New Book: China’s National Security: Endangering Hong Kong’s Rule of Law?

More than two years ago now, my friend and colleague Cora Chan (HKU) and I sat down to discuss something we might be able to do together. We have a shared interest in security and constitutionalism, and of course being one of the foremost public lawyers in Hong Kong Cora has an interest in the various dynamics of the Basic Law and ‘one country, two systems’.

Combining these interests we decided to apply to the British Academy/Leverhulme small grants scheme to support a project on national security, the rule of law, and the specific constitutional position of Hong Kong. We were successful with that application which meant that, combined with generous support from the HKU Centre for Comparative and Public Law, we had sufficient funds for two major workshops in Hong Kong.

The product of these workshops and of the subsequent work of authors and editors was a new book, just released from Hart Publishing, entitled China’s National Security: Endangering Hong Kong’s Rule of Law? (2020). Here is the book description:

All states are challenged by the need to protect national security while maintaining the rule of law, but the issue is particularly complex in the China–Hong Kong context. This book explores how China conceives of its national security and the position of Hong Kong. It considers the risks of introducing national security legislation in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong’s sources of resilience against encroachments on its rule of law that may come under the guise of national security. It points to what may be needed to maintain Hong Kong’s rule of law once China’s 50-year commitment to its autonomy ends in 2047.

The contributors to this book include world-renowned scholars in comparative public law and national security law. The collection covers a variety of disciplines and jurisdictions, and both scholarly and practical perspectives to present a forward-looking analysis on the rule of law in Hong Kong. It illustrates how Hong Kong may succeed in resisting pressure to advance China’s security interests through repressive law. Given China’s growing international stature, the collection’s reflections on China’s approach to security have much to tell us about its potential impact on the global political, security, and economic order.

When we undertook this project we had no idea that the book would be so timely. As has been widely reported the Beijing government has announced its intention to impose a national security law on Hong Kong. This is in spite of Article 23 of the Basic Law which makes it clear that such a law is for the Legislative Council of Hong Kong to pass. Previous attempts to do so gave rise to significant protests in Hong Kong; the only place in the People’s Republic of China where such protests are realistically imaginable. Since then there have been other instances of the Hong Kong people standing up for their autonomy and for the integrity of the ‘one country, two systems’ pledge, most recently against a proposed extradition law in the law year. It may well be that Beijing’s patience with this is coming to an end.

Our collection contextualises the present moment, whether by explaining the constitutional terrain within which Hong Kong and its national security are located or the ways in which China conceptualises and pursues its national security (quite different to what one might be used to from a liberal constitutionalist perspective). It also considers the sources of resilience that might be available to Hong Kong people: the common law, civil society, international human rights law and so on. Whether any of these sources of resilient will be sufficient to resist the most recent manoeuvres from Beijing or, indeed, to maintain autonomy in its face is a different question, but what our collection does offer is a range of expert perspectives from lawyers, sociologists, politicians and practitioners in and beyond Hong Kong.

The collection is currently available for the reduced price of £59.50 on the Hart website.

The introduction is available for free online here.