National Security Bill and the New Phase for “Mainlandization” of Hong Kong: Is it the Beginning of the End?

As the pandemic is beginning to decline, people of Hong Kong pour onto the street once again to protest encroachment to the city’s autonomy. By 28 May 2020, over 360 protesters were being arrested for their protest against Hong Kong’s national security bill that recently won overwhelming 2.878-1 votes from the National People’s Congress (NPC). Though the draft hasn’t yet legislated by the Standing Committee of NPC—highest legislative body from the People’s Republic—the draconian law presents imminent setback for Hong Kong’s hard-fought democracy. The proposed bill could penalize wide ranging activities, spanning from act of subversion, activity that involves foreign power, and ‘terrorist’ action that can endanger state’s security. In sum, national security bill will provide legal basis to criminalize protest against embreachment of Hong Kong’s democracy, vested by “one country-two system” principle (Bradhser, 2020). Moreover, national security bill also open the new phase of Beijing’s ‘mainlandization’ effort that bypass Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Office and even Legislative Council (LegCo) which appears to be failed in carrying such mission months earlier, before the pandemic begin to engulf both China and the city. As China declares triumphant over the months-long pandemic, mainland government begin to tighten its grip once again to secure its ‘territorial integrity.’ Addressing the issue of Hong Kong’s autonomy is becoming the matter of urgency, as the present situation indicates culmination on both China’s intrusion and pro-democracy resistance.

Mainland-Leaning Government and Long Quest for Autonomy

Though the subsequent clash came after anti-Extradition Law protest in early June 2019, greater causes of this protest can be traced back to 2014 Umbrella Movement and even earlier to 2003 anti-subversion law. After becoming separate entity from mainland China for over 150 years, Hong Kong is vested with higher degree of autonomy that guarantee city’s political, economic, and judicial system remain unchanged for 50 years since its handover from British colony on 1997. However, Hong Kong Basic Law that become materialization of ‘one country, two system’ never actually took place ever since Margaret Thatcher and Premier Zhao Ziyang signed Sino-British Joint Declaration back in 1984. Article 45, for instance, ensure universal suffrage—voting rights for all Hong Kong citizens—to elect their own government. Notwithstanding the law, after its handover to China only 35 from 70 seats from Hong Kong’s LegCo are directly voted by citizens. The rest are indirectly selected through the functional constituency, representing interest group that mainly belong to pro-Beijing faction (Lum, 2020). Effort to preserve city’s autonomy, as it enshrined by the Basic Law, became exacerbated after 2014 legislation necessitated Hong Kong Chief Executive’s candidate to be pre-approved by Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—effectively put the city’s highest executive office under strong Beijing influence (Lum, 2020).

Posed by structural problem from the city’s mainland-leaning government, safeguarding Hong Kong’s autonomy rest only on the shoulders of its people and—to limited degree—foreign pressure. Especially, from the United States and United Kingdom that is deemed to bear responsibility on preserving former crown colony’s autonomy until 2047 (Kilcoyne, 2020). Recently on 28 May, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Hong Kong is no longer maintains ‘higher degree of autonomy’ over mainland China. The consequence is then US can possibly uplift preferential treatment to Hong Kong—status that has long sustain the city’s status as central trade hub and ‘middleman’ between US and China, especially after the onset of Trade War (Gunia, 2020). UK, alongside with Australia, New Zealand, and Canada signed a joint-statement to condemn the act of “curtailing the Hong Kong people’s liberties.” UK in particular, threatened to change the status of British National Overseas passport that will ease the path of Hong Kong people to obtain UK’s citizenship—defection in the eye of Beijing (Bradhser, 2020). Despite of the threat or any ‘naming and shaming’ from international community, question arise whether will it really help the cause of Hong Kong protest?

Will Foreign Pressure Enough?

