China’s National Security Law for Hong Kong makes dissent against Beijing and support for independence illegal. Here’s how the region’s media covered the story as it came into force earlier this week.
China’s National Security Law (NSL) for Hong Kong made any dissent against Beijing and support for independence illegal when it was introduced on July 1. Within hours of the law coming into force, Hong Kong’s police force began making arrests, targeting activists and protesters.
Beijing’s moves to bring Hong Kong under control following months of protests sparked a global response and here’s how the media in Southeast Asia covered the story.
What happens next?
Those breaching the law face life imprisonment and Asia Times reported that China has revived its ‘N Division’ as a special branch of Hong Kong’s police force to enforce the new law. “The new branch and its squadron of specially vetted and trained officers will work to ensure the new law is enforced to the letter, including in putting down street protests that are already bubbling up against it,” wrote Frank Chen.
The Straits Times detailed the first arrests made under the NSL as police moved in to quell a protest, detaining those holding flags displaying pro-independence messages. “The law will punish crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, heralding a more authoritarian era for the Asian financial hub,” its report, sourced from Reuters, added.
Condemnation came from within Asia and from further afield
Beijing’s move received widespread condemnation from all over the world. The Bangkok Post covered the UK’s reaction, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament that Hong Kong nationals would be able to relocate and apply for British citizenship if they so choose.
While the UK claims the NSL violates the terms of the 1997 Hong Kong handover agreement, China asserts that offering Hong Kongers British citizenship also violates the accord. “If the British side makes unilateral changes to the relevant practice, it will breach its own position and pledges as well as international law and basic norms governing international relations,” stated the Chinese embassy in London.
VOA Cambodia quoted an anonymous rights lawyer based in China who claimed the legislation only serves Beijing’s interests. “The legislation will [go] down [in] China’s law-making history as a joke,” he added. VOA also spoke to Wu Ruei-ren from Taipei-based research institute Academia Sinica, who said he hoped tougher action from the US and other global players might force Beijing to back down.
The Jakarta Post noted that US legislation penalising bankers working with Chinese officials enforcing the law was “a rare example of overwhelming bipartisan support reflecting concern over the erosion of the autonomy that had allowed the former British colony to thrive as China’s freest city and an international financial center.”
Within Hong Kong, both support and criticism from key organisations
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Bar Association warned that the new law undermines its independent justice system. “The Hong Kong Bar Association is gravely concerned with both the contents of the NSL (National Security Law) and the manner of its introduction,” it said in a statement quoted by The Bangkok Post.
However, in the face of mounting international criticism of the new law, businesses inside Hong Kong seem broadly supportive of the move. Singapore’s Business Times reported that businesses would welcome a return to stability.
Hong Kong’s General Chamber of Commerce released a statement describing the law as “instrumental in helping to restore stability and certainty to Hong Kong, which has been severely impacted by the social unrest since last year. We need a stable environment which the [security law] aims to provide.”
Stocks rallied in the wake of the new law, as Angela Tan, writing for Business Times, described: “China developers had led gains on speculation the security legislation could lend some stability and attract shoppers and funds back to Hong Kong.”
Others remain hopeful that Hong Kong will prosper again
Others are less inclined to side one way or another. Vietnam Plus reported Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang’s non-committal comments at a press conference: “Vietnam respects and supports China’s ‘one country, two regimes’ policy, Hong Kong’s Basic Law and relevant mechanisms, she said, adding that issues relating to Hong Kong are an internal matter for China.”
Meanwhile, a Manila Times op-ed focused on the importance of trade between the Philippines and Hong Kong. “Hong Kong has remained a great center of international business and finance,” it wrote. “And it remains vital to the Philippines as [a] major importer of our goods and host to hundred [sic] of OFWs [overseas Filipino workers]. We thus hope for its continued harmony and stability in the face of its ongoing difficulties.”
An op-ed in The South China Morning Post painted a far more pessimistic—and likely realistic—picture of Hong Kong’s future. “Regrettably, the return of violence to city streets on Wednesday does not bode well for the future,” it read. “In what appeared to be a show of defiance, many protesters behaved as in the past.”
The op-ed called for Beijing to do more to restore trust and confidence. “Enforcement and compliance aside, there needs to be goodwill and further action to restore relations between Beijing and Hong Kong,” it concluded.
Otherwise, as Wu told VOA, China’s actions could still backfire. “The mentality of Hong Kong protesters, especially younger protesters, I think they have been pushed to the corner, where they don’t care anymore,” he told VOA. “So, [among them] this is the real scorched-earth philosophy, you see, ‘If we burn, you burn with me.’”