Farewell Freedom: Mass arrests in Hong Kong under the Chinese Security Law

September 13, 2020

3 min read

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What's going on here?

In place since 30 June 2020, the new Chinese National Security Law imposed in Hong Kong makes it easier for Chinese forces to quash protests, punish and arrest opposers to the Chinese regime. These powers have been extensively used by Chinese authorities, arresting dozens of pro-democracy figures because of opaque “national security” crimes, effectively reducing the city’s autonomy.

What does this mean?

The law criminalises any act of secession, terrorism, subversion or collusion with external forces – the definitions of which were deliberately left vague and open-ended. Even damaging public transport facilities can be considered terrorism and the maximum punishment for these “crimes” is life in prison.

The global response to this brutal crackdown on any form of opposition as a result of the law has been one of pure outrage. In an open letter to China, 17 NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, called on foreigh ministries to reject the law and act to uphold human rights in the city. On September 1st, United Nations human rights experts wrote to China, asserting that the legislation imposed on Hong Kong is a serious risk to the territory’s political and civic freedoms, urging Beijing to review and reconsider the law.

Beijing has come under fire by much of the global community, notably Germany and Japan, for the new law and its recent authoritarian moves on Hong Kong. The US has suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong in an effort to pressure Beijing, as well as the preferential trade agreements and its diplomatic status with the US – effectively rescinding the taxation benefits held by the city.

The Hong Kong government responded to these punitive measures by deploring it as an action “widely seen as a move to create troubles in the China-US relationship, using Hong Kong as a pawn” – further escalating the tensions between the two economic superpowers.

What's the big picture effect?

The “One country, two systems” structure set in 1997 to grant Hong Kong autonomy has informally ended, now that Chinese authorities exercise such sweeping powers on the territory. 

The status the city built as an international business center, as a provider of international legal services in Asia and as a trading hub, is hanging by a thread. Typically at competition with Singapore, Hong Kong is sending out a message of fear rather than attraction, reducing its pull of highly lucrative activities. Japanese companies, who curtailed the China-US trade war and its tariffs by exporting their Made In China products to the US through Honk Kong, are just an example of entities trapped by recent escalations. They will, understandably, seek alternative routes, reducing trade flow and business income for Hong Kong. 

This new law exacerbates the divergences in mentality and worldview which divide the globe: on the one hand, Western societies view the security law as an infringement of human rights, notably the right to protest and freedom to speech. Equally, many nations (China rallied 53 in total, which were represented by Cuba at the United Nations) from Cambodia to Cameroon to Nicaragua, view the bill as the solution to safeguard national security and quail civil unrest.

This grave infringement of human rights in Hong Kong coupled with shocking evidence of persecution emerging about the Chinese Uighur community will only serve to isolate China further in the international community. Arguably, the discussion on human rights standards and upholding has the potential to further deepen the economic tensions straining world trade.

Report written by Anaïs Itani

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