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Hong Kong is set to introduce a new national security law that would broaden what constitutes sedition and align it more closely with mainland China’s regulations, prompting questions about how the new restrictions will impact the semi-autonomous city’s status as a global financial hub, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The proposed law would cover economic matters related to national security and introduce new offenses, such as treason, foreign interference, insurrection, theft of state secrets, and sabotage. It would criminalize obtaining, possessing, or disclosing non-public information deemed to endanger national security, including information about policy decisions and defense.
Hong Kong’s current leader John Lee said this week that the law’s passage is essential for restoring confidence among businesses and investors, and to root out “the seeds of unrest.” He also mentioned the need to protect innocent individuals, as well as the risks Hong Kong faces from foreign intelligence services. “I think eventually when people see that this law will bring security and stability, they will love it,” he said.
However, critics countered that this measure could further shrink the space for dissent and human rights in the city.
Also, China has already seen a backlash to its recent imprisonment of foreign business people, including one British executive and five Japanese, the newspaper said. Foreign executives have become very reluctant to travel to mainland China, and now possibly Hong Kong, because of the fear of exit bans, imprisonment or just disappearing.
Meanwhile, this is not the first time the city’s officials attempted to pass the legislation: Known as Article 23 of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the security bill was shelved in 2003 after half a million residents protested against it over concerns about potential infringements on civil liberties, CNN noted.
The push for the law coincides with Hong Kong’s efforts to stem an exodus of businesses and residents following the 2019 mass protests when tens of thousands of citizens held demonstrations opposing Beijing’s encroachment on the city.
Hong Kong had long enjoyed freedoms that were not present in mainland China, under the “one country, two systems” framework that was agreed to when the United Kingdom handed over the territory to Beijing in 1997.
But Beijing introduced a national security law in 2020 that shut down the demonstrations and led to hundreds of arrests.
While some business leaders expressed optimism that the law won’t target the business community, others await clarification on its scope and potential implications.