Zhang Yesui, spokesman for the National People’s Congress, in session Image: AFP
What do people in Hong Kong fear?
Beijing says Hong Kong must respect and protect rights and freedoms while protecting national security – but many fear Hong Kong’s loss of freedoms under this law.
“It is clear that the law will have a severe impact on the freedom of expression, if not the personal safety, of the people of Hong Kong,” says Professor Johannes Chan, a law expert at the University of Hong Kong.
There are reports of people deleting posts from the Facebook and concerns that candidates who oppose national security law will be disqualified from running for election.
Many also fear that Hong Kong’s judicial independence will be eroded and its judicial system will increasingly resemble that of mainland China. The city is the only common law jurisdiction in China.
“In effect, they are imposing the criminal system of the People’s Republic of China on Hong Kong’s common law system, leaving them with complete discretion to decide who should fit into which system,” says Professor Chan.
Some pro-democracy activists, like Joshua Wong, have been lobbying foreign governments to help their cause. Such campaigns may become a crime in the future. Many are also afraid that the law will be retroactive.
People also fear that a threat to Hong Kong’s freedoms could affect its attractiveness as a commercial and economic powerhouse.
Can China just push the legislation?
Indeed, this is what is happening.
The Basic Law says that Chinese laws cannot be applied in Hong Kong, unless they are listed in a section called Annex III; there are already some listed there, mainly rules without controversy and related to foreign policy.
These laws can be introduced by decree – meaning that they override the parliament in the region.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said she will cooperate with China to “complete the legislation as quickly as possible”.
Critics say this amounts to a violation of the “one country, two systems” principle, which is so important for Hong Kong.