“Given Beijing now treats Hong Kong as ‘one country, one system,’ so must we,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
A big test of the law lies in the Hong Kong courts, which have a long tradition of independent decisions. But the law is wired with provisions that appear designed to ward off attempts by courts and local lawmakers to hem in its powers.
The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress holds final power over how to interpret the rules. And whenever the law comes into conflict with Hong Kong laws and regulations, the local rules must give way.
“Beijing will be able to exert influence at every key stage of fortifying national security, both directly and indirectly through personnel accountable to it,” said Cora Chan, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong who has studied China’s drive for security legislation.
Still, Hong Kong may not see a deluge of prosecutions under the new law. In mainland China, the police and prosecutors charge people under state security crimes relatively rarely, often preferring to imprison dissidents and other political foes under other, less prominent charges, such as fraud or stirring up trouble.
In the decade leading up to 2016, the last year for which detailed statistics are available, Chinese courts finished cases on state security charges against 8,640 defendants, according the Dui Hua Foundation, a group based in San Francisco that monitors human rights in China.
The great majority of the defendants in these mainland Chinese security trials were members of ethnic minorities, mostly Uighurs and Tibetans, convicted of promoting ethnic separatism, a broad charge that can be used against anyone who questions Chinese rule, a forthcoming report from the foundation shows.