China's Communist Party signaled yesterday that it plans to increase Beijing's control over Hong Kong, effectively dismantling the "one country, two systems" policy that was supposed to remain in place until 2047.
Under the auspices of national security, China's National People's Congress intends to impose a law next week that will crack down on anti-government action, including the protests that started last June and have only subsided due to the COVID-19 outbreak. After a private meeting where the new legislation was discussed, some participants said the move is retribution for the protests, which started as a reaction to a now-withdrawn extradition bill but quickly became a broader movement against mainland China's control over Hong Kong.
The law will target "secession, subversion of state power, foreign interference and terrorism," one person at the meeting—Stanley Ng, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress—told The Washington Post.
The new legislation would be a major step toward dismantling the current system, under which Beijing allows Hong Kong more political autonomy and personal freedoms than the mainland endures. The premature dismissal of "one country, two systems" would be a huge turning point in Beijing–Hong Kong relations. As I wrote in the January Reason:
Save for four years of occupation by Japan during World War II, Hong Kong was a British territory from 1841 to 1997. Its political culture is distinctly British, in that Hong Kong has clear due process rights, quasi-democratic representation, and a healthy respect for civil liberties. In 1997, when the U.K. gave the island back to China, it stipulated that Beijing needed to preserve Hong Kong's political culture under a "one country, two systems" model. The agreement says China must allow Hong Kong to maintain its system of semi-autonomy through 2047.
Privately operated newspapers in Hong Kong run scathing critiques of politicians without political reprisal. This does not happen in Shenzhen. While mainland China claims to have freedom of association and expression, it also has vague anti-subversion laws that let the authorities target dissidents.
If Beijing gets its way—and it almost certainly will—the semi-autonomous territory will become much more like mainland China, and far sooner than anticipated. Hong Kong dissidents will probably respond to Beijing's heavy-handed move with another round of demonstrations, but it's unclear how those protests will proceed amid the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing rules.
After news of the legislation broke yesterday, Bloomberg reports Hongkongers rushed Apple's Hong Kong app store and started downloading virtual private networks in droves. These make a user's browsing activity private from would-be surveillants, and they can help a person access websites that are censored in certain areas—another sign that residents of Hong Kong rightly fear fast-encroaching expanded Chinese rule and won't surrender their freedoms without a fight.
For more on Hong Kong's fight for freedom, watch this: