The Guardian (Charlottetown)

Shocked Hong Kong in a new era under ‘white knuckle’ China grip

- JAMES POMFRET

HONG KONG — For 23 years Hong Kong was an anomaly.

A free and partially democratic city under Chinese rule, protected by a tradition of firm rule of law from the British colonial era, and a promise from Beijing of freedoms for its 7.5 million people that were unthinkabl­e on the mainland.

On June 30, however, China imposed a harsh new paradigm on Hong Kong, marking an end to the liberal pledge, say government, political and diplomatic sources.

The national security legislatio­n imposed by Beijing was a response to last year’s protracted protests, that were preceded by years of smoulderin­g discontent at what many Hong Kong people saw as China’s creeping erosion of the city’s freedoms.

The legislatio­n has been enacted ostensibly to tackle terrorism, collusion with foreign powers, secession and subversion. But its 66 articles carry far deeper implicatio­ns for Hong Kong.

China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said the law would be a “sharp sword” hanging over the heads of a “tiny number of people” endangerin­g national security.

At the same time, the law would be a “guardian” of the rights, freedoms and peaceful lives of the rest of Hong Kong’s people, the office under China’s State Council said.

The legislatio­n has already had a significan­t impact on the financial hub as the city government responds to it, at times with China’s involvemen­t.

A Hong Kong government source familiar with Beijing’s thinking said the law may have shocked many people but it had spelt out China’s limits on what is tolerable and not: a political reality people must accept.

“It’s no longer the old era,” the government source said.

“The bottom line is much worse than we expected and people are shocked. But in terms of China’s political bottom line, the situation is clearer now. No one has to guess any more.”

The law has brought a chill and the pulling of prodemocra­cy books from library shelves, disqualifi­cations of democrats from a city election and the arrests of three teenagers for Facebook posts deemed secessioni­st.

New arms of China’s state security apparatus have been set up, including a National Security Office in a leafy neighbourh­ood on Hong Kong island.

In a few flare-ups of opposition to the law, protesters have been arrested for once legal banners and for shouting slogans now labelled subversive.

‘ONLY THE START’

Foreign government­s and rights groups describe the law in bleak terms: an assault on

Western-style freedoms and a de facto dismantlin­g of the “one country, two systems” formula that has underpinne­d Hong Kong’s role as one of the world’s financial centres.

China’s Communist Party leaders have a starkly different view at a time of growing tension with the United States, seeing the restoratio­n of order and the snuffing out of foreign meddling in the city as a priority.

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office called the law a “milestone” and a “turning point” for Hong Kong to end chaos.

Some Asian and Western diplomats say they have been surprised by the law’s reach and the speed at which it is changing Hong Kong.

“At a stroke it has shattered all the assumption­s governing Hong Kong’s place in the world as essentiall­y a free, open and well-administer­ed city,” said a Western envoy.

“The overreach has been startling and many of us fear this is only the start.”

 ?? REUTERS ?? Women walk past a government-sponsored advertisem­ent promoting the new national security law as a meeting on national security legislatio­n takes place in in Hong Kong, China June 29.
REUTERS Women walk past a government-sponsored advertisem­ent promoting the new national security law as a meeting on national security legislatio­n takes place in in Hong Kong, China June 29.

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