For years, Hong Kong has boasted about its rule of law, which has been touted as a key factor in the city’s success as an international business hub. However, recently, the Hong Kong government has been increasingly reluctant or unable to explain what the law actually looks like. Ahead of the June 4th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Hong Kong officials were asked by journalists whether it was a crime to commemorate the incident under the National Security Law (NSL). On each occasion, officials declined to give a direct answer.
Since the NSL was imposed by the Chinese government in 2020, the crackdown on ceremonies that commemorate the student-led protests that were violently ended by the PLA in the Tiananmen Square crackdown have gone silent. After annual vigils were banned in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19 restrictions, authorities will instead use the park for a pro-Beijing carnival this year. Authorities on Sunday arrested 24 Hong Kongers on suspicion of “violating security,” including those believed to have held candles and flowers, and seized a car with a license plate of “US8964,” the date of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The Hong Kong government’s cautious stance on the legal status of the June 4th commemorations has led to legal uncertainty in the region. The NSL has defined vaguely defined crimes as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers. Eric Lai, a part-time researcher at the Georgetown Asian Law Center, said Hong Kong authorities deliberately refused to provide a clear explanation of the law. “The more vague the red line, the more effective the authorities will be in controlling society, or, in government terms, regulating ‘soft resistance,’” Lai told Al Jazeera.
This uncertainty has raised concerns in the global business community. A survey conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce earlier this year found that 35% of participants believed the rule of law in Hong Kong was “worsening,” with 19% believing it had “worsened significantly.” Another 27% said they were not confident or “not at all confident” in the rule of law. Hong Kong’s legal climate could influence long-term decisions for businesses, such as whether to renew long-term commercial leases or replace retired employees with new employers, according to former Hong Kong lawyer and activist Kevin Yam.
Some companies may choose to stay in Hong Kong but do business in the same way as in mainland China, which has traditionally had a more volatile business environment, according to Charles Mok, a former Hong Kong legislator and IT industry leader. “At present, it is clear that many foreign companies are assessing the risks of Hong Kong and China, and therefore risk aversion and other matters are being discussed. The lack of transparency is hurting Hong Kong companies, but ultimately the idea is that if these foreign companies can endure such operating conditions in China, why can’t they do the same in Hong Kong?” Mok told Al Jazeera.