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Japan’s ‘Grave Concern’ Over New Hong Kong Legislation

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Tokyo Report | Diplomacy | East Asia

Japan’s ‘Grave Concern’ Over New Hong Kong Legislation

Tokyo is worried about the Safeguarding National Security Bill.

Japan’s ‘Grave Concern’ Over New Hong Kong Legislation
Credit: Photo 45035134 © Noppakun |

On March 19, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council unanimously passed the Safeguarding National Security Bill proposed by the Hong Kong government, with the legislation taking effect on March 23. The bill complements the so-called National Security Law and gives the Chinese government even more control over Hong Kong society. It will likely further accelerate the sinicization of Hong Kong.

The news sparked demonstrations in Tokyo, while the Japanese government expressed “grave concern” in a statement issued by the Foreign Press Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which took a noticeably different tone from that which it has hitherto used.

In fact, Japan has put out several statements since the National Security Law was first enacted in 2020, issuing two in March of that year soon after the law came into force, followed by a statement on December 21, 2021 when changes were made to the electoral system under the National Security Law. Of course, Japan is not alone here; statements have also been issued by the G-7 and other countries. The Japanese Foreign Ministry has stayed partly in step with other developed countries, but it has also represented the sentiments of the Japanese business community, given the large Japanese corporate presence in Hong Kong and the substantial investments that Japan has made in Hong Kong, especially in the financial sector.

In its first statement on March 11, 2020, the Japanese government went no further than expressing “regret,” but it then expressed “grave concern” later that month, an expression that it has used since. In last month’s statement, Tokyo used the term “grave concern” twice, the first time it has done that. Moreover, it claimed that the National Security Law and the changes to the Hong Kong Basic Law on the electoral system “further undermine the confidence in the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework.”

This most recent statement also calls on China “to ensure that activities and rights of Japanese nationals and companies in Hong Kong, with which Japan maintains close economic ties, continue to be respected and protected in the same manner as before, and that the rights and freedoms of the people in Hong Kong are respected.”

The language just before this part, specifically “…call on China and Hong Kong authorities, in cooperation with relevant countries…” also contains wording that was quite unprecedented. Previous statements have used the expression “call on China, in cooperation with relevant countries,” without any mention of “Hong Kong authorities.” Japan’s Foreign Ministry seems to be considering the possibility of somehow influencing the Hong Kong authorities through the Consulate-General of Japan in Hong Kong or other means.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government was quick to hit back. Responding to a reporter’s question, a spokesperson for China’s embassy in Tokyo said, “The Japanese side has released so-called talks related to Hong Kong [statements by the Press Secretary], pointing fingers at China’s Hong Kong affairs, seriously interfering in China’s internal affairs, and violating the basic norms of international relations. China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to this.”

According to the spokesperson, the new bill will have the effect of closing loopholes in national security, thereby achieving long-term stability in Hong Kong and making the “One Country, Two Systems” framework permanent. He added that there is strong consensus in various sectors of Hong Kong society on this, before concluding “Hong Kong is purely a matter of Chinese internal affairs, so any external criticism is unacceptable.” In short, China sees the statements by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as interference in its internal affairs.

Japan’s statement has clearly raised the temperature. Observers will doubtless be watching closely to see what comes next.