Hong Kong's National Security Law Has Been Approved. Now What?

A security officer guards the closing session of the National People's Congress, at which the Chinese government passed a draft of a national security law for Hong Kong.
A security officer guards the closing session of the National People's Congress, at which the Chinese government passed a draft of a national security law for Hong Kong. (Getty)

What will happen to Hong Kong now that China’s national security law have been approved? A controversial national security law, which bans sedition, subversion of state power, foreign interference and terrorism as defined by China, will be implemented in Hong Kong in the coming months. The law was approved by China’s parliament Thursday in a vote that saw 2,878 delegates voting for, one delegate voting against and six delegates abstaining from the vote.

Many, including President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are calling it the end of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy and Hong Kong’s autonomy from China.

This is the most terrible thing, but it’s the beginning of something worse,” Hong Kong politician and barrister Martin Lee told Inside Edition Digital.

Lee, 81, is sometimes known as the Father of Democracy in Hong Kong. He helped draft Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which served as the city’s constitution following the handover to China in July 1997. He founded Hong Kong’s Democratic Party in 1994 and has been a leading voice in Hong Kong’s fight for democracy since, even taking part in peaceful protests last summer against the extradition bill.

Last month, Lee and 14 other veteran pro-democracy activists were arrested in relation to the protests and charged with unauthorized assembly, among other charges. He was released on bail shortly thereafter and now awaits trial. Critics have said the arrests are likely part of Beijing’s larger plan to crack down on Hong Kong.

Lee continues to be hopeful and continues to speak out. “I have not given up. My philosophy is that so long as I keep on fighting, I cannot lose,” Lee said.

While Professor Ho-Fung Hung of Johns Hopkins University speculated the national security law, which in turn appears to have caused the United States to rescind Hong Kong’s preferential trade status, could lead to unjust persecution of both Hong Kongers and foreigners, Lee said his biggest concern is the precedence it sets.

All legislative proceedings for the national security law occurred in Beijing, bypassing Hong Kong’s legislative council despite the law being applied to Hong Kong, which Lee said undermines the freedoms established in the “One Country, Two Systems” form of governance that were the basis of the 1997 handover. 

Moreover, the national security law acts as China’s attempt to take hold of the judicial branch – the only branch of government that still operates independent of China, Lee said. Like the U.S., Hong Kong is run by a separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

In reality, both the executive and legislative branches tend to favor China. This new national security law acts as Beijing’s attempt to also dominate the judicial branch. “The whole Hong Kong government is now on its knees. They will do anything Beijing asks it to do,” Lee explained. “The majority of the legislature’s council members are controlled by Beijing … They now want to control the courts.”

But Hung disagreed that China’s intention is to end “One Country, Two Systems,” saying he believes the national security law shows China is nervous about losing its hold on Hong Kong.

"Economic issues will be at stake … a lot of people doing business will feel the pain and feel the anxiety and worry,” Hung told Inside Edition Digital, adding that China wouldn’t want foreign businesses to pull out unless it’s a calculated risk, in which exerting its control over Hong Kong would be the reward. “[The national security law] is a manifestation of [China’s] deep anxiety about losing control of Hong Kong and their desperation to regain control.”

Lee, however, believes losing its foreign businesses may be one of their objectives. He speculates that China may want to invite local tycoons to install their own businesses in Hong Kong.

Either way, the national security law marks the end of everything student activist Joshua Wong and other protesters have been fighting for. “The new law serves as a weapon to rip out all democratic aspirations in Hong Kong,” Wong said in a statement to Inside Edition Digital.

Wong, 23, first became involved in pro-democracy as a teenager when he became a prominent figure in Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella Revolution. He was imprisoned as a result, but went on to be named one of TIME magazine’s Most Influential Teens of 2014 and nominated for the publication’s 2014 Person of the Year.

Wong continues to be a leading voice in Hong Kong’s fight for democracy, playing a key role in the 2019 protests as well as the most recent protests following the proposal of the national security law. He said the national security law was a way for China to stop the protests, as well as gain control of other sectors of life.

“All protests and other calls for democracy in the city will be classified as attempts of subversion of China's authority, just like how the Beijing government does in China,” Wong predicted. “This is a critical moment. We will continue our cause for democracy and international lobbying efforts since truth and justice should not die in silence. … we have no other choice.”

At 81 years old, Lee could spend years in prison if found guilty of the charges he faces. But he continues to be hopeful that the people of Hong Kong will one day reap the benefits of living in a full democracy.

“The fire of democracy, it’s burning in the heart of so many in Hong Kong, including so many young people now," Lee said. "You just cannot quench it with the iron fist."

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