AAS Statement on the 2020 Hong Kong National Security Law

AAS Board of Directors
July 10, 2020

The Association for Asian Studies expresses its deep concern over the PRC government’s imposition of sweeping new security legislation that severely curtails the freedoms guaranteed in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The new legislation potentially puts at risk anyone whose words or actions may be construed as criticism of the PRC or the Hong Kong governments, regardless of citizenship or where such words and actions take place.[1]

The legislation includes provisions naming the offenses of “secession,” “subversion,” “terrorist activities,” and “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements,” all of which are defined both broadly and vaguely. For example, Article 29 criminalizes (among other acts) perceived obstruction of the PRC or Hong Kong governments in setting and implementing laws and policies and any “unlawful” conduct (again, not defined) that provokes Hong Kong residents’ “hatred” of the governments of the PRC or Hong Kong, when done with the direct or indirect support of, or in conjunction with, any overseas organization or individual. Further, Article 38 of the law claims extraterritorial powers that potentially subject any person in the world to the same penalties.[2]

AAS expects that the new legislation will significantly inhibit the possibilities for academic inquiry and exchange in and relating to Hong Kong. The legislation’s vague wording and expansive categories of offense make it impossible to know what speech and actions will result in severe legal consequences. We stand with our Hong Kong-based colleagues who are most directly affected and understand that fears for personal safety may quell some voices.[3] We are mindful of how the PRC government has used claims of “terrorism” and “secession” to silence independent academic voices in Xinjiang and Tibet, and has used arbitrary detention on charges of “extremism,” “terrorism,” and “separatism” to quash perceived dissent and disloyalty among the indigenous peoples of those regions. We urge all those who feel safe to do so to uphold in a vocal and forthright manner the principles of free speech and open academic inquiry.

AAS is a global scholarly organization with 6,500 members all over the world, including those who are based in Hong Kong, and we count the Society for Hong Kong Studies among our official affiliate organizations. Our work thrives on active interaction among scholars and students from around the world, and the broad dissemination of knowledge in and about Asia. We deplore the imposition of this legislation and call on the PRC government to respect the rights of our colleagues in Hong Kong to engage in scholarly research and exchange without fear of political and legal reprisal, and to take steps to ensure the continued protection of their academic freedom, as defined in the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation.


[1] For discussions of the security law in the context of the erosion of Hong Kong’s guaranteed rights, see Gina Anne Tam and Jeffrey Wasserstrom, “The Future of Hong Kong,” Dissent (June 30, 2020), https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/the-future-of-hong-kong; and Sebastian Veg, “Hong Kong through Water and Fire,” The Diplomat (July 1, 2020), https://thediplomat.com/2020/07/hong-kong-through-water-and-fire/. For overviews of the security law, see Donald Clarke, “Hong Kong’s National Security Law: A First Look,” The China Collection (June 30, 2020), https://thechinacollection.org/hong-kongs-national-security-law-first-look/; and Jen Kirby, “China’s New National Security Law and What It Means for Hong Kong’s Future, Explained,” Vox (July 2, 2020), https://www.vox.com/2020/7/2/21309902/china-national-security-law-hong-kong-protests-us-sanctions.

[2] See Donald Clarke, “How Dangerous Is Article 38?”, The China Collection (July 3, 2020), https://thechinacollection.org/hong-kongs-national-security-law-dangerous-article-38/.

[3] See James Palmer, “Beijing’s New Security Law Is a Warning Sign,” Foreign Policy (July 1, 2020), https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/07/01/china-new-security-law-hong-kong-warning-sign/.