On Sunday, thousands gathered in the shopping district of Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, defying social distancing regulations and demanding the removal of Beijing’s proposed national security law.
Police fired multiple rounds of tear gas and at least 180 people were arrested.
“I am worried that after the implementation of the national security law, they will go after those being charged before and the police will be further out of control,” said Twinnie – a secondary school student who declined to give her last name.
Twinnie expressed fear but maintained that she still felt the need to come out and “protest for the future of Hong Kong.”
The new security law could potentially punish these exact acts – a draft legislation that would allow the mainland Chinese government to set up national security institutions in Hong Kong.
A similar law was proposed in 2003 but later withdrawn due to the massive backlash and protest it sparked.
The key difference between the new national security law and the one proposed in 2003 however, is that the new law would act to bypass Hong Kong city’s parliament and instead be attached to the island’s Basic Law, or otherwise referred to as the city’s “mini-constitution.”
The new law aims to prevent, stop and punish acts in Hong Kong that threaten national security, and encompasses secessionist and subversive activity as well as foreign interference and terrorism.
With the timing catching many off guard, some have speculated that China has proposed this piece of legislation during a time where other countries are preoccupied with containing the outbreak within their own borders. The United States and the United Kingdom have been the primary supporters of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and are among some of the worst-hit nations from the pandemic.
Others have suggested that with COVID-19 yet to be completely eliminated in Hong Kong, the bill would unlikely be met with a return of large-scale protests especially while social-distancing rules remain in place.
In June last year, nearly two million took to the streets to protest against the previously proposed and now repealed extradition bill.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Officer Carrie Lam has vowed full support for the security law but also stated that it would not act to undermine the one country two systems framework the island operates under. Lam clarified that the law would instead create a stable environment for everyone without the “threat of terrorism,” recalling how the city had suffered from ongoing protests over the past year.
State broadcaster CCTV reported over the weekend that the law would target only a small fraction of people who advocated for Hong Kong’s independence and the “dark forces” behind them.
“Dark forces” is the term is used by Beijing to refer to apparent overseas support for the anti-government movement.
On Sunday, before the city saw several thousand take to the streets to rally against the bill, the delegation’s deputy convener Wong Yuk-Shan reaffirmed Beijing’s stance and intent saying, “Don’t underestimate Beijing’s determination. When the decision is made, we will implement it till the end.”
After the bill was announced, more than 200 politicians from 23 countries issued a joint statement condemning Beijing’s decision saying, “the integrity of one country, two systems hangs by a thread.”
On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “The United States condemns the People’s Republic of China (PRC) National People’s Congress proposal to unilaterally and arbitrarily impose national security legislation on Hong Kong.
“The decision to bypass Hong Kong’s well-established legislative processes and ignore the will of the people of Hong Kong would be a death knell for the high degree of autonomy Beijing promised for Hong Kong under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a UN-filed agreement.”
The Sino-British Joint Declaration is an agreement signed by Britain and China in 1984 after the two governments agreed China would reassume control of Hong Kong from July 1, 1997. Under the same agreement, it was promised that Hong Kong would continue to “enjoy a high degree of autonomy.”
The joint declaration also states that, “The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.”
In the same month the joint declaration was signed in 1984, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher traveled to Hong Kong and assured the city’s political elite that Britain would take issue with any breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) is expected to vote on the resolution at the end of the annual session on May 28. The resolution will then be forwarded to the NPC Standing Committee which will craft the bill’s details.
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In this article, “Thousands protest against Beijing’s security law” published on May 24, it was stated that Hong Kong would continue to enjoy a level of autonomy and freedom apart from the PRC for 50 years. The Sino-British Joint Declaration however, declared that Hong Kong would have “a high degree of autonomy” for HK for 50 years after the handover.