Hong Kong Anniversaries


2024 is a year of notable anniversaries for Hong Kong, but perhaps not ones the government would really approve of and certainly not celebrate.

Five years since the anti-extradition bill of 2019 which brought millions onto the streets to protest Carrie Lam’s extradition bill which would have weakened the legal barriers between Mainland China and Hong Kong and allowed for extradition from the territory for both locals and foreigners to the Mainland.  Ten years since the Occupy Central protests which called for universal suffrage for the Hong Kong Chief Executive elections and resulted in a near three-month occupation around the main government buildings in the Admiralty district with further protests in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay.  And then 21 years since the first attempt to introduce Article 23 legislation concerned national security which resulted in a 500,000-person march on 1 July 2023 and the resignation of the then security minister Regina Ip.

Those events mark the most significant, but by no means the only, in the long historical arc of Hongkongers pushing back against Mainland CCP encroachment in their society.  Only the 2003 protests could have claimed any real success with the shelving of the legislation, the resignation of Ip and the fatal weakening of Tung Chee Wah’s administration which resulted in his resignation from ill health a couple of years later.  Not that his ill heath stopped him from remaining active in Hong Kong affairs for many years and this year he will turn 87.

Occupy failed to achieve its goal of electing of the Chief Executive via universal suffrage, and while the 2019 protests did eventually see Carrie Lam scrap the extradition bill the harsh police response to the protests, the clampdown on almost all aspects of civil society resulting in the closing of many NGOs, unions, associations and political parties and the eventually introduction of the National Security Law in 2020 has fundamentally altered Hong Kong society in ways which were unimaginable back in 2003.


Why more security legislation?

Hong Kong legal framework is underpinned by the Hong Kong Basic Law.  It is Article 23 of that law which requires the Hong Kong government to legislate a local statute to tackle issues around national security.  That in itself is not unrealistic and few, if any, jurisdictions in the world are without some form of security laws.  Indeed, the purpose of any government is to ensure the integrity of the state and the safety of its citizens free from foreign interference.  So far so good and that is broadly the sort of argument made by Hong Kong officials when they have been challenged on the need for Article 23 legislation.  But these broad principles are only that, broad principles.  The trouble for both Hong Kong and China is that the definitions of the proposed crimes are intentionally not well defined at all and can become catchalls for prosecuting anyone for simply disagreeing with the government.  While not a national security crime per se the Mainland charge of “picking quarrels and making trouble” which is repeated used against feminists, lawyers and activists gives a flavour of the abuse of the legal system in maintaining control within Mainland China.  The same concerns now are widespread in Hong Kong.


Comparison of national security legislation for Hong Kong

Source: Hong Kong Free Press


During the 2019 protests some started to call Hong Kong a police state, that was too harsh a term then, and perhaps is now, but it is certainly run by a policeman.  John Lee the Chief Executive knows no other calling.  He joined the police at the age of 19 and worked his way up the ranks and into the security departments of the administration.  Since the 2019 protests, when he was security minister, the need to re-exert control over Hong Kong and get control of the streets has been his primary focus.  For him and his security minister, Chris Tang, everything is viewed through the lens of national security.  It isn’t just Beijing telling him to do this, although he understands this bosses well, he really does subscribe to the national security before all else point of view.  He has stated that the 2019 protests were driven by foreign forces, and he repeatedly calls the protests “black-hand violence” or “black violence” and dismisses any suggestion that the protests were driven by local citizens with real concerns and at breaking point with a government which was simply deaf to their concerns.

In an open society when there is a protest in the street or a park or outside government offices the natural question is to ask, “What are they protesting about?” but to the authoritarian mind, whether it be Putin, Xi Jinping or John Lee the question is “Who sent them?”.  Any unrest in their ordered and controlled societies must be the work of “black hands” or foreign forces.

The security first mindset has resulted in an inversion of the commonly accepted, innocent until proven guilty framework in Hong Kong.  The treatment of the Hong Kong 47, a group of Hong Kong politicians and activists charged under the 2020 National Security Law is a blight on the proud traditions of the Hong Kong legal.  The refusal of bail in most cases, the multi-year criminal procedures is truly shocking as is the at times trivial nature of the charges such as communicating with foreign journalists over WhatsApp.  It is no surprise then that the roll out of the Article 23 legislation has only added worry to frightened society.


The proposal legislation

With protests effectively being banned now in Hong Kong there was never going to be a repeat of 2003.  The civil society groups have been disbanded, many of the activist leaders have fled the territory or are in detention, and while protests are legally possible the police would never grant the required permit for such a protest.  In addition to all that the legislature no longer has an opposition voice.  The complete overhaul of both the district council elections and the Legco (Legislative Council) now means there is no independent opposition but the rituals and procedures of law making are still followed with Hong Kong characteristics.

After opening a month-long window (it was 3 months in 2003) for public responses to the initial bill the “patriots only” Legco then sat for a marathon 6 straight days to review the clauses.  The month window garnered 13,000 responses according to the government with 98.6% in favour of the legislation.  This is a percentage worthy of the most repressive of regimes but after what as happened since 2020 who would really try and push back against such a law?

Yet concerns have been raised.  Business chambers and foreign governments, while not directly opposed to the law have highlighted the very broad and poorly drafted wording around foreign entities and also in relation to how state secrets are defined.  Inspired no doubt by their imagined view of the foreign forces behind the 2019 protests some penalties can be increased if there has been collaboration with foreign entities.  But it perhaps the supreme irony that it is Regina Ip, the chief proponent of the failed 2003 attempt at introducing similar legislation that called out the government for its vague terms and poor drafting.

