Hong Kong police today made their first arrest under a landmark new security law giving Beijing draconian powers to punish dissent in the city.
A man with a ‘Hong Kong Independence’ flag was arrested in Causeway Bay hours after the law came into force and 23 years to the day since Britain returned the former colony to China – with the city’s cherished freedoms now in doubt.
China rammed the law through its rubber-stamp parliament and kept the wording shrouded in secrecy, but finally revealed details last night – unveiling strict new measures which could see Hong Kong protesters repressed on the mainland.
Vandalism against government buildings or public transport can now be treated as subversion or terrorism with life sentences for those who break the rules.
China’s feared security agencies will openly set up shop in Hong Kong for the first time, and human rights groups say the law has ‘frightening loopholes’ which could allow Beijing to round up protesters and extradite them to the mainland.
Beijing has faced a chorus of anger over the law but insists it is only aimed at a ‘handful of criminals’ and told foreign critics it was ‘none of your business’.
The first victim of China’s new security law: A man with a ‘Hong Kong Independence’ flag was arrested in Causeway Bay hours after the law came into force
Riot police deploy pepper spray towards journalists as protesters gathered for a rally against the new national security law in Hong Kong
Police detain a protester after spraying pepper spray during a protest in Causeway Bay before the annual handover march
Beijing has boasted of having ‘a sword over lawreakers’ heads’ after its parliament passed a new security bill which gives it unprecedented jurisdiction in Hong Kong (pictured, police watch over a pro-democracy protesters in a mall in the city today)
Activists say the bill will be ‘the end of Hong Kong as we know it’ while China insists it is necessary to restore order after months of violent clashes in the city (pictured, police search pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong today)
Hong Kong independence protesters gathered in a mall in the city today to observe a minute of silence after the security bill was passed
Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam strongly endorsed the new law in her speech the 23rd anniversary of the handover.
‘This decision was necessary and timely to maintain Hong Kong’s stability,’ Lam said following a flag-raising ceremony and the playing of China’s national anthem.
A pro-democracy party, The League of Social Democrats, organised a protest march during the flag-raising ceremony.
About a dozen participants chanted slogans echoing demands from protesters last year for political reform and an investigation into accusation of police abuse.
The law’s passage further blurs the distinction between the legal systems of Hong Kong and the Communist Party’s authoritarian rule on the mainland.
Critics say the law effectively ends the ‘one country, two systems’ framework under which Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years.
Article 55 of the law states that Beijing’s national security office in Hong Kong could exercise jurisdiction over ‘complex’ or ‘serious’ cases.
In Beijing, Zhang Xiaoming of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said suspects arrested by Beijing’s new security office could be tried on the mainland.
He said the mainland’s national security office abided by Chinese law and that Hong Kong”s legal system could not be expected to implement the laws of the mainland.
Local authorities are barred from interfering with central government bodies operating in Hong Kong while they are carrying out their duties, according to the text of the law.
Schools, social groups, media outlets, websites and others will be monitored while China’s central government will have authority over the activities of foreign non-governmental organizations and media outlets in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam (central) stands with former chief executives as they attend a flag-raising ceremony to mark China’s National Day celebrations early
The Chinese and Hong Kong flags are unfurled during a flag-raising ceremony at the Golden Bauhinia Square in Hong Kong
Helicopters fly the Hong Kong and China flags over Victoria Harbour as Hong Kong marks the 23rd anniversary of its handover to China
At her weekly press conference on Tuesday morning, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam (pictured) – a pro-Beijing appointee – declined to comment on what the law contained
Pro-Beijing supporters wave Chinese and Hong Kong flags and drink champagne today as they celebrate a controversial new security law
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the legislation is aimed at a few ‘troublemakers’ and will not affect rights and freedoms.
They also say the measure will restore business confidence after a year of historic pro-democracy protests.
Millions took to the streets last year while a smaller hardcore of protesters frequently battled police in violent confrontations that saw more than 9,000 arrested.
Hong Kong banned protests in recent months, citing previous unrest and the coronavirus pandemic, although local transmissions have ended.
Some Western nations warned of potential repercussions for Beijing ahead of the security law’s passing.
However, many are wary of incurring Beijing’s wrath and losing lucrative access to the mainland’s huge economy.
‘With the release of the full detail of the law, it should be clear to those in any doubt that this is not the Hong Kong they grew up in,’ said Hasnain Malik, head of equity research at Tellimer in Dubai.
