When the United Kingdom handed back control of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, both governments agreed that Hong Kong would remain administratively separate from mainland China, allowing it to maintain the kind of free society that is not possible under the communist Chinese system. The Sino-British Joint Declaration guaranteed Hong Kong its own laws and judicial system, control of its internal security, and, in the words of the declaration, the continuation of Hong Kong’s distinct “social and economic systems” and protections for “rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association,” until at least 2047.1

However, since the handover, China has progressively eroded these freedoms, and a new development threatens to end them entirely.

Following years of meddling in the internal affairs of Hong Kong, China is now working to implement a new “security” law that is expected to criminalize the advocacy of secession (i.e., supporting Hong Kong’s independence from China), “sedition” (encouraging people to undermine the power or authority of the Beijing government in Hong Kong), and “foreign meddling” in Hong Kong’s internal affairs (which could, for instance, prevent international charities from supporting pro-freedom movements).2 If this law is implemented—and it likely will be—it will ratchet up China’s suppression of the rights of Hong Kong citizens, bringing islanders a step closer to the level of oppression that mainland Chinese citizens experience every day. . . .


1. The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, The Joint Declaration (December 1984), https://www.cmab.gov.hk/en/issues/jd2.htm (accessed June 11, 2020).

2. BBC News, “Hong Kong Security Law: What Is It and Is It Worrying?,” May 29, 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-52765838 (accessed June 11, 2020); Al Jazeera, ‘A Blow to Autonomy’: Hong Kong’s National Security Bill,” May 28, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/blow-autonomy-china-planned-hong-kong-security-law-200527125505153.html (accessed June 19, 2020). Although the final text of the law has not been drafted, media outlets have reported that the draft decision of the National People’s Congress indicates that the law will target “acts of secession, subverting state power, organising and carrying out terrorist activities and other behaviour that endangers national security, and activities that interfere with the internal affairs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and involve foreign or external powers.”

3. The Guardian, “Three Million Hong Kong Residents ‘Eligible’ for UK Citizenship,” May 29, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/29/three-million-hong-kong-residents-eligible-for-uk-citizenship (accessed June 11, 2020). There is one notable precedent: Britain’s acceptance of twenty-seven thousand Ugandan Indians who were expelled from that country (a former British colony) in 1972.

4. Although Britain was obliged under the 1898 Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory to return the New Territories, it was not obliged to return the walled city of Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. Britain therefore had the option of insisting on retaining control of these areas as a means of ensuring the ongoing respecting of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.

5. For more on immigration and individual rights, see Craig Biddle, “Immigration and Individual Rights,” The Objective Standard 3, no. 1 (Spring 2008), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/2008/02/immigration-individual-rights/.

6. South China Morning Post, “Hong Kong Businesses Affected by Vandalism and Arson during Protests Seen Filing up to HK$600 Million in Insurance Claims,” October 28, 2019, https://www.scmp.com/business/banking-finance/article/3034752/hong-kong-businesses-affected-vandalism-and-arson-during (accessed June 19, 2020).

7. The Economist, “A Totem of the Protest Movement Goes on Display in Hong Kong,” May 27, 2020, https://www.economist.com/prospero/2020/05/27/a-totem-of-the-protest-movement-goes-on-display-in-hong-kong (accessed June 19, 2020); South China Morning Post, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death: Protester Makes Presence Felt in Sha Tin,” June 16, 2019, https://www.scmp.com/sport/racing/article/3014728/give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death-protester-makes-presence-felt-sha-tin (accessed June 19, 2020); Shui-Yin Sharon Yam, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed: We Need to Defend Intellectual Freedom in Hong Kong,” Hong Kong Free Press, May 22, 2020, https://hongkongfp.com/2020/05/22/pedagogy-of-the-oppressed-we-need-to-defend-intellectual-freedom-in-hong-kong/ (accessed June 19, 2020).

8. Joshua Wong, “I’m in Prison Because I Fought for My City’s Freedom. Hong Kong’s Extradition Law Would Be a Victory for Authoritarianism Everywhere,” Time, June 12, 2019, https://time.com/5606016/hong-kong-extradition-authoritarianism/ (accessed June 22, 2020).

9. Keith Oderberg, “Hong Kong’s Respect for Individual Rights Allowed Us to Free Joshua Wong,” The Guardian, October 3, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/03/hong-kongs-respect-for-individual-rights-allowed-us-to-free-joshua-wong (accessed June 24, 2020).

10. Natalie Nougayrède, “Hong Kong’s Struggle Is Ours Too. It’s a Wake-Up Call to Defend All Basic Human Rights,” The Guardian, June 19, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/19/hong-kong-activists-human-rights (accessed June 24, 2020).

11. Bangkok Post, “UK Talks to ‘Five Eyes’ Allies about Potential Hong Kong Exodus,” June 3, 2020, https://www.bangkokpost.com/world/1928760/uk-talks-to-five-eyes-allies-about-potential-hong-kong-exodus (accessed June 22, 2020); Thomas Manch, “New Zealand Missing in Five Eyes Condemnation of Beijing over Hong Kong Security Law,” Stuff, May 29, 2020, https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/121667644/new-zealand-missing-in-five-eyes-condemnation-of-beijing-over-hong-kong-security-law (accessed June 22, 2020).

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