What’s the background to the national security law?
In 2019, large-scale protests broke out following the proposal of a bill that would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to the mainland for trial.
At the time, Hong Kong’s legal system was supposed to be independent of Beijing’s, which is far harsher and more opaque, with a conviction rate in excess of 99%.
Initially, Beijing’s response to the demonstrations was carried out through Hong Kong’s government, in what manifested itself as widespread police brutality against demonstrators, but this was unsuccessful in stemming the tide of unrest.
“When the protests didn't just deflate and disappear, that's when you started to see, I think, more of the presence of Beijing creeping in,” said Margaret Lewis, a law professor at Seton Hall University.
Under the national security law, those accused of crimes against national security can now be transported to the mainland, with the possibility of closed-door trials.
How did Hong Kong get here?
Hong Kong has long been caught between powers.
During the first Opium War (1839–42), the U.K. acquired Hong Kong through a treaty with China, later leasing it for 99 years.
However, during the 1970s, as Hong Kong thrived, it became clear that discussions would need to take place about the territory’s future.
Finally, in 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China, as part of an agreement intended to ensure that Hong Kong’s legal autonomy, as well as the freedoms its citizens enjoyed, would be upheld.
The agreement was supposed to last for 50 years, until 2047, but it didn’t take very long for the people of Hong Kong to raise issues with Beijing’s behaviour.
“What has happened since 1997 has been an initially slow but accelerating process by which the guarantees and the joint declaration were undercut,” said Mr Cheung.