Jul 7, 2020 - World

A swift Hong Kong decoupling looms

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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Hong Kong's new security law means that companies, international travelers, and governments around the world are now facing decisions about how much they need to extricate themselves from previously close ties to the city.

Why it matters: If Hong Kong remains a major international business hub, China could use it as a lever to significantly erode global free speech norms.

Here are a few areas we're watching:

1. Internet and social media: Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram have stopped complying with Hong Kong government data requests while they assess the impact of the national security law.

  • The legislation requires individuals working at internet firms to hand over data and comply with censorship requests, or else face up to a year in jail and large fines.
  • Hong Kong protesters used numerous social media and messaging platforms to organize protests and other activities that are likely now illegal under the new law.
  • My thought bubble: Because the security law applies to speech and organizing anywhere in the world, the global future of digital free speech may hinge in part on what tech companies with operations in Hong Kong decide over the coming weeks.

2. Extradition: Because of its formerly independent judiciary, Hong Kong has extradition treaties with more than a dozen countries around the world, including the U.S., Australia and Germany.

  • But the security law subverts Hong Kong's judicial system, replacing it with specially appointed judges and in some cases funneling suspects directly into mainland China's court system, where convictions and harsh sentences for political crimes are all but guaranteed.
  • Future extradition requests from Hong Kong authorities could target people for political crimes.
  • Canada just announced it was suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.

3. Aircraft: The new law states it applies aboard all Hong Kong-registered aircraft, such as Cathay Pacific.

  • "The big question is if and how other countries would recognize or maybe even participate in what the national security law tries to achieve in international air traffic to and from Hong Kong," Jakob Wert, the editor-in-chief of aviation news site International Flight Network, tells Axios.
  • Alvin Cheung, a legal scholar at New York University, had a different take. "What that means is, don’t fly Cathay," he says.
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