Hong Kong’s top cop overshadows city Chief as China cracks down with its security law

Hong Kong’s combative police Chief Chris Tang has, from the beginning, a law which has rocked the financial hub of Asia this year with several protests. He says, the new national security legislation was needed to extinguish calls for the city’s independence and restore order.
On June 30th, he got his wish. Just an hour before the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China on July 1, the Communist Party of China imposed the law, arming Tang with a range of powerful tools to quell popular dissent. And within 24 hours, Tang’s officers had arrested 10 people under the new law along with about 360 others suspected of existing offenses as protests erupted over Beijing’s move.
With the legislation in action, political groups disbanded. Activists fled overseas. Shops ripped down posters supporting the protests that convulsed the city last year. And public libraries pulled books written by some pro-democracy authors from their shelves.
Under the new law, activities related to secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are considered to be a crime. The law also expands the powers of Tang and his officers. Their new tools will include enhanced powers of searching premises and electronic devices, freezing or confiscating assets and demanding people and groups provide information.
With the approval of Hong Kong’s political leader, rather than its courts, police will be able to conduct electronic surveillance and intercept the communications of an individual suspected of endangering national security. And Tang’s police aren’t operating alone: Mainland China’s feared secret police are now operating inside the city.
With Beijing stepping in to crush Hong Kong’s democracy movement, Chris Tang has become the dominant figure in a city administration whose top priority now is regaining control. Tang will be responsible for a new police unit – the Special National Security Unit – that will tackle threats to national security, run by one of his deputies. He will also sit on a new Hong Kong body, supervised by mainland officials that will coordinate actions against national security threats.
Backed up by the new law, Tang is moving to douse any efforts to revive a movement that began as a protest against an extradition bill and morphed into a call for greater democracy, posing the biggest popular challenge to the Chinese Communist Party since the 1989 Tiananmen uprising.
With his aggressive tactics, he is overshadowing the city’s embattled political leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam. She ignited the crisis last year with proposed laws that would have allowed extradition of people from Hong Kong to the mainland for trial. She later withdrew the bill under intense pressure from the street, battering her own authority and delivering a blow to her chief backer, Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“China won’t take any chances anymore with national security, and Chris Tang is someone they trust,” a senior police source said.
A police spokesperson, responding to questions for Tang, said violent attacks by protesters last year – including the use of “sharpened instruments, metal rods, bows and arrows, petrol bombs, corrosive liquid and explosive substances” – had put “national security” at risk. This threat to public safety and “forces” advocating independence, the spokesperson said, required “effective measures to prevent the situation from deteriorating.”
The police force, the officer said, will “fully perform its duties and strictly enforce the law to restore social order and ensure the effective implementation of the National Security Law” in Hong Kong.
Explaining the need for the new law, a Hong Kong government spokesman said that in addition to “frequent violence over the past year,” there had also been “actions in pursuit of independence.”
Pro-democracy lawmakers, academics and foreign diplomats say that the new security law signals the death of the “one country, two systems” model used to govern Hong Kong. In place since the 1997 handover of the city to China, the arrangement has afforded Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy and has protected a wide array of freedoms enjoyed by the city’s residents, such as freedom of expression and the press, that don’t exist on the mainland.
Many say the city is increasingly being run from Beijing.
“We are in a situation where the Chinese Communist Party controls the police, and the police controls Hong Kong,” said veteran pro-democracy legislator James To. “It is not the way Hong Kong is supposed to work, or has worked up until recently.”
Hong Kong, he added, has become “a security police state.”