What’s in Beijing’s Mystery Security Law Will Be a Giant Tell about Hong Kong’s Future

Sense of Foreboding in Hong Kong. Beijing’s black-box approach doesn’t bode well for local freedoms.

By Chris Oliver, Hong Kong, former business editor at SCMP. For WOLF STREET:

Hongkongers woke earlier this week to a timeline for a new national security law written in Beijing that sets out a handful of days before the legislation is passed. The troubling thing is that few know what’s actually inside the new law.

The controversial bill – widely regarded as already fixed in stone – is expected to be completed during the three-day session of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee which gets underway on Sunday, according to local newspaper reports citing mainland sources. One theory is that the bill will be passed on Tuesday, June 30, the eve of the 23rd anniversary of the handover that ended 156 years of British colonial rule. When the law will be enacted is not known, but sometime during either July or August looks likely (photo by Chris Oliver).

If the new law is passed next week as expected, it would mark about a month since its unveiling in late May – a blistering pace for a national law, especially one affecting Hong Kong, a city known for its low crime rate and social stability.

Hongkongers can be forgiven for feeling a sense of foreboding, thanks to the Kafkaesque manner in which the new law is taking shape. Few in the city have seen a copy of the bill drafted in Beijing, not even Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam, or the Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng, although both have urged the city’s 7.45 million residents to support it.

In the five weeks since Beijing’s announcement, Ms Lam and her fellow cabinet members have been scrambling to spin the proposed law in a positive light, saying it will help to restore stability after a year of political unrest. Large outdoor billboards with messages of support for the proposed law have also popped up around the city.

In spite of the PR campaign, Beijing looks set to keep the full contents of the bill under wraps until it has passed. One mainland legal scholar says the lack of consultation could mean that Beijing is running afoul of its own legal code that requires the government to seek public input on important legislation.

Another risk: Steamrolling the new law without consultation could derail Beijing’s attempts to bolster a sense of national pride among Hong Kong residents.

“Without this [national security law] being seen and soliciting comment, especially among dissenting voices, you are going to have difficulty implementing the law. You are going to lack credibility,” Bing Ling, associate director, Centre for Asian and Pacific Law, Law School of University of Sydney told RTHK.

Beijing’s push for the national security law comes roughly a year after Hong Kong was rocked by mass demonstrations against a proposed extradition treaty that would have allowed the exchange of suspected criminals with the mainland (none exists currently). The legislation, put forward by Hong Kong’s administration, was eventually withdrawn.

Notwithstanding, the national security law is moving ahead at a turbo-charged clip, even as questions about its contents linger. Underscoring the degree of secrecy, Hong Kong-based delegates to China’s upper law-making body were reportedly able to see a hard copy earlier this week, but had to hand it back, presumably before they could take photos with their smartphones.

The new law will define crimes involving secession and subversion. One section warns against collusion with foreign or external forces to endanger national security, according to a Xinhua news report. This could make it a crime if, say, local politicians or labor leaders were to meet with visiting counterparts in Hong Kong, or while traveling abroad.

Question marks also remain over procedures and administration. These include whether Hong Kong courts will handle the prosecutions, what judges will be deemed qualified to preside over the cases and how will the local police force (or mainland security agents) investigate the crimes? (For a summary of the law and its impacts visit the NPC Observer)

Legal scholars say Beijing’s black-box approach doesn’t bode well for local freedoms, as existing Hong Kong law already has provisions covering rioting, assault, and grievous bodily harm.

Here is my interview of Marc Faber, of “The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report,” where he shares his outlook for the Hong Kong economy and global markets.

“If there is something missing in the law that’s going to be filled next week, it has to be a prohibition on certain peaceful acts,” said Carole Peterson, professor of law and graduate chair, Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at the University of Hawaii.

One possible outcome, she says, is that advocacy of Hong Kong independence will no longer be protected under freedom of speech, even though multilateral treaties overseen by the UN protect these rights as long as the activities in support of self determination are peaceful.

