China’s public security ministry has said it will offer ‘guidance and support’ to Hong Kong’s police force, in another sign that the city’s status as a separate legal jurisdiction is likely at an end.
Public security minister Zhao Kezhi told a recent high-level meeting that his ministry would have a role in implementing a national security law for Hong Kong now in the pipeline, in spite of a legal ban on Chinese government departments’ involvement in the city’s internal affairs.
Zhao, cited in China’s state-run Legal Daily newspaper, said his ministry would “provide full guidance and support to the Hong Kong Police Force to stop violence and restore order, and resolutely maintain Hong Kong’s security and stability” in the wake of months of anti-government protests in the city.
His comments came after the National People’s Congress ratified a plan to impose a draconian sedition law on Hong Kong without going through the city’s own legislature; a dramatic departure from the promised “high degree of autonomy” promised to Hong Kong under the terms of the 1997 handover.
Barrister and veteran democracy campaigner Martin Lee, who founded Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, told RFA that the promise that Hong Kong people would rule Hong Kong was now dead in the water.
“It’s not the people of Hong Kong ruling Hong Kong, but the Chinese central government, the Chinese Communist Party,” Lee said. “There is no more ‘one country, two systems’; it’s just under Beijing’s control.”
Lee cited earlier comments from Chinese officials dismissing references to the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, a U.N.-registered treaty setting out China’s promises to Hong Kong after the handover on July 1, 1997.
“Back in the day, the British handed over Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories, but now they’re saying the Joint Declaration serves no purpose and they’re not going to pay any attention to it,” he said.
Much like a character in Wong Kar-wai’s 1992 movie Chungking Express, Lee said he once had his sights set on California as a destination.
“How could I face people if I left?” he said. Later, he learned that Beijing wanted him to leave Hong Kong.
Direct control a top priority
Hong Kong political commentator Liu Ruishao said the setting up by Beijing of a semi-official new Hong Kong and Macau leadership working group meant that the direct control of Hong Kong is now a top priority for President Xi Jinping’s administration.
“[This working group] is a semi-official way of exerting a great deal of psychological pressure [on Hong Kong],” Liu said.
Bruce Lui, journalism lecturer at Hong Kong’s Baptist University, said the group would act as a central command and control structure overseeing public order in Hong Kong.
“Xi Jinping is now trying to ensure that his allies are more powerful in the current system,” Lui said.
“By upgrading what was previously just a coordinating group to a leadership group, he is letting the various departments know that this is a top priority for the central government.”
“And it’s not just about Hong Kong itself; the national security law is being placed into a context of a struggle between China and foreign [forces],” he said.
Beijing on Thursday ratified a plan to impose draconian sedition and subversion legislation on Hong Kong that would enable its feared state security police to operate in the city, which was promised the continuation of its traditional freedoms under the 1997 handover to China.
The rubber-stamp NPC passed the proposal by 2,878 “votes” to 1, with six abstentions, paving the way for the powerful NPC standing committee to draft the legislation and insert it into Hong Kong law without going through the city’s own legislature.
In a move that likely signals the end of Hong Kong’s promised autonomy and traditional freedoms of speech and association, the ruling Chinese Communist Party says the law is needed owing to “notable national security risks” following months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
‘Prevent, stop, punish’
Introducing the proposal on May 21, NPC vice chairman Wang Chen said “forceful measures must be taken to prevent, stop, and punish such activities.”
Under the terms of the handover, Hong Kong was expected to bring in legislation banning acts of “treason, secession, sedition [or] subversion,” but city-wide protests and the likelihood of a pro-democracy landslide at Legislative Council (LegCo) elections in September have led Beijing to conclude that this might not occur for some time.
An earlier version of the law was shelved following mass popular protests in 2003.
The law is also intended “to prohibit foreign political organizations from conducting political activities in Hong Kong, and to prohibit political organizations from establishing ties with foreign political organizations,” according to state media.
The decision will enable the authorities to “prevent, stop and punish” any activities deemed by Beijing to be subversive, or instigated by “foreign forces.”
Such legislation has been used in mainland China to accuse journalists of spying, or to punish peaceful critics of the regime.
When needed, state security police from mainland China will set up shop in Hong Kong to fulfill their duties under the new law, according to a precis of the decision supplied by Xinhua.
Reported by Tseng Yat-yiu and Lu Xi for RFA’s Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.