The Chinese-led securitisation of Hong Kong in 2023 has manifested in legislative reforms and judicial amendments. Both are a step further in creating an environment conducive to the NPCSC’s interpretation of the national security law. The violation of the two systems narrative however has invited criticism from international actors including the US and the UK.

The Dynamics of China-Hong Kong Interactions

  •  With China reopening its borders to Hong Kong, there is no doubt that Hong Kong will see landmark changes in its political and legal environments in 2023—courtesy of the mainland’s concerns over national security. The Tiananmen vigils for instance have shifted from Hong Kong to other overseas locations this year. A permanent exhibition dedicated to the events had to be opened in New York after its Hong Kong location was shut down in 2021.
  • While Beijing may need to let the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) retain a semblance of its original character to enjoy certain economic benefits; it is mutually beneficial for both administrations if the latter’s political-legal structures become synonymous with the former’s. The British formally handed over Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997. In the process, the city was granted a semi-autonomous status, giving it the right to enjoy some authority over its political, economic, and legal system. However, autonomy status has gradually eroded as China’s political and economic influence increased over Hong Kong.
  • The reforms allow China to legitimise its interventions and weed out foreign forces which reportedly fund local dissenting. For the local pro-Beijing administration, these are opportunities to reiterate their loyalty. These developments are also conducive to its economic relations with China, which are a priority as Chinese borders reopen post the pandemic. 


The Nature of Developments in China’s Attitude Towards Hong Kong

  • Recent developments led by the ‘patriotic’ administration under Chief Executive John Lee Kai-Chiu, have targeted Hong Kong’s legislature and judicial systems. The motives of these developments are concentrated under the umbrella of the National Security Law (NSL) (国家安全法), the discretionary powers for that rest with the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) of the People’s Republic of China. The interpretation of the law identified and criminalized secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces.
  • Secretary for Justice Paul Lam Ting-Kwok has also recently indicated that HKSAR will enact the legislation to implement Article 23 and thus, passing its edition of the security law by this year or the end of 2024. His Beijing trip to meet with Xia Baolong, the Director of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, reinforced the constitutional duties expected of the incumbent authorities- despite a history of anti-security law sentiments among Hongkongers.
  • Moreover, to drive home the reality of a ‘patriotic’ government, Lee has announced reforms in the District Council. The surge in securitisation of Hong Kong by the government in Beijing has also served to further souring relations between Hong Kong and Taiwan.


The Security Narrative

  • 2023 so far, has brought with it, the realisation of Beijing-led changes to Hong Kong’s political and legal climate. The year marks President Xi Jinping’s unprecedented third term as the head of state. As the groundwork for the long game is laid once again, it is given to the party-state to pursue some of its domestic shortcomings. The inability to pass the NSL as per the NPCSC interpretations has been seen as an internal weakness by Beijing — despite the pervasiveness of the one country, two systems narrative, elsewhere.
  • Despite this, controls have been progressively tightened on the city’s population, citing the ‘black violence’ that erupted during the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests. The demonstrations were initially organised to protest against the extradition bill—that would have weaponised a legal loophole in the system to the mainland’s advantage. Today however the turmoil it unleashed has caused it to become a catalyst for other security amendments. While former Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the withdrawal of the extradition bill, the protests have been manipulated to serve a never-ending security narrative. The other core demands — five demands, were also left unaccounted for.
  • The circumstances have let the administration gain an upper hand over any democratic sentiments. While Hong Kong was formerly the only city under the Chinese administrative set-up permitted to conduct vigils commemorating the Tiananmen Massacre, it is now discouraged. The Hong Kong police detained protesting activists at Victoria Park this year, ahead of the June 4 anniversary. The park hosted a week-long carnival instead, to celebrate the city’s 26th anniversary of becoming a special administrative region.


Legislative Developments: Revamp of District Council and Current Political Climate      

  • Chief Executive Lee recently unveiled the plans for the reform of the city’s District Council  in May. He regarded it to be a corrective measure—to root out negligent district council members who were not performing their duties properly and engaging in actions that threatened national security. Lee stated that the new system with a vetting mechanism will facilitate “only patriots governing Hong Kong.”
  • It came into effect in July through the District Councils (Amendment) Ordinance 2023 which decreased directly elected seats to 88. The District Council will now consist of 470 seats overall—179 appointed seats and 176 mutually elected seats alongside district committees. It attempts to depoliticize the local communities and curb potential dissent. The vetting mechanism is led by the Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan Kwok-ki, through the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee. With this move, the government in Beijing can be sure to get rid of any legislative loopholes that facilitated the 2019 protests. Lee’s equation of patriotism to being pro-Beijing will have severe consequences for the composition of political bodies.
  • Political opposition might as well become a myth, as national security endorsed the system to weed out any discursive voices. The reforms seem to set Hong Kong on the same path as China’s one-party system as it forces political aspirants to often self-censor their views.
  • It was in this political climate that the Civic Party voted to disband in May. The Civic Party was one of Hong Kong’s last big pro-democracy groups. At the peak of its popularity, it was the second-largest party in the opposition camp. The group’s existence has, however, been precarious since 2019. As its leaders were pushed out of politics and discredited under the national security law for ‘subversion’, the party was left with a severe leadership vacuum.
  • The popular political narrative on the disbandment circles back to the national security law. — Party founder and now self-declared centrist Ronny Tong insisted that the law was introduced by Beijing, only because the opposition camp had become too violent. With the conditions for political survival and entry into the legislative system now being clearly outlined, political aspirants—especially ones in Hong Kong’s opposition camp have been directly impacted.


