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Hong Kong’s regressive security law and China

Updated: Apr 20

In June 2020, the Chinese government implemented a new national security law in Hong Kong, a move that has had significant implications for the region’s autonomy, freedoms, and its status as a global business hub. This essay explores the detrimental effects of this law on Hong Kong’s political landscape, its economic environment, international relations, and the broader implications for civil liberties.

Hong Kong was handed over to China from British control in 1997 under the principle of "one country, two systems," which was supposed to guarantee the city a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China until 2047. However, the enactment of the national security law by China’s central government has been perceived as a direct contradiction to this promise, leading to widespread international criticism and concerns about the future of Hong Kong.

Erosion of Autonomy and Suppression of Dissent

The security law has effectively eroded the autonomy that was promised under the 1997 handover. It allows Beijing to intervene directly in Hong Kong’s legal system and to establish its own security forces in the region, which were previously governed by local laws. This has led to an undermining of the judicial independence that was a cornerstone of Hong Kong's economic success and political stability.

One of the most immediate political impacts of the security law has been the suppression of political dissent. The law criminalizes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. These broad and ambiguously defined offenses have led to the arrest of pro-democracy activists, lawmakers, and even ordinary citizens involved in protest movements. The chilling effect on free speech and political expression cannot be overstated, as individuals and groups are now much more cautious about voicing criticism against the government.

Impact on Business Environment and Decline in International Confidence

The national security law has introduced a level of unpredictability and instability into Hong Kong’s business environment. International businesses have traditionally viewed Hong Kong as a safe entry point into China with a reliable legal system. The new law introduces uncertainties about the legal protections available in Hong Kong, especially concerning data security and the risk of falling foul of broadly defined legal provisions.

There has been a noticeable decline in international confidence in Hong Kong as a global financial center. Several multinational companies have either moved their capital or considered relocating their headquarters to other cities in Asia, such as Singapore and Tokyo. This outflow not only affects Hong Kong's economic status but also reduces job opportunities for local residents.

Strained Relationships

The imposition of the security law has significantly strained relationships between China and Western countries, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, both of which have strongly criticized the law. These tensions manifest in trade disputes, diplomatic confrontations, and changes in foreign policy, including the imposition of sanctions by the United States against Hong Kong and Chinese officials.

International Business and Human Rights /  Erosion of Freedoms

The international community has raised concerns about the potential violations of human rights due to the security law. This has repercussions for international businesses operating in Hong Kong, who must now navigate the complex interplay of adhering to local laws while ensuring they do not contribute to human rights abuses. This ethical dilemma can lead to further retrenchment from the region.

The most profound impact of the security law is on civil liberties in Hong Kong, including freedoms of speech, assembly, and press. The law has led to a significant crackdown on the media and the arrest of several high-profile democracy advocates and journalists under the guise of maintaining national security. The closure of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and the arrest of its staff are indicative of the diminishing press freedom.

Beyond politics and economics, the security law has deeply affected the social fabric of Hong Kong. The law has instilled fear and anxiety among the residents, many of whom are now considering emigration as a response to the shrinking space for personal freedoms and civic engagement. The youth, in particular, face an uncertain future, where their ability to express and engage politically is heavily curtailed.

The national security law imposed by China on Hong Kong has had wide-ranging detrimental effects on the region’s autonomy, political freedom, economic stability, and international relations. It represents a significant departure from the promises made during the 1997 handover and poses severe threats to the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents. The international community continues to watch closely, but the future of Hong Kong under this law remains uncertain, with profound implications for the region and beyond. This law not only undermines the "one country, two systems" framework but also signals a troubling trend in the erosion of civil liberties in one of Asia’s most vibrant cities.


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