By Allan Jiao
The U.S. politics is filled with partisan rancor and gridlocks. When it comes to China, however, Democrats and Republicans form a rare, united front. Even various media outlets seem to see eye to eye, persistently condemning the Chinese government. The National Security law passed by the Chinese Parliament was denounced on both sides of the isle and across American media as overreaching, the implementation of which will ring the death knell for Hong Kong.
The unanimity is hardly questioned and mind-numbing. No one seems interested in digging deeper into the issue. Everyone ignores the fact that, historically, Hong Kong has not been a democracy, not for one hundred fifty-seven years under the British rule, not for twenty-three years as a special administrative region of China.
The relentless criticism of the National Security law masks the fact that Hong Kong has not changed since the handover and has been a largely stable society and safe investment location for years. The law, when implemented, will most likely not cause Hong Kong to collapse or create a mass exodus.
The fear of Chinese takeover and a mass exodus of Hong Kong people is not new. It felt real in the years after the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong leading up to the 1997 handover, and occasionally over the years after the handover. But, although some left, there has not been a collapse of the system or mass exodus. And many that left have returned, seeing no fundamental changes in the economic and civic life in Hong Kong.
It should not be different this time. The U.S. sanctions and media condemnation of the National Security law are based more on emotions than on an understanding of Hong Kong’s history and legal framework.
The Basic Law, the mini-constitution of Hong Kong, defines the “One Country, Two Systems” framework as such that Hong Kong is a part of China (Article 1) but the socialist system shall not be practiced in Hong Kong (Article 5). Hong Kong shall protect private property (Article 6) and maintain the Common Law (Article 8). Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, association, assembly, and demonstration (Article 27), and freedom of religion (Article 32). Hong Kong comes directly under the Central Chinese Government (Article 12), the Central Government is responsible for foreign affairs and defense relating to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong Government may ask Central Government for assistance in maintaining public order. The National People’s Congress may add or delete certain laws relating to matters outside the autonomy of Hong Kong. In the event of turmoil endangering national unity or security, the Central Government may issue an order applying relevant national laws in the Region (Article 18). And Hong Kong shall enact laws to prohibit acts of treason, secession, sedition, and subversion against the Central Government (Article 23).
These articles demonstrate that the National Security law does not encroach on or violate the “One Country, Two Systems” principle because the principle is about Hong Kong’s economic system and civic life, not about national security or sovereignty. With or without this law, Hong Kong remains a capitalist system and the capitalist society’s way of life and freedoms remain unchanged.
To regard Hong Kong as having fundamentally changed because of the National Security law is a mistake and misinterpretation of the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. To slap sanctions on Hong Kong and treat Hong Kong as China is like punishing New York for a law passed in D.C. The sanctions will harm not only Hong Kong as a premier international financial hub, but also international trade and businesses, and directly impacted will be the 1300 U.S. companies in Hong Kong. Perhaps over the long run, not only will the U.S. lose its prominence in the region, the beacon of hope as represented by the United States will also be dimmed in the hearts of many people in Hong Kong and China.
Allan Jiao is a Fulbright scholar in Hong Kong and a professor of Law & Justice Studies at Rowan University in New Jersey.