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Hong Kong’s New National Security Law: Initial Assessment - Domestic and International Impact

August 25, 2020

Ho-fung Hung, Henry M. and Elizabeth P. Wiesenfeld Professor in Political Economy, Johns Hopkins SAIS

Thomas Kellogg, China and International Law Professor, Johns Hopkins SAIS; Executive Director of the Center for Asian Law, Georgetown University
Andrew Mertha, Vice Dean of Faculty Affairs and Professor and Director of China Studies, Johns Hopkins SAIS 

Madelyn Ross, Associate Director of China Studies

The school hosted a discussion on the implications of the recently passed Hong Kong National Security Law.
Hung began by talking about the historical background behind the National Security Law and followed up with a discussion on the timing of its passage and domestic and international ramifications. Kellogg spoke about the content of the law and its legal basis.
Hung noted that the law was an historic curtailment of liberty in the city of Hong Kong, it being even more restrictive than colonial era laws imposed by the British. Unlike colonial era legislation, the new law is applicable not only to anti-government action, but also to anti-government speech. This, Hung remarked, is a game changer. Hung also discussed the political context surrounding the law’s passage—the 2019 protest movement and the impressive victory for pro-Democracy candidates in the 2019 local elections (in which they carried 85% of seats). He mentioned that, as opposed to the 2014 Occupy movement, the 2019 protests enjoyed strong support from Hong Kong’s citizenry and that there was a strong chance the Democrats would win more seats in the Legislative elections (originally scheduled for September, but postponed). Regarding state power as potentially in jeopardy, Beijing pushed through the National Security Law to preempt a renewed “color revolution.”
Kellogg focused on the law’s substance. The law was drafted by the National People’s Congress in Beijing and not by the Hong Kong legislature—a violation of Hong Kong’s constitution and an indication that Beijing has lost confidence in the Hong Kong government’s ability to deal with anti-government activity. Regarding specifics of the law, Kellogg noted that punishable offenses included the ambiguously defined components “secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion.” Due to this ambiguous nature, the National Security Law had already begun having a chilling effect on local activists. He also discussed the law’s provision for Beijing’s insertion of its own security apparatus into Hong Kong’s security and legal structures. He further registered his surprise at the aggressiveness of the Mainland government’s implementation of the law since passage.