In this watershed year the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region (HKSAR) was fundamentally reshaped by the concatenation of two major events, namely Covid-19 and the roll out of the National Security Law (NSL). While Beijing had already set in train advanced plans for the «second takeover», with mass protest snuffed out the arrival of the global pandemic provided perfect subterfuge for ushering in the NSL. The law effectively ended the city’s «high degree of autonomy», belying the strategic gamble behind One Country Two Systems (OCTS) that Hong Kong would change China before China changed Hong Kong. As the reification of the central government’s «comprehensive jurisdiction» the NSL acted as a vehicle for the institutional and constitutional repurposing of OCTS towards a system of direct rule, adding to the statute books four capacious new criminal offences qua instruments of lawfare and psychological warfare. Having rolled back the separation of powers through executive capture, co-opting the police and subduing the legislature, a full-frontal assault was launched on the city’s independent judiciary. By the end of the year, OCTS had been hollowed out to the point of existing in name only to legitimise the exercise of raw political power. If not already dead, it was moribund. While reactive measures such as sanctions, lifeboat policies, human rights scrutiny and moral suasion manifestly failed to deter a more assertive Beijing under Xi Jinping from exploiting what it perceived to be a closing window of opportunity to pursue revisionist objectives in Hong Kong, the second handover shaped wider regional and global geopolitics, deepening the strategic competition between China and the US and its allies with some describing events in Hong Kong as the trigger for a «new cold war».
Keywords – Hong Kong; China; National Security Law; One Country Two Systems; Comprehensive Jurisdiction; Direct Rule.
Sheldon Wong | Asia Maior – An Italian think tank on Asia | firstname.lastname@example.org