Hong Kong’s New National Security Law & Why Its Important

A blog post by Thalia Martinez-Palma, Junior Associate.

On June 30, 2020, a few hours before the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s transfer from British rule to Chinese rule, and in response to the continued political unrest in Hong Kong, Chinese officials unanimously passed Hong Kong’s National Security Law (“NSL”).[1]  The NSL went into effect that same day.  The language used in the legislation continues to be the subject of heavy criticism by many democratic nations, and the United Nations, for being “overly broad” and packed with heavy penalties.[2]

To fully understand the implications of the NSL it is important to understand why Hong Kong is a place of high political instability.  In 1997, Hong Kong returned to Chinese control after 156 years under British rule.[3] While under British rule, the people of Hong Kong enjoyed the many democratic civil liberties including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to protest.[4] As part of the handoff, China agreed to create a “One Country, Two systems” form of government, vowing to not disrupt the civil liberties of the people of Hong Kong.[5]

The NSL makes it illegal to contemplate secession, directly targeting the mass protests calling for Hong Kong’s independence, and allows arrests with hard penalties to those who violate its provisions.[6] The NSL is also a cause for worry for any foreign corporations with offices in Hong Kong. As a result of the law, some foreign companies are fleeing Hong Kong, including media conglomerate The New York Times.[7]  “Some tech companies have pulled back from the market, while companies have expressed concern about the new law’s broad reach and ambiguity.”[8]  Industry giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Zoom, LinkedIn, and Microsoft responded to the NSL by refusing to give Hong Kong authorities access to their users’ data.[9]  Facebook cited that it decided to stop the flow of information due to the risk the NSL may pose on “human rights.”[10]

Not only are civil liberties at stake at risk as a result of the NSL, but also the willingness of corporations to operate within its borders. Although the future is uncertain, one thing is clear, China will do what is necessary to maintain control.

[1] The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (promulgated by the Standing Comm. Nat’l People’s Cong., Jun. 30, 2020, effective Jun. 30, 2020) 2020 Standing Comm. Nat’l People’s Cong. Gaz. 72 (China).

[2] China/HK: Mass Arrests Under Security Law, Hum. Rts. Watch (Aug. 11, 2020, 7:40 AM) https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/11/china/hong-kong-mass-arrests-under-security-law.

[3] Reuters Staff, Chronology: Timeline of 156 years of British rule in Hong Kong, Reuters (Jun. 27, 2007, 6:11 PM), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hongkong-anniversary-history/chronology-timeline-of-156-years-of-british-rule-in-hong-kong-idUSSP27479920070627.

[4] Id.

[5] Albert H.Y. Chen, The Hong Kong Basic Law and the Limits of Democratization Under “One Country Two Systems”, 50 Int’l L. 69, 70 (2017).

[6] Grace Tsoi & Lam Cho Wai, Hong Kong security law: What is it and is it worrying?, BBC News (Jun. 30, 2020) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-52765838.

[7] Michelle Toh & Laura He, U.S is treating H.K as mainland China. Business is starting to do the same, CNN Business (Jul. 26, 2020, 12:50 AM), https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/15/business/hong-kong-special-trade-status-us-intl-hnk/index.html.

[8] Rishi Iyengar, H.K was a ‘safe harbor’ for tech companies shut out of China. Not anymore, CNN (Jul. 9, 2020, 10: 59 PM), https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/09/tech/hong-kong-national-security-law-tech-companies/index.html

[9] Hadas Gold, Facebook, Google and Twitter won’t give H.K authorities user data for now, CNN Business (Jul. 7, 2020, 5:59 AM), https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/06/tech/whatsapp-facebook-hong-kong/index.html.

[10] Id.

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