A majority of people in Hong Kong are opposed to China’s plan to impose a national security law in the territory, saying the legislation undermines the “one country, two systems” framework under which the city is governed and will limit the city’s existing rights and freedoms, according to a survey commissioned by Reuters.
The survey, conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute between June 15 and 18, showed the legislation is opposed by 57 percent of people in the territory. Some 49 percent said they were “strongly opposed” to the law.
The poll was conducted when Beijing had announced its intention to introduce the legislation against terrorism, subversion, separatism and foreign interference but few details were known.
While the draft of the new law is yet to be finalised, key features of the legislation have since been released, revealing that Communist Party authorities in Beijing will have overarching powers over its enforcement, including final interpretation rights.
Support for the legislation added up to 34 percent, with the rest indifferent or undecided.
“I object to the law because the [Beijing] government is interfering in Hong Kong’s business,” 29-year-old engineer Charles Lo, 29, who participated in the survey, told Reuters. “It will also suppress our freedom of speech and hinder the democracy movement.”
The poll also found that support for the pro-democracy protests that began a year ago had slipped, although a majority of the population continued to back the action.
Protests escalated last June when millions marched through the streets over a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed people to be extradited to mainland China for trial. As the protests continued, they evolved into a call for greater democracy, involving sometimes violent clashes with the police.
The demonstrations calmed this year as the city battled COVID-19, which limited gatherings. While protests have resumed since the bill was announced, far fewer people have taken part.
The poll showed support for the protests at 51 percent, compared with 58 percent when Reuters conducted its last poll in March. Opposition rose to 34 percent from 28 percent.
“It may be psychological, because Hong Kong people see Beijing is getting more hardline,” said Ming Sing, associate professor of social sciences at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Most demonstrations in recent weeks have been attended only by a few hundred people and have ended quickly. Police, citing coronavirus restrictions, have not given permission for rallies and have arrested large numbers of those who have turned up.
The shift in backing for the protests has occurred mainly at the extremes, with those who strongly support them dropping to 34 percent from 40 percent and those who strongly oppose them rising to 28 percent from 21 percent. The number of those who “somewhat” support or oppose the protests remained stable.
The particular demands of the movement have also seen a drop in support. The request for an independent commission of inquiry to look into how police handled the demonstrations saw a 10-percentage-point drop from March to 66 percent.
Universal suffrage, another key demand, had the backing of 61 percent of people, down from 68 percent. The resignation of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam was supported by 57 percent compared with 63 percent three months ago.
Opposition to the demands rose to 21 percent from 15 percent.
Samson Yuen, assistant professor in the political science department at Lingnan University, said support for the protesters’ demands was “still high” but could have dropped because the security law had overtaken the protests as the main topic in public debate.
“Who would still talk about [protest] demands when the national security law is coming?” Yuen asked.
Lam’s office and China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, which comes under the State Council, or cabinet, did not respond to requests for comment.
The national security law has raised fears that Beijing is further eroding extensive autonomy promised to the territory when the United Kingdom handed it back to China under the “one country, two systems” formula in 1997.
Hong Kong and Beijing authorities have repeatedly said the legislation would only target a small number of “troublemakers”, while rights and freedoms would be preserved. They say it will bring stability to a city rattled by the protests.
“Before June last year, I didn’t think Hong Kong needed national security laws because we were so peaceful and safe, but now I think it’s necessary,” said another survey respondent, Hui, a retiree in her 50s.
KK Leung, a 49-year-old ship maintenance officer, disagreed.
“I don’t trust Chinese laws,” Leung said. “Our freedom of speech will be affected if the law is implemented. I wouldn’t dare say ‘Down with the Communist Party’ or ‘Carrie Lam, step down’ in protests like I do now.”
The poll also showed that support for the idea of Hong Kong independence, which is anathema to Beijing and is expected to be a focal point in the looming legislation, remained relatively unchanged at 21 percent. Opposition to the idea grew to 60 percent from 56 percent.
For the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points, 1,002 respondents were randomly surveyed by telephone. The results were weighted according to the latest population figures.