Examining the international response to Hong kong’s national security law

The international community has begun taking harsher measures against China following the passing of the controversial national security law in Hong Kong

The world watches with concern as China continues to erode the city-state’s semi-autonomous identity. In July, Canada, Australia, the UK and New Zealand suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong. These treaties allowed for people who have committed a crime in Hong Kong and fled to one of these nations to be returned back. There is now a fear that a criminal or suspect returned to the territory may be put on trial in mainland China instead in accordance with the new national security law imposed in late June.

“The UK is watching and the whole world is watching” echoed Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab as the four nations, including the United States, form the ‘Five Eyes’ Alliance – an alliance of nations committed to intelligence sharing and co-operation.

On 14 July, the US announced it had revoked Hong Kong’s ‘special status’ – a unique, economic special treatment it had enjoyed since the Hong Kong Policy Act 1992 was passed. Among other privileges, it included no tariffs on imports or exports, and has contributed to its rise as one of the most important financial centres in Asia and indeed the world.

However, this too was based on the assumption that the territory operated separately from mainland China, where it has a free market system as well as an independent judiciary: two things other cities cannot provide under the rule of the Beijing government. Now, Hong Kong will be treated in the same way as China currently is.

While decisive, the effect may be limited given that the city state has substantially less influence on the Chinese economy than it once did, accounting for 12% of Chinese exports in 2019; down from 45% in 1992, and comprising 2-3% of China’s GDP. The US has also signalled it will soon suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.

In response, China has halted Hong Kong’s extradition treaties with the four nations bar the US in what has now become a tit-for-tat response by President Xi Xingping.

On 28 July, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Webin said, “[That] such actions constitute gross interference in China’s internal affairs and grave violation of international law and basic norms governing international relations. China firmly opposes that”. On the US, Webin urged it to “correct” its mistake.

These tense diplomatic relations are the result of China’s national security law which was imposed in Hong Kong and gives the mainland broad powers to arrest anyone suspected of committing secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion. The law etches away at the ‘one country two systems’ framework under which Hong Kong has operated since 1997, and that which is supposed to continue until 2047 under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

However, it seems China is not keen on waiting for the agreement to expire. It perpetually waives any international concern over its violation of international obligations as undue influence in its internal affairs. The same is true for support of the pro-democracy protestors.

Since taking effect on 1 July, hundreds of protestors have been arrested for opposition to the law, including 370 within the first day. Notably, 12 pro-democracy candidates have been barred from running in the upcoming September elections.

Should Beijing continue to dissolve Hong Kong’s autonomy, it is likely that more liberal democratic states will end their extradition treaties with China, and harsher sanctions may be imposed by those who already have.

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