Other amendments though only seem to toughen the bill.  The review panel were against the original 6 months period after which the government can label a wanted individual as an absconder.  Instead they wanted zero grace period after the issue of an arrest warrant.  Such a label would allow the government to cancel their passport and criminalize helping the wanted person.  This is no doubt in response to a number of high-profile defendant lawmakers who had been able to escape overseas before the Hong Kong government could apprehend them.  The review panel also proposed the ability of the Chief Executive to draft other future legislation to deal with other unforeseen circumstance and events.  A needless broad and worrying power.

As the world’s media reported on the proceedings of the past week Chris Tang took aim at the London Times whose headline suggested that owning copies of old newspapers specifically the Apple Daily could become a criminal and seditious offense.  While denying such a charge Chris Tang’s response was truly chilling.  The Hong Kong Free Press media reported that in response to a question from lawmaker Peter Koon asking if they were breaking the law by having copies of the Apple Daily Tang’s said it would depend on whether they had a “reasonable excuse”.  He expanded further by saying “[If someone said] I had [the newspaper] for a long time, I didn’t know it was still there, the aim was not to incite… then I believe that could be a reasonable defence,”.

But it wasn’t only the foreign media that Tang chastised; he also took aim at local paper Ming Pao.  The paper has erroneously stated that the new legislation could result in great curbs on the media and even extradition to the Mainland for trial.  Ming Pao has since retracted the article and apologized yet the concerns remains that after the clamp down on so many media outlets and the concerns about holding seditious materials it is only a matter of time before greater control of the media becomes a reality.

Concerns around the bill have even seen the Catholic Church issue a statement to assure followers of the sanctity of the confessional.  An advisor to John Lee has raised the possibility of a priest potentially being charged under the law if he became aware of actions which could endanger national security via the confessional.  An unlikely event one would think yet the Catholic Church has often found itself in opposition to the government and certainly under fire from some elements in the pro-Beijing camp.  In spite of 3 out of 5 Hong Kong Chief Executives being Catholic (Donald Tsang, Carrie Lam & John Lee) the church suffered threats in 2021 over remembrance masses for victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre and has refused to conduct them since.

Covid restrictions have passed, Hong Airport is getting busy again and Cathay Pacific flights are full.  Hong Kong wants to welcome the world to its doorstep and is open for business after a multi-year hiatus.  Beijing needs Hong Kong as a window on the world and importantly as a fund-raising centre, a hub for internationalization of the RMB and a channel for money flows in and out of the China.  Don’t worry about the travails of the pass few years, it’s all back to normal now in Hong Kong.  That is the pitch which is surprising common among certain business types.  Don’t worry too much about Hong Kong, Beijing won’t strangle the golden goose.  But that is at best highly selective and at worse just plain wrong.

Beijing, or rather its loyal patriots who run Hong Kong are indeed strangling the golden goose.  Tens of thousands of locals have left the territory, many have hedged their bets by moving money and family to Singapore, companies are repositioning themselves for even tougher clampdowns in Hong Kong.  Hong Kong won’t just stop and fade away.  It will continue to attract many mainlanders who prefer it to an even more restrictive Mainland.  It simply cannot be challenged by Singapore or anywhere else as a gateway to China but the China economic miracle is not looking very miraculously anymore.  Being the gateway to China isn’t what it once was and for the far-sighted company or individual it is important to realize that the noose around the Hong Kong neck continues to tighten.  The introduction of the Article 23 laws, and the invitation for an open-ended continuation of security based government means that preparing for the worst is the better bet than hoping for the best.

フレイザー・ハウイー(Howie, Fraser)|アナリスト。ケンブリッジ大学で物理を専攻し、北京語言文化大学で中国語を学んだのち、20年以上にわたりアジア株を中心に取引と分析、執筆活動を行う。この間、香港、北京、シンガポールでベアリングス銀行、バンカース・トラスト、モルガン・スタンレー、中国国際金融(CICC)に勤務。2003年から2012年まではフランス系証券会社のCLSAアジア・パシフィック・マーケッツ(シンガポール)で上場派生商品と疑似ストックオプション担当の代表取締役を務めた。「エコノミスト」誌2011年ブック・オブ・ザ・イヤーを受賞し、ブルームバーグのビジネス書トップ10に選ばれた“Red Capitalism : The Fragile Financial Foundations of China's Extraordinary Rise”(赤い資本主義:中国の並外れた成長と脆弱な金融基盤)をはじめ、3冊の共著書がある。「ウォール・ストリート・ジャーナル」、「フォーリン・ポリシー」、「チャイナ・エコノミック・クォータリー」、「日経アジアレビュー」に定期的に寄稿するほか、CNBC、ブルームバーグ、BBCにコメンテーターとして頻繫に登場している。 // Fraser Howie is co-author of three books on the Chinese financial system, Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundations of China’s Extraordinary Rise (named a Book of the Year 2011 by The Economist magazine and one of the top ten business books of the year by Bloomberg), Privatizing China: Inside China’s Stock Markets and “To Get Rich is Glorious” China’s Stock Market in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He studied Natural Sciences (Physics) at Cambridge University and Chinese at Beijing Language and Culture University and for over twenty years has been trading, analyzing and writing about Asian stock markets. During that time he has worked in Hong Kong Beijing and Singapore. He has worked for Baring Securities, Bankers Trust, Morgan Stanley, CICC and from 2003 to 2012 he worked at CLSA as a Managing Director in the Listed Derivatives and Synthetic Equity department. His work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, China Economic Quarterly and the Nikkei Asian Review, and is a regular commentator on CNBC, Bloomberg and the BBC.