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Hong Kong turns from one crisis to another

China may be putting plans in motion to curtail city’s limited democracy

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

In this television image, protesters are arrested in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay. (Photo by Rev. Judy Chan)

LOUISVILLE — In Hong Kong, new cases of COVID-19 have dwindled to a handful in recent weeks. Concern has now shifted to China’s plan to impose a tough new national security law.

A resolution passed by the Chinese government in Beijing on May 28 set up the legal framework to prevent and punish acts of subversion, terrorism, separatism and foreign interference in this city of nearly 7.5 million people. It also allows mainland security agents to operate in the city “as needed.” The details and timeline of implementation process haven’t yet been announced. The provision of national security legislation is required in Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. A previous attempt to introduce the legislation in 2003 sent nearly half a million protesters to the streets for weeks.

Under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, Hong Kong retains limited democracy and civil liberties despite being under Beijing’s authority.

Erosion of the “one country, two systems” principle ignited the six months of mass protests last year over a proposed extradition bill. Protesters engaged in increasingly violent and destructive acts week after week in their call for revolution and Hong Kong’s independence. Police responded with bigger and bigger shows of force — massive rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets, beating of protesters and thousands of arrests.

“What was sometimes lost in the media coverage was the fact that (1) the vast majority of protesters were peaceful, only wanting their voices to be heard; and (2) that many Hong Kongers in fact were supportive of the government and police action to restore what they consider law and order,” said the Rev. Judy Chan, mission co-worker in Hong Kong. “The polarization of the city into ‘yellow’ (protest supporters) and ‘blue’ (police supporters) camps has not subsided. One minister told me she felt both sides had ‘crossed the line’ in terms of citizens’ duty to obey the law and the authorities’ duty to abide by the law.”

On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong officially reverted to Chinese sovereignty, ending 156 years of British rule and becoming the Hong Kong special administrative region (HKSAR) of the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy and the continuation of certain rights and freedoms for 50 years after the handover. For example, the city has freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, and freedom of association and assembly far beyond what is allowed in mainland China. An independent judiciary and the rule of law are also hallmarks of Hong Kong’s legal system.


The Rev. Judy Chan

While the Hong Kong government has offered reassurances that the new law is for the long-term protection and stability of the city, Chan said most people are not yet convinced.

“It’s as if we have fast forwarded to 2047 (the 50-year anniversary of the handover) and are now under a ‘one country, one system’ policy,” she said.  “Of course, it isn’t yet 2047, but the reality of life under Chinese sovereignty can no longer be denied. And just like in the past, many Hong Kongers are looking to the international community for support and escape. The U.S. State Department’s decision to remove Hong Kong’s preferential trading status had been anticipated, but likely it will negatively affect the city’s economy and status as an international business center.”

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified to Congress that Hong Kong no longer enjoys a high degree of autonomy from China, which could result in the loss of Hong Kong’s special trading status with the U.S. and diminish its reputation as an international financial hub.

Many believe that ending the special trading relationship that has existed for decades could harm American business and hurt Hong Kong more than China. President Donald Trump and Congress will decide next steps.

Chan said Taiwan and the United Kingdom have announced plans to allow qualified Hong Kongers to move to their lands to live and work, and possibly gain citizenship. This may result in a “brain drain” as well as loss of wealth and investment for the HKSAR.

Chan, who works with the Hong Kong Christian Council, said for everyone, including the Church, the situation remains uncertain.

“We know that a good number of Christians were involved in both the 2014 Occupy/Umbrella protest movement and the 2019 protests. So, churches are already ‘on the radar’ of the central government in Beijing for their political involvement,” Chan said. “As most Hong Kong denominations and Christian leaders have connections with churches in mainland China, as well as partnerships in the ecumenical world, it would be a great loss if any of those relationships were diminished or injured.

“It brings to mind the words of Jesus to his followers in Matthew 10:16: ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ (NRSV). We need the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the community of Christ more than ever,” she said.

Chan asks for continued prayers for Hong Kong, the church and the nation of China. A minister there recently told her, “Remember that Jesus is not just to be found within the walls of a church building or among the ministry of the faithful, but in the needs of a society that has the God-given expectation to be able to flourish in all aspects of its humanity. Whatever happens in the future, there will still be plenty of need for Christian witness in this place.”

Chan concludes, “God willing, may you and I continue to be allowed that privilege.”

Below is the June 5 response from the Hong Kong Christian Council’s Standing Committee to the resolution in enacting the “National Security Legislation for Hong Kong” by the National People’s Congress:


Hong Kong has been a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China since its return on 1 July 1997. Under the principles of “one country, two systems,” “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” and “high degree of autonomy,” enacting legislation on national security is the duty of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region as stipulated in the Basic Law in order to safeguard national security and ensure the stability of the people’s lives. However, in the past 23 years, the HKSAR Government was unable to legislate for Article 23 of the Basic Law and now, facing the need for national security, the National People’s Congress considered that it is necessary to enact the “National Security Legislation for Hong Kong.”

Our faith

We believe that all human are created by God, in his image and with dignity, and that all are born equal. We must pursue justice, peace, truth and honesty according to God’s command, be salt and light in the world, resist evil and safeguard human dignity.

Our views on the proposed“National Security Legislation for HK”

On 28 May 2020, the National People’s Congress adopted a decision at the national level and authorized the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to prepare relevant laws on the system and enforcement mechanism of the “National Security Legislation for Hong Kong.” Our response to the proposed “National Security Legislation for Hong Kong” is given below:

3.1 In accordance with the principles of the Basic Law of “one country, two systems,” “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” and “a high degree of autonomy,” the enforcement and judicial mechanisms of the relevant institutions of the “National Security Legislation for Hong Kong” including investigation, search, prosecution and trial shall be conducted in Hong Kong and in accordance with Hong Kong law in an open and fair manner;

3.2 To relieve the concerns of the people of Hong Kong, the “National Security Legislation for Hong Kong” should not have any retroactive effect. At the same time, when Hong Kong completes its legislation on Article 23 of the Basic Law, it will replace the established “National Security Legislation for Hong Kong” ( i.e., to set up a sunset clause);

3.3 The “National Security Legislation for Hong Kong” shall be consistent with the common law principles of the Hong Kong judicial system and shall fully guarantee human rights and all types of freedoms (including freedom of expression, publication, information, assembly, religion, association, etc.) that have been enjoyed under the one country, two systems principle.

Free communication with the outside world

Christianity is a universal religion, and we believe that the “National Security Legislation for Hong Kong” should ensure that Hong Kong Christians, churches, and organizations continue to enjoy freedom of communication and cooperation with international and mainland Christian communities.


As the “National Security Legislation for Hong Kong” concerns national security and the well-being of the people of Hong Kong, this Council specifically calls on the Hong Kong Church and the Christian community to give their views on the content of the legislation.

May the Lord watch over Hong Kong and bless our country.

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