Another story that has garnered much worried attention recently concerns a group of 12 people from Hong Kong who in late August were intercepted by marine police from mainland China for illegally crossing the border while they appeared to be fleeing the city on a speedboat in the direction of Taiwan. At least one of them had been arrested in Hong Kong under the national security law.
All have been in detention on the mainland since — raising concerns among human rights defenders and democracy activists that the fugitives are being held without charge, have been denied bail and refused access to lawyers, and are about to be subjected to the mainland’s legal system, which has fewer protections for defendants than does Hong Kong’s.
But the Hong Kong government has no power to ask any other jurisdiction not to deal with Hong Kong residents in accordance with its own laws simply because those people are from Hong Kong.
To some, the new national security law is especially chilling because it seems simultaneously vague and very severe. But many laws are vague, constructively so. And this one only seems severe precisely because it fills longstanding loopholes — about subversion, secession, local terrorism, collusion with external forces. One person’s “severe” is someone else’s intended effect.
I see little chance of any compromise being reached between the authorities in Beijing and the democratic camp in Hong Kong, be it about the right to elect directly the chief executive or any other major matter. From Beijing’s point of view, democratic development in Hong Kong has brought about nothing but chaos, polarization and anti-China sentiment.
What’s more, Beijing isn’t actually encroaching on Hong Kong’s semi-autonomy by taking measures to proscribe subversive activities in the city. Bear in mind that back in the late 1970s, China’s leader, Deng Xiaoping, put forward the “one country, two systems” formula with a view to bringing Hong Kong, Macau and eventually Taiwan back into the fold. National unity has always been the ultimate objective.
Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong is a special administrative region that enjoys a “high degree of autonomy” — which, by definition, means not complete autonomy, a point I labor to explain to foreign officials and politicians. Any attempt to alter Hong Kong’s formal political status and turn the city into a de facto independent political entity, or to otherwise free it of Beijing’s control, is a fundamental challenge to China’s sovereignty.