Hong Kong: Discussion under “Any Other Business”
The UK and US have requested a discussion of yesterday’s decision by China’s National People’s Congress Party regarding national security legislation for Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region of China) under “other matters” (also known as “any other business), which will be held today following the Council’s closed VTC briefing on the 1718 DPRK sanctions committee.
On 27 May, the US requested a VTC meeting on this matter, which was opposed by China. In a press release on the same day, the US said that China’s actions undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms as guaranteed under the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984. In response to the US request, China issued a press statement, also on 27 May, stating that the US had made “groundless charges” against China’s lawful and legitimate measures. It also said that the Council was not a venue to interfere in the domestic legislation of member states.
On 28 May, the UK and US requested that this issue be raised under “any other business”. Although the VTC meetings being held following the UN’s partial closure due to COVID-19 are not deemed official meetings, Council members are operating on the basis that consensus is needed for a VTC meeting to go ahead. However, consensus is not needed for a discussion under “other matters”, which is an agenda item in closed VTC meetings as it is in consultations during more normal times. A discussion under “any other business” does not place an issue on the Council’s formal agenda.
In addition to China, several other members were apparently not comfortable with meeting on the new security laws, regarding this as an internal matter that does not constitute a threat to international peace and security.
Since 1997, when the British handed Hong Kong back to China, the territory has been governed following the principle of “one country, two systems”. In 1984, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which the two governments registered at the UN, guaranteed a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong for 50 years after the handover. Hong Kong’s Basic Law or mini-constitution enshrines the “one country, two systems” principle. Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law requires it to enact national security laws to prohibit treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the state. This has been difficult to implement due to fears that such national legislation would curtail certain rights such as freedom of expression. It is unclear what the next steps will be for this proposed legislation, but there are concerns that Beijing could issue them by decree, thus bypassing Hong Kong’s parliament.
The Chinese media has reported that the increase in national security risks in Hong Kong prompted this legislation. This appears to be a reference to the protests in Hong Kong last year over legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects from Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. According to the Chinese media, the legislation only targets those who attempt to divide the country, subvert state power and organise and carry out terrorist activities, as well as foreign and external forces seeking to interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs.
It has also been reported that China sees this security risk as a challenge to the “one country, two systems” principle and that this legislation will lay strong foundations for its implementation.
Th US has reacted strongly to China’s actions. On 27 May, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress that Hong Kong no longer qualifies for its special status under US law because China has undermined its autonomy. US President Trump is expected hold a press conference today to announce new policies on China. Australia, Canada, the UK and US released a joint statement on May 28 in which they reiterated their deep concern over the decision and said that imposing the national security law is in direct conflict with China’s obligations under “the principles of the legally-binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration” and that “the proposed law would undermine the One Country, Two Systems framework”. In his statement to the Council on 28 May during a briefing on EU-UN relations, EU High Representative Josep Borrell also expressed deep concern with the steps taken by China regarding this legislation and said that it was not in conformity with international commitments or the Hong Kong Basic Law.
During the meeting, in line with public statements made by their countries, several members may reiterate their concern over the possible impact of national security legislation that may be in contravention of Hong Kong’s Basic Law and international agreements. In this context, the importance of maintaining the “one country, two systems” framework may be stressed. Other members are likely to maintain that this is an internal issue. China is expected to convey its position regarding the necessity of the national security legislation in Hong Kong and emphasise that this is not an issue that should be addressed by the Council.