Sunday, May 31, 2020

National Security Law for Hong Kong

Hong Kong protests against Extradition bill. Courtesy - Wikipedia

Amid all confusion, what exactly Chinese National People Congress (NPC) did?

Last week NPC voted in favor of introducing new security legislation for Hong Kong - a former crown colony of the British Empire. Rumor is that law may be passed in NPC as early as August. In their words, it is to “prevent, stop and punish” threats to national security by outlawing acts and activities of secession, subversion, terrorism, and foreign activities in Hong Kong's affairs. Beijing will most probably bypass the Hong Kong legislature and add the bill to Annex III of Basic Law (Hong Kong's constitution).

After the passage of this Law in NPC, Hong Kong administration need to set up new security institutions to safeguard National Security. This also allows mainland intelligence and other agencies to operate in the city whenever needed.

Three main pillars of the new law

1. Secession and Subversion

What will be defined as secession and subversion is a very important question. For China, anything which challenges the supreme authority of the party and its functionaries can come under that wide umbrella. In addition to that, in an authoritarian society challenging even the local arm of the party can be considered as the same. Who will try, people booked under these acts? Existing Hong Kong courts or special courts? Will the spider web of firewall of China and omnipresent security system will come into Hong Kong? Will the relatively free (compared to mainland China) Hong Kong end up as any other territory of China? Possible answers to these questions do not instill much confidence among the international community.

2. Terrorism

Just like China has its own version of everything, Terrorism with Chinese characteristics will be very different from what generally accepted as terrorism.

3. Foreign interference in Hong Kong’s affairs

I do not think any country in the world dare to interfere in Chinese affairs. Even those criticizing China for human rights violations do not dare to interfere in Chinese internal matters. Otherwise, you will hear something about millions of Muslims locked up in China’s eastern provinces. Even Islamic countries do not utter a word. Forget about Chinese internal matters, countries do not even dare to stand up to China during the South China Sea crisis.

This law might affect organizations which have democracy or human rights anywhere in their name or articles and (or) receiving donations from foreign institutions.

It is not the first time Hong Kong is facing this situation. Long back in 2003, then Hong Kong administration tried to introduce National Security bill to implement Article 23 of Basic Law. However, they were forced to withdraw the bill after severe protests by the people of Hong Kong. Even in last year, China did not take any drastic steps during the long protests in Hong Kong.

Police and Protesters in Hong Kong Streets - During anti-Extradiction bill protests. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

But this time things are different. Why? 

1. Hong Kong elections – opposition had a landslide victory in last November for district council elections. This election was conducted after long anti-extradition bill protests. Now new elections are coming up in September for Hong Kong legislative council, in which most probably pro-democracy candidates will win.

2. China is on the back foot due to the wild spread of SARS-COV-2. Hiding the seriousness and mishandling the same early in the cycle was criticized heavily across the globe.

3. This is an election year in US. China might be waiting for US election results; to see whether Trump will go or not. As per their calculation, a new democratic administration in Washington may be more amenable to Chinese suggestions and threats.

4. Hong Kong is not the engine of growth for China anymore. Hong Kong is important, very important but its relative power viz-a-viz other Chinese cities reduced drastically over the decades.

5. For Xi this is very important; after the reverses in law introduced in last year in Hong Kong as well as setbacks in Belt and Road initiatives, he wants to show that he can still get the things done.

6. When the entire world is trying to fight COVID with tooth and nail, many countries are not in a position to fight China. I do not think most countries will do anything other than issuing some statements with carefully chosen words.

7. Chinese power viz-a-viz US is on the rise in the South China Sea region, South Asia, Africa etc, and in numerous multi-lateral agencies. With US isolationist policies under Trump administration, not many countries want to cross the line with China.

8. China is not a party to the International Courts of UN, so there is no point in someone challenging China there. By the way, China already defied another international court order on the South China sea and hardly faced by the backlash.

9. I think most countries already accepted the fact that if not today then tomorrow Hong Kong will be part of China - just like any other Chinese provinces. It is just a matter of time.

10. China thinks that setbacks due to the loss of special trading status and other relations of Hong Kong with the US, UK, and EU are affordable.

11. China may also be testing the waters on how the world will react to the eventual integration of Hong Kong with mainland China and abolishing ‘One country two systems’ policy.



