Top-down security law for good - or bad

Editorial | Mary Ma 22 May 2020

It's going to be a jittery week for Hongkongers following Beijing's announcement ahead of the National People's Congress plenary session to directly impose national security legislation on the SAR by way of expanding the Basic Law's Annex 3.

Apparently, Beijing has made up its mind to pursue a hardline on the city never seen before.

In doing so, policymakers can spare themselves the trouble of having to wait for the SAR to legislate locally according to Article 23 despite Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's repeated pleas that the time wasn't ripe. Now, Lam's pleas are plainly ignored.

How to look at it? The security law to be announced by Beijing pending details was the like of a glass that's half empty, half full.

On one hand, it scares because it is being drawn up and passed in Beijing without the checks-and-balances that Hongkongers are used to.

Will it deal a deadly blow on the one country, two systems policy? Will it cause foreign capital to leave the SAR?

These are just some of the downsides associated with it.

On the other hand, will it create an opportunity for the SAR to restore governance and its state of affairs?

It was not a totally new idea for Beijing to circumvent Legco to directly impose its security law here. It's just that those in the past did not opt for such a drastic course of action out of internal and external concerns.

Clearly, the balance of calculation has shifted. Following developments over the past year, two factors have become outstanding: first, the rise of extremism in the SAR; and second, the irreversible conflicts with the US.

Although it's hard to conceive that Beijing decision makers should take the increasing threat of Hong Kong independence so seriously when Hongkongers could not possibly threaten Beijing's safety, young people have been made the public enemy.

Beijing has shifted gear to clamp down on local dissent. From last year's anti-government protests to the leadership reshuffle in the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office and Central Government's Liaison Office, and from the rhetorical attacks on opposition lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang for filibustering the House Committee election to the high-profile arrest of prominent pro-democracy activists including Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and Martin Lee Chu-ming.

Externally, Beijing's conflicts with Washington have reached a point that's difficult - if not impossible - to reverse. The conflicts intensified dramatically during the pandemic with US President Donald Trump scathingly hitting out at Beijing.

America's complete embargo on Huawei and its push for US firms to move out of China are drastic - so much so that Beijing is made to believe there is not much left to lose even if bilateral relations break down.

Unfortunately, Hong Kong is caught right in the middle of the fight.

The question is whether the US will strip the SAR of its special trade status and, if it really does so, whether US capital will move out of Hong Kong.

Judging from the velocity of the fireballs, Beijing is probably betting that the Americans won't make such a move as long as they can continue to make money here.

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