Washington – I am a big fan of Hong Kong. The city presents a unique contrast between historical richness and vivacious modernity, with its classic trams roaming the streets and noisy, bustling restaurants. It is a romantic fusion of the East and the West.
To our regret, such romance is evaporating. In recent months, we have seen terrible scenes there. Mobs attacked the police with iron rods, and stockpiled bricks and Molotov cocktails. They detained passengers at the airport and even set an innocent old man on fire. Government buildings were stormed and vandalized. Shops were closed and streets were wrecked by arson attacks.
Taking advantage of the absence of a national security law in Hong Kong, protesters have time and again instigated violence and clamored for Hong Kong’s "independence,” crossing a red line for the central government. At the same time, external forces have increasingly interfered in Hong Kong affairs without scruple. Because of this, Hong Kong is in disarray. China’s national security is at risk.
That is why the central government has chosen to act. According to Article 23 of the Basic Law, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is authorized to enact laws on its own to safeguard national security. But such laws have been delayed for 23 years, since Hong Kong’s return to China, because the opposition has tried in every way possible to strangle them.
This situation has compelled the National People’s Congress to adopt the legislation instead. The 13th NPC has decided to establish and improve a legal framework and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong, and its Standing Committee will do the formulation work.
This decision enjoys extensive support from Chinese people, including in Hong Kong, many of whom believe it should have been done long before. If the chaos and instability we have seen in Hong Kong did not spur us to take action, we would not be living up to the expectations of the people.
Some people doubt if it is legitimate for China to take this action. In all countries, unitary and federal alike, only the central government has the legislative authority to decide issues concerning national security. Similarly, China’s central government has the primary and ultimate responsibility for upholding national security, and the NPC is the highest-level legislature in China.
Others worry that the legislation will affect the policy of "one country, two systems” under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy. In fact, it will only ensure the principle’s sound and sustained implementation.
The NPC’s decision makes clear that the principles of "one country, two systems,” "Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” and a high degree of autonomy will be fully and faithfully honored. National security is the basis of "one country, two systems,” whose strengths can only be maximized in a secure and stable society. Hong Kong’s underlying economic and social problems cannot be resolved by disrupting social order, and there can be no development and long-term prosperity if national security is undermined.
Many Americans who live and work in Hong Kong may wonder what the legislation will mean for them. The answer is that it will provide a safer and more secure environment. The legislation is only targeted at actions that jeopardize China’s national security, such as splitting the country, subverting the government, committing terrorist activities and externally meddling in Hong Kong affairs. People who have nothing to do with these should have no worries.
In fact, the legislation will protect law-abiding citizens, ensure Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and contribute to a sound legal and business environment there. A stable and prosperous Hong Kong will bring more opportunities to its residents and investors.
Just like a tree cannot live without roots, the national security legislation in Hong Kong will lay the groundwork for the practice of "one country, two systems” and Hong Kong’s long-term stability and development. With it, Hong Kong will remain the vibrant, romantic city we all love.
Cui Tiankai is the Chinese ambassador to the United States.