A fishing boat joins more than 100 others in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour on Wednesday to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland.[LU BINGHUI/XINHUA]

Chris Patten said the national security law for Hong Kong “marked the end” of “one country, two systems”. Legislators from the “pan-democratic” camp quickly took the same line, saying that the new law “sounded the death knell” of the political framework.

Many Hong Kongers, in contrast, celebrated the introduction of the national security law for Hong Kong as allowing “one country, two systems” a new lease of life.

Following the passing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, the United States wanted to revoke Hong Kong’s special trading status on the basis that the national security law means that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “could no longer see any difference between Hong Kong and the mainland”. Joshua Wong Chi-fung, the well-known activist, called on US, European and Asian leaders to follow his lead. “Once the law is implemented, Hong Kong will be assimilated into China’s authoritarian regime, on both rule of law and human rights protections.” Business interests will be jeopardized, he claimed.

Although some people knowingly tell lies, many people truly believe in those lies, and I can tell that some Hong Kongers were genuinely worried. But this is because there are many scaremongers who spread disinformation. Indeed, this is why protests against the extradition bill last year were so massive.

Believing in lies, unfortunately, can lead to tragic consequences.

The 2019 Global Health Security Index is a project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and was developed with the Economist Intelligence Unit. These are all big and credible names. The index ranked the US at the very top among 195 countries, with a score of 83.5, while the world average is a paltry 40.2. China’s score was 48.2, and ranked 51st. Ironically, it turned out that the US, notwithstanding its great “preparedness” for epidemic outbreaks, with a population 4 percent of that of the world, got 25 percent of the world’s total coronavirus infections. In contrast, China has 18 percent of the world’s population, but managed to have less than 1 percent of the world’s infections. The US must have been flattered by the high ranking in epidemic preparedness, but that made it conceited and poorly prepared.

Of course, I would not say that Johns Hopkins or the EIU deliberately lied. But the way they compiled the index reflected their prejudice or preconceptions. The 34 indicators with a total of 140 questions were grounded on “a belief that all countries are safer and more secure when their populations are able to access information about their country’s existing capacities and plans and when countries understand each other’s gaps in epidemic and pandemic preparedness so they can take concrete steps to finance and fill them.” China ranked relatively low because its government is considered to be “less open”. Yet China has demonstrated its ability to contain the epidemic.

Many of those who worry about the national security law believe China does not uphold the rule of law. In many people’s eyes, China is totalitarian, “one country, two systems” could end with the national security law. However, according to a survey by Dalia Research in conjunction with the Alliance for Democracies, 40 percent of those living in countries classified as “free” or democratic by Freedom House believe that their country is not, in fact, democratic. Surprisingly, 73 percent of the Chinese believe their country is democratic, while only 49 percent of Americans believe the US is democratic.

The reason why China is not considered a democratic country by Freedom House is because Freedom House defines democracy by the right to vote if there is competition between political parties. But the Chinese feel that their government responds to their needs and caters to their interests, whereas most Americans feel that their government is not serving their best interests.

China’s ranking in the Rule of Law Index according to the World Justice Project is relatively low, but interestingly China ranks at median or better in “civil justice”, “criminal justice”, and “absence of corruption”. One reason why China ranks low in the Rule of Law Index is that its ranking in “fundamental rights” is near the bottom.

While World Justice Project takes the right to vote as an important fundamental right. China considers personal safety and poverty alleviation to be more important rights. China’s success in handling COVID-19 in contrast to the US’ failure shows how misleading the WJP’s overall Rule of Law Index is.

Contrary to the narrative of Western politicians, it was the secessionists, not Beijing, who wanted to end “one country, two systems”. Who is breaking the promise, when occupation and violence are used to force Beijing into submission to skip the requirement in the Basic Law for a Nominating Committee to vet candidates for the chief executive post?

I invite Mr Patten to revisit the Sino-British Joint Declaration. It is stated in the joint declaration that “National unity and territorial integrity shall be upheld.” Now that 23 years have passed since the handover in 1997, the national security law is long overdue. What Hong Kong experienced in the past year shows there is an urgent need for the national security law, in particular, a tailor-made national security law for Hong Kong, to testify to the “one country, two systems”.

Hong Kong people need to tell lies from facts.

The author is a senior research fellow at the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.