Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s Unique Path of Repression

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee announced that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) will introduce its own national security law in 2024, a surprise given the effectiveness of the 2020 Beijing-imposed law.

The 2020 law has been central to the city’s political dissent since mass pro-democracy protests in 2019. Hong Kong’s police and security apparatus are now openly guided by mainland Chinese agencies, targeting pro-democracy politicians, civil society organizers, and media figures.

The 2020 national security law offers broad and flexible offences, including life imprisonment sentences, presumption against bail, extraordinary powers, immunities on national security agencies, and claims extraterritorial operation. The Basic Law, Hong Kong’s main constitutional document, states that Hong Kong must enact laws on its own to prohibit acts of treason, secession, sedition, and subversion against the Central People’s Government. The Hong Kong government has consistently recognized its obligation to pass such legislation, despite the ongoing existence of colonial-era laws.

The 2020 law in Hong Kong has the potential to fine-tune the regime, potentially extending its reach to include enhanced measures against espionage and treason. The government may also support the patriotic recalibration of Hong Kong’s education system. The introduction of mainland-style penalties like administrative detention remains uncertain, but if Beijing supports such a move, the HKSAR courts will be unable to resist.

Article 23 legislation will signal Hong Kong’s place in China’s national program, demonstrate the administration’s obedience to Beijing, and reiterate to Hongkongers that they must obey. The legislation also tells the international community that Hong Kong and China will continue down the current path.

The HKSAR has issued statements criticizing its crackdown on civil and political rights, targeting the United States, the United Kingdom, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, foreign legal professional organizations, and critics of its persecution of pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai.China’s enforcement of security laws against civil society contradicts its global demands for respect and its adherence to global human rights conventions.

Hong Kong is grappling with a paradoxical government system where coercive measures undermine the government’s authority and generate resistance. Despite the belief that legality is a pathway to legitimacy, Hong Kong’s national security legislation superficially suggests compliance with the Basic Law provisions for autonomy and self-government. The Hong Kong autonomy experiment ended in 2020, and the new experiment is active internal colonialism.

The overbearing national security regime resembles the broad sedition laws of the British empire, and Hong Kong’s reconfigured ‘patriots only’ legislature is as much a rubber stamp as the appointed legislatures of British colonial Hong Kong. John Lee, referring to the 2019 protests, said that the root causes of chaos were undemocratic and unresponsive government. The national security law response addresses symptoms while worsening the disease, but Hongkongers cannot safely say so.

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