May 27 2020

Hong Kong Cultural Workers Decry National Security Law

by Chloe Chu

*Updated May 28, 2020.

The exterior of the Hong Kong Legislative Council Complex. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

On May 22, the National People’s Congress (NPS) of China proposed an addendum to Hong Kong’s law that will criminalize behaviors authorities deem threatening to China’s national security. Though the details of the law have not yet been fully publicized, this has stirred shock, worry, and anger among artists and cultural workers in Hong Kong. More than 1,500 organizations and members of the creative industry have signed a petition voicing their concerns about “how much room would remain for free speech and artistic expression” should the law be passed, and their anger at how “a far-reaching law affecting more than seven million citizens is to be ‘deliberated’ and voted on in Beijing . . . without any consultation of the people of Hong Kong.”

The law will prohibit acts and activities—which could be interpreted as speech or other forms of expression—that local or Chinese authorities view as ones of secession, subversion, organized terrorism, or intervention by foreign countries and foreign forces. The new national security law’s passage is almost certain, as the NPC makes only minor adjustments to the proposals of the Standing Committee. The measure will then likely bypass Hong Kong’s own deliberative body, the Legislative Council, and be promulgated by chief executive Carrie Lam as part of Annex III of the Basic Law, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s mini-constitution. The NPC is scheduled to vote on the resolution for the law on May 28. 

The cultural workers’ petition urges Hong Kong’s representative at the NPC, Ma Fung-kwok, who also represents the sports, performing arts, culture, and publication sectors at Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, to refuse to vote in favor of the law. “You must understand that creativity thrives on a free environment.” 

Additionally, the petition conveys the shock of the signatories at the government’s swift and heavy-handed course of action at “a time when the Coronavirus pandemic is not yet over and the people of Hong Kong are still struggling to stay safe, resume work and reopen school.” It notes a spate of recent controversies in which the central government’s proxies and allies in Hong Kong have intervened in local affairs, including the forced removal of pro-democracy lawmakers from the Legislative Council, the elimination of a question about China’s 20th-century history from a public secondary-school history exam, and the cancellation of a satirical comedy show from the local public broadcasting network RTHK

The NPC’s move has also alarmed Hong Kong’s lawyers. On May 25, the Hong Kong Bar Association issued a statement, calling the features of the draft law “worrying and problematic,” adding: “There is no assurance that public consultation will take place at all on this vastly important legislation prior to promulgation. This is unprecedented.” Pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok has declared: “This is the end of one country, two systems, make no mistake about it.”

Following its handover from the United Kingdom to China in 1997, Hong Kong has been governed according to a one-country-two-systems principle. Wang Chen, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC, in a statement published by state-owned Xinhua news, claims that “The practice of ‘one country, two systems’ has achieved unprecedented success in Hong Kong, but the increasingly notable national security risks in the HKSAR have become a prominent problem . . . Law-based and forceful measures must be taken to prevent, stop and punish such activities.” Wang is likely referring to the acts of violence and vandalism committed by small numbers of anti-government protesters that have become more frequent since pro-democracy demonstrations erupted in the city in June 2019. These acts have increasingly been described as instances of “terrorism” by Beijing’s officials in Hong Kong and the HKSAR government. 

Meanwhile, on May 27, calls for city-wide strikes and demonstrations against a National Anthem Bill were met with the deployment of an estimated 3,000-plus riot police. The controversial bill dictates that “all individuals and organizations should respect the [Chinese] national anthem.” The first draft of the bill was published on January 11, 2019, and is up for debate at the Legislative Council today. By late afternoon, Hong Kong police had already detained almost 300 protestors and dispersed crowds of lunchtime workers in Central who were yelling pro-democracy slogans.

Chloe Chu is the managing editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

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*The previous version of this article stated that the national security law will prohibit “acts—which could be interpreted as including activities.” The text has been updated to clarify that the draft law stipulates both “acts” and “activities.” The NPC approved the resolution for the law on May 28.