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The Latest Security Legislation in Hong Kong Betrays Beijing’s Insecurity

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The Latest Security Legislation in Hong Kong Betrays Beijing’s Insecurity

Despite the presence of the “omnipotent” NSL, China felt the need to embed another layer of control in the territory.

The Latest Security Legislation in Hong Kong Betrays Beijing’s Insecurity
Credit: Depositphotos

On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s legislature unanimously passed the Basic Law Article 23, the city’s homegrown national security law. The bill was approved only 11 days after it was introduced, and less than four years after Beijing imposed the draconian National Security Law (NSL) on the city, whose broad provisions criminalize an enormous range of activity and allows for violators to be tried on the mainland.

Video of the proceedings showed every member of the Legislative Council raising their hand to approve Article 23, as a television screen on the wall showed, “89 Yea, 0 Nay.” Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee declared it a “historic moment for Hong Kong.” 

The choreographed vote felt straight out of mainland China – where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has ruled with an iron fist for more than 70 years – and not Hong Kong, the former British colony of 7 million known for its boisterous political fights as recently as a few years ago.  

Since its imposition in 2020, the NSL has transformed Hong Kong into more or less another mainland city in terms of political rights. Media outlets and civil society groups have been shut down, student activism has been suppressed, and the territory’s most prominent pro-democracy figures have been arrested under NSL provisions. Article 23, dubbed by some as NSL 2.0, targets political offenses like treason and insurrection with penalties as severe as life imprisonment. The law’s wording is so broad that almost anything can constitute a state secret, such as information about “the economic or social development” of both Beijing and Hong Kong. It is certain to deepen the fear and uncertainty that now permeates life on the island.

I asked a Hong Kong friend who was once active in the pro-democracy movement how city residents were discussing Article 23. She said, “People are numb in Hong Kong. There is no free speech, so I don’t think people want to discuss it openly.”

Exiled Hong Kong activist and lawyer Kevin Yam posted on X from Australia, “All the years of advocacy for or defense of #HongKong’s rule of law, democracy, and human rights have been for nought, blown away by a darkness that contains not even a speck of light. But if it is our fate to suffer Sisyphean futility, so be it. Why? Because we love HK.”

The mood is doubtless gloomy, especially among those who have sacrificed so much for the freedom of Hong Kong. But, we should not lose sight of efforts being made to fight back.

Hours after Article 23’s passage, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk issued a statement condemning the bill: “It is alarming that such consequential legislation was rushed through the legislature through an accelerated process, in spite of serious concerns raised about the incompatibility of many of its provisions with international human rights law.” 

Such a prompt reaction from the U.N. human rights chief should not be taken for granted. Over the past decade, Beijing has systematically manipulated U.N. human rights mechanisms and undermined the integrity of the system. It’s put considerably more effort toward engagement with the United Nations, and has harassed and intimidated human rights defenders who participate in its human rights review processes and even U.N. human rights experts and staff. The Hong Kong government, now packed with CCP loyalists, is starting to follow in Beijing’s footsteps.

Democratic governments also criticized the new measure as violating people’s fundamental rights and the rule of law. British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Article 23 “will further damage the rights and freedoms enjoyed in the city,” with serious implications for press freedom, civil society, and business activity. The U.S. State Department’s spokesperson said the U.S. government would take “actions the United States has at its disposal…should the circumstances require.” Dozens of individual parliamentarians and public figures across the globe issued similar statements. 

These international condemnations did not come from nowhere. They are due in no small part to Hong Kongers who have fled the city and are now organizing themselves to advocate for freedom and democracy in their beloved homeland. Grassroots groups work in tandem with international organizations like Freedom House to seek the release of Hong Kong political prisoners, call for targeted sanctions against officials responsible for violating human rights in Hong Kong, and press for economic consequences for Beijing’s crackdowns. 

Beyond political efforts, exiled Hong Kongers have also set up platforms and programs to document the abuses in the city, and to preserve Hong Kong culture and language. Many are also working under the radar to support activists, writers, and journalists still in the city.

Today, spectacular protests with millions of participants on the streets of Hong Kong are unlikely. But the less “glamorous” yet steady and essential efforts to fight for Hong Kong will continue. The brave individuals behind them demonstrate remarkable resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable repression. 

Despite the presence of the “omnipotent” NSL, Beijing felt the need to embed another layer of control in the territory. More than anything, Article 23 shows how insecure the CCP regime is, how fearful it feels about the true sentiment of the people: their undying yearning for democracy. For that, we should remain hopeful, because history has shown us time after time that authoritarian regimes once seen as unshakeable can suddenly crack.