Despite of condemnations it has undergone, China shows resilience on consolidating its power during the last few years. After Xi Jinping assumed the office of president and general secretary of CCP in 2016, China conspicuously became more assertive than ever before and gradually begin to abandon the notion to “Hide your capacities and bide your time,” back during the reformation era under Deng Xiaoping. After declaring the vision of “Great Rejuvenation of Chinese Nation” China appears willing to stain its international reputation in exchange for expanding influence and consolidating power upon the country’s periphery (Magnus, 2018, p. 204). Recent showdown in South China Sea, escalating pressure to isolate Taiwan, and ongoing mass detention in Xinjiang Province exemplified China’s resolve to secure its territorial integrity. Ultimately, integrating Hong Kong under mainland control is an integral part to achieve the so-called “China Dream.” Most notably, after Xi Jinping successfully consolidate his power when the 13th NPC decided to remove China’s presidential term limit—condition that theoretically allow him to become president for life and consequently push the “Great Rejuvenation” agenda.

Whether foreign pressures will be effective to halt the ‘mainlandization,’ certain thing is today’s China is unlike China back in 1997. Rapid economic growth that converges with higher CCP’s legitimacy during the last 23 years finally resulted in, undoubtedly, superpower in the eastern hemisphere. With its current status, China won’t face the same consequences as it did back then during Tiananmen Massacre in 1989—grave human rights violation that subsequently doomed yet-to-be-powerful China with tight sanctions. China’s audacity to detain millions Uyghurs in Xinjiang despite of international condemnations indicate that China is more than willing when it comes to ‘territorial integrity,’ that includes integrating Hong Kong into mainland’s realm (Huang, 2017, p. 239). With that being said, foreign response should reconsider whether their action will hinder China to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy or will it just lower Hong Kong’s leverage vis a vis China? US’s plan to uplift Hong Kong’s preferential treatment will not only ineffective to stop China from tightening its grip, but can also make the city to lose its economic privilege that 7.4 million Hongkongers rely on during the process (Gunia, 2020).

Is it the End for Bastion of Liberty?

Series of anti-mainland protest in Hong Kong present similar feature with other anti-imperial movements in the heart of mainland China. Most notably, the 1919 May Fourth Movement when nation-wide protest took place against the remains of Qing Dynasty and colonial power that, at that time, still retain huge concessions of the empire (Wasserstrom, 2019, p. 342). May Fourth and various movement that become resemblance of the current Hong Kong protest present similar feature when people took to the street as the government is no longer remain accountable to protect its own people. The current condition of pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong—where the government is structurally leaning towards Beijing and foreign countries can only give limited pressure to halt ‘mainlandization’ attempt—makes the people put Hong Kong’s fate to nothing else but their protest on the street.

While public gathering is still limited by health protocol, the government seemingly took the chance by legislating National Security Bill alongside with National Anthem Bill that will criminalize people who disrespect China’s national anthem. The case when government gain momentum to legislate controversial bill—that supposedly ignite mass protest before the pandemic—also not limited in China. Similarly, other case like Hungary which end legal recognition of LGBT people, India that legislate domicile law on Kashmir, and including Indonesia that recently pass the notorious mining law (UU Minerba) all took place when people access to carry protests are severely restricted. The pandemic gives disproportionate effect, not only to the general populace, but also to pro-democracy protest with their movements are being circumscribed. The pandemic also enables authoritarian order to take place by using public health and maintaining security as justification (Roth, 2020).

Sino-British Joint Declaration stipulates Hong Kong’s autonomy to remain intact until the city is fully transferred under mainland authority in 2047. Recent push on ‘mainlandization,’ however, shows that Beijing is seemingly not eager to wait for 50 years while it capable to do it more early. Albeit many believe that the future of Hong Kong’s status as “bastion of liberty” is seemingly ill-fated, Hongkongers still remain relentless on defending their hard-fought freedom, especially the youth that constitutes majority of this movement. By 2047, most Hong Kong citizen will be the people that carry protest nowadays. Quoting Joshua Wong in Tan (2020), “Time is running out in Hong Kong … (that is almost turning from) ‘one country, two systems’ to ‘one country, one system’ and (this) seems to be the beginning of the end.”  Pertaining to either Basic Law or Sino-British Declaration, Hong Kong will ultimately become the integral part of China by 2047. The face of Hong Kong after that transfer, however, fully depends on today’s resistance.




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Writer : Arrizal Anugerah J.

Editor : Angganararas Indriyosanti

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