What not to do in Hong Kong under the new national security law

The national security law is now active in Hong Kong, and it affects every traveller to or through the region.

If you criticise China’s government, or support the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, you technically could violate this law. Whether this occurs online, within Hong Kong, or anywhere else, you may be held accountable if you travel to Hong Kong or transfer via the city.

During a time when travel is depleted, international borders are closed for visitors as countries frantically try to control the coronavirus.

But in Hong Kong, things have been a little different. Despite being only four hours away by train from Wuhan, China – ground zero of COVID19 – the city has endured a low amount of infected cases. And because of that, other issues in the former British colony have taken hold.

The pro-democracy protests that rocked Hong Kong for months on-end from June 2019 have faced a backlash, prompting Beijing to announce a new controversial law upon the city.

The national security law is now active in Hong Kong, and it affects everyone travelling through Hong Kong.

Backstory

The national security law has been implemented upon Hong Kong because of widespread protests of 2019 and 2020. Beijing wants to stop that happening in the future.

Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy for 50 years during the handover from Great Britain to China in 1997. It currently has its own judicial system, currency, and limited freedoms unseen in the Mainland of China.

After only 23 years, the new law is in place, it essentially allows Beijing to pass local laws. Many now see Hong Kong as part of China’s rule once again, and its core freedoms taken away.

Key points of the national security law

  • Crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are punishable to a maximum of life in prison
  • Damaging public transport facilities can be regarded as terrorism
  • Inciting hatred against the Chinese Communist Party Central Government is prohibited
  • Popular pro-democracy slogans such as ‘Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times’ are now banned
  • Court cases can be heard behind closed doors within the city or can be sent to Mainland China for trial – where judicial systems are not independent and more controlled by the State
  • Hong Kong Police have more licence to search properties without a warrant, restrict suspects travel movements, freeze assets, intercept communications and require Internet providers to remove online information
  • Most worryingly, the laws don’t have boundaries of extremes. Beijing will decide how each law and potential crime is interpreted

This law affects everyone, including travellers

The national security law will also apply to non-permanent residents of Hong Kong.

What that means in short is if you criticise China’s government, or support the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, you technically could violate this law.

How the law has changed the protests

When the national security law was announced recently in May, street protests ensued, continuing in June and July. But, the big events that made headline news worldwide only lasted for a few days in total. This was a sharp contrast to the regular demonstrations taking place in 2019.

Large-scale demonstrations are not expected for now, although demonstrations may arise during the political elections, beginning on September 6th.

What NOT to do in the new Hong Kong

Because the law can be broadly interpreted, it’s difficult to know what limits it holds. As a visitor it would be advised to now take the following precautions:

  • Avoid the areas of demonstrations
  • Do not chant any politically motivated slogans
  • Exercise caution if within the vicinity of protesters and police
  • Refrain from taking photos of protesters and police
  • Do not carry or take any protest political material with you
  • Do not incite hatred online about political events, or authorities connected the Chinese Communist Party, including on social media
  • Always carry your passport
  • Keep a low profile and avoid confrontation

Official government warnings about travelling to Hong Kong

In reality, the new national security law isn’t expected to affect visitors to Hong Kong once the city reopens. Experts agree the law wouldn’t affect everyday tourists with no political involvement or profile.

But that hasn’t deterred countries like the United States and Australia for warning their citizens when travelling to Hong Kong.

The U.S. Travel Department of State lists Hong Kong’s status at Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution – ‘due to civil unrest, risk of surveillance, and arbitrary enforcement of laws other than for maintaining law and order.’

Australia has warned its own citizens with a travel advisory via the Smart Traveller website, noting that ‘You could break the law without intending to.’