How Hong Kong’s National Security Law Is Changing Everything

Information about what happens at national security trials is limited–courts have placed restrictions on what can be reported from most hearings. “The national security law is something very foreign, something that is very difficult to understand, especially how all the legal court proceedings work,” Chiu said. “If you don’t go to court, you won’t know.”

As Hong Kong’s leaders have ramped up their focus on law and order, expenditure on the city’s growing national security apparatus has also increased.

In its latest annual budget, the government earmarked HK£8 billion (£1 billion) for measures including the police force’s national security unit, a national security office that is not subject to local jurisdiction, and a justice department division to prosecute national security cases. Meanwhile, police force expenditure rose 18.3% in 2019-20 alone, a period including the worst of the protests.

In a written response to questions from Bloomberg, the Hong Kong government said the four offenses covered by the national security law are “clearly defined” and that “law-abiding people will not unwittingly violate” the rules. Any actions taken by law enforcement agencies are strictly based on evidence and aren’t related to any individual’s background or political affiliations, it said.

In addition, the government said the law has reversed “the chaotic situation in Hong Kong” and that “it would be contrary to the rule of law” for any person or sector to be above the legislation.

The chief executive’s annual policy addresses also show how Hong Kong is aligning more with the vision of the Communist Party.

References to Beijing’s authoritative power and to integration with the mainland have increased notably in recent years, a reminder of China’s absolute sovereignty over the city.

“We have realized Hong Kong won’t be like it was before–the government has a lot of power,” said Fung, a 26-year-old IT worker who asked to be identified only by her Chinese last name. “I can feel that a lot of people are already self-censoring online and when they talk in person as well.”

Leaning on Beijing

China references in speeches by Hong Kong’s leader increase sharply

Greater Bay Area

Central government

National security

“One country,

two systems”

Greater Bay Area

Central government

National security

“One country,

two systems”

How Hong Kong’s National Security Law Is Changing Everything

Greater Bay Area

Central government

National security

“One country,

two systems”

Source: Hong Kong Chief Executive’s annual policy addresses from 2015-2020. Note: Counts are derived from speech text and segment headings. The length of the speech differs from year to year.

Central government includes references to “central authorities”.

Hong Kong’s national security agenda continues to expand. Schools have been ordered to adopt a more patriotic curriculum and the number of directly elected seats on the city’s Legislative Council has been cut. The body, which is now dominated by Beijing-friendly lawmakers, is expected to pass a revamped film censorship law aimed at restricting content considered “contrary to the interests of national security.”

Against this backdrop, and in the wake of the pandemic, Hong Kongers have been emigrating at a record pace.

Countries such as Australia, Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. have opened up special visa arrangements for people looking to leave the city.

“I just don’t want my kids to grow up in this society,” said Cheung, who relocated to the U.K. after the national security law was implemented and who asked to be identified by her Chinese last name only. She said China wants everyone to “just listen and follow, and then the government will give you a good life. These game rules aren’t good for society.

It’s a main reason I wanted to leave.”

New groups continue to find themselves swept up in the crackdown. The city’s largest independent trade union and teachers’ association–groups representing hundreds of thousands of employees–have disbanded in recent weeks, following criticism in Beijing-backed media and threats of criminal probes. The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association has also been forced to deny claims by the city’s security chief that it has been “infiltrating” public schools.

“The NSL is no way to win people’s hearts and minds,” said Kelly, a 27-year-old business analyst who asked to be identified only by her English first name. “It will create future generations whose hearts and minds will be molded from a young age to love the party, perhaps.

But it will only drive those of us who grew up differently further away.”

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