Dear Hong Kong residents: the city you love, the place you call home — where you ran successful businesses, raised families, shared laughter with friends, enjoyed unbelievably delicious food, cheered for freedom, and mourned for students who perished in Tiananmen Square — has changed beyond recognition. Darkness descended on to the city on midnight of June 30, 2020, as the new National Security Law went into effect. Drafted by Beijing in May, the NSL was rubber-stamped by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee by June. The 7.5 million Hong Kongers had no say in the matter.
Hong Kongers, and the rest of the world, didn’t even know what the law entails until the Hong Kong government posted it on its website. Tellingly, the details were posted in Chinese only, even though both Chinese and English are official languages of the city. Three days later, when the government published the English version, the text of the law sent shockwaves through Hong Kong and the rest of the world.
Beijing Wants to Control Everyone on Earth
NSL criminalizes any act of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with a foreign country or external elements, with a maximum penalty of life in prison. The definition of each supposed “crime” and even what constitutes “national security” has been so vaguely defined, however, that a tweet that supports Hong Kong protests could land someone in jail.
Alan Wong, a Hong Kong-based lawyer, said the law was “badly written with the drafters taking a flippant attitude.” Wong also noticed many discrepancies between the law’s Chinese and English versions. Authorities simply responded that when discrepancies surface, the Chinese version of the law prevails.
The most draconian aspect of NSL is Article 38, through which the Chinese Communist Party assumes unprecedented extraterritorial power to punish any person anywhere in the world, for advocating democracy in Hong Kong, calling for foreign government intervention, or criticizing the Hong Kong government, Beijing, or the CCP on any topic such as Beijing’s inhumane treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang.
Wang Minyao, a U.S.-based lawyer, explained that Article 38 “literally applies to every single person on the planet. … If I appear at a congressional committee in D.C. and say something critical, that literally would be a violation of this law.” Incredibly, Beijing believes it has judicial power to regulate the speech and actions of all 7.8 billion people on Earth.
If you ever tweeted #StandwithHK or have worn a T-shirt imprinted with a popular Hong Kong protest slogan, you are no longer safe to set foot in Hong Kong or anywhere else in China. Bing Ling, a law professor at the University of Sydney, concluded that Article 38 “is in effect a gross interference with the rights and freedoms and domestic legal order of other countries.”
‘White Terror’ Descends on Hong Kong
Of course, Hong Kongers bear the brunt of the NSL. Beijing quickly set up a new security agency with broad power to enforce the NSL, including taking over some cases from Hong Kong police. This agency is exempt from complying with Hong Kong’s Basic Law, a de facto constitution, and any people it arrests will be tried in the mainland, meaning the accused won’t have due process, adequate legal representation or a fair trial.
The NSL also grants Hong Kong police unprecedented power, including “the ability to conduct warrantless searches, seize property, investigate suspects, intercept communications, freeze assets, and prevent people from leaving.” Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Hong Kong, called NSL a “sword of Damocles hanging over the head of a small group of criminals.”
NSL’s chilling effect in the city has been obvious: political organizations have disbanded. Activists such as Nathan Law have fled to undisclosed locations; local businesses rushed to remove posters that support protests and the pro-democracy movement. Hong Kongers have been busy scrubbing their digital footprints, deleting past social media posts supporting pro-democracy protests and installing virtual private networks. Encrypted messaging app Signal has become the most downloaded app on the Google Play Store in Hong Kong since July 1.
Even though fear and uncertainty have dominated for the last two weeks in particular, some courageous Hong Kongers still took to the streets to protest the NSL on July 1. Police arrested more than 370 protestors, including ten under the precepts of the NSL. One was a 15-year-old girl who waved a flag with the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.” Police insisted such a slogan calling for Hong Kong’s independence is an offense under the new law.
Every day, the news out of Hong Kong is more depressing than the day before. Books written by pro-democracy activists such as Joshua Wong and Tanya Chan have been removed from public libraries in the city. Wong tweeted, “More than just punitive measures, the national security law also imposes a mainland-style censorship regime upon this international financial city.”
A new Hong Kong government proposal, which the government said was necessary to comply with the NSL, requires all Hong Kong civil servants employed from July 1 as well as those who are recommended for promotion to swear allegiance to the city and uphold its mini-constitution in writing. The leader of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party said, if implemented, such a requirement would create a “white terror.”
As the NSL applies to all who have an office in Hong Kong, businesses and civil organizations will be penalized if Beijing deems one of their employees has committed an offense under NSL, even if that person resides outside Hong Kong. For example, if an American tweeted #StandwithHK and his employer has an office in Hong Kong, city authorities could accuse the employer of breaching the NSL.
Foreign firms could also be charged under the NSL if they carry out any sanctions their home countries have imposed on China or Chinese officials. If, for example, an American bank in Hong Kong closes its banking relationship with a Chinese official who is on Washington’s sanction list, Chinese authorities could charge the bank with a violation. Ultimately, it’s a pointless exercise to decipher what’s permissible under the NSL. For the CCP, the law is whatever it says.
International Response Won’t Stop Beijing
The content of the NSL and the way it was created — with Beijing bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature — has generated much international condemnation. Some countries have taken swift action. Boris Johnson, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, announced on July 1 that the U.K. would grant the up to 3 million Hong Kong British Overseas Nationals and their dependents the right to remain in the U.K. with a path to citizenship. The U.K. government is also re-evaluating its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suspended Canada’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong and vowed not to export sensitive military equipment to the city. Canada is looking into additional immigration-related proposals for Hong Kongers.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared his country would suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and give 10,000 Hong Kongers on student and temporary visas a pathway to permanent residency in Australia. Australian immigration Minister Alan Tudge added, “There is so much talent in Hong Kong. There are great businesses in Hong Kong. And we know that many individuals now might be looking elsewhere, because they do want to be in a freer country.” New Zealand government said it’s also “reviewing settings of its relationship with Hong Kong, which would include extradition arrangements, controls on exports of strategic goods and travel advice.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the United States will impose visa restrictions on “current and former CCP officials who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, as guaranteed in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, or undermining human rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong.”
The U.S. Congress also passed legislation to penalize banks for doing business with any Chinese officials who implement the NSL in Hong Kong. Many U.S. tech giants, including Facebook and Google, announced they won’t process any requests for user data from those in the city, at least for now.
These are all welcome developments, but tragically too late to rescue Hong Kong from the CCP’s iron fist. The CCP will do anything to maintain control and power, even at the expense of economic pain and international isolation.
Hong Kongers, remember in last year’s protest that you adopted Bruce Lee’s famous saying, “Be water”? To you, it meant “adapting quickly to circumstances, cutting losses, being mobile and agile, and creatively coming up with different forms of public civil resistance.” It’s time to apply that strategy again.
You have built a great city, one of the freest and most prosperous in the world. You have put up a good fight to preserve your right to self-determination. Unfortunately, Hong Kong is lost. It was murdered at midnight on June 30, 2020.
Don’t give the CCP and its thugs any more satisfaction by harming you or holding your family hostage. It’s time to leave the city to protect yourself and your family. You’re creative, educated, determined, and industrious. Any country would be so lucky to have you. Preserve and grow your strength, live to fight for another day. “Be water,” my friends.
The author writes anonymously to protect loved ones from China’s government.