In 2019 and 2020, Hong Kong was teetering from violent street demonstrations, leaving many of its people saddened and worried. In short order, automatic weapons, homemade bombs and Molotov cocktails had turned Hong Kong from a peace-loving and law-abiding metropolis into a city of chaos and violence.
The rioters’ outrageous behavior crossed the lines of decency and openly challenged the rule of law, something long, locally cherished. We acknowledge that there are legitimate grievances against the government’s mishandling of the social crisis and contentious issues; yet these can never be an excuse for rioters to set fire to shops, burning non-protesters, killing an elderly street cleaner, vandalizing the High Court and harassing the judges who embody the authority of the court and our judicial system. Our freedom of speech and expression was curtailed by intimidation and life-threatening violence. My own Legislative Council office at the Shek Kip Mei Public Housing Estate was attacked by three firebombs on Oct 1, 2019, putting at risk the lives of my volunteers and staff, as well as of elderly constituents.
These out-of-control attacks on the city left the central government no choice but to promulgate the National Security Law for Hong Kong to restore order. Since Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, Beijing has held the constitutional power to introduce national laws on state security through Annex III of the Basic Law in which it is clearly spelled out in Article 18. Yet for 23 years, Beijing refrained from enacting such national security legislation. Beijing waited patiently for over two decades for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to get the job done, something which, unfortunately, it failed to do. Time after time, it missed golden opportunities to pass the law while Hong Kong was at peace.
False accusations, angry denunciations, and misguided sanctions are unhelpful for the recovery process and for any kind of political reform. The international community not only needs to give Hong Kong more time and room to resolve its own problems but also to draw wiser assessments for their own benefits
Hong Kong was driven to the brink of collapse by the unrest. In 2019, our airport was occupied. Our Legislative Council was stormed, trashed, and paralyzed. Had such violence continued, the Hong Kong SAR government would have ceased to function and, consequently, all public sectors, including public schools, public hospitals and elderly homes, would have to be shut down. It was a matter of survival for the city. No responsible government would allow this to happen. Over that whole summer, I kept pleading with the extremists to stop the violence to subvert “one country, two systems”. But my pleas fell on deaf ears, with rioters rampaging mindlessly in the streets, savagely attacking civilians and damaging public facilities. Many of them openly called for the independence of Hong Kong and its separation from China. This lawlessness was the final straw that forced the central government to act, seeing that Hong Kong clearly lacked the ability to pass the national security law by itself to restore order.
The effect was immediate. Now, a year after the promulgation of the National Security Law, calm and order have returned to the city, and life is normal again. No more chaos in the street, no more vandalism, no more violence. Ordinary citizens feel safe to go out. Shops have reopened. The Legislative Council has resumed normal operations.
Law is the civilized way to resolve disputes. As a matter of international norms and international law and the United Nations Charter, the promulgation of the National Security Law is constitutional and in full compliance with international law, which respects and recognizes sovereignty. Safeguarding territorial integrity is definitely and rightfully an internal matter in which no other country may interfere.
It is public knowledge that many foreign countries have expressed their concern at the promulgation of the National Security Law, choosing to see it as an infringement on rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. I am afraid they have got the situation wrong. Without law and order, there can be no meaningful freedom or rights. When people live in fear of the rioters, that is no freedom. What about freedom from fear? What about the right to life and freedom for law-abiding citizens to express views which are different from the rioters? These are fundamental human rights too. Widespread coverage of biased stories has distorted the truth, leaving Hong Kong a sadly misunderstood city. The enactment of the National Security Law strictly adheres to established legal principles and procedures. It has been adjudicated by the internationally well-regarded Hong Kong courts in the past year. Respect for our judiciary is a mainstay of our system.
Hong Kong is an international metropolitan city. If outsiders would like to pass judgment on the developments in Hong Kong, they owe themselves the duty to understand the real situation on the ground but not be taken in by one-sided, twisted reports and politically biased inflammatory stories. The wrong assessment of foreign countries will do harm upon Hong Kong, of course. But it is certainly a double-edged sword, which will at the end do harm to the wrong assessors. Frankly, Hong Kong has been badly wounded. It is now licking its wounds and healing itself. After this traumatic experience, the Hong Kong SAR government and the people have learned a painful lesson. But full recovery will take time. For Hong Kong, false accusations, angry denunciations, and misguided sanctions are unhelpful for the recovery process and for any kind of political reform. The international community not only needs to give Hong Kong more time and room to resolve its own problems but also to draw wiser assessments for their own benefits.
Finally, I would like to close with the wise words of Mary Parker Follett, namely, “The world will be regenerated by the people who heroically seek by whatever hardship by whatever toil the methods by which people can agree,” but not by sowing the seeds for hatred and destructive violence which is dangerous for mankind.
The author is a barrister-at-law and legislator of Hong Kong.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.