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There are renewed efforts in Hong Kong to push for tighter national security laws

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The government of Hong Kong is discussing even tighter national security laws. China's government, the national government, has already cracked down on the freedoms that people in that territory once had. Now, the Beijing-dominated government, the local government, has proposed a range of new limitations to address security concerns such as treason and what's called sabotage to the operation of foreign organizations. What's going on here? Thomas Kellogg is executive director of the Center for Asian Law at Georgetown University. Welcome to the program, sir.

THOMAS KELLOGG: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: So I read that the local government has submitted this proposed law for public discussion. And my first thought was whether people in Hong Kong are even free to discuss things anymore. Are they?

KELLOGG: I think you're absolutely right that that's a key concern. So under the 2020 national security law, there are real limits on criticism of the government. So one concern here is, are we going to have a robust discussion of some of the very real problems with this new proposal? I'm not sure that that's going to be the case.

INSKEEP: Is there really a security concern that needs to be addressed by the government in Hong Kong?

KELLOGG: Absolutely not. I traveled to Hong Kong on a regular basis prior to 2020, prior to the COVID crisis. And I saw it firsthand - a robust, open society that was open for business, that was open for, you know, academics like myself to come and do research. All of that has changed as a result of the post-2020 crackdown under the national security law that you mentioned. And I'm afraid that this new law is going to further restrict what Hong Kongers can do and what international folks can do as well.

INSKEEP: There is, in this list of things that they say they want to fight against, this interesting phrase, sabotage to the operation of foreign organizations. What are they worried about when they say they want to crack down on sabotage to the operation of foreign organizations?

KELLOGG: Yeah, yeah, that's two separate provisions, one related to sabotage and one related to foreign organizations. So on the sabotage side, you have what looks like to be an attempt by the government to politicize public protest. So certainly during public protest, if public spaces get damaged or even vandalized - if they get vandalized, that can be a crime. But it's not some sort of act of sabotage. So the government is imposing heavier penalties there. And then on the foreign organization side, what you've seen is an effort by the Hong Kong government over the past year to target exile organizations here in Washington and London and elsewhere that are lobbying the U.S. government, the U.K. government and others to take what's happening in Hong Kong very seriously. It seems that they want to use this new law to also tackle these overseas activists.

INSKEEP: I just want to give a hypothetical example. You're at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. You have opinions about Hong Kong. Are you telling me that in theory, this law might give the government power to put some kind of sanction on Georgetown University, or get someone in trouble who's connected with Georgetown University because of your opinion?

KELLOGG: Well, they could unfortunately criminally charge me under these - I mean, we'll have to see the text of the new law when it comes out. But under the proposal, a lot of the criticism of the law could be criminalized. And I think a key part of what they're trying to do is make sure that Hong Kongers in Hong Kong don't have contact with critics of the government in Washington, London or elsewhere.

INSKEEP: We've just got about 20 seconds left, but China has already cracked down on freedoms in Hong Kong. Does this additional step suggest that the government is in fact worried, afraid?

KELLOGG: I'm afraid that it does. And what I would urge is that the Hong Kong government needs to turn the page on the 2020 crackdown and start focusing on economic development, start focusing on rebuilding ties to the international community. Instead, they're doubling down on national security.

INSKEEP: Thomas Kellogg is the executive director at the Center for Asian Law at Georgetown University. Thank you so much, sir.

KELLOGG: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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