Context: China has started pushing for an “improvement” in the Basic Law which is considered the mini-constitution, which defines ties between Hong Kong and China.
More about the news
- The recent move is signaling a fundamental change in the way the highly autonomous city-state is run.
- The remarks on Hong Kong have come a day before the opening of the Chinese parliament, where a controversial national security law for Hong Kong is being mooted.
- What is the issue? The new national security law, which is being considered as the most sweeping step at curbing dissent so far, seeks to ban “treason, secession, sedition and subversion”.
- Also the new law could be passed without consulting the Hong Kong legislature.
Impact of the 2019 protests
- The largest protests since the 1997 handover took place last year, when many of Hong Kongers agitated against a proposed extradition law, and continued with pro-democracy marches even after the legislation was withdrawn.
- The proposed extradition law sought to update existing laws that govern extradition processes and legal assistance between Hong Kong and other jurisdictions.
- Extradition bill: extradition law to allow suspects to be sent to mainland China to face trial.
- The large scale protests were seen as an affront by mainland China. However China has increasingly adopted a more hardline approach to foreign policy and internal security issues in recent times.
- The current Hong Kong unrest is also believed to have also left its mark on Taiwan, another prickly issue for Beijing which considers the island state as its own.
- In this year’s presidential election, Taiwanese voters brought to power the Democratic Progressive Party, which openly opposes joining China.
Background of Hong Kong’s ‘Basic Law’
- 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.
- 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.
The probable route of National Security Law
- Main route under Basic 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, subversion against the Central People’s Government or theft of state secrets
- foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region
- political organizations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies.
- However 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.
- Availability of another route: Annex III
- China could now make the law applicable to Hong Kong by another route by inserting the legislation in Annex III of the Basic Law.
- Under Article 18, national laws can be applied in Hong Kong if they are placed in Annex III, and must be “confined to those relating to defense and foreign affairs as well as other matters outside the limits of the autonomy of the Region.”
- Once listed in Annex III, the national laws can be enforced in the city by way of promulgation meaning automatically being put into effect or by legislating locally in the Special Administrative Region.
- Towards the end of May, the Chinese parliament is expected to vote on a resolution that will make way for the new law, which could soon be promulgated in Hong Kong.
Probable outcomes of passing 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.
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