Security law for HK cements ‘one country, two systems’
Legal document gives final say to central govt
China’s top lawmakers on Tuesday voted unanimously to enact a draft law to safeguard national security in Hong Kong at the 20th session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, which ended on Tuesday afternoon in Beijing.
President Xi Jinping signed a presidential decree unveiling the law.
The national security law for Hong Kong was reviewed during a three-day session of China’s top legislature, and submitted for a vote on Monday.
The legislature, defining the specific criminal activities that threaten national security, is reasonable, necessary and in line with the Chinese Constitution,
according to some Hong Kong deputies to the NPC.
It is also justified as its political and legal legitimacy can stand the historical test, which won’t change the way people live in Hong Kong, or deprive the legitimate rights they enjoy under “one country, two systems” and the Basic Law, observers said.
The law has been included in the Annex III of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), taking effect at 11:00 pm on Tuesday and giving detailed description of four categories of crimes and penalties, namely acts of secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities, and collusion with foreign or external forces to endanger
“Enacting the law would help rebuild the political mutual trust between the mainland and Hong Kong”
Lau Siu-kai a vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies
And the maximum penalty will be life imprisonment, the legal document shows. Under the law, the Chinese central government would establish a National Security Office in HKSAR to deal with national security affairs in Hong Kong. The office has ultimate juridical power as it would “have the final say” on national security-related cases and has absolute law enforcement power in occasion of urgency and necessity.
Crimes and penalties
There is no clause relevant to retroactivity in the law. However, legal experts said they will consider the detailed descriptions of crimes targeting a number of illegal activities amid the social turmoil triggered by the anti-extradition bill movement since June 2019.
For instance, the crimes of subversion also include seriously disrupting and preventing central government agencies or HKSAR government agencies from performing their duties, attacking and vandalizing facilities of these agencies and making them dysfunctional.
Violent rioters vandalized the Legislative Council and the liaison office of the central government in HKSAR in 2019.
“The purpose of establishing the law has never been imposing ‘maximum retaliation,’ with no intention of investigating the past or settling accounts. The law is to prevent rioting in the future, while giving many people a fresh restart,” Lau Siu-kai, a vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times.
Such a legal arrangement mirrors the central government’s respect for Hong Kong’s common law system. Particularly, the unexpected decision to offer certain Hong Kong residents a clean slate by not targeting their previous questionable words and deeds shows the extra consideration and care granted by lawmakers to reassure residents and encourage them to look toward the future rather than getting stuck in the past, observers said.
Under the law, the HKSAR government will set up The Committee for Safeguarding National Security, chaired by the chief executive, to protect national security. It also allows the chief executive to appoint judges to handle national security cases.
The new law is believed to have stricken a balance between Hong Kong’s common law system and the mainland’s civil law system, though stipulations would be different. But it can bring differences together while taking into account the characteristics of the common law, said Tam Yiu-chung, a member of the NPC Standing Committee.
“The law shows that the central government relies, trusts and depends on HKSAR in law enforcement on national security affairs, as the latter bears most of the responsibility,” Tam said.
The law states that the Committee for Safeguarding the National Security of the HKSAR, led by the chief executive of the HKSAR government, would not be within the scope of juridical review, and its work won’t be interfered by any organization, institution and personnel, and remain undisclosed.
“National security affairs are essentially relevant to the authority of the central government, and Hong Kong’s legal jurisdiction is conferred by the national law,” said Tian Feilong, a Hong Kong affairs and legal expert at Beihang University in Beijing.
The law established by China’s top authority is deemed as an act of state, which can’t be constrained by local laws in Hong Kong. Similarly, local authorities in Hong Kong do not have jurisdiction over central government agencies, and can’t legally challenge them, according to some experts.
“Enacting the law would help rebuild the political mutual trust between the mainland and Hong Kong, which have been severely harmed by the past year’s social turmoil. As the city has not been able to fulfill its responsibility to safeguard national security, the central government was worried about the city becoming a pawn of foreign forces, ‘one country, two systems’ is also facing great challenges,” Lau said.
He also noted that due to a lack of a national security law for Hong Kong, the central government was worried about anti-China and anti-central government forces becoming political candidates, which would further threaten the authority of the HKSAR.
A group of Hong Kong residents celebrate the passage of the national security law for Hong Kong and mark the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong returning to China in Causeway Bay on Tuesday.