China Converts Hong Kong Hotel Into New National Security Office

HONG KONG—China opened its national security office in Hong Kong on July 8, turning a hotel near a city-center park that has been one of the most popular venues for pro-democracy protests into its new headquarters.

The office, which operates beyond the scrutiny of local courts or other institutions, will oversee the Hong Kong government’s enforcement of the sweeping national security legislation that Beijing imposed on the city last week.

The legislation gives its agents, operating openly in the global financial hub for the first time, enforcement powers.

It allows them to take suspects across the border for trials in Communist Party-controlled courts and gives them special privileges, including that Hong Kong authorities cannot search or detain them, or even inspect their vehicles.

It was unclear how many mainland agents will be stationed in the former Metropark Hotel, a 266-room, 33-story building in the shopping and commercial district of Causeway Bay, near Victoria Park.

NTD Photo
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends the plaque unveiling ceremony of the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), with Director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR and the National Security Adviser to the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR, Luo Huining, Vice Chairmen of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Tung Chee Hwa and Leung Chun-ying, and head of the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR Zheng Yanxiong on July 8, 2020. (Hong Kong Information Services Department/Handout via Reuters)

Red Line

The new security law has pushed China’s freest city onto a more authoritarian path and drawn condemnation from some Western governments, lawyers, and human rights groups.

It punishes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. Chinese police have arrested at least 10 people, including a 15-year-old, under it for suspected threats to China’s national security.

Critics fear it will crush coveted freedoms in the Chinese-ruled city, while supporters say it will bring stability after a year of protests that plunged the former British colony into its biggest crisis in decades.

NTD Photo
Protesters hold up blank papers during a demonstration in a mall in Hong Kong on July 6, 2020, in response to a new national security law introduced in the city which makes political views, slogans and signs advocating Hong Kongs independence or liberation illegal. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP via Getty Images)

Hong Kong and Beijing officials insist rights and freedoms would remain intact, but say national security is a “red line.” The new security legislation has already started to change life in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday banned school students from singing “Glory to Hong Kong,” the unofficial anthem of the pro-democracy protest movement.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said students should not participate in class boycotts, chant slogans, form human chains or sing songs that contain political messages, referring specifically to the popular protest anthem.

Books by some pro-democracy activists and politicians have been removed from public libraries. The “Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our times” slogan is now illegal. Activists have disbanded their organizations or fled. Shops have removed protest-themed products and decorations.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said the security law was mild compared with that of other countries, without naming them, but pro-democracy advocates say its contents are vague and worry about Beijing authorities having final interpretation rights.

In a reflection of the widespread unease over the legislation, major U.S. internet companies including Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Twitter, and Zoom have announced they have suspended the processing of requests for user data from the Hong Kong authorities while they study it.

The United States has begun removing Hong Kong’s special status in U.S. law as Washington no longer deems the global financial hub sufficiently autonomous from mainland China.

By Yanni Chow and Donny Kwok

NTD staff contributed to this report.