Tough security law dims Hong Kong's lustre

Tough security law dims Hong Kong's lustre

There was no hint of dissent in Hong Kong's Legislative Council as its 88 members passed Article 23, a piece of draconian domestic Security legislation which "complements" Beijing's own 2020 Security stamp on the Special Administrative Region.

Instead the local lawmakers, led by Chief Executive John Lee, proudly called their unanimous vote a "historic moment."

It was so indeed, but for all the wrong reasons.

Hong Kong, a once vibrant and often socially brash city of 7.6 million people on China's coast, has seen its freedoms slowly diminish into a more reserved if not "patriotic" Chinese political cookie mould.

The once admired and vaunted Hong Kong "brand" is now losing its lustre.

When Britain handed over Hong Kong back in 1997, the island's Basic Law, a mini constitution, guaranteed that for a 50-year period Beijing would do nothing to coerce or restrict political, religious, media or economic freedoms.

That was the deal, and China carefully kept to best behaviour for about 20 years.

Over more than a decade now, the once free press has morphed into a "patriotic" PRC (People's Republic of China) regime-friendly media. The arrest and imprisonment of free press publisher Jimmy Lai chilled the media space and brought a level of "obedience" to Hong Kong's reporting.

The term "patriotism" in the Chinese context means loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party, not the wider nation-state as many would assume.

When this writer was in Hong Kong just after the July 1997 handover to China, a common adage was the tale of the Golden Goose; the goose being rich and prosperous Hong Kong.

The Chinese communists would not foolishly kill the golden goose which lays the golden eggs (economic prosperity) for a single meal! Rather they will leave it alone to lay more golden eggs encouraging continued prosperity.

Hong Kong's once booming stock market is now half its 2020 value! Equally the city faces the undertow of China's own slowing economy on which Hong Kong is economically intertwined.

Fast forward to 2020 and tough Beijing security legislation after violent street protests a year earlier was introduced and is now followed by Article 23.

Since the 1997 Hong Kong "handover" by Britain, a once politically agnostic but commerce-centric city state has evolved into another dutiful province of the People's Republic of China.

After the handover many experts wondered how long it would take for the spirit and political vibrancy of the former Crown Colony's freedoms to influence the political body politic of Mainland China?

Many opined -- will China soon become like freewheeling Hong Kong?

Today it's the other way around, Hong Kong is becoming more like Mainland China, albeit still a far more economically vigorous version.

Business is really feeling the pinch from Beijing politics; from the Covid-19 pandemic to Chinese communist political crackdowns and toughening "security legislation" with Article 23.

The legislation covers sedition, treason, insurrection, espionage and falling foul of the broad-brush law is probably easier than most people think or presume.

Hong Kong's once admirable civil rights and political freedoms are under assault from security legislation intended to safeguard the CCP's stifling monopoly on power and opinion.

Volker Turk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that broadly defined and vague provisions in the bill could lead to the "criminalisation of a wide range of conducts protected under international human rights law, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the right to receive and impart information".

The European Union raised concerns over the "potential impact on the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong".

Condemnation of the legislation has been both bi-partisan and widespread in the US Congress.

Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) stated, "Article 23 legislation will only further strip the people of Hong Kong of their rights and freedoms and subject them completely to the Chinese Communist Party."

Hong Kong was once a government of laws; the clearly applied rule of Common Law ensured the region's security and prosperity.

Today the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is not a society ruled through the law but by the law. That's Beijing's law and political rules.

John J Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defence issues. He is the author of 'Divided Dynamism: the Diplomacy of Separated Nations; Germany, Korea, China'.

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