Changes to the Judicial System and Parallels with Legal Proceedings in the Mainland

  • Hong Kong’s judicial culture has also not been spared by the prioritisation of national security either. A vetting system not so dissimilar from the legislative one, has been added to the legal system. Apart from determining which judges will be allowed to hear national security cases, it also extends its jurisdiction to the participation of foreign counsel. The Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2023 authorized the Chief Executive to decide whether overseas counsel can participate in national security-related cases or not. The foreign lawyer seeking to work on concerned cases will first be required to receive approval from the Chief Executive. The second step mandates the courts to verify the application with the Chief Executive. An application will be approved only if both steps are completed—the executive’s decision is binding and cannot be challenged.
  • The amendment has direct motivations stemming from the proceedings against business tycoon and Beijing-critic, Jimmy Lai. The founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily, Lai was arrested during the 2019 crackdown under NSL and other charges including, fraud. His legal team included the British lawyer Timothy Owen, whose participation in the September trial was initially approved last year. The HKSAR administration attempted to appeal against Owen’s participation in the trial thrice but was ruled against, in all instances.
  • The fourth attempt culminated in an intervention by the NPCSC. The NPCSC passed a legislative interpretation of the NLS in December 2022 which stated that the Hong Kong courts were mandated to request approval from the Chief Executive on the participation of foreign barristers. The Legislative Council of HKSAR (LegCo) has since passed the bill based on this. This sets the legal ground to disqualify Owen’s participation in the trial and other similar developments in the future. Thus, recent modifications in the Judiciary indicate a systematic removal of foreign actors and an emergence of precedents from the mainland to handle national security cases.
  • The Suzhou Intermediate People’s Court in China recently sentenced 78-year-John Shing-wan Leung for a lifetime and stripped him of his political rights. The background details of Leung who was convicted on charges of espionage, remain shrouded in secrecy. Following the norm to keep national security cases classified, the court only released his US passport number and Hong Kong ID. Hong Kong Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-Keung however said that authorities had been informed of the proceedings since 2021 when Leung was arrested, via the reciprocal notification mechanism.


Responses to the Chinese Influence in HKSAR

  • The increasingly visible Chinese influence in Hong Kong’s institutions has not escaped international criticism. The US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) has called for sanctions against the 29 publicly listed national security judges. The CECC has argued that Beijing’s NSL has created a parallel system, weakening judicial independence and diminishing public trust in the legal system—a statement that both China and HKSAR have condemned.  
  • The UK is also particularly invested as the recent amendments violated the conditions to guarantee the special administrative zone’s autonomy, as outlined in the 1984 joint declaration. UK’s dissatisfaction with the events has most directly manifested in the Jimmy Lai trial. British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is reported to have brought up the matter with Chinese Vice-President Han Zheng to no avail. Lai holds dual citizenship of both Hong Kong and the UK. He has become the poster child for security concerns in the former on grounds of possibly ‘colluding with foreign forces.’ The UK has also commented on the limitations imposed on foreign counsel; a comment that Hong Kong administration has called hypocritical. It is worth noting that the UK also does not permit the ad hoc admission of foreign counsel.
  • China and Taiwan have seen an opportunity to lash out at each other through Hong Kong, as it is rapidly becoming a part of the central imagination. Hong Kong Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsan in April, had said that there are currently no official communications between Hong Kong and Taiwan. He has stated that while the government has no intentions to resume operations, Taiwanese travellers were welcome to visit the region. The Hong Kong representative office in Taiwan closed in 2021, with no official explanation.  On the other front, Taiwan may choose to tighten permanent residency criteria for Hong Kong applicants. The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) in Taipei is considering amending residency permits by increasing the criteria for permanent residency, from one to at least four years.



  • The Chinese-led securitisation of Hong Kong in 2023 has manifested in legislative reforms and judicial amendments. Both are a step further in creating an environment conducive to the NPCSC’s interpretation of the national security law. The violation of the two systems narrative however has invited criticism from international actors including the US and the UK. Hong Kong internalising the Chinese security narrative also provides an additional channel for China-Taiwan dynamics to play out. 


Tamiliniyaa Rangarajan is a fourth-year undergraduate student of International Relations and Governance Studies, at Shiv Nadar University. Her research interests are geared towards understanding the implications of political economy, and culture and soft power- applying these to the Chinese context. In her spare time, she likes to experiment with photography and pick up foreign languages.

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