Security law guardian of HK prosperity
‘One country, two systems’ protected as key to city’s role as global financial hub
The National Security Law for Hong Kong marks a milestone in the cause of “one country, two systems”, a Hong Kong and Macao affairs official said on Wednesday.
Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, said at a news conference in Beijing that the new National Security Law, which took effect on Tuesday night, serves as a guardian for Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability and is a turning point for Hong Kong’s development to get back on track.
The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the top legislature, on Tuesday unanimously passed The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. It came into force as soon as the full text was published about one hour before the start of Wednesday, which was the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland.
As of 8 pm on Wednesday, police had arrested over 300 protesters, including nine suspected of violating the National Security Law. The rest were arrested for suspected unlawful assembly, disorder in public places, reckless driving and possession of an offensive weapon.
The first two arrested who were suspected of breaking the new law, a man and a woman, were found carrying a flag and a placard, respectively, advocating “Hong Kong independence” amid an illegal assembly on Hong Kong Island on Wednesday afternoon.
The new law says anyone who organizes, plans, commits or participates in committing secession shall be guilty of an offense.
“Hong Kong’s unique status as an international financial, trade and shipping center is owing to the backing and support of the Chinese mainland, and in turn it has leveraged its strengths to support the mainland’s reform and modernization,” Zhang said.
However, if national security offenders are still allowed to turn the city into a springboard for conducting subversion against the mainland, Hong Kong would lose its status and its prosperity would be gravely undermined, he said, reiterating that the law serves as a high-hanging sword over only a tiny number of offenders as well as a deterrent to external forces.
China’s “one country, two systems” principle is pioneering and unprecedented and thus bound to be fraught with challenges during its advancement and face problems that need to be addressed, he said.
Since Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, the NPC Standing Committee has exercised its constitutional power on matters concerning the Basic Law, the SAR’s mini-constitution. Enactment of this law is the most significant initiative taken by the central government to address issues related to Hong Kong.
It is also the second major law specifically tailored for Hong Kong by the central government, following the Basic Law, Zhang added.
The formulation of this law demonstrates that the central government attaches great importance to the system design from the top level as well as targeting the root causes of problems.
The National Security Law came after the NPC adopted a decision during its annual session in May to improve Hong Kong’s legal system and enforcement mechanism, aiming to end the unrest and riots that have occurred in the region since June 2019.
Zhang said that the new law is sure to face skepticism and concerns, but it fully complies with the “one country, two systems” principle.
“Or we can say it is a law that perfectly adheres to the principle of ‘one country’ and respects the differences between ‘two systems’,” he said. The legislative purpose is to maintain this principle, and the content does not overrun its framework, he added.
“Ultimately it is to uphold and improve ‘one country, two systems’, not alter it,” he said.
Zhang criticized some foreign politicians’ comments that the Chinese government is trying to advance a “one country, one system” agenda in Hong Kong.
“If we are going to make one system, this matter would be far simpler. We could have imposed our national laws such as the Criminal Procedure Law straightaway on the HKSAR. Why would we bother to create so much work to tailor-make a law for Hong Kong?” he said.
He said some international voices have misunderstood the concept of China’s “one country, two systems” and have criticized China for eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy whenever the central authorities exercise their powers according to law.
“It seems that the central government cannot control anything related to Hong Kong, but they are free to point fingers over Hong Kong issues,” he said, adding that no single country in the world could turn a blind eye to crimes that endanger its security.
“‘One country, two systems’ is our State policy. No one cherishes it more than we do, no one understands its true meaning better than we do and no one has more power to define and explain our policy than we do,” he added.
China unveiled the full details of the National Security Law on Tuesday night, laying out penalties, with the heaviest being life imprisonment for four categories of crimes: secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
Different legal systems
In addition to granting to the HKSAR the main responsibility in exercising jurisdiction over criminal cases, it also specifies the duties of a national security office set up by the central government－the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR.
“We can tell from the name that this office represents the central government and is different from offices set up by departments of the central government or by provinces, autonomous regions or municipalities,” Zhang said.
The law stipulates that the office will analyze and assess the security situation in Hong Kong, suggest major strategies and policies, oversee, guide and support the region in handling national security affairs, collect intelligence and handle cases.
Article 55 of the law also clarifies three specific circumstances under which the office will exercise jurisdiction: complex cases involving a foreign country or external elements, making it difficult for the SAR to exercise jurisdiction over the case, a serious situation occurs in which the SAR government is unable to effectively enforce the law, and when a major and imminent threat to national security occurs.
Zhang said the office’s law enforcement power will include investigation, taking necessary investigative measures and making arrests with a prosecutor’s warrant. The law also makes it clear that the subsequent prosecution and trial will be handed over to prosecutors and courts designated by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the Supreme People’s Court.
Zhang said the law sets out such stipulations because Hong Kong’s legal system is different from that of the mainland. The central government’s agencies and HKSAR agencies are two different law enforcement and judicial bodies, and they should and can only enforce their own laws, otherwise it would cause confusion in applying laws.
According to the new law, the central government and the HKSAR each exercise their full jurisdictional procedures from investigation, prosecution, trial and ruling. “It helps draw a clear line in jurisdiction and makes it easier for them to complement and cooperate with each other,” Zhang said.
The law also exempts the personnel of the national security office, as well as their acts while performing their duty, from being subject to the local authority’s jurisdiction.
Zhang said it is to guarantee that the office staff can perform their duties well and is “entirely reasonable” because the powers exercised by the office staff are beyond the HKSAR’s autonomy.
The duties and many cases investigated by the office may involve State secrets and do not fall under HKSAR authorities, he said.
“The central government has the power and responsibility to take all necessary measures to safeguard national security. This is a general principle and the basis for considering all specific issues,” he said.