Global outrage erupts over China's ‘draconian' security law for Hong Kong

By Emma Graham-Harrison

Senior foreign policy lawmakers and senior politicians from 23 countries, among them the former Hong Kong governor, Chris Patten, have warned that a new Chinese security law for the city is a “comprehensive assault” on its rights and freedoms and “cannot be tolerated”.

In a strongly worded statement, the 186 signatories said they had “grave concerns” about the legislation and feared it would jeopardise the city’s future.

“The statement shows growing and widespread international outrage at the decision by the Chinese government to unilaterally impose national security legislation in Hong Kong,” Patten said.

Critics say the new security law effectively spells the end of Hong Kong’s current way of life. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has described it as a “death knell” for the city’s autonomy.

Beijing’s decision to legislate for the territory effectively sweeps aside the promises made when the city was handed over to China from British colonial rule in 1997. At the time, Hong Kong was guaranteed 50 years of autonomy, with all civil rights and freedoms preserved for that time.

Pro-democracy protesters hold placards as they march in Hong Kong on 22 May.
Pro-democracy protesters hold placards as they march in Hong Kong on 22 May. Photograph: Anthony Wallace/Getty

It has its own police force, an independent judiciary and freedom of speech, which have been critical to building its standing as an international financial and trade hub. All of that is likely to be threatened by the new law.

“This is the most serious threat to the people of Hong Kong that there has been from the Chinese government since 1997,” said Malcolm Rifkind, the former UK foreign secretary and one of the statement’s signatories. “The people of Hong Kong need, and deserve, our support.”

Offences covered, including “treason, secession, sedition [and] subversion”, are used to detain and silence government critics on the mainland. The draft version of the legislation also allows Chinese security forces to set up outposts in the city.

And Hong Kong authorities have made clear they will use their new powers to crack down on pro-democracy protests that have roiled the city for nearly a year.

A heavy crackdown will not tackle the grievances driving the protest movement, which over the last year only escalated as the city’s police force turned to increasingly aggressive tactics, the international group said.

“It is the genuine grievances of ordinary Hong Kongers that are driving protests. Draconian laws will only escalate the situation further, jeopardising Hong Kong’s future as an open Chinese international city,” the statement said.

Policy-makers and politicians from across the political spectrum, and around the world, put their names to the statement. In the UK, they include chair of the foreign affairs committee, Tom Tugendhat, two former leaders of the Conservative party, and the prominent human rights campaigner, Baroness Helena Kennedy.