Another change could affect upcoming elections in the autumn. Individuals who don’t support the national security law once it’s enacted could be barred from running as candidates for the Legislative Council in September, according to one rumor.

Others believe the new law will ultimately diminish the right to protest, leaving Hong Kong with little to differentiate itself from other mainland cities.

Fears that the new law could dole out harsh punishments for illegal gatherings, even retroactively, could explain the relatively muted response from democratic groups in recent weeks. Since the bill was announced there have been no large scale protests across the city, although some of that can be explained by social distancing restrictions related to the coronavirus crisis. A current ban on public gatherings of more than 50 people is due to expire on July 1.

However, Ronny Tong, an executive councilor, believes that some of the worries about the erosion of freedoms are overblown. Tong says Beijing is eager to tamp down some of the violent street protests over the past 12 months, but adds that mainland authorities are “more concerned about the call for independence, the call for the liberation of the Hong Kong people – and the waving of the US flag” (photo by Chris Oliver):

Hong Kong’s leader Ms Lam has also sought to assure locals that the new security law won’t undermine Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, adding that it will also bolster business confidence in the city.

However, for many western companies, navigating the political reality on the ground can be more complex.

A case in point is HSBC. The London headquartered bank was keeping a low profile until former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying wrote in a Facebook post in early June: “It has been more than a week and HSBC has not yet expressed its position on the national security law.” Leung also called upon senior Hong Kong and mainland officials to consider pulling their accounts at the bank.

HSBC later published a social media post on WeChat, China’s version of Twitter, saying the bank’s Asia-Pacific CEO Peter Wong had added his name to a petition in support of the proposed law.

Senior staff said management at the bank had little choice but to kowtow, describing the less than subtle hints as “white terror,” according to local reports. In voicing its support, HSBC joins a list of the city’s biggest companies and trading houses that have added their backing to the new law.

Overall, in the past decades, things have gone pretty smoothly with China as the sovereign overseeing Hong Kong under the “one country two systems” approach. As we move into the final weekend before the 23 anniversary of the handover, the future seems as precarious and uncertain as it did back in 1997. Just what’s written in that mystery text will be a giant tell about what lies ahead. By Chris Oliver, for WOLF STREET.

Beijing squeezes, and HSBC knows where it makes most of its money. Standard Chartered, another UK bank, did the same. Read… HSBC Embraces China’s Crackdown on Hong Kong, Goes All-In on Asia Pivot

Enjoy reading WOLF STREET and want to support it? You can donate. I appreciate it immensely. Click on the beer and iced-tea mug to find out how:

Would you like to be notified via email when WOLF STREET publishes a new article? Sign up here.

  45 comments for “What’s in Beijing’s Mystery Security Law Will Be a Giant Tell about Hong Kong’s Future

  1. 2banana says:

    I am going to withhold my opinion until the NBA and NBA stars weigh in with their comments.

  2. Petunia says:

    HK is dead as a money center. Let me guess what’s in the new bill, more repression and property confiscation laws.

    • MiTurn says:

      I think few are surprised. The question as always been not if, but when.

      • Paulo says:

        Exactly Mi,

        The time to get out was ’97. I’m surprised the total takeover didn’t happen before this, but from news reports I am sure the Chinese felt there would be a blind eye watching like what happened with Kashoggi. Plus, who knows what was said behind the scenes? They basically had a green light from this administration.

    • Joe Saba says:

      Tic Toc goes the chinese timeline clock

      NEXT UP …….

    • Oū Sī / 區司/ Usman says:

      Of course, Hòng Kóng (modern standard Chines pronunciation: Xiāngǎng) is a “haven”: It has been a heaven for those corrupt mainlandars who fled there with ill-gotten wealt throughout the last 30 years. Now it will become a heaven for Chinese Mainland police authorities delving into thair corrupt dealings.
      Aside from this, the law will permit one morderer of his betrothed and pregnant fiancée to be returned to be tried by the authorities in the province of Táiwan.

