Prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong called Beijing’s proposed national security legislation “more evil” than the scrapped extradition bill that triggered mass protests in Hong Kong last year.
“We all know that the national security legislation is not about the security of China, it’s just about enhancing, embracing the Communist regime in China,” Wong, secretary general of pro-democracy group Demosisto, told CNBC.
There is also fear the national security laws could lead to Chinese intelligence agencies setting up bases in Hong Kong and enforcing law directly.
Unlike other laws in the territory, the bill introduced last week allows Beijing to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature before implementation, reigniting concerns about deteriorating freedoms in the city. The motion to draft the law is expected to be passed on Thursday when China’s annual parliamentary session ends. It would be implemented in months, after details are drafted and passed by Beijing.
Wong slammed that process, saying “This proposed law is a stepping stone for the future interference of eroding the political and economic freedom in Hong Kong.”
He argued that the law could criminalize free speech, including criticism of chief executive Carrie Lam and calls for her to step down. Wong — who has taken his cause overseas, including to the U.S., for support — said that such activities may be considered subversion in the future under the national security law.
Wong said that the law could be arbitrarily enforced and that the prosecution of those who breach it may not take place in Hong Kong.
“In the future, I might not be jailed in Hong Kong anymore, I might be jailed in China, in Beijing and that is the tremendous threat we might need to face,” said Wong.
This will affect the faith and credibility that has been placed in Hong Kong’s business environment, he said.
Last week, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong expressed concerns about the law. It said the freedoms that distinguish the city from mainland China, like its independent judiciary and the freedom of assembly, have been key to Hong Kong’s position as a global financial center.
There is a “fear factor developing in the business community,” AmCham said in a statement. The business group said definition and details of the law are necessary to alleviate that feeling.
“A Beijing inspired national security law leaves open an interpretation of how such an act will be enforced. How will it affect the rule of law? Will it mean limiting online, press and personal freedoms? People may also ask whether Beijing’s concern over foreign interference adds an element of risk to foreigners living here,” AmCham President Tara Joseph said in a statement.
‘One country, one system’
Over the weekend, the introduction of the national security law spurred thousands to protest in the streets, despite social distancing guidelines that remain in place to contain the coronavirus outbreak. More protests are taking place on Wednesday against the planned national security law and a bill criminalizing disrespect of China’s national anthem.
“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,” said Wong, referring to the principle which China uses to govern Hong Kong.
He said that the breaches the premise of the Sino-British Joint declaration, a bilateral agreement that was registered at the United Nations. The treaty was signed to guarantee Hong Kong’s autonomy for 50 years after the former British colony’s sovereignty was transferred to China.
It also calls into question the status of Hong Kong as a free port and economy for the free flow of capital, Wong argued.
On Tuesday, an official to the National People’s Congress told CNBC that Beijing proposed the national security law as Hong Kong lawmakers have not been able to, despite their obligation under Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution.
Hong Kong leader Lam said in a statement Friday that the new law would only target acts of secession, subverting state power and organizing and carrying out terrorist activities, as well interference by foreign or external forces.