Hong Kong has freedom ‘for the time being,’ Carrie Lam says, as Beijing broadens national security legislation

Domestic News

As the fate of Hong Kong's autonomy looks increasingly bleak, Hong Kong citizens and foreign governments around the world consider their options for a response to Beijing.

A graphic from Xinhua’s Hong Kong Facebook page. Jonathan Cheng comments on Twitter: “The massive NO NEED TO BE AFRAID towering over the city is a nice touch.” (The large characters read 唔使驚 — Cantonese for “don’t be afraid” that would be pronounced wú shǐ jīng in Mandarin.)

Following Beijing’s unveiling last week of draft national security legislation that we have called a death blow to Hong Kong’s autonomy, the city has been shaken. After months of social distancing due to COVID-19, anti-government protests erupted again on Sunday, May 24.

“For the time being, people have this freedom to say whatever they want to say,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng [林鄭月娥 Lín Zhèng Yuè’é] said, apparently without irony. Lam insisted that only those who “organise and participate in terrorist activities to subvert the state power” would be the targets of the new legislation.

“Terrorist activities” is indeed the key phrase here. As we have noted before, Beijing makes little distinction between pro-democracy activists and what it calls “black-clad thugs,” or, increasingly, “terrorists” who upset social stability in Hong Kong. The South China Morning Post now reports that the draft legislation is being broadened, just two days before it it set to be voted on — with no input from Hong Kong residents:

No details were given, but sources told the Post the resolution would now suggest that the proposed law – which has sparked concerns about its implications for the city’s existing freedoms – would not only just prevent, stop and punish “acts” but also “activities” deemed to threaten national security.

The resolution is set to be put to a vote on Thursday, which would then be forwarded to the NPC Standing Committee, China’s top legislative body, to craft the bill in detail.

In other words, the limits of the legislation are far from clear. More details about the implications of the prospective law are being revealed daily, raising concern in Hong Kong and abroad. For more information, see:

For more on the emotional and political impacts of the news, see:

Beijing on defense

The legislation would have “no impact on the city’s freedoms or rights, or interests of foreign firms,” Foreign Minister Wáng Yì 王毅 said on Sunday. Though as Wall Street Journal reporter Josh Chin points out, Wang “used ‘长治久安 cháng zhì jiǔ ān’ (long-term peace and stability) to describe its goal in Hong Kong. That’s how the Party characterizes its objectives in Xinjiang and Tibet.”

Other Chinese diplomats, and even the commander of the People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong, also defended the proposed law. See:

State media, especially the Global Times, have also enthusiastically penned defenses of the law and attacks on anyone who criticizes it. See:

The Global Times was so enthusiastic in its attacks, in fact, that it hit publish on an apparently pre-written article before the events described had happened. Per the Hong Kong Free Press: State media outlet appears to quote Hong Kong police condemning ‘illegal activities’ a day before planned demo.

What will foreign governments do?

Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen (Cài Yīngwén 蔡英文) “said in a Facebook post on Sunday that she might consider invoking Article 60 of the Laws and Regulations Regarding Hong Kong and Macau Affairs” if Beijing went through with the law, the SCMP reports. This “could open the way for offering refuge to protesters fleeing HK,” according to journalist Ryan Ho Kilpatrick. For more on Taiwan’s regulations, see this Twitter thread by Jeremy Huai-Che Chiang.

The U.K. could also open its doors to Hongkongers, if they flee the city, according to legal advice by a Queens Council that is “likely to shift the mood” of the government that has previously insisted it cannot accept Hong Kong citizens, according to the Guardian.

The U.S. “will likely impose economic sanctions on Hong Kong and China” if Beijing goes through with the law, according to White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Axios reports. A spokesperson for President Trump said that he is “displeased” about the developments in Hong Kong, Reuters reports.

Charles Michel, President of the European Council, merely said that the EU is “not naive” about China’s behavior and that it supports the “one country, two systems” principle, per SCMP.