  3. timbers says:

    No doubt China is learning from the best of the best, following the path chosen by the awesomely greatest nation ever, the US, in crafting law: “We have to pass the Bill to know what’s in it.” …… U.S. Congress House Speaker Nancy Pelosi instructing her majority to pass a law no one know what it contained.

    • Tonymike says:

      Thanks Timbers for stating this because it came to my mind as well. Also, the Patriot Act was terrible and still is. I would remind people that HK was a prize of the Opium War and the Chinese will NEVER forget the 100 years of humiliation, so get used to that fact and worry about what is going on within our borders. We have two nitwits that we have to vote for (or vote Green) that are the evil of two lessers, but still evil. The British don’t want the Hongkongers unless they bring money, just like the Oligarchs that raped Russia and fled to London. Mind your own neck.

    • Lune says:

      This meme is getting old…


      tl;dr the quote is taken out of context from a much larger speech in which it’s fairly clear she’s talking about the *benefits* of the Bill, not the *content*. That is, the American public won’t know the full benefits of Obamacare until it’s implemented and we see the full effects. I think both supporters and detractors of Obamacare would agree with that statement (rare bipartisan unity? :-)

      • Petunia says:

        That’s a big fat lie. I remember the bill wasn’t published until right before the vote, a day or two. Too short a time to read the two thousand pages, and that was deliberate.

      • candyman says:

        point still remains, she did not know what was in the bill,( or din’t want us to know) for if she had, she would have known the benefits. Think of it this way, according to your statement, she did not know the “benefits”, which implies she knew the “content”, and if one knew the content, one should be able to extrapolate the benefits of the law, and don’t forget she helped write the law!

      • Gian says:

        One thing we know was not in the bill, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor”, as pontificated by the biggest liar to occupy the White House (is it still ok to call it that).

  4. kam says:

    The new law will tell you more about China’s future than it will Hong Kong’s.

    Dictatorships keep choking necks until they choke their own. Mao’s ilk are an anachronism but are too paranoid to see their future.

    China is the only major nation on earth that has to peg their currency against the U.S. dollar.

    • CNY is a soft peg to USD, but yeah …. still a major nation pegging to another major nation.

    • char says:

      Japan isn’t soft pegged to the dollar or is the EU the only other major nation?

      China pegged to the Dollar when they were not a great nation. It is uncertain if the keep the peg if it is really attacked. Keeping a peg during a quiet period isn’t hard

  5. Macro Investor says:

    The moment British rule ended I knew this day would come. China might bide their time, but they well know dictatorships only survive if they crush all dissent.

    The world seems to be tired of US policing. We should embargo China and cut off access to international banking. After regaining the moral high ground this way we should let them sort it out themselves. Hong Kong and Taiwan will scream for help, but others need to experience a world with a defunded police force.

    • char says:

      Embargo is a form of war, especially if you involve other countries in it against their will.

  6. Greg Franklin says:

    I find it very suspicious that U.S. interest rates, bond yields are being kept drastically lower and lower but China’s interest rates, bond yields have not dropped alot with their economy, finances probably just as bad or worse as the the US.

    Look at especially U.S. 5, 10 and 30 year bond yields 0.30%, 0.64%, 1.14%, 1.37% versus China 5, 10, 20, 30 year bond yields 2.55%, 2.89%, 3.50%, 3.61%.

    This looks like China is afraid that it will lose their big 200 to 225 basis points advantage in interest rates and their currency will crash against the US dollar.

    Just look at their stock markets are down 40% to 55%+ in the last couple of years. I believe I heard China is not reporting their GDP numbers anymore. This is very suspicious too.

    • char says:

      In China stock markets are seen as legalized gambling not investing so big drops are not important. It is like bitconns here

  7. GotCollateral says:

    Yet HSBC maintains its primary dealer status with FRBNY…

  8. AbleDude says:

    I’ve read your reply four times and don’t understand what you’re saying.

  9. RagnarD says:

    Check out any Peter Zeihan interview on the paper tiger that is China.

