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Chinese national security law in Hong Kong: A declaration of international commitment to Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms

The undersigned jointly condemn the unilateral decision of the Chinese National People’s Congress in introducing national security legislation on Hong Kong. This is the latest of a series of escalating violations of China's international obligations on Hong Kong, and we call on the international community to stand with Hong Kong, to defend the city’s fundamental freedoms, human rights, rule of law, and autonomy.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress discussed the national security legislation for Hong Kong, without any scrutiny by the local legislature and in contravention of Hong Kong’s constitution. The legislation fails to clearly define criminal offences that it purports to regulate, and reinforces grave concerns that it will not conform with nor be subjected to Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Beijing’s imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong has effectively transformed Hong Kong’s “One Country, Two Systems” framework into “One Country, One System”. It follows China’s incessant erosion of the freedoms and rights guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong since the 1997 transfer of sovereignty. China’s flagrant breach of its international obligations, particularly those under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, has severely damaged trust in its willingness to be a responsible global actor under the rules-based international order.

We urge the international community to adopt a proactive and strategic rethink towards an increasingly aggressive China. Relations with China should be guided by the universal values of freedoms, human rights, and the rule of law. The destruction of Hong Kong’s autonomy must be addressed urgently alongside other atrocities such as the mass internment of Uyghurs. China must not be allowed to crack down on dissent and deflect international criticism on its treatment of Hong Kong, by definition an international issue, under the thinly veiled pretext of ‘national security’ concerns nor by calling it internal affairs and presuming that they are immune from international scrutiny.

We stress that China’s continued violations and infringements on universal freedoms, human rights, and rule of law in Hong Kong are incompatible with the rules-based international order as formulated by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1966 ICCPR. If international agreements were to command respect and compliance, any breaches thereof must not go unsanctioned.

As a principled and coordinated response to the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms, we call on countries to introduce Magnitsky-style targeted sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials, individuals, and organisations who are complicit in human rights abuses, erosion of freedom, and undermining of the rule of law in Hong Kong. Sanctions should include entry restrictions such as persona non grata designations, assets freezes, and restrictions on third parties from dealing with or acting for such persons.

We also urge countries to utilize existing international mechanisms to keep China’s actions in check, such as filing a case before the International Court of Justice on the basis that China’s repeated violations of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the ICCPR, and asking the UN to appoint a Special Envoy and/or Special Rapporteur on the situation of Hong Kong.

Apart from these formal options, countries should consider sending their own independent monitors to Hong Kong in the coming months to observe and report on any violations of rights and freedoms, such as the use of national security law to persecute political dissidents, as well as any interference in the exercise of democratic rights in the upcoming Legislative Council elections scheduled for September 2020.

Lastly, we champion a coordinated creation of “lifeboat” schemes by democratic states, such as the expansion of BNO rights by the United Kingdom, so as to offer a path to safety, as a last resort, for Hongkongers facing political persecution and to support their brave efforts in resisting the repression of their fundamental freedoms.

Beyond Hong Kong, China has been using its economic weight to undermine global democracy by controlling access to its capital and markets to its own ends. Businesses such as HSBC and Standard Chartered have been coerced into parroting its nationalistic rhetorics and defending its repression of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms.

In response to China’s abuse of its economic power, countries around the world should work together to leverage their collective economic positions and challenge its crackdown on human rights and market manipulations. Trade deals must be struck with the autonomy of Hong Kong and freedoms of its people in mind, by including a human rights clause in any future trade agreement with China, and any existing agreements should be revised to the same effect.

Liberal democracies should also incentivise and support companies to relocate production lines and bases of operations to other democratic countries to reduce the economic dependency on China. They should work with the aim of decoupling from Chinese influence economically and re-examine the involvement of Chinese capital in strategic sectors.

International unity with a paradigm shift of strategy on China is essential for maintaining the rules-based international order and upholding the universal values of freedoms, human rights and the rule of law. Only through a holistic set of principled and concrete responses by liberal democracies shall we deter further transgressions by the Chinese authoritarian regime.