Foreign PolicyOpinionWorldWeighing in On Hong Kong Security Law Fuss

On May 27, 2020, the National People’s Congress (NPC) of China passed a decision to introduce a new national security law in Hong Kong to safeguard national sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and the foundation of “one country, two systems”, though it will take effect in September. The security law sparked protests in Hong Kong and is generating global reaction over whether China has the right to legislate such legal framework or whether its move is consistent with self-governance guarantees agreed before the handover from Britain going by the city’s high degree of autonomy.

The barrage of questions, criticisms, fears, and even threats that that decision has set off particularly from the United States and Britain need to be assessed or measured against the rationality of the legislation. Some global affairs commentators have also added their voices condemning China. Expectedly, China too has countered the denunciations with some very persuasive arguments, and, the opposition threats with resoluteness. But what is the brouhaha over security law and Hong Kong issues all about? Could China be wrong this time and its adversaries right in castigating and frustrating its powers over the city? It is important to weigh in and add a voice to what is brewing among the great influencers of our time. Tension ratcheted up exerts pressure on global politics and economics. Therefore, the historical antecedents, geopolitics, and common sense of the legislation need to be carefully weighed.

Hong Kong as we know it today has been inhabited since the Stone Age, and later became the Chinese territory during the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC). In 1842, it became a British Crown Colony when the Qing dynasty ceded it through the Treaty of Nanjing after the First Opium War. Japan too occupied Hong Kong from 1941 to 1945 during the 2nd World War before it was liberated by the joint British and Chinese troops and returned to British rule. But on 1 July 1997, Hong Kong was handed over to China and it adopted the Basic Law under the Deng Xiaoping premiership with ‘one country, two systems” concept. What used to be a fish farming and salt production site in ancient times has transformed into a major commercial, financial, and logistics hub. Consequently, Hong Kong is a Chinese territory with a Chief Executive elected by a selection committee with members appointed by the Peoples Republic of China. Carrie Lam, the first female Chief Executive is currently on seat.

The above background explicitly makes it clear that China can legislate over Hong Kong, and national security law is not an exception. After all, matters of national security are the prerogatives of a country. China has not erred in that decision. Security is national interest of any nation and thus it should not be taken for granted that China will not manage its territory and people responsibly. According to the Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, “the NPC’s decision to establish and improve a legal framework and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong is entirely China’s internal affair that allows no foreign interference.”

Indeed, since the end of the Cold War, the free and open international order has provided the stability to allow sovereign states to flourish and contribute to world development. As a Special Administrative Region of China, Honk Kong, like Macao, are guided by mini-constitutions that are issued by, and cannot be revoked by the NPC. But what is not clear are the concerns raised by the opposition that China would undermine the democratic gains of the inhabitants and repress the system. But the rising younger population of the city can neither grasp nor comprehend such a complicated arrangement and are calling for independence.

But it is interesting to note that this condemnation of China over Hong Kong came as soon as the demands for COVID-19 compensation claims dwindled down.

It is worth remembering that in 2019 the special administrative region saw anti-government and pro-democracy protests against a proposal to allow extradition to mainland China. The US and Britain are supporting such opposition, apparently out of politics and their investment in the city. But it is interesting to note that this condemnation of China over Hong Kong came as soon as the demands for COVID-19 compensation claims dwindled down. Equally, since its return to China after more than 150 years of British control, Hong Kong has entered a new phase of global geopolitics, and therefore being influenced by all manner of powers. As an “Asian Tiger” it established itself as one of the region’s economic and financial powerhouses. America has over 1,300 corporations in the city, and likewise other stakeholders.