    The gist:
    Post ww2 USA keeps sea lanes open for global trade for all who help Fight the USSR.

    It works.

    Gradually, exponentially, predatorilly, China starts taking advantage / joins the free trade club under written by the USA

    2010s USA starts pulling back from Pax Americana. This trend is accelerating.

    Meaning USA will not necessarily be fighting for open seas all around the world,

    but China who needs to import massive amounts of oil and food, thousands of parts for iPhones and automobile parts for completion, etc is the most exposed to a world in which the US Navy with it’s 22 aircraft carriers is not in forcing free trade on the high seas.

    China has 1 Carrier and The worlds 2nd best Navy in Japan, it’s arch enemy, on its door step.

    Japan, island nation, super savy on maintaining its existence via the seas…. they have to import a lot of stuff too…

    USA: massive oil, natural gas, coal, wind, solar supplies
    Bread basket of the world
    Great geography, decent demographics, 2 large ocean separation from enemies.

    Game over

    Check out Zeihan, great stuff. Blows up the narrative

    • 2banana says:

      Well, a good rant but the USA has only 10 or 11 carriers depending on how you define them.

      • char says:

        Uhm, China has 2 carriers and IIRC the US has 28. Japan 5 but not yet any planes.

        • Tony Washington says:

          Just don’t know how our carriers can help HongKong. Please advise.

        • dbbeebs says:

          The US Navy has 11 aircraft carriers currently active. In addition the Gerald Ford is undergoing builder’s trials and should be active soon. The new John F. Kennedy is under construction. These carriers are all nuclear powered.

        • RagnarD says:

          Per my (Zeihan’s) points above, China needs massive amounts of imports via open sea lanes in order to maintain her economy.

          Who are the ultimate powers as to whether those sea/trade lanes remain open – ANYWHERE in the world?

          USA and Japan, largely. What do u think is more powerful?

          a: Making widgets for Americans and being the unfortunate holder of USD/Treasuries,


          b: having command and control of global trade on the high seas?

          Think, maybe, when push comes to shove, the USA can apply some pressure in the right spot on China’s imports to make them back on certain aspects of their geopolitical agenda?

          That’s how carriers help HK.

        • RagnarD says:

          “Uhm, China has 2 carriers and IIRC the US has 28”

          What is IIRC? 28 what?

      • RagnarD says:

        Sorry, I was a little loose with my words.
        Ziehan said, we have 11 Big Aircraft carriers and 11 *light* aircraft carriers. This appears to be correct:
        We have 8 Wasp, 3ish America class. Light means, Harrier or Helicopter or any other short take off capable aircraft. Supposedly F35 fits the bill too.

        Salient point, most countries can’t even compete on with our light class carriers let alone our big ones.


    • Nicko2 says:

      China also has several carriers under construction….but it could be a dead end technology, with drones and missiles.

      Of course, the US is several steps ahead of the game, with direct energy weapons (ie. lasers!), ramjets, railguns, and drone swarms.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        EXACTLY N2,,, as an old and retired tin can type of US Navy swabie who respects and appreciates ALL of our coasties, swabies, grunts, and doggies, not to mention our fly boys and girls,,,my term for the surface ships, each and every one of them is ”sitting ducks”
        Just another example of the generals always fighting the last war, as has been truth for as long as there has been wars…
        Time and enough for We The PeedONs demanding that USA gets at least its ”defensive” military postures, people, and policies into some sort of resemblance for what is coming going forward instead of what happened last century.
        As has been said many times,,, ”that’s SO 20th Century!!” which is exactly where our current defense department thinking is at… not even up to the point of being between the a and the t
        For instance for laggards that do not understand: while we want to pretend our surface ships can shoot down any missiles before they hit,,, just thing about the certainty that ”other countries” know already, and will continue to know exactly how many defensive missiles each and every ship has, and just send that many plus a dozen or so,, in just a few seconds,,,

        • VintageVNvet says:

          And to follow up on the concept:
          IMHO, at this time, the best policy/process my beloved US Navy could do, starting today, would be to put in place the practice of offering to the best swabies of every rate and rating the training first, and then the operational control of their own drone type vehicles of ocean surface and air, with the clear understanding that each and every one of the swabies could operate their vehicle to observe every inch and ”take care” of bizness when needed.
          PAX Americana could then actually be something other than a convenient excuse for many and otherwise a joke for most people of the world.

