By Daisuke Nishimura, Beijing bureau chief
On May 22, the opening day of China’s 2020 National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing, a reason for the country’s decision to extend the national security law to Hong Kong was read aloud. “We must address the issue of the long-term vulnerability of our national security.” Chinese leader Xi Jinping just listened and looked straight ahead, stone-faced.
The national security law may pose a threat to freedom in Hong Kong, and render the policy of “one country, two systems” a slogan only. The decision to extend the law to Hong Kong was only announced the day before the NPC’s opening day, without forewarning and catching everyone by surprise. But a party official reveals, “We have been discussing and formulating the law in detail with the Hong Kong government ever since protests in the city grew more violent.”
Last year, the proposed amendment of legislation over fugitive transfer was scrapped because of wide-scale demonstrations organized by Hong Kong residents. The opposition movement then led to a landslide victory of pro-democracy candidates in the city’s legislative election. As young people in Hong Kong started to publicly advocate for the city’s independence, the government in mainland China grew increasingly nervous. According to a diplomatic source in China, a certain conviction took root in the central government that “Hong Kong is turning into a stronghold of anti-government forces supported by foreign entities.”
The Chinese leadership took a hardline stance to force the passage of the new security law despite the fact that a strong pushback is expected from Hong Kong and the international community. The posture seems to reflect China’s nervous frustration. China’s discord with the U.S. is worsening. The corona pandemic inflicted another blow to the already decelerating Chinese economy. Then conflicts surfaced with Hong Kong and Taiwan. The picture of strength the NPC projected three years ago when it declared the pursuit of “a great modern socialist country” has faded away.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., President Trump is redoubling his efforts to bash China to deflect criticism over the administration’s coronavirus response. It is a vicious cycle where the two giants, in hope of compensating for weaknesses, square off aggressively and widen the schism between them. The virus pandemic has also accelerated the decoupling of China-U.S. political and economic ties. On May 24, Wan Yi, the Chinese foreign minister and state councilor, told the press that “some forces in the U.S. are trying to push us toward a new Cold War.” However, the situation may be worse than he describes. Possibly the two countries are already at the threshold of a new Cold War.”