By Chen Qingqing and Bai Yunyi – Global Times
Hong Kong: A Hong Kong association gathers at Chater Garden, Central Hong Kong, in support of the national security legislation in the city.
Dozens of participants marched to the US Consulate General in Hong Kong waving the Five-Starred Red Flag and shouting slogans supporting the legislation and protesting the US’ interference in China’s internal affairs. Photo: cnsphoto
China’s top legislature is expected to be in the final stage of voting to enact the highly expected national security law for Hong Kong, which has already shown its strong deterrent effect, in order to put an end to subversive and riotous acts that have caused an unprecedented recession in Asia’s former premier financial hub.
The national security legislation for Hong Kong was reviewed at a session of China’s top legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), on Sunday morning, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday after a Hong Kong deputy to the NPC confirmed the meeting with the Global Times.
Stanley Ng Chau-pei, a Hong Kong deputy to the NPC, told the Global Times that the draft law was reviewed by the country’s top lawmakers on Sunday morning as the Standing Committee of the 13th NPC began convening its 20th session, which will last until Tuesday, in Beijing.
A group discussion among the lawmakers had finished with a general consensus regarding the bill, Ng noted.
Shen Chunyao, director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, made a report on the results of the deliberation on the draft of the national security law for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), according to Xinhua.
After voting to pass a draft decision on establishing such a law on May 28, the NPC Standing Committee has worked with related parties to formulate the relevant laws and bills, which would usually go through three readings in the committee before being enacted, according to the Legislation Law. Given the law’s impact and urgency, the draft can also go through one or two readings before being submitted for a vote, according to legal experts.
Ip Kwok-him, a Hong Kong deputy to the NPC and also an executive councilor, told the Global Times on Sunday that the majority of NPC Standing Committee members support finishing the formulation of the law as soon as possible.
There have been six groups to discuss the draft, with more than 10 Hong Kong deputies to the NPC as well as members of the Basic Law Committee taking part in the session, within which each group discussion was joined by one or two Hong Kong deputies to ensure that the public opinion of the HKSAR would be fully elaborated, according to Ip.
“It will be deliberated for a vote at this session, and it’s highly likely to be passed, a chance of over 99.9 percent,” he said.
Some local media outlets in Hong Kong predicted that top lawmakers are expected to vote for the law at the closing session on Tuesday. Tam Yiu-chung, a member of the NPC Standing Committee from Hong Kong, told the Global Times in an earlier interview that it is likely that top lawmakers will vote on the law during the committee’s upcoming session, which means before July 1.
While some opposition and pan-democratic groups are planning new anti-government protests for Sunday and Wednesday – July 1, the day marking the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China – the draft law has already began showing its powerful deterrent effects as the scale of street protests has largely shrunk with some extreme rioters descending into the streets in a deathbed struggle, according to observers and some local residents in Hong Kong.
Some “pro-independence” and secessionist leaders, who are expected to face charges as the upcoming law would specifically target four types of criminal acts, began fleeing to other countries or stepping down from their political sphere in recent days. Those types of criminal acts that would be punished by the law include acts of secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security, according to the draft.
Wayne Chan Ka-kui, a 29-year-old Hong Kong activist who took part in illegal assemblies in June 2019, reportedly fled to the Netherlands to avoid riot charges, and he has also breached his bail conditions, according to Hong Kong media reports.
Horace Chin Wan-kan, widely deemed the “father of localism” in Hong Kong and who advocates anti-mainland sentiment, also announced he is quitting the social movement in the city as he intends to draw a clear line from the secessionists, according to a Facebook post Chin published on Sunday.
The three-day meeting of the 19th session of the 13th NPC Standing Committee, which concluded on June 20, has come up with more details of the draft of the national security law for Hong Kong. Under the new law, the central government would set up a commissioner’s office for national security affairs in the HKSAR and the HKSAR should establish a commission for safeguarding national security.
When it comes to law enforcement and jurisdiction power, the draft law clearly states that the HKSAR shall exercise jurisdiction over criminal cases that endanger national security, from the investigation phase to prosecution and trial and punishment, unless there are special circumstances.
Though there is no reference to any retroactive clauses in the draft, some legal experts suggested that the new law could apply retroactively to those cases relevant to anti-extradition bill movement that then triggered unprecedented social turmoil in Hong Kong.
“However, it could be applied retroactively within a certain period, for example one month, since the decision of the draft law was approved on May 28,” Kennedy Wong Ying-ho, solicitor of the Supreme Court of Hong Kong, told the Global Times on Sunday. If it applies retroactively to some cases a long time ago, how to obtain evidence will become another question, Wong noted.
However, some observers consider that the anti-extradition movement is still ongoing, which involves different types of criminal acts and some could be punished and prosecuted in accordance to local security ordinance and law in Hong Kong.
“When it comes to severe cases of continued collusion with external forces, the national security law for Hong Kong may take effect,” Tian Feilong, a Hong Kong affairs expert at Beihang University in Beijing, told the Global Times on Sunday.
If and when the cases are too complex to be handled by Hong Kong authorities, they could fall into the scope of special jurisdiction by agencies set up by central authorities in Hong Kong, he noted.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Friday visa restrictions on incumbent and former Chinese officials “responsible for eviscerating Hong Kong’s freedoms,” and their family members may also be affected. His announcement came a day after the US Senate passed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which calls for mandatory sanctions against any person responsible for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.”
While Chinese authorities such as the Chinese Embassy in the US and Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in HKSAR voiced oppositions to the blatant interference of the US government in China’s internal affairs, lawmakers, observers and some Hong Kong residents said the country’s determination to safeguard sovereignty and national security is firm and unshakable.
Once the law is enacted and takes effect in Hong Kong, some extreme activists may not give up challenging the bottom-line of the legislature, as they are likely to continue their anti-government protests overtly or covertly, some observers noted.
“However, don’t undermine the powerful deterrent effect of the law. Chanting pro-independence slogans or songs such as ‘liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times’ or ‘glory to Hong Kong’ or waving foreign flags to beg for help from other countries during protests would be considered as acts of secessionism, which would be punished if those who do this ignore police warnings,” Wong said.
While Tam has earlier suggested that the punishment for violating the law would be three to 10 years in prison, some other deputies to the NPC suggested suspects may face more severe punishments.
“Considering that in countries like the US, the penalty for offences such as subversion, secession, disclosure of information to the enemy may be life imprisonment, there is no reason why China’s national security laws need to be loose,” Ip told the Global Times.
He also pointed out this is not only his personal thought, as it has been understood by the central government, which would be fully expressed at the final deliberation of the draft.