Article 23: Hong Kong passes a second national security law linking the city more closely to mainland China

Hong Kong

Hong Kong The Legislature unanimously passed sweeping new powers on Tuesday Which critics and analysts warned would bring the financial center's national security laws more closely in line with those used in mainland China and deepen an ongoing crackdown on dissent.

the long The national security bill — the first draft of which was 212 pages long — moved through the city's unopposed legislature unusually quickly at the request of City Leader John Lee, and was debated over just 11 days.

The law takes effect on Saturday, introducing 39 new national security offences, adding to an already strong national security law that Beijing imposed directly on Hong Kong in 2020 after massive and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests the previous year.

The law has already transformed Hong Kong with authorities imprisoning dozens of political opponents, forcing civil society groups and outspoken media outlets to dissolve the city and transforming the once free city into one that prioritizes patriotism.

The new national security legislation, known locally as Section 23, covers a wide range of new crimes including treason, espionage, foreign interference and unlawful dealing with state secrets, with the most serious crimes punishable by up to life imprisonment.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Lee described it as a “historic moment for Hong Kong.”

Chen Yongnu/China News Service/VCG/Getty Images

Lawmakers attend a meeting to enact Article 23 of the Basic Law in the Legislative Council on March 19, 2024 in Hong Kong, China.

“We have accomplished a historic mission, achieved the country’s trust and have not let down the central government,” he said, referring to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.

Chinese and Hong Kong leaders say the new laws are needed to “plug loopholes” as part of their quest to “restore stability” in the wake of massive protests that erupted in 2019. They say their legislation is similar to other national security laws around the world.

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Critics argue that what the Chinese Communist Party considers national security crimes are broader and more comprehensive, often resulting in political criticism, dissent and even business activities that cannot be criminalized elsewhere.

The new legislation also comes as the Hong Kong government embarks on a high-profile campaign this year to revive the city's business credentials after a political crackdown – combined with nearly three years of strict coronavirus controls – sparked a wave of protests. Migration of local and global talent.

Legal scholars and business figures told CNN that the broad definitions and serious penalties in the new law are likely to further crack down on civil society and could threaten the city's robust information-sharing operations for businesses, including its vaunted financial sector.

“Hong Kong authorities are keen to tighten information control in the city as a natural consequence of stricter security legislation,” said Eric Lai, a research fellow at the Georgetown Asian Law Center and an expert on Hong Kong's legal system.

Lai expects the “chilling effect” on society to deepen.

“The business community will be particularly affected by the new 'theft of state secrets' and 'espionage' crimes,” Lai added.

The new legislation prohibits “illegal acquisition,” “possession,” and “disclosure of state secrets,” in addition to the crime of “espionage.” Perpetrators can face up to 20 years in prison in the most serious circumstances.

Observers say that the wording of the law has a broad interpretation of what is considered a state secret.

The definition ranges from confidential “concerning national defense construction” and “diplomatic or foreign activities” of China to any “major political decision on affairs” and “economic or social development” of both Beijing and Hong Kong.

When social and economic affairs are treated as state secrets, “it means they can include anything,” said Hung Ho Fung, a professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University.

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He added: “With these strict and not clearly defined provisions, even non-political businessmen can get into trouble and will face the risk of their offices being raided and detained, arrested or placed under an exit ban, as is the case in many cases in mainland China.” .

“This will certainly increase suspicion, anxiety and uncertainty about foreign companies in Hong Kong.”

The US State Department said the new law had the “potential to accelerate the closure of a previously open Hong Kong community” and that it was analyzing potential risks to US citizens and “other US interests.”

“We are concerned about the incursion and what we interpret as ambiguous provisions set out in Section 23 legislation,” Foreign Ministry deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said at a press conference.

Patel cited a number of problems with the law, such as being “fast-tracked through an undemocratically elected legislature after a truncated public comment period” and having “ill-defined and incredibly vague” terminology.

The EU also said it was concerned about the impact of the legislation on “the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.”

“The draft law’s sweeping provisions and broad definitions, particularly regarding foreign interference and state secrets, appear to be particular concerns,” she said in a statement. “The significantly increased penalties set forth in the bill, their extraterritorial reach and – at least in part – their retroactive applicability also raise deep concern.”

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said the new law had been “rushed through the legislative process” and would have far-reaching implications for the rule of law, rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.

In its response on Tuesday, the Chinese Embassy in London called Cameron's comments a “serious distortion of the facts” and defended the legislative process as “rigorous and procedure-based.”

“(The law) will contribute to creating a more stable and transparent business environment in Hong Kong, maintaining long-term stability and prosperity in the city,” the statement said.

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In mainland China, national security laws often land domestic and foreign companies in murky investigations.

Chinese state security authorities raided multiple offices of an international consulting firm Capvision Last year, as part of a broader crackdown on the consulting industry as Beijing tightens its control over what it considers sensitive national security information.

The law also classifies the involvement of “external forces” – a term synonymous with foreign governments and organizations – as an aggravating factor that warrants harsher sentences.

Amnesty International China Director Sarah Brooks The legislation said “It has dealt another crushing blow to human rights in the city.”

“The authorities enacted this law in the blink of an eye, eliminating any remaining hope that public protests would confront its most destructive elements,” Brooks said in a statement. “This is a devastating moment for the people of Hong Kong.”

Johannes Haack, president of the German Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said that while many German companies remain committed to Hong Kong, they would like to see Hong Kong maintain its unique status that includes the free flow of capital and a common law court system.

“[The law] “It makes it a bit difficult to explain to German shareholders that this is Hong Kong and this is different from mainland China,” he said.

This is something Emily Lau, a former pro-democracy lawmaker, also fears: what made Hong Kong special is quickly disappearing.

“We want Hong Kong to prosper, we are part of China. I was never opposed to that,” she told CNN.

“But we are different from the rest of China. But the difference is getting smaller and smaller, which is very sad.”

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