An advertisement from the government promoting the new law in Hong Kong. Photo: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Hong Kong's government released the text of a new national security law imposed by Beijing just as the law came into force on Tuesday.

What it says: The law defines crimes such as terrorism and sedition broadly, but mandates harsh sentences — in many cases life imprisonment — for those found to have committed them. It will be enforced by a National Security Committee, headed by Hong Kong's chief executive, without any input from the judiciary.

Between the lines: The national security law manifests the Chinese Communist Party's approach to governance known as "rule by law," rather than "rule of law."

  • It includes sweeping definitions of crimes and penalties that gives the government broad power to limit people's political freedom, while explicitly denying any kind of independent oversight of the law or how it is carried out.

The big picture: The security law is the clearest encroachment to date on the autonomy that has allowed Hong Kong to flourish as a global financial hub, with political and legal protections unimaginable on the mainland.

  • Hong Kong's future is currently unclear, with the U.S. revoking special trading privileges on the grounds that the city is no longer autonomous from China, and everyone from activists to international corporations concerned about how the law will be implemented.
  • It was approved in response to last year's massive pro-democracy protests in the city, and appears designed in part to prevent further mass displays of dissent.

Zoom in: The law describes the bureaucratic and organizational outlines of the new security state.

  • It establishes a Hong Kong government national security committee, exempts decisions made by the committee from judicial overview, and mandates that the committee must have a Beijing-appointed advisor.
  • It prohibits "collusion" with foreign governments or institutions, which could potentially target those who have called on international bodies to condemn China or lobbied the U.S. Congress for sanctions.

More details:

  • Leading a terrorist organization carries a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison, but it's unclear what sorts of organizations that designation will apply to.
  • There is concern in Hong Kong that the prohibition of "terrorist activity" will be applied broadly and arbitrarily. The law does get specific in some instances, with "destroying a vehicle" cited as possible terrorist activity.
  • The law requires Hong Kong to carry out "national security education" — a particularly controversial element given local resistance to propaganda in schools.
  • The law also requires Hong Kong's police to establish a national security division, and states that it may hire "specialists and technicians from outside the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region" — meaning mainland China.

What to watch: The law explicitly states that it applies beyond Hong Kong’s borders and to everyone, whether they are a Hong Kong resident or not. The legal implications of that are unclear but potentially could be extraordinarily contentious if applied as written.

Go deeper

With new security law, China outlaws global activism

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The draconian security law that Beijing forced upon Hong Kong last week contains an article making it illegal for anyone in the world to promote democratic reform for Hong Kong.

Why it matters: China has long sought to crush organized dissent abroad through quiet threats and coercion. Now it has codified that practice into law — potentially forcing people and companies around the world to choose between speaking freely and ever stepping foot in Hong Kong again.

A swift Hong Kong decoupling looms

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.

7 hours ago - Technology

Big Tech's Hong Kong bind

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Big Tech companies are scrambling to figure out what China's imposition of a new national security law in Hong Kong means for their businesses there.

The big picture: Tech companies, like other multinationals, had long seen bases in Hong Kong as a way to operate close to China without being subject to many of that country's most stringent laws. Now they likely must choose between accepting onerous data-sharing and censorship requirements, or leaving Hong Kong.