The day that Chinese law came to Hong Kong

Making a stand: 370 people were arrested yesterday in Hong Kong. © Getty

Should we fear China? Its growing military power and moves to suppress democracy in Hong Kong have alarmed many, but others believe that we should be more accepting of its values.

A 15-year-old girl arrested for waving a banner; hundreds bundled into police vans; journalists targeted with water cannon.

A new law gives the police power to arrest anyone whose behaviour they consider subversive. It has caused an international outcry, with Britain’s foreign minister, Dominic Raab, describing it as a “clear and serious violation” of the treaty China and the UK signed in 1984.

Are the politicians overreacting?

Muscle-flexing Chinese armed forces have been behaving aggressively on several different fronts, sending aircraft carriers on missions off Taiwan, chasing Japanese fishing boats in the East China Sea, and killing 20 Indian soldiers in a border clash.

Limitless resources China has the world’s largest population – around 1.4 billion people. It has the largest standing army (2.3 million troops), and is Asia’s strongest naval power.

Deeply different values China has far less respect for individual freedom than Western democracies.

Natural dominance China is the third-largest country in the world by land mass. For most of history, it has been the world’s dominant power.

Epic civilisation China is one of the world’s oldest civilisations, responsible for the ‘Four Great Inventions’: the compass, gunpowder, paper, and printing.

Happiness Though Westerners tend to see the Chinese as repressed, millions of them are perfectly happy.

Should we fear China?

Democratic deficit

Yes. The new law in Hong Kong is the shape of things to come. “This is the last nail in the coffin,” says the dissident Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.

No. It is natural for China to seek stability at home and pursue its interests abroad. Stephen Green argues that we should open our eyes to China’s cultural riches and welcome what it has to offer.

You Decide

  1. Would you be willing to go to prison for the sake of democracy?


  1. Do a painting of a teenage protester in Hong Kong.

Some People Say...

“You can’t lock up ideas. I still believe that the belief in freedom and the rule of law is going to have a longer lifespan than […] communism.”

Chris Patten, last British governor of Hong Kong

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that Hong Kong’s new security law is a breach of the treaty under which Britain returned the territory to China. Britain was in a position to make demands because, though it was obliged to return the adjoining New Territories at the end of a 99-year lease, it could legally have retained Hong Kong, which had been ceded to it as a colony. China agreed that Hong Kong would enjoy "a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs" for 50 years from 1997.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around how far Beijing will go in enforcing the new measures. All it has promised so far is that the law will not be applied retrospectively. It covers a wide range of vaguely defined new crimes, from terrorism to inciting hatred of the Chinese government; trials can take place without juries, and penalties range from three years in gaol to life imprisonment. Experts are worried that it appears to apply to anyone, even if they are just visiting Hong Kong.

Word Watch

Tending to weaken or destroy a political system, organisation, or authority.
An action that breaks or acts against something, especially a law or agreement.
A formal written agreement.
After communist forces won control of China in 1949, their nationalist opponents retreated to the island of Taiwan and set up an independent state. The Chinese have offered Taiwan a similar status to Hong Kong if they are allowed to take over, but most Taiwanese oppose the idea.
Border clash
Because Chinese and Indian troops have an agreement not to use firearms on the border, they resorted to using sticks, stones, and their bare hands.
To do with ships.
Land mass
Large area of land.
Stopped from being able to express feelings, ideas or desires.
A person who opposes official policy, especially that of an authoritarian state.

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