On whether China will respect the special administrative region, the US says China would use the new security law to crackdown down in Hong Kong. It has even threatened to impose sanctions on Hong Kong, similar to what we heard over the COVID-19 compensation claims and its withdrawal from the World Health Organization over an allegation that China kept some secret on the origin and spread of the pandemic. On the new law, Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State while chatting with journalists at the American Enterprises Institute said “the US will impose a cost on the decision-makers who deny this freedom to the people of Hong Kong.” The US also targets some Chinese companies listed on the US financial markets, suspend entry of certain Chinese students and researchers. But for me, this uncalled-for threat is not required since China has made commitment to international law on Hong Kong and in which they are prepared to fulfill. According to the authorities, China would not distort the principle of “one country, two systems” and that “the security law would underpin Hong Kong’s autonomy.”

But on its reaction to the apprehensions being expressed over the law, Britain, the former colonizer, while saying it violates the autonomy of the region, confirmed that the UK would “allow those who hold British National Overseas (BNO) passports to come to the UK and apply to study and work for an extendable 12-month period.” Again, this position is antithetical to international law because they are Chinese nationals. In line with this, China has said all BNO passport holders are Chinese nationals, and if the UK changes this practice, it would violate international law. On the situation, the European Union (EU) while acknowledging the mutual respect and trust of its relationships with China promised to resolve the Hong Kong issue through dialogue with China, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell had said. It warned that imposing sanctions as others have threatened would not solve the crisis.

International corporations like the HSBC, MSCI Inc., and Standard Chartered Bank believed that national security law could help maintain the long-term economic and social stability of Hong Kong. They are convinced that the “one country, two systems” principle is core to the future success of Hong Kong and has always been the bedrock of the business community’s confidence.

However, given the ranging threats from the usual outspoken critics of China’s local and international agenda, it is commonsensical to advance that the antagonism to its legislation of security law is part of their apprehension over China’s rising global profile and its effort to build soft power abroad. The security law is neither an exception nor a problem. Is the fear over cracking down on Hong Kongers or the democratic gain more grievous than what the US is accusing China of?

The current protest against the killing of the African-American George Floyd has seen the American military forces used to disperse civilians outside the White House in Washington. President Donald Trump had earlier stoked hatred and police violence calling the protesters “thugs” and threatened to have them shot, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, he tweeted. The following day, he encouraged more police violence, gloating about “the most vicious dogs and most ominous weapons” awaiting protesters outside the White House. On Sunday 1st June, he again resorted to incendiary tweets, instructing “Democrat mayors and governors” to “get tough” on the “ANARCHISTS.” What made these statements and intentions different from what he’s accusing China of? The world has been quiet and calmed prior to his presidency, and so will it be after his tenure.

The human rights and freedom guaranteed by the Basic Law will be respected by China. It has made this known in a number of times that Hong Kong would enjoy its special status in the two systems principle.

The human rights and freedom guaranteed by the Basic Law will be respected by China. It has made this known in a number of times that Hong Kong would enjoy its special status in the two systems principle. According to Foreign Affairs’ Lee Hsein Loong, the Chinese leadership’s “overriding priority is to maintain internal political stability…” In addition, he said, “If the United States chooses instead to try to contain China’s rise, it will risk provoking a reaction that could set the two countries on a path to decades of confrontation. Like Loong as advised, “a larger and more powerful China should not only respect global rules and norms but also take on greater responsibility for upholding and updating the international order under which it has prospered so spectacularly.”

Since its opening up and reform policy, China has been seen as a reliable and dependable ally among many countries and peoples of the world. The security law imposes responsibilities and restraints on China. A lot is at stake for China to respect the freedom of the people who are known and proved to be independently minded and assertive.

Amid mounting criticism, what is expected for China to do is to collaborate with US, Britain, and others to resolve the uproar on Hong Kong’s security law. The people of Hong Kong must not be punished. The use of pushbacks must be approached with due caution and restraint in ways that benefit the peace, stability and prosperity of the region and the world. Since it has historical and moral obligations to protect and care for Hong Kong and its citizens, let’s hold China to its words. 23 years after the handover, the onus is on China to continue to honour those commitments under the Basic Law.
*Olalekan A. Babatunde, Ph.D., is a fellow at Nigeria’s Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Abuja.

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