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The Nikkei View

China must rethink Hong Kong security law

Loss of judicial independence puts territory's prosperity at risk

Anti-government protesters run away from tear gas during a march against Beijing’s plans to impose national security legislation in Hong Kong on May 24.   © Reuters

China's congress has begun deliberations on a bill that would constitute the main pillar of the legal framework governing Hong Kong's national security affairs. While the legislation has not passed yet, discussing Hong Kong's future without giving the territory's legislature a say is a highly regrettable act that puts the "one country, two systems" arrangement at risk. Beijing should rethink the measure after contemplating the true benefits brought by Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy.

The bill being deliberated by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress would pave the way for criminalizing secession and subversion of state power, and for Beijing to set up a dedicated central-government office managing national security affairs in the territory. The measure appears intended to crack down on the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, as well as put pressure on pro-democracy candidates ahead of September's legislative election.

Many in the international community worry that the loss of the judicial independence cultivated over the years would eventually endanger Hong Kong's prosperity.

The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations and the high representative of the European Union issued a statement on June 17 expressing "grave concern" about the legislation and urging Beijing to reconsider.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed a similar view at a meeting in Hawaii with China's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi. If Washington invokes the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act to remove the territory's special trade status -- a step that President Donald Trump threatened in May his administration would take -- the impact on Hong Kong would be immense.

Actions by lawmakers are worth watching as well. The European Parliament has passed a resolution calling on the EU and member states to consider taking China to the International Court of Justice if the security legislation is implemented. The case filing would allege violations of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which set the terms of the territory's handover, and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a multilateral treaty adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1966 to protect the basic rights of individuals.

Lawmakers from countries including the U.S., Japan, the U.K. and Germany have formed a cross-parliamentary alliance on China policy. In Japan, legislators attended a symposium discussing international cooperation on the Hong Kong issue, with many from the ruling coalition and the opposition finding common ground.

Meanwhile, countries should take note of Beijing's hard-line stance on matters of national security. A recent clash between Indian and Chinese forces in a disputed Himalayan border area left 20 Indian soldiers dead, marking the first lethal conflict between the two sides in 45 years.

Chinese air force jets have repeatedly entered Taiwan's air defense identification zone in the past weeks, according to Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense, while Chinese coast guard vessels have entered waters around the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands, claimed by Beijing as the Diaoyu, every day for more than two months. These moves come ahead of a large-scale military drill China plans to conduct in the South China Sea this summer, which risks heightening regional tensions even further.

The security and economic implications of China's behavior across Asia are grave and a threat to which governments in the region cannot afford to remain indifferent.

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