The National Security Law (NSL), which came into effect on 30 June 2020, the day before the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China (1 July 1997), is designed to intimidate Hong Kong civil society and suppress all protests. New ‘crimes’ are now heavily punished. Some provisions go very far in creating legal insecurity. Directly subordinated to Beijing, new security institutions have been set up to deal with these ‘crimes’.
Civil liberties are the first to suffer from this new law. Civil society in Hong Kong is balancing between obedience and protest. The business world and the financial centre are also progressively being restrained. The limited U.S. sanctions should not fundamentally disrupt Hong Kong’s business community. Still, the NSL may affect the business community through its risks to data confidentiality and the exceptional powers now enjoyed by Beijing’s police and security organs.
However, can we talk about the end of the ‘One country, Two systems’ principle? The full integration of Hong Kong into mainland China seems unlikely. Yet maintaining a large degree of autonomy for the Special Administrative Region (SAR) is now ruled out. It would appear that Beijing wants to exercise greater control both directly over Hong Kong’s governance and civil society as well as indirectly over economic and financial circles. The NSL amounts to a ‘second handover’.