The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Tuesday unanimously approved the national security law for Hong Kong. The law, which applies to Hong Kong by way of Annex III of the Basic Law of the HKSAR, will come into effect immediately after it is gazetted by the HKSAR government.
The new national security law specifically targets four categories of criminal acts. They are acts of secession, subversion of State power, terrorist activities, and collusion with foreign or external forces to endanger national security that occur in the HKSAR. It also contains corresponding punishments for those found guilty of those crimes of endangering national security, of which the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. Such provisions are commonly found in national security laws of Western countries, especially the United States and the United Kingdom. In the US, treason is punishable by death, while the maximum penalty for it in the UK, Canada and Australia is life imprisonment.
The national security law for implementation in the HKSAR stipulates that the right of jurisdiction over crimes endangering national security rests with the HKSAR government except under three specific circumstances. It authorizes the HKSAR to conduct criminal investigations into, prosecutions of, and resulting judicial procedures against such crimes according to this national law as well as local laws. All cases of this nature will be subject to public prosecution. And defendants can only be found guilty of crimes specified in this law; otherwise, they are presumed innocent and cannot be punished. The national security law protects the right to criminal defense and other means of legal representation for any suspect or defendant according to standard judicial rules. Once found guilty or not guilty in the court of national security law, one cannot be prosecuted, tried or sentenced again for the same offense (protection against double jeopardy). All these are evidence the national security law for implementation in the HKSAR pays all due respect to the common law system and coexists with Hong Kong laws as organically as possible.
The national security law does not set a retroactive period for crimes of endangering national security; it is chiefly intended to deter acts of endangering national security. Those who had committed crimes of this nature before the national security law took effect, no matter how serious they were, will not be prosecuted according to this law as long as they refrain from committing such offenses after it took effect. Of course, one’s criminal acts that endangered national security before this law became effective can be taken into consideration in deliberation and sentencing by the court if one is accused of endangering national security after the law came into effect. This is a practice common among judiciaries around the world.
It is public knowledge that Beijing would not have exercised its sovereign right of safeguarding national security by enacting a law for Hong Kong had Washington not masterminded and funded a criminal campaign commonly known as the “black revolution” in the SAR for over a year now to harm China’s sovereignty, national security and development interest in the first place. The US government can and has denied all the insidious deeds and kept accusing Beijing of eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy, but the great majority of Hong Kong residents agree with the central government and have wholeheartedly supported the national security legislation since the NPC announced the decision to go for it.
As a matter of fact, local entrepreneurs who had misgivings about and even opposed the extradition-law amendment bill introduced by the SAR government in March last year, which was used by riotous separatists as an excuse to launch the “black revolution” a year ago, have since been convinced by the horrendous crimes committed by the rioters and tremendous damage the “black revolution” has caused on Hong Kong’s economy that there can be no business as usual without social stability and order, which depends on effective rule of law. That is why Hong Kong-based British conglomerates such as Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp, Standard Chartered Bank and Swire Pacific Group have expressed their support for Beijing to exercise its sovereign right to safeguard national security by introducing the law in Hong Kong despite the official stand of the UK government against it.
President Xi Jinping said in his 2020 New Year speech on national television: “Without a harmonious and stable environment, how can people live in peace and enjoy their work! I sincerely wish Hong Kong well and our Hong Kong compatriots well. Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability is the wish of Hong Kong compatriots and the expectation of people of our motherland.” Like numerous people around the world, I trust the central authorities had nothing but the best interest of Hong Kong society at heart when they decided to introduce a national security law for the HKSAR, which will ultimately benefit all Hong Kong residents and businesses the most.
The new national security law has laid a solid foundation essential for Hong Kong people to lead a normal life, which in turn is essential for accelerating social and economic development and tackling the city’s deep-seated problems.
The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.