning Hong Kong,’ Zhao said.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously said a ‘path to citizenship’ will be offered to 3million citizens of Hong Kong if the security law passes
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab added that the UK ‘intends to see through’ a pledge to offer a path to citizenship for British National (Overseas) passport holders in the territory if the law passes.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier vowed an historic shake-up in the visa system, which would potentially allow 3million Hong Kongese to live and work in Britain.
‘Many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life, which China pledged to uphold, is under threat,’ he said before the law passed.
‘If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative.’
The European Union and the United Nations rights watchdog have also criticised China over the law.
Last week, the US Senate unanimously approved a bill that would impose mandatory economic sanctions against Chinese officials, Hong Kong police – and banks that work with them – if they are identified as hurting the city’s autonomous status.
Zhao, the foreign ministry spokesman, warned that the US ‘should not review, advance or implement relevant negative bills concerning Hong Kong, even less impose so-called sanctions on China, otherwise China will firmly take strong countermeasures.’
Hong Kong was upended by seven straight months of protests last year, initially sparked by an eventually abandoned plan to allow extraditions to the mainland.
But they soon morphed into a popular revolt against Beijing’s rule and widespread calls for democracy.