Hong Kong’s political scene faces an uncertain future as national security law comes into effect

Since the national security law officially came into effect in Hong Kong, all sectors in the city tried to make sense of the real effect and impact of the law on. Experts think that the law could seriously constrain the role that pro-democracy camp can play in Hong Kong, while it most certainly will deprive Hong Kong’s younger generation their rights to fairly participate in politics in Hong Kong.

Following the imposition of the national security law, different sectors in Hong Kong still have lots of questions regarding the actual effect of the law, and the political sector is particularly concerned about the vague definition in the clauses of the law. As the pro-democracy camp prepares to hold their primary for the legislative council election on July 11 and 12, many people view the election in September as one of the most important battleground for Hong Kong’s civil society to gain more power to resist against the Hong Kong government as well as the central government.

However, on June 30, the day that the national security law came into effect, several pro-democracy political organizations in Hong Kong announced their plans to disband and cease all operation due to concerns over the effect of the national security law. One of the groups was Demosisto, the youthful pro-democracy group that was founded by prominent activists Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Agnes Chow and Jeffrey Ngo.

In a public statement, Demosisto explained that the decision to disband was made after much internal deliberation and the news came after the four prominent figures in the party announced their resignation from the party. Several other localist organizations followed suit, announcing their plan to cease the chapter in Hong Kong but emphasized that they will continue similar works from abroad.

Following the sudden wave of disbandment of pro-democracy organizations, pro-democracy legislator Alvin Yeung said facing an extremely powerful national security law, many groups and people are forced to decide what they can no longer do or say.

“It seems like the regime is no longer embracing differences, and a lot of people have decided to disband their organizations,” Yeung said. “I think it’s always possible that this trend will continue and I can totally understand why they have to make some tough decisions.”

On the other hand, Antony Dapiran pointed out how the national security law has essentially cut off many paths for Hong Kong’s younger generation to participate in politics. “The younger generation tried to participate through the formal political system, but they were disqualified from the election or kicked out of office,” Dapiran explained.

“They tried peaceful protests but that was ignored. Then they turned to more extreme forms of protest and that’s now been made illegal. The law certainly does seem to be trying to cut them off on every angle.”

Dapiran described the situation as “very depressing” for Hong Kong’s younger generation, as it feels like the Hong Kong government is determined to shut down any attempt launched by the city’s younger generation. “I think it’s very sad for politically active young Hong Kongers who care about their future to realize that they have very limited opportunities to engage,” he said.

To many politicians in Hong Kong, the vague articles of the national security law has made it hard for them to determine where are the red lines drawn by the national security law. Alvin Yeung said by setting up a national security agency in Hong Kong, which directly takes order from Beijing, the central government seems determined to expand their influence to local issues in Hong Kong.

And since the power to interpret the national security law rests in the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, anything that happened in Hong Kong can be viewed as national security and they will be subject to orders from the national security council as well as the central government in Beijing.

“One of the four crimes that Beijing tries to prohibit is collusion with foreign power,” Yeung explained. “However, Beijing’s definition of collusion is very vague. When politicians speak to international press or friends around the world about what’s happening in Hong Kong, it could be regarded as harming national security in the eyes of Beijing.”

“Based on what we understand about what happens in China, including charging lots of human rights lawyers or activists, we should know that anything could happen in this sense.”

Pro-democracy camp will face immense challenges

Since the pro-democracy camp clinched a historic victory in the district council election last year, the camp has shifted its focus to the legislative council election in September this year. However, after Beijing unveiled its plan to impose the national security law on Hong Kong, many politicians worry that the law could become a way for Beijing to interfere with the upcoming election.

“Beijing can’t prevent millions of people from voting, but they can remove candidates by disqualifying them,” said Margaret Ng, a barrister and veteran politician in Hong Kong. “he national security law will be used as a reason to disqualify people they worry about the most, but the question is how many can they disqualify?”

Antony Dapiran said the national security law could affect the pro-democracy camp’s ability to function due to their position as permanent opposition parties. “One of the roles that they have carried out is through acts of protests, both inside and outside the legislative chamber, including filibusters and protest actions inside the chamber, as well as leading public protests outside the legislative chamber,” Dapiran explained.

“What this law does is it constraints their ability to do that in many ways. Some of the provisions of the law even suggest that filibustering in the Legislative council could be seen as a subversive action. This law puts a big question mark over the way that they operate, and therefore their relevance of how they fulfill their roles as a permanent opposition party.”

As a barrister trained in Hong Kong, Alvin Yeung said even though he tried to read through the complete text of the national security law, the content seems very “alien” to him. “The concept, the wordings and the penalties that they want to impose, the ideologies, as well as the mechanisms is a departure from what we understand,” Yeung said.

“Since the common law system is the backbone to Hong Kong, “One Country Two Systems” is of course the spirit of this operation. A high degree of autonomy is supposed to be guaranteed, but I don’t see any of this. Some said it’s the end of Hong Kong, and I agree to that. However you put, it is no longer the same Hong Kong that we know.”

This article was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.



William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

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William Yang

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.