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Congressional Research Service, China's National Security Law for Hong Kong: Issues for Congress, August 3, 2020

The Congressional Research Service is a non-partisan research office under the Library of Congress. This report was written by Susan V. Lawrence and Michael F. Martin.
August 3, 2020

Introduction - the full report is available at the link below.

On June 30, 2020, China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) passed a national security law (NSL) for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). Hong Kong’s Chief Executive promulgated it in Hong Kong later the same day. The law is widely seen as undermining the HKSAR’s once-high degree of autonomy and eroding the rights promised to Hong Kong in the 1984 Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong, an international treaty between the People’s Republic of China (China, or PRC) and the United Kingdom covering the 50 years from 1997 to 2047.

The NSL criminalizes four broadly defined categories of offenses: secession, subversion, organization and perpetration of terrorist activities, and “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” in relation to the HKSAR. Persons convicted of violating the NSL can be sentenced to up to life in prison. China’s central government can, at its or the HKSAR’s discretion, exercise jurisdiction over alleged violations of the law and prosecute and adjudicate the cases in mainland China. The law apparently applies to alleged violations committed by anyone, anywhere in the world, including in the United States.

The HKSAR and PRC governments have already begun implementing the NSL, including setting up the new entities the law requires. China’s central government has opened its “Office for Safeguarding National Security” in Hong Kong; the Office and its staff are not subject to Hong Kong law when conducting their work. The HKSAR government has formed its “Committee for Safeguarding National Security,” as well as created a new national security department in the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) and a new division in the HKSAR Department of Justice for prosecution of national security cases. The HKPF arrested at least 10 people for alleged violations of the national security law on the day after the law went into effect.

The NSL has received a mixed response in Hong Kong, where views about the PRC’s treatment of Hong Kong are polarized. Supporters of the HKSAR government in the city’s Legislative Council (Legco) welcomed the new law, while Legco’s pro-democracy coalition condemned the law. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents participated in a largely peaceful demonstration on July 1, 2020, in opposition to the law, despite efforts by the HKPF to stop them turning out. On July 11 and 12, 2020, the pro-democracy political parties held an informal primary to select candidates for Legco elections originally scheduled to be held on September 6, 2020. (Citing the Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic, the HKSAR government has postponed the election until September 2021.) More than 610,000 people, over 13% of eligible voters, participated. The HKSAR government has initiated an official investigation to determine, among other things, if holding the primary violated the national security law. The HKSAR government has also threatened to disqualify candidates who participated in the primary. The response to the NSL from Hong Kong’s business community has varied from statements of support to expressions of serious concerns about the implications of the law for the city’s economic future.

On July 14, 2020, President Trump signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act (P.L. 116-149), which authorizes the imposition of sanctions on PRC and HKSAR officials, as well as “foreign financial institutions” that provide financial services to designated individuals. On the same day, President Trump signed Executive Order 13936, declaring that “the situation with respect to Hong Kong, including recent actions taken by the PRC to fundamentally undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat ... to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.” The Executive Order authorizes the Secretaries of State and the Treasury to impose sanctions on persons “involved in developing, adopting, or implementing” the NSL or involved in or responsible for actions that undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, “undermine democratic processes or institutions” in Hong Kong, or limit the rights of Hong Kong residents. The Executive Order also suspends many of Hong Kong’s special treatments under U.S. law, including in immigration matters.

Bills pending in Congress could potentially authorize additional sanctions on the PRC and HKSAR governments, or provide preferential treatment for Hong Kong residents who wish to relocate to the United States. They include The Hong Kong Be Water Act (H.R. 5725, S. 2758), The Hong Kong Freedom Act (H.R. 6947), The Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act (H.R. 7428, S. 4229), The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act (H.R. 7415, S. 4110), and The Hong Kong Victims of Communism Support Act (S. 3892).

CRS # R46473