The law was passed in secret by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing and signed by President Xi Jinping before people in Hong Kong had even seen the text. The law defines as punishable offenses: “secession, subversion, organisation and perpetration of terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.” These words are right out of China’s dictatorial handbook, and can be used arbitrarily to stop anything the authorities dislike. One provision specifically allows for prosecution of anyone “provoking by unlawful means hatred among Hong Kong residents” toward either the Beijing or Hong Kong governments. A few years ago, China plotted to nab booksellers from Hong Kong who sold gossip volumes about China’s leaders. Now, anyone who hoists a placard that says “Down with President Xi Jinping!” might well draw a jail term.
The law creates a division for investigating threats to national security — a secret police — and gives Beijing a strong hand in how it will work. One of the more remarkable provisions in the new law, Article 38, states that it covers offenses committed “outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region.” This suggests a long arm of the Chinese thought police, intent on punishing people outside Hong Kong who stir up criticism of the government. For all practical purposes, a critic might not be prosecuted abroad, but woe to those who set foot in Hong Kong.
China has broken its promise to Britain on the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 to preserve the concept of “one country, two systems” for 50 years. Many hoped Hong Kong’s system might rub off on China, but in the end, China’s overwhelmed Hong Kong. This makes it even more imperative for the West to stand by the vibrant democracy of Taiwan.
China seems unconcerned by recent protests and threats of sanctions from the United States, and no wonder, considering Mr. Trump’s evident disinterest. A response worthy of consideration is legislation in Congress introduced by Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) that would open a pathway to enter the United States for Hong Kong entrepreneurs, scientists and academics. Britain is also considering a special five-year visa for as many as 2.9 million Hong Kong citizens with British national overseas status.
These measures will help individuals escape China’s persecution, but the flame of Hong Kong’s democratic ideals has been abruptly extinguished. It is a momentously sad day for world freedom.