A piece of legislation that shakes the very foundation of Hong Kong's freedom and prosperity has now been formally adopted by China. The Hong Kong national security law appeared out of the blue and was hastily discussed and passed in Beijing. The fact that it largely bypassed the territory's local legislature shows how authoritarian the move was.
Rules that were put in place upon Hong Kong's return to China from the U.K. in 1997 -- such as "one country, two systems" and the territory's "high degree of autonomy" -- are at risk.
It is still not too late. We call on China to immediately rethink these measures.
The gist of the new law is to extend the Chinese Communist Party's concept of national security to Hong Kong. A committee for safeguarding national security will be established with the Hong Kong chief executive serving as chair. A national security adviser will be sent from the central government.
A national security department -- an arm of the central government -- will also be set up. Acts that are deemed as secession, subversion, terrorist activities and collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security will be punishable by up to life in prison.
Going forward, there is a risk that political groups in the democratic camp will be targeted. Already their activities have been hampered. Hong Kong citizens who have taken part in the city's massive protests face a daunting future.
If even peaceful demonstrations are not permitted, such measures do not belong in this age and are not acceptable.
Hong Kong's Basic Law, the territory's de facto constitution, is designed precisely to prevent interference from the mainland government. The strict restrictions are there for that purpose. However, the new law stipulates that if there are inconsistencies with existing legislation, the new law will prevail.
Furthermore, matters involving national security will be heard by a judge appointed by the chief executive.
The 1984 joint declaration signed by the U.K. and China regarding the return of Hong Kong promises an independent judicial system in the territory. That tradition of an independent judiciary has attracted people and capital from all over the world to Hong Kong. Mainland China has also benefited greatly. The dismantling of the international commitment could weaken Hong Kong's market functions and even threaten the safety of foreign nationals there.
The U.S. government has responded to the law with countermeasures. It will scale back some of the preferential treatment that it has granted Hong Kong now that the "one country, two systems" premise has collapsed. Washington says it will now limit dual-use technology exports to Hong Kong in the same way it does items headed for mainland China.
If the U.S. goes even further and abolishes tariff exemptions, it will damage international trade, which has already taken a beating from the coronavirus.
The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations have already expressed "serious concerns" and have issued a joint statement calling for reconsideration. If China ignores the voice of the international community to secure stability in Hong Kong, it is a classic case of the remedy being worse than the disease.
It will be too late to act once the exodus of people and capital begins. China must take immediate action.