  10. RagnarD says:

    This XiDave?
    Thanks for trolling, but won’t likely catch much around here.

  11. RagnarD says:

    Check out what I wrote below… blew China out of the water. Enjoy.

    Btw, loving that 83,323 covid death stat
    Way to get totalitarian on a virus!

    The rest of us obvy having our head up r ass

    And those growth in trade #s during the pandemic? Ur blowing my mind dude!

    So awesome, keep it up


  12. Javert Chip says:

    Had to laugh at this quote from the article: “…One mainland legal scholar says the lack of consultation could mean that Beijing is running afoul of its own legal code that requires the government to seek public input on important legislation…”

    China really only has 2 laws:

    Law #1: China gets to do anything it wants.

    Law #2: When in doubt, refer to Law #1.

    • Escher says:

      Couldn’t have said it better. Would have ? but for the many lives destroyed by that regime.

  13. JC says:

    Regarding Marc Farber, if you click the link you will hear he thinks COVID is a conspiracy to peddle mind control vaccines, moron conspiracy theory peddling dolt, jackass … I’m going to invest my money based on what this guy says he thinks.

  14. LouisDeLaSmart says:

    Hong Kong was rented out, and once the lease expired the renteres needed to vacate the premise. Now the owners wants to remmodel the appartment to their own liking.

    • Javert Chip says:

      Actually, it was leased, which expired in 1997.

      Owners may want to remodel, but they negotiated a very public 50-year “one country, two systems” treaty terminating in 2047.

      At the time, Deng Xiaoping commented to Thatcher “I could walk in and take the whole lot this afternoon”. Thatcher replied “there is nothing I could do to stop you, but the eyes of the world would now know what China is like”.

      Looks like the world is about to get yet another look at what China is like.

      • LouisDeLaSmart says:

        @Javert Chip

        Thanks for the hint on rent vs. lease, did not know there was a difference in the first place.

  15. MCH says:

    The Beijing security law is really fake news…

    I’ll put my Wolf Warrior garbs on and put this in context: “Hong Kong never belonged to anyone but China, it was forcibly taken by the British back in the days when the empire was still ascendant. That it was given back to the Brits after WWII was a travesty and a joke to begin with. If the Brits wanted to have held on to HK, they shouldn’t have let it go in the first place.

    Now the Brits want a say, that is the definition of interfering in internal matters. How would the Brits like it if China started supporting the IRA in the matters around Northern Ireland or if China supported the attempt by various states to secede from the US? Or perhaps funnel activists to support the legitimate protests around the US and Europe, what? Why do I hear crickets.”

    Above is what a wolf warrior #1 would say.

    And his compatriot, Wolf warrior #2 would immediately add: “in other news, at least 87 tons of gold sitting in the vaults of a certain company in Wuhan that was used as collateral was in fact painted pieces of copper, but that’s ok, with the collateral, they received loans to buy real estate, companies, etc, all on the up and up, and it supported prosperity in the Chinese economy. Seriously. It’s all good”

  16. RagnarD says:

    Hong Kong is one of the freest places on earth.
    So totalitarians don’t like it when some of the folks they are genetically similar too / geographically near have a lot more freedom than they wish them to have? You have a problem with this?

  17. Duncan Mischanhi says:

    If you think that China’s communist government which is still is people forget and they are still red China which people forget will not be able to sustain itself under their current government.

    I give China 10 to 15 more years in which it will fall back to a second or third rate power and many more people having more problems trying to feed themselves. They are fooling themselves if they think they will be a superpower for long.

Comments are closed.