The United States’ Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 and Hong Kong Autonomy Act of 2020 obligate the US government to impose visa bans and asset freezes on Hong Kong police officers, judges and public prosecutors who are accused of “human rights violations” in the course of implementing the National Security Law for Hong Kong.
That is to say, the US can enact national security acts under any pretext and enforce them whenever it wants, but the People’s Republic of China cannot pass and promulgate a national security law for enforcement in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region without US permission, and any of those responsible for enacting or enforcing the National Security Law in Hong Kong may be punished by arbitrary sanctions according to one or more US domestic laws.
The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (the National Security Law for Hong Kong) was enacted on June 30, 2020, by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and was instrumental in ending Hong Kong’s yearlong black-clad riots that started in June 2019. It was an illegal and violent mass movement organized by separatist groups and individuals with US government financial support as well as tactical support. They used as an excuse an HKSAR government bill to amend the existing ordinance for the extradition of fugitives to other jurisdictions that have not signed an extradition agreement with the HKSAR, on a case-by-case basis. In this case, the bill was presented specifically to allow Hong Kong to extradite a local resident wanted for trial in Taiwan in the suspected murder of his pregnant girlfriend during a visit to Taiwan in February 2018. The opposition camp in Hong Kong seized the opportunity to try to block the bill in the Legislative Council when it was proposed in April 2019; and the separatist groups organized mass marches to protest against the bill. The protest processions soon escalated to violent riots in June, with well-protected, black-clad rioters ransacking public and private properties along the way. It did not take them long to breach police barricades and break into the LegCo building, causing serious damage to the interior and exterior of the building and stealing many confidential documents. The only excuse they used for their violent rampage was that the bill would allow the police, with permission from the chief executive and the Court of Final Appeal, to hand over fugitives who might be “dissidents” wanted by mainland authorities to the mainland on criminal charges.
The “political persecution” narrative came in handy for separatist organizers to rally misguided and ill-advised residents, particularly the gullible young people, to join their illegal campaign, including criminal vandalism and violence against innocent bystanders. Rampant criminal activities in public spaces and on the streets continued almost daily for months on end even after the city went under partial lockdown in the first half of 2020 to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing the central government to exercise its constitutional authority to promulgate the National Security Law, a national law for enforcement in the HKSAR. The new law would not have been necessary had the HKSAR fulfilled its constitutional obligation of adopting a local-version national security ordinance, as required by Article 23 of the Basic Law. Not surprisingly, that piece of local legislation was blocked by the opposition parties back in 2003 and has not been presented again since then. Some influential US political figures have reportedly said Washington preferred back then to have the NPCSC declare a state of emergency in Hong Kong rather than enact the National Security Law specifically for the HKSAR.
Let us come back to the issue of sanctions. For most of the individuals targeted by the two US Acts, such sanctions are only symbolic: Not many of them have assets in the US, and being denied a visa to enter the US does not harm one’s personal interest as much as Washington would have people believe. They do, however, run afoul of international laws.
The UN Charter is regarded as an international law, Article 2 (7) of which stipulates that “nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Member to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter”. It goes without saying that the NPCSC’s enactment of the National Security Law for enforcement in Hong Kong falls completely within the domestic jurisdiction of China. Under no circumstance does the US have the right and authority to apply sanctions on Chinese entities for enforcing a Chinese law that does not affect any American citizen who has not violated it in Hong Kong, according to the UN Charter. Such international laws are recognized in Article 6(2) of the Constitution of the United States, as supreme law of the land.
It is no secret that the US and its allies have been ganging up against China by supporting in all manners imaginable the separatists in Hong Kong to undermine its socioeconomic development, as part of their attempt to contain China and obstruct the reunification of the Chinese nation. That is why Washington has consistently accused Hong Kong authorities of human rights violations every time someone was arrested and found guilty of a criminal offense, simply because the defendant broke an existing law with political excuses. So much so that the US Congress has passed multiple politically motivated acts that authorize the executive branch to launch sanctions against government officials in China, including the HKSAR, for doing their jobs according to Chinese national law or Hong Kong local law.
Commonly dismissed as “long-arm jurisdiction”, such unjustifiable sanctions not only violate the UN Charter and the US Constitution but also expose the rank hypocrisy of Washington politicians responsible for using them against foreign entities despite the fact that US law enforcement agencies routinely carry out similar arrests and prosecution against individuals who have broken similar US laws without risking “sanctions” for “human rights abuses”.
The author is a former professor at the Research Center for Hong Kong and Macao Basic Law, Shenzhen University.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.