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Tech Firms Might Leave Hong Kong As Security Law Takes Effect

Rob Sterling

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U.S. tech companies consider pulling out of Hong Kong as they fear the strict national security law passed by Beijing last week.

As the new security law takes effect in Hong Kong, tech companies fear the city may kick them out. China’s new law gave Hong Kong police the power to regulate its internet. The ruling could also expand the reach of China’s censorship arm. With this, tech companies face shutdowns in the city. Mainland China had banned them through its Great Firewall. However, Hong Kong’s political status gave these companies the freedom to operate. 

The Hong Kong National Security Law

With the new law, China gets broad powers to control Hong Kong. They can punish a wider variety of crimes. These crimes include “secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers.” Any post on social media guilty of these crimes gets severe punishment. Convicted persons could face life imprisonment.

The law also grants China the power to form a police officer in Hong Kong. It is called “Office for Safeguarding National Security.” To fill the office, China will appoint Hong Kong officials. Beijing will also choose an adviser to head the office. CNN reports that the office operates in secret. Aside from this, China can also form a national security committee for Hong Kong. The CNN report also says that the Hong Kong justice system cannot review any committee decision.

Activists have expressed worry that China is using the law to hunt down dissenters in Hong Kong. They accuse Chinese President Xi Jinping of targeting pro-democracy protesters and human rights activists.

The Hong Kong opposition also warned that the law signals the end of freedom in the city. Hong Kong enjoyed civil liberties and democracy under the “One Country, Two Systems” rule. With the law, activists say China is poised to end the system.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party said that the law is “vital” for national security. 

Leaving Hong Kong

Popular video-sharing app TikTok was first to announce it was leaving Hong Kong. A spokesperson confirmed this decision to CNN Business. This decision also comes as TikTok attempts to separate from China. With this move, TikTok joins other tech companies who have expressed concern over Hong Kong.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google have also acted. They said that they would stop sharing their user data with the Hong Kong police. While they review how Hong Kong enforces this law, they also consider exiting.

Under the new law, the Hong Kong police can order companies to take down content critical of China. They can also keep people from accessing their services. If they fail to follow, the police can put them in prison for six months. They can also exact a fine of around $13,000.

Attempts to Cross into Beijing

Companies have tried getting into the Chinese market before. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had made several trips to Beijing in recent years. Meanwhile, Google also offered to create a Chinese version of its search engine. However, widespread protests stopped Google from following through.

All signs point to the coming of censorship in Hong Kong. Now, tech companies have to make a choice.

Rob is Tekrati's senior editor. He is also a nationally syndicated columnist and author. Rob lives in NYC and covers the intersection of money, politics and finance.

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