Context: China’s Parliament recently passed new legislation for Hong Kong that will for the first time empower China to draft national security laws for the Special Administrative Region (SAR).
About the new legislation:
- At the closing session of the annual National People’s Congress (NPC) in China, the draft legislation was passed overwhelmingly in the Communist Party-controlled legislature.
- The new law called the “NPC Decision on Establishing and Improving the Legal System and Enforcement Mechanisms for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to Safeguard National Security” empowers the NPC to draft new national security laws for Hong Kong.
- The drafting of new national security laws for Hong Kong could happen, when the NPC Standing Committee holds its next sitting.
- The new law enables organs of the central government “for the protection of national security” to set up “institutions in the HKSAR”, a provision that has been a particular source of concern.
- The NPC decision has been criticized by pro-democracy parties and some in the legal community in Hong Kong as undermining the “one country, two systems” model.
- It is still unclear
- how the proposed agencies set up in the HKSAR will operate under the laws of the HKSAR,
- whether they will be bound by the laws of the HKSAR,
- whether they have the power of enforcement, and
- whether such powers as exercised will be limited by the laws currently in force in the HKSAR
- Possibility of blocking foreign judges
- The new law could also block foreign judges from sitting on national security cases, following the example of Macau, which has done so since 2018.
- Currently, Hong Kong’s court of final appeal has 15 foreign judges, under a system aimed to ensure judicial independence for a global financial center.
- Concerns raised by US
- U.S. Secretary of State recently said that Hong Kong could no longer enjoy the special economic privileges it had received from the U.S. because of the erosion of its autonomy.
- This move by the US could hurt the Hong Kong SAR’s economy.
Background of ‘Basic Law’ related to Hong Kong
- Hong Kong was a former British colony.
- It was handed over to mainland China in 1997, becoming one of its Special Administrative Regions.
- With guarantees of autonomy and various freedoms including a separate legal system.
- The special administrative regions (SAR) are one type of provincial-level administrative division of China directly under the Central People's Government. They possess the highest degree of autonomy.
- SAR has “executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication”.
- Only matters of defense and foreign affairs are handled by the central government.
- Hong Kong is governed by a mini-constitution called the Basic Law which affirms the principle of “one country, two systems”.
- At present, there are two SARs established according to the Constitution, namely the Hong Kong SAR and the Macau SAR, former British and Portuguese dependencies, respectively.
- This constitutional document is a product of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
- Under the declaration, China promised to honor Hong Kong’s liberal policies, a system of governance, an independent judiciary, and individual freedoms for a period of 50 years from 1997.
- However, Since the handover, Hong Kong residents have time and again taken to the streets to protect their Basic Law freedoms, with the first major pro-democracy protest taking place in 2003.
- In 2014, over one lakh city residents took part in the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ to protest against China’s denial of democratic reforms.
Probable outcomes of new law
- Impact on Hong Kong:
- The new law would ban seditious activities that target mainland Chinese rule, as well as punish external interference in Hong Kong affairs.
- As response towards this many expect a revival of the protests that rocked the city last year.
- A major blow to Hong Kong’s freedoms, the law could effectively bring the city under full control of mainland China.
- Impact on China’s image:
- The move could also undermine Hong Kong’s position as an East Asian trading hub, and invite global disapproval for Beijing, which is already being accused of withholding key information related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Image Source: TH