China passed the Hong Kong National Security Law on Tuesday night, officially instating new legislation which grants sweeping powers to identify and restrict speech on the island.
An English translation of the law has been provided by the Hong Kong Free Press. The law allows for a very broad interpretation of “national security” by government forces, and defines the range of actions which can be restricted: terrorism, subversion, secession, or collusion with a foreign country or external elements in a way that undermines national security. These actions carry with them a penalty of up to life in prison.
Beyond the general nature of the offenses for everything save “terrorism” which has a fairly strictly identified international definition, the authorization for action is concerning for Hong Kong residents, as mainland Chinese courts are specifically granted the power to override Hong Kong courts in the prosecution of any cases where national security is invoked.
Then, beyond those issues, the range of parties which may be charged is surprisingly broad. The individuals who may be targeted includes not only Hong Kong citizens and foreign residents but all companies which have physical or electronic bases out of Hong Kong. Those individuals may be charged both for actions taken while in China and any actions taken while they are not within the country.
In summary, not only can a Hong Kong citizen who is visiting, say, Sweden, not speak against the Chinese government for fear of being imprisoned for life upon their return, but a Swedish businessman who owns a company with an Asian base out of Hong Kong can, if he promotes policy which China views as contrary to its interests, be arrested and jailed for life if he decides to visit his Hong Kong headquarters.
This legislation is likely to have a chilling effect on both the exercise of freedoms in the semi-autonomous city and economic development in the area. It is a fierce attack against international human rights.
Some United States politicians, most notably Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio, have threatened China with a removal of autonomous status for Hong Kong and subsequent sanctions, should they enact the law. This would be a strong action for President Trump to take, but it seems unlikely based on his focus on Wall Street as a primary economic indicator and his desire to use the economy as his main argument for re-election.
Trump should follow through in defense of international freedoms. If he does not, all of his opponents (Democrat Joe Biden, Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, the as-yet-undecided Green candidate and others) should speak in support of Hong Kong on the election trail and should be expected to press for action shortly upon taking office… and the failure for any of them to speak for the oppressed of Hong Kong, whether because they fear offending a trade partner, they favor the authoritarian control and communism of China or because they labor under the view of isolationist “live and let live” foreign policy, should be held against them on the campaign trail and at the ballot box.