China yesterday boasted of holding ‘a sword over lawbreakers’ heads’ after Beijing passed the new security law.
President Xi Jinping signed the law into effect Tuesday after it was unanimously passed by Beijing’s rubber-stamp parliament, side-stepping a vote in Hong Kong.
A pro-China supporter takes a selfie at a rally in Hong Kong today as news filtered out that the new security law had been passed
Hong Kong police detain a pro-democracy protester during demonstrations in May
Pro-democracy campaigner Joshua Wong (pictured) said that ‘sweeping powers and ill-defined law’ would make Hong Kong into a ‘secret police state’
Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under a deal known as ‘one country, two systems’ which meant it would enjoy political freedoms unseen on the mainland.
It formed the bedrock of the city’s transformation into a world-class business hub, bolstered by a reliable judiciary.
Critics have long accused Beijing of chipping away at that status, but they describe the security law as the most brazen move yet.
Human rights groups have warned the law could target opposition politicians seen as insufficiently loyal to Beijing for arrest or disqualification.
On the mainland, national security laws are routinely used to jail critics, especially for the vague offence of ‘subversion’.
‘It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before,’ said activist figurehead Joshua Wong, as he quit the pro-democracy Demosisto party he founded during the 2014 umbrella protest amid fears of reprisals.
‘With sweeping powers and ill-defined law, the city will turn into a secret police state. Hong Kong protesters now face high possibilities of being extradited to China’s courts for trials and life sentences,’ he added.
US leads global backlash against China’s new security law
The United States has ended sensitive defense exports to Hong Kong, saying it could ‘no longer distinguish’ between the territory and mainland China.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US cannot risk items such as weapons and ammunition being given to the People’s Liberation Army.
The State Department last year approved $2.4million in defense sales to Hong Kong, of which $1.4million worth were actually sent.
Mike Pompeo has announced the US will no longer send sensitive military equipment to Hong Kong because it ‘cannot distinguish’ between the territory and mainland China
The Commerce Department simultaneously said it was revoking its special status for Hong Kong.
It will now treat the region the same as China for ‘dual-use exports’ that have both military and civilian applications, meaning they will be highly restricted.
‘It gives us no pleasure to take this action, which is a direct consequence of Beijing’s decision to violate its own commitments under the UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration,’ Pompeo said.
Beijing on Tuesday threatened retaliation against the United States over the sanctions.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warned that China ‘is not afraid of threats’ from America.
He claimed that ‘the plot’ from the U.S. ‘will never succeed’ and urged the Trump administration to stop meddling in its domestic affairs.
‘In response to the erroneous actions from the U.S. side, the Chinese side will take necessary countermeasures and resolutely maintain its national interests,’ Mr Zhao said.
President Donald Trump’s administration has already declared that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous in US eyes and has been rolling out a series of measures in response.
On Friday, the State Department said it was restricting visas for an unspecified number of Chinese officials seen as responsible for infringing on the autonomy of the Asian financial hub.
In response, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday that the US ‘scheme… to obstruct the passage of the Hong Kong national security law will never prevail.’
‘To target the US’s above wrongful actions, China has decided to impose visa restrictions against American individuals who have behaved egregiously on matters concerning Hong Kong,’ Zhao said.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously said a ‘path to citizenship’ will be offered to 3million citizens of Hong Kong if the security law passes
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab added that the UK ‘intends to see through’ a pledge to offer a path to citizenship for British National (Overseas) passport holders in the territory if the law passes.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier vowed an historic shake-up in the visa system, which would potentially allow 3million Hong Kongese to live and work in Britain.
‘Many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life, which China pledged to uphold, is under threat,’ he said before the law passed.
‘If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative.’
The European Union and the United Nations rights watchdog have also criticised China over the law.
Last week, the US Senate unanimously approved a bill that would impose mandatory economic sanctions against Chinese officials, Hong Kong police – and banks that work with them – if they are identified as hurting the city’s autonomous status.
Zhao, the foreign ministry spokesman, warned that the US ‘should not review, advance or implement relevant negative bills concerning Hong Kong, even less impose so-called sanctions on China, otherwise China will firmly take strong countermeasures.’
Hong Kong was upended by seven straight months of protests last year, initially sparked by an eventually abandoned plan to allow extraditions to the mainland.
But they soon morphed into a popular revolt against Beijing’s rule and widespread calls for democracy.