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IANS Analysis: Unravelling the impact of China imposed National Security Law in Hong Kong

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New Delhi, June 12 (IANS) In 2019, Hong Kong witnessed significant protests following Chinese efforts to undermine the region's autonomy. Subsequently, a National Security Law was enacted, profoundly affecting the residents of Hong Kong, who earlier enjoyed relative autonomy while formulating and enacting laws for its citizens.

This law, which aimed to outlaw terrorism, subversion, secession, and collusion with foreign entities, has notably diminished Hong Kong's autonomy, civil liberties, and its role as a major global financial hub.

These developments have triggered debates and raised concerns both within Hong Kong and internationally.

Hong Kong: A Brief Historical Outline

Hong Kong was under the rule of China's Qing dynasty until it was ceded to the British Empire in 1842 after the First Opium War. During the Second World War, Japan occupied Hong Kong for four years; however, the territory was liberated in 1945 through joint British and Chinese military efforts.

Despite the Communist victory in mainland China, the British maintained sovereignty over the island.

Hong Kong became a refuge for numerous individuals fleeing the repercussions of the Korean War and Mao Zedong's atrocious policies, such as the Great Leap Forward. Following the emergence of the Asian Tigers viz, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, the territory leveraged its strategic location to become one of Asia’s largest financial centres.

It developed a vibrant independent culture, shaped by generations of refugees.

In 1984, then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signed an agreement that enabled substantial emigration from Hong Kong to Britain.

In 1997, Britain transferred sovereignty over Hong Kong to China under an arrangement that included the adoption of the "Basic Law".

This law, effective until 2020, was pivotal in maintaining Hong Kong’s open society and democratic ethos, encompassing the rights to protest and freedom of expression.

What is the National Security Law

On June 30, 2020, the Chinese government implemented the controversial National Security Law, also referred to as Article 23, in Hong Kong.

This law was enacted in response to extensive protests in Hong Kong against an extradition bill that would have allowed for the transfer of criminal suspects to mainland China for trial.

Beijing perceived these protests as a threat to the country's stability and security and took immediate actions to cull it once and for all.

Under the National Security Law, there are four primary offences viz, Secession: Any action that separates Hong Kong from China is deemed unlawful under this statute.

Subversion: The law prohibits activities that undermine the authority of the central government or hinder its policy-making capabilities.

Terrorism, as defined by the statute, includes acts of arson, vandalism, and other forms of violence intended to intimidate the public or coerce the government.

Collusion with foreign entities: This offense targets individuals or groups that solicit assistance from foreign governments or organizations to compromise national security.

The legislation also established a National Security Committee in Hong Kong, which is supervised by a central government body based in Beijing and chaired by the Chief Executive.

This committee is endowed with broad powers to oversee and implement the law, including the authority to address issues deemed pertinent to national security and, when necessary, to bypass Hong Kong's legal framework.

Critics argue that the National Security Law erodes the autonomy and freedom guaranteed to Hong Kong under the "One Country, Two Systems" principle, intended to persist until 2047.

They express concerns that the law has undermined civil liberties in Hong Kong, such as the rights to free speech, assembly, and press, and that it is being employed to suppress political adversaries and quash dissent.

What is the Impact of National Security Law on the Lives of Hong Kong's Citizens

Following the pro-democracy movement, China conducted a series of arrests that led to the incarceration of prominent opposition leaders in Hong Kong, including the former media mogul Jimmy Lai, a British citizen.

Numerous news outlets have been closed down.

The special police, established under the National Security Law, have detained over 180 individuals ranging in age from 15 to 79.

Approximately, 30 individuals have been arrested for disseminating seditious texts or materials.

Prominent figures like Cardinal Joseph Zen, aged 90, have also been apprehended by the authorities.

Many activists and members of the opposition have relocated to the United Kingdom and Taiwan to escape arrest and persecution.

These laws have had a discernible impact on local council elections; voter turnout in 2019 was around 70 per cent, but it plummeted to a record low of approximately 27 per cent in 2023.

This is not the first instance of China attempting to enact such legislation.

In 2003, a less severe version was proposed but subsequently withdrawn by China following extensive protests.

Despite this, Xi Jinping perceived these protests as a challenge to his prestige and responded by diminishing Hong Kong's autonomy, an action that starkly violated the 1997 Handover Agreement.

In a recent development, the Hong Kong Police, on May 28, 2024, detained six individuals for allegedly disseminating seditious content on social media.

Among those arrested was Chow Hang-tung, known for organizing memorial vigils for the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

These detentions represent the initial known enforcement actions under Hong Kong's National Security Law.

Consequently, the residents of Hong Kong now live under the pervasive threat posed by these laws.

Additionally, civil society and human rights organizations are operating with increased caution on the island.

As noted earlier, Hong Kong had evolved into a financial centre in the latter half of the 20th century.

It boasts a GDP of approximately $360 billion and ranks 43rd among major global economies.

However, as regulatory controls tighten, investors have grown increasingly apprehensive about investing in the region.

This development threatens to undermine the city's longstanding reputation as a financial hub of the East.

Through the enactment of the National Security Law, Xi Jinping has sought to obscure the potential vision of a liberated China.

Hong Kong, a melting pot of major Southeast Asian cultures, once epitomized the democratic aspirations of China.

Nevertheless, the arrests under the National Security Law threaten to erode the city's core identity.

The severe suppression of the 2019 protests and the global apathy towards Hong Kong's situation are facilitating China's objectives. The future will reveal the extent of the National Security Law's impact on Hong Kong.

--IANS

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