1. What safeguards are needed for Hong Kong’s new national security law? Who could get caught by it? Legal eagles flag concerns - SCMP

Falling Chinese Currency amid rising US-China tensions, Hong Kong crisis and COVID

People's Bank of China HQ- Beijing; Photo Courtesy: Max12Max, Wikipedia

When the dragon starts dancing wildly, it is going to make others nervous and markets volatile. Currently, when the world economy is crashing due to COVID related lockdowns and production losses, China is adding more fuel to fire by voting a plan to introduce new security laws to Hong Kong - former Crown colony of the British Empire. Hong Kong Crisis and rising tensions with US is causing yuan to fall farther - lowest level against USD in eight months [1].  Chinese central bank was intervened for the 9th consecutive trading day [1] in the market to release the downward pressure on yuan.

Just after US Secretary of State's declaration to the US Congress that, they do not consider Hong Kong suitably autonomous from mainland Chinese rule; National People's Congress voted in favor of introducing new laws. Whether the city is autonomous or not is an important factor in deciding whether Hong Kong will continue to get preferential economic and trade treatment from the US. Losing this status will force a lot of companies operating there to reevaluate their strategy; this can even threaten Hong Kong's future as Asia's financial hub.

The ironic fact is, depreciation in yuan hurts the US, European and other nations which imports Chinese products much more than it affects China. However, it is very risky for the Chinese to let the currency slip as other countries will declare China a currency manipulator and add penal tariffs on imports from China.

The question is will China's central bank defends yuan’s fall and stabilize it; if yes, then how long?


Friday, May 29, 2020

COVID Migrant Crisis - Congrats Railways

As per the latest release, "Indian Railways has distributed more than 85 lakh free meals and about 1.25 crore free water bottles to migrants travelling in Shramik Special Trains since 1st May 2020... As on 28th May 2020, 3736 “Shramik Special” trains have been operationalized from various states... Till now, around 50lakh migrants have been transported through Shramik Special Trains in 27 days. It may be noted that trains running today are not facing any congestion. five States/UTs from where maximum trains originated are Gujarat(979 Trains), Maharashtra(695 Trains), Punjab(397 Trains), Uttar Pradesh (263 Trains) and Bihar (263 Trains)... top five states where maximum trains terminated are Uttar Pradesh(1520 Trains), Bihar(1296 Trains), Jharkhand(167 Trains), Madhya Pradesh(121 Trains), Odisha (139 Trains). In addition to Shramik specials, Railways are running 15 pairs of special trains connecting New Delhi and plans to start 200 more time tabled trains on 1st June.

Previously Railways converted numerous coaches to isolation wards and made other facilities available to the common public. One can always say, they could do more. But it is time for us to thank railways for transporting those 50 lakhs plus people stranded across the country to their hometowns and states. During this migrant crisis, this is a great ray of hope. This shows that someone can get their act together and do something to alleviate the stress on migrants who are otherwise traveling to their hometowns located hundreds(if not thousands) of kilometers away on foot and cycles.


Summer Rains

When sounds started coming from outside, I turned my head back from the tv screen and looked towards the glass door. It was raining outside; clam bright blue skies gave way to darker angry clouds and noises. Soon that vast empty space was filled with little drops of water, followed by a train of the same. I slowly walked towards the door; opened it; and walked to the balcony to embrace the cool wind. After a while, I opened the doors on the other side and took the stairs to reach outside; to see the full fury of summer rain. On my right corner and dead three was standing tall without any leaves. A couple of white-colored birds kissed and said goodbye to that tree.

 At a distance, on the backside, migrant workers shed were drenched by rain; heavy winds hit hardly on its rood made of silver-colored metal sheets. Water filled with mud formed two small streams on both sides of those sheds. A sad sight to see. Building work was supposed to be started sometime back, but COVID outbreak hold it back and laborers were stuck in those tiny metal sheds. I walked towards the other side, there were 4 - 5 pairs of young parents, standing with their kids and talking to each other in Hindi. They let their kids walk a bit to the rain. By this time, rain almost finished her dance; she ran back and hid behind clouds. Those tiny little angels were so happy to hit with the nectar of life above. Two different sights of life... 


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Good Timber by Douglas Malloch

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.

by Douglas Malloch