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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

Pompeo says U.S. ambassador to China is stepping down

Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

The U.S. ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, is stepping down, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Twitter Monday.

Why it matters: Branstad's three-year tenure was marked by a sharp escalation in tensions between the U.S. and China, exacerbated in the past year by the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump's trade war, Beijing's crackdown on Hong Kong, its abuses against Uighur Muslims, a military buildup in the South China Sea and more.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations were "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 7 hours ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand, which were later lifted.