By AGABA HALIDU
Hong Kong has been part of China as far back as the Qin Dynasty in the third century B.C., and it remained a part of the Chinese Empire for about 2,000 but lost it to Britain in the nineteenth.century in the opium wars. Britain had desired Chinese tea, in exchange for her silver, and opium which she imported from India but was objected by China because of the crisis of addiction to opium that her (Chinese) armies were experiencing. The development resulted in wars that China lost, and Hong Kong known as the “Pearl of the Orient” was ceded to Britain in the lease Treaty of Nanking, and that of the first Convention of Peking, making her a crown colony of the British Empire for the One Hundred and Fifty-Nine (159) years only to be returned to China on the 1st of July,1997 as Hong Kong Special Administrative Region(HKSAR) and this was to last for fifty years which is 1947.
To be sure since the return of Hong Kong to China, she has been governed by one country, two systems policy – an operational tool of China for the HKSAR. As captured in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China’s document, this policy entailed that: central authorities shall not interfere in affairs within the scope of autonomy of the HKSAR, the HKSAR government shall have the final say on matters within its autonomous jurisdiction as prescribed in the Basic Law, calling for no approval by the central authorities and the government of the HKSAR may, within the limits prescribed by the Basic Law, choose its means of exercising its functions and powers. These, therefore, means that within the period under review, Hong Kong was to be allowed political, legal, social and economic autonomy, except in matters of foreign relations and defense, in line with the 1984 Sino –Britain Declaration which spelled out the plans for the hand over of Hong Kong to China
On the 8th of July, 2020, things took a dramatic turn when China through its parliament, passed the National Security Law for Hong Kong because of the growing concern on the part of the Chinese government of the ugly development and insecurity. To this end, it is hoped that these Law will safeguard national security, take care of the inadequacies in Hong Kong’s legal system and law enforcement mechanisms, deal with separatism and foreign interference in the semi-autonomous territory and bring back Hong Kong on track as early as possible to the smooth implementation of “One Country, Two Systems. The provisions of the Law as widely reported by Baker Mckenzie in an article entitled National Security Law in Hong Kong states that:
The 66-article law criminalizes four types of acts: secession, subversion, terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security and stipulates the corresponding penalties, which in the most serious cases, could result in life imprisonment.
The HKSAR will establish a new Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR, led by the Chief Executive of the HKSAR (“Chief Executive”), to be responsible for safeguarding national security in the HKSAR. The Hong Kong Police Force (“HKPF”) and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) will set up designated departments to handle crimes against national security. The Chief Executive will designate relevant judges to adjudicate such crimes. The executive, legislative, and judicial organs must adhere to the rule of law in preventing, suppressing, and punishing offences that endanger national security. While safeguarding national security, human rights, and the rights and freedoms of HKSAR residents should be respected according to law. Except for specified circumstances, the HKSAR will exercise jurisdiction over offences under the National Security Law.
The Central People’s Government (“CPG”) will establish the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the CPG in the HKSAR to oversee and guide the work of the HKSAR in safeguarding national security. In case of conflict between local laws of the HKSAR and the National Security Law, the National Security Law will prevail. The NPCSC has the authority to interpret the National Security Law.
Since the law was passed and came into force, there have reactions around the world. While some see this as a welcome development as it will bring stability in the Orient, others have taken to the view that this will outlaw dissent and destroy the autonomy promised when Britain handed the territory to Beijing in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” framework. Others, especially from the western world, also argue that the law will end free Hong Kong as it is seen as a break of promises to the people of Hong Kong and goes against china’s obligations to the international community. Furthermore, the law is also said to be detrimental to the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. It is seen indeed as a blow to public confidence which has clear implications on the human rights of people.
The reservations against this law are quite appreciated, however, there are so many germane issues that need to be examined which for me makes the passage of the national security law a necessity. First, if you look at the prevailing situation in Hong Kong, you will discover that she is unsettled. Peace and security are almost becoming a scarce commodity and we all know that peace and security is an essential factor of human life. A peaceful and secure environment is critical to every society since it affects all aspects of economic and social development in a country, and is a necessary sin-qua non to the realization of societal goals. Rather than having these, the reverse now is the case in Hong Kong.
A case in point of crisis that has been witnessed in Hong Kong was that of February 2019. As captured by Shek, D.T.L. in his article entitled, Protests in Hong Kong (2019–2020): a Perspective Based on Quality of Life and Well-Being published in Applied Research Quality Life Journal, the Government of the Special Administrative Region, P.R.C. planned to introduce the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 which focused on extradition which will regulate transfers of criminal fugitives who are wanted in different parts of China, including Taiwan, Mainland China, and Macau. What followed this decision of the government of the HKSAR was an overwhelming demonstration, protest, and riots. According to Shek, the level of vandalism as a result of this crisis was extensive as about 740 sets of traffic lights, 52.8 km of railings along the road, and 21,800 square meters of paving blocks were all damaged which required some HK$65 million to repair. He said the most striking destruction was the damage of the Legislative Council building and the occupation of The Chinese University of Hong Kong and The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November 2019. For me, these all give problems to the rule of law in Hong Kong and put public safety and security under danger. Similarly, because of the increasing spate of this violence and unrest, Hong Kong has dropped from the top 10 to No 20 in the Safe City Index 2019 of the Economist Intelligence Unit. To this end, I, therefore, submit that the national security law will help in restoring order and help a peaceful life in the Orient. In other words, the National Security Law is a timely intervention on the part of Beijing which will significantly stabilise the troubled orient thereby creating a peaceful environment.
In a related development, aside from peace and stability that the national security law will bring, I also believe that the law will also bring about economic prosperity as it will boost business activities in the Orient which is currently on the downward trend as a result of the crisis that has rocked the territory. Conflict in whatever form, be it a riot, protest, demonstration poses a range of risks to society’s and at large, a country’s economic growth and development because conflict interacts with the economy through multiple, complex pathways.
To be sure, this has been the experience of Hong Kong. As a result of this chaos especially the one over the proposed extradition bill between the territory and mainland China, Hong Kong suffered the worst recession since the 2009 Global Financial Crisis. Fewer tourists flew into the territory, retail sales fell to as low as 23%. Put together, it is on record that retail, catering, and hotel industries all together lost up to 15 billion Hong Kong dollars which is equivalent to 1.9 billion U.S. dollars making Hong Kong come down from its place atop the Index of Economic Freedom, a position it had held for 25 straight years. All these will be reversed by the national security law which aims at providing an enabling environment void of rancor and acrimony thereby enhancing economic activities.
Conclusively it also my belief that the national security law will help in cutting off the influence of foreign hands who have had a tremendous influence on the pearl of the orient. There are strong arguments that the social movements recorded so far in Hong Kong are not entirely a domestic movement, as external forces are involved. These external forces are being accused of instigating and adding flavor to some of the riots, protest in the land especially meddling with Hong Kong’s legislative and judiciary bodies.
Dr. Halidu Agaba is with the Department of Political Science & International Relations, University of Abuja. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org