Asia

Fear of foreign interference looms large in China's version of Hong Kong law

BEIJING – Few would disagree that China’s late patriarch Deng Xiaoping was a wise and visionary leader. It took courage to grant Hong Kong autonomy in a “one country, two systems” framework that sets the city apart from other Chinese cities green with envy.

China would keep its hands off Hong Kong, pledging that the city’s capitalist system and lifestyle will not change for 50 years and that it will be run by Hong Kongers except in foreign and defence affairs.

The city has not had to pay taxes to the Chinese central government since the British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

It also issues its own currency, holds legislative elections and maintains an independent judiciary.

But Mr Deng portended chaos in the city one day and warned the central government would have to interfere if words of criticism turned into action, reported the People’s Daily, the “throat and tongue” of the Communist Party.

“After 1997, if there are people in Hong Kong who scold the Communist Party of China, scold China, we will allow them to scold. But if it becomes action to turn Hong Kong into an anti-mainland bastion under the guise of ‘democracy’, what then? Non-intervention would not be feasible,” Mr Deng told members of the committee drafting Hong Kong’s Basic Law, or mini-constitution, in 1987.

Mr Deng’s warning proved prescient.

Hong Kong was rocked by months of rioting last year against a now defunct Bill that would have allowed fugitives to be extradited from Hong Kong to China.

Hong Kong’s first chief executive after the handover, Mr Tung Chee Hwa, dropped a political bombshell last July when he pointed at the United States and Taiwan for orchestrating months of violent protests in Hong Kong which have morphed into calls for democracy and independence.

There is reason to believe there were “masterminds behind the storm” which was “well organised” and “escalated quickly”, Mr Tung told an audience at a luncheon organised by his think-tank, Our Hong Kong Foundation.

“There could be interference from external forces, and various signs are pointing towards Taiwan and the US,” he reportedly said, without elaborating.

Mr Tung’s accusation came on the heels of a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman calling for the US then to withdraw its “black hand” from Hong Kong.

A spokesman for the US consulate in Hong Kong called the accusation “ridiculous”.

On Thursday (May 28), China’s Parliament passed a resolution that paves the way for a national security law in Hong Kong, bypassing its Legislative Council.

The legislature had shelved implementing Article 23 of the Basic Law in 2003 – requiring Hong Kong to enact a national security law – after about 500,000 people took to the streets in protest against it.

The newly passed resolution sets the stage for a law to be imposed to prevent and punish those who engage in secessionist and subversive activities, as well as terrorism and foreign interference.

“Without doubt, the incessant rioting last year was the result of foreign interference,” a source familiar with the Chinese leadership’s thinking told The Straits Times.

President Xi Jinping has been “very restrained, but is increasingly frustrated” with the chaos that ripped through Hong Kong for months, the source said.

“Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong, no longer the UK’s Hong Kong and certainly not America’s Hong Kong,” the source added.

“Many countries, including the US, have national security laws. But it’s double standards to say other countries can have national security laws, but China cannot legislate one for Hong Kong.”

International relations professor Shi Yinhong, who is a government adviser, said

the protests steeled the Chinese leadership’s determination to introduce this piece of legislation – on the central government’s terms – to rein in the rioters and keep what it believes to be foreign forces from meddling.

That determination was evident at last October’s Fourth Plenum meeting, a conclave of the Communist Party’s most senior leaders.

At the end of the session, the party pledged in a communique to “establish a sound legal system and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security in the special administrative regions”.

Prof Shi of Renmin University said at a webinar organised by the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute: “They (central government) have taken into account any possible backfire from Hong Kong and the US, but this process has already begun and it will not stop, and they are determined to do this at any cost.”

Law professor Cora Chan acknowledged it would be impossible for a national security law to pass in the Hong Kong legislature because of the “deep distrust” in the Chinese government.

But it is important to understand where China is coming from, said the University of Hong Kong professor.

“They do genuinely view Hong Kong as a national security threat and believe it might be used as a base for subversion.”

The question is: how to deal with this situation?

“Do you deal with it with a heavy-handed move of imposing a national security law in Hong Kong or by solving the systemic and legitimate demands of the Hong Kong people?”

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