West legally wrong to object to HK security law

By Tom Fowdy Source:Global Times Published: 2020/5/25 16:41:01

Hong Kong residents from all walks of life collect online signatures and hold a gathering on Sunday morning to show their support for the draft bill to safeguard the national security law to be implemented in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The legal agenda was announced on Thursday night. Photo: cnsphoto

News that China's National People's Congress (NPC) will implement a national security bill in accordance with Article 23 of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) has triggered an outpouring of criticism in the West that Beijing is intruding upon or even ending the "one country, two systems" model as promised in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. 

Media and politicians alike have jumped to argue that the move from China's top legislative body breaches commitments on Hong Kong's autonomy, as if it has no place to do so.

These criticisms are selective and misleading. Not only does the West depict itself as a self-appointed "guardian" over Hong Kong and monopolize interpretation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, assuming Beijing has no rights or say whatsoever in its own sovereign territory, but they also ignore how this move is in fact legal and legitimate within China's own constitutional and political structure and in the text of the Basic Law itself. 

While Hong Kong will continue to have a "high degree of autonomy" as specified, China has a sovereign right to implement national security legislation in its own territory, as per any country, and this does not contravene its commitments. 

First of all, the Western media are not offering clarity concerning China's constitutional setup. The typical observer may believe that Hong Kong is completely legally and politically independent from Beijing, added with assumption that the Chinese central government has no legitimate rights to exercise influence in the territory in any given form. 

In practice however, the HKSAR is a legal and sovereign component of China, with its Basic Law constitution (and specified autonomies) that are willed by the NPC, which issues such formal powers as China's central legislative body. Hong Kong has designated autonomy, but it is not something "independent" of China. It is legally and constitutionally part of China.

With this position, the NPC subsequently reserves for itself (and has since the beginning) the ultimate right of interpretation over  the Basic Law, and via Article 18 of the Basic Law itself has the power to implement legislation upon the special administrative region in areas that exceed the scope of agreed autonomy. This includes foreign affairs, defense and national security. These are the domains of the central government. This provision is completely ignored by Western commentators who portray the NPC's move as somehow being constitutionally and politically illegitimate. It is not. 

On this note, Article 23 of the Basic Law also sets out that the territory is to implement a "national security law" that prohibits treason, secessionism and anti-state activities. This is not something new, but something has been mandated since 1997. The neighboring Macao Special Administrative Region has already implemented this measure in 2001. It is worth noting that the "one country, two systems" model within Macao continues to exist with given autonomies not seen within the Chinese mainland. Thus, the Western claim that the law in Hong Kong will "end" the region's autonomy is inherently misleading.

Why are they pushing this position? Because the West believes that "one country" is something that matters in name only, that autonomy means outright exclusivity and de facto independence. Therefore, they assume Beijing does not have any real sovereign rights over the city, including in the domain of national security. 

Like the unequal treaties of old, this Western mind-set does not treat China's sovereign considerations as equal because they are perceived not to live up to their "standards" - therefore some in the West appoint themselves as a "trustee" over Hong Kong and believe they in turn have a monopoly over what concerns its "best interests" than the country itself which it is a part of.

Thus, despite the fact that Hong Kong is a creation and legacy of imperialism whereby the territory was annexed by Great Britain for 150 years, China is repeatedly and unfairly depicted as an aggressor and an illegitimate presence in what is in fact its own lawful territory. In practice, Beijing's actions are motivated by this very situation that some believe they have the right to undermine China's national sovereignty and encourage perpetual unrest and insurrection in Hong Kong. 

In implementing this law, China is not looking to violate the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Nor in turn should other parties believe they have a one-sided right monopoly over this. China is moving to safeguard its national sovereignty by measures, which, as set out in Article 18 and Article 23 of the Basic Law, are constitutionally and legally legitimate to implement. Hong Kong's unique way of life, economic and social systems are not going to change. While "two systems" means two systems, "one country" also means one country.

The author is a British analyst of political and international relations and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


blog comments powered by Disqus