July 1, 2021, marks the first anniversary of the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong. Ching Cheong, the senior journalist with The Straits Times and current affairs commentator in Hong Kong, wrote a summary of the National Security Law’s five historic impacts on Hong Kong.
- Hong Kong was once a safe harbor for political dissidents exiled from mainland China and is now exporting political refugees to the world.
- Hong Kong, once a city where everyone enjoys a sense of security, has become a place filled with fear.
- Hong Kong was a city with the most freedom in the Chinese-speaking region, but it has now become one of the mainland China cities under an iron fist.
- Hong Kong was renowned globally for its well-developed legal system, and now its legal system is on the brink of collapsing.
- Hong Kong society once emphasized institutional rationality, but it has shifted to political correctness, and politics supersedes everything.
Ching pointed out that Hong Kong was the freest region in Chinese society in history. From an institutional point of view, the freedom of Hong Kong was near perfect before Hong Kong’s return to China.
In one of the episodes in his 1980 documentary Free to Choose, Nobel Prize laureate and economist Milton Friedman made the opening remark: “To know how the free market works, Hong Kong is the place you want to go.”
Friedman initiated the establishment of the “Economic Freedom Index” in 1984. For the following 35 years, Hong Kong has been rated the most economically liberal place in the world every year. He indicated that economic freedom is the foundation of social prosperity, as well as political and human freedom.
From liberty to restraint under the National Security Law
Hong Kong became one of the few regions globally that enjoyed political and cultural liberty. But after its handover to China in 1997, Hong Kong’s status as the world’s most accessible system began to fall. In March 2021, the American Heritage Foundation disqualified Hong Kong’s candidacy because its government had become more and more submissive to Beijing, so freedom no longer exists. This was a historic step backward.
People living in Hong Kong gradually felt the erosion of their freedom. Hong Kong was once the center of banned books for both mainland China and Taiwan. Books banned from publication and distribution on both sides of the Taiwan Strait could be bought in Hong Kong. After implementing the National Security Law, many books were forced to be removed from public libraries because of the content and the authors.
Cheng said that young Hong Kong children began “flag-raising” training this year, which mandates children to learn the PLA’s (People’s Liberation Army) flag-raising marching and rituals. Cheng lamented that Hong Kong had enjoyed 70 years of freedom without the Communist Party. But, unfortunately, Hong Kong people have to repeat the doom of Chinese people being brainwashed since childhood.
The rule of law is at stake
The impact of the National Security Law on the rule of law in Hong Kong must not be underestimated.
First, the National Security Law preempts local laws. When the National Security Law conflicts with Hong Kong laws, the National Security Law will supersede the local law. This means that Beijing can alter any Hong Kong law at will from now on.
Second, the National Security Law is not under the supervision of any institution or individual in its execution, which means that once a defendant is charged with a crime by the National Security Law, any laws that protect the defendant’s legal rights are nullified.
Third, the National Security Law has extraterritorial jurisdiction and imposes restrictions on all walks of life, so the entire society must be cautious of its words and deeds. Otherwise, anyone may cross the red line inadvertently.
From institutional rationality to political correctness
Hong Kong in the colonial period was not a democratic society. Still, due to its rule of law and freedom, its system was filled with what sociologists called “institutional rationality.” Ching said that an individual who lives in a society full of institutional rationality could exert and restrain himself simultaneously. As a result, the two alternating forces allowed society to develop healthily.
After the National Security Law was passed, Hong Kong society’s original institutional rationality was quickly replaced by “political correctness.”
The five significant impacts are all historical retrogressions that occurred in Hong Kong after the Hong Kong National Security Law was eneacted.