HONG KONG (Reuters) - China’s plans to impose new national security laws on Hong Kong are raising widespread fears the legislation could lead to profound changes in the former British colony.
As the standing committee of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, discusses the changes over the next two days, here are the most nagging questions:
WILL MAINLAND CHINA’S POWERFUL SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES BE ABLE TO TAKE ENFORCEMENT ACTION IN THE CITY?
The initial resolution of the National People’s Congress raises the prospect that officers from such agencies could be based in the city for the first time if needed on national security cases.
It remains unclear how that would work in practice, given the extensive capabilities of Hong Kong’s own police force and the protections and freedoms residents enjoy under the mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, that guides the city’s relationship with Beijing. The Hong Kong Bar Association noted recently that such personnel should not be entitled to any immunity and have any powers, including of surveillance, beyond those based on Hong Kong laws.
GIVEN HONG KONG’S EXTENSIVE FREEDOMS UNDER THE “ONE COUNTRY/TWO SYSTEMS” MODEL, WHAT KIND OF ACTIVITY WILL BE THE TARGET OF THE NEW LAWS?
The legislation will outline offences and penalties covering secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong say the laws will target only a small number of “troublemakers” who threaten national security, and that the rights and freedoms of ordinary Hong Kong people will be protected.
But critics fear it will effectively stifle freedoms of speech and assembly, and many are waiting for details and definitions to see what kind of actions could lead to prosecution.
The city has strong media, artistic and religious traditions that are protected to a far greater degree than those on the mainland, where Communist Party-led control is strong.
Some fear broad, ideologically driven definitions, as the laws are being drafted by party legal experts and not Hong Kong’s lawyers.
The references to criminalising foreign interference will also be heavily scrutinised, given Hong Kong’s extensive international links across business and politics.
WILL MAINLAND COURTS BE INVOLVED IN PROSECUTING HONG KONG NATIONAL SECURITY CASES?
Hong Kong’s proudly independent judiciary and separate common law-based legal system are considered key to its success as a global financial centre. Many across the political, business and diplomatic spectrum are watching for signs of any shift under new laws given recent comments from some pro-Beijing figures that trial-by-jury could be scrapped in national security cases or that foreign judges - a long-standing tradition in Hong Kong - should not be involved.
A mainland official further muddied the waters this week by saying that Beijing must be able to have jurisdiction over the most serious national security cases.
Any clauses related to the seizure of assets will be closely watched, given Hong Kong’s attractiveness to mainland Chinese capital in particular. Fears of asset seizure requests by mainland courts were among earlier concerns about a now-scrapped extradition bill last year. At the height of the debate about the need for laws allowing offenders to be extradited to face trial in mainland courts, a retired mainland security official said Beijing had a list of 300 mainlanders it wanted from Hong Kong.
Some critics fear provisions to retrospectively examine certain offences, which could target people involved in the sometimes violent anti-government protests that rocked the city for much of the last year. A senior mainland official said this week that the laws would not be retroactively applied.
Reporting By Greg Torode. Editing by Gerry Doyle