HK not dead despite draconian law

Editorial | Mary Ma 2 Jul 2020

The long-expected national security law on Hong Kong unveiled its full text at 11pm Tuesday, with immediate effect - merely an hour before July 1.

Contrary to normal practice, the full text was withheld from the public until it was promulgated.

To Hongkongers' astonishment, it's tougher than feared, rendering assurances by some National People's Congress deputies less than perfect.

The draft Article 23 legislation in 2003 certainly pales in face of this one.

Instead of trying suspects according to long-standing judicial practice here, there are new institutions from a special security committee and police arm to a special prosecution unit and court.

In the worst case scenario, a "small number" of cases will be tried in the mainland.

So far, reactions have been polarized.

For supporters of the law, such a draconian approach is desirable as they believe this can restore peace and pave the way for rebuilding society.

But for its opponents - including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and pan-democrats - it spelt the death for Hong Kong and one country, two systems.

While it is too soon for both sides to claim who will be proved right, it was certainly sensational to assert the SAR was dead.

Given that the law was drafted in Beijing, it is incompatible with the common law understandings with which we are familiar, although attempts were made to strike a balance with provisions allowing SAR institutions to enact the law in most cases.

It is truly like a sword swinging above everybody's head. Beijing's intention was to create the maximum deterrent effect - a "nuclear bomb" in a modern-day terminology.

In the near term, the effect has been immediate and clear, with activist groups disbanding, "yellow circle" merchants removing anti-government literature and netizens deleting social media contents or accounts.

I heard a man sitting near me at a restaurant a day ago confessing to a friend he would ask his son to join the police and wouldn't mind him becoming a "bad cop" as this would be the means of future survival.

The question is whether Hong Kong can really return to normal in the longer term as wished by pro-Beijing "blue fans."

Immediately facing the new committee, led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and advised by a mainland consultant, is the challenge of those cases arrested yesterday for allegedly breaching the security law.

The public are monitoring how these cases are being handled.

Few had predicted Lam's extradition law proposal would have developed into such a crisis filled with violent protests and now an unprecedented law cracking down on them.

It is so detailed that even traffic disruptions and filibustering are tackled - that's the price such common incidents in the past year.

It would be naive to pretend that Hong Kong's unique position of the east and west meeting will not be affected. This is uncertain and needs close monitoring.

For now, Beijing has pledged to back the SAR with unlimited financial support. The mass returns of mainland companies from the US for local listing will help, but it will not be free of downsides.

Will the SAR stock exchange be overly dominated by mainland firms, making it less than international?

On the bumpy road of one country, two systems, Hong Kong has sailed into another uncharted rough waters.

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