Few love security, but it's a done deal

Editorial | Mary Ma 25 May 2020

Beijing's hardcore decision to directly impose national security laws on Hong Kong is bound to land the city in a dire situation, following months of violent protests and chaos in the territory.

When Article 23 legislation failed to be drafted in 2003, only acts - not merely words - would constitute a crime. It's hard to imagine the new security arms will be limited to that.

Will even comments be considered subversive and made a crime? And, with the benefit of hindsight, will the die-hard opposition now regret not taking the offer in 2003 which looks far more "generous" compared with the present security law?

By now, it's clear that the security laws being made by Beijing are only the beginning. Hong Kong will still be required to pass local legislation according to Basic Law's Article 23 to include further curbs on top of what Beijing is going to add to Basic Law's Annex 3.

Room for discussion on what will be said in Annex 3 is limited. According to reports, about two thirds of the text has been drafted, with only the National People's Congress standing committee to finalize the rest. The upcoming laws deal with secession, subversion, foreign interference and terrorism.

It's a cause for grave concern that Beijing will set up security agencies here. Will agents execute the law directly without having to go through the police? And will suspects stand trial in Hong Kong courts or be tried in the mainland?

These are areas that must be clarified promptly to allay people's concerns and nervousness.

If Beijing was telling the truth, the text has not yet been completed and the SAR must start engaging Beijing in order to have input into the laws to avoid the above fears.

It would be utterly damaging to Hong Kong if people could be arrested by mainland agents or if cases will not be tried locally.

Equally worrisome would be for such trials to be conducted behind closed doors, as is the common practice in the mainland.

Hongkongers face a fait accompli. The best they can do is to endeavor to argue for executing the laws by SAR institutions before Beijing hardliners move quickly to fill up the rest.

It is hoped that Beijing can show the maximum respect for the SAR's independent judiciary.

While it is most likely the security laws will be ready before the Legco election in September, it remains to be seen whether they will pave the way for a massive roundup of opposition activists - including those who had lobbied the West to sanction government officials - and disqualification of pro-democracy candidates to ensure Beijing-backed candidates win two thirds of the legislative seats.

If this happens, Article 23 legislation on national security will follow to complete the legal net to rein in the situation.

Looking ahead, several things need to be monitored:

One - over the weekend, Western governments criticized Beijing, with US President Donald Trump warning he will "react strongly." How strongly will he react? Will he strip the SAR of its special trade status, killing the goose that's been laying substantial surplus for the US? In my opinion, the odds are high.

Two - violent protests sprang up yesterday. Will the situation escalate to involve more explosive actions like what happened in the 1967 riots?

Three - the financial market. Immediately, the Hang Seng Index dropped more than 5 percent following Beijing's move on Friday.

Capital will leave the city, but will the exodus be as serious as during the Sino-British negotiations in the early 1980s?

Whatever develops, a long shadow has already been cast over the financial markets.

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