Wednesday Briefing: Hong Kong’s sweeping new security laws

Also, Japan’s interest rate hike and M.L.B.’s season opener.
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Morning Briefing: Asia Pacific Edition

March 20, 2024

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By Amelia Nierenberg

Writer, Briefings

Good morning. We’re covering Hong Kong’s new security laws and Japan’s first interest rate hike in 17 years.

Plus the M.L.B. season opens in South Korea.

Lawmakers sitting in rows inside Hong Kong’s legislature vote by raising their hands.
The new legislation was passed with extraordinary speed. Peter Parks/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Sweeping security laws deal another blow to Hong Kong

Hong Kong passed national security laws at the behest of Beijing. The legislation, known as the Article 23 laws, will thwart decades of public resistance. Critics said the move would strike a lasting blow to the partial autonomy that China had promised the city.

The first attempts to pass such legislation, in 2003, set off mass protests. Top officials resigned, and city leaders were reluctant to raise the matter again in subsequent years for fear of public backlash. An earlier national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 has effectively stifled street protests. This time, the streets of Hong Kong were quiet.

I spoke with Tiffany May, who covers Hong Kong for The Times.

Amelia: How will these laws affect Hong Kong?

Tiffany: Whether it makes things better or worse depends on whom you ask.

Hong Kong has been an Asian financial center for decades because it was seen as a gateway to business opportunities in the mainland with an independent judiciary as its backbone. It also enjoyed freedoms unimaginable in the rest of the country.

But in recent years, the city has more closely followed China’s hard-line approach. The new national security bill, known as Article 23 legislation, targets ambiguous offenses such as “external interference” and “theft of state secrets.”

Critics say that this could chill all criticism of China and pose new risks for international business operations, eroding the very freedoms that had made the city an international business hub.

How is this law different than the national security law that was passed in 2020?

The new security laws widen the scope of offenses that endanger national security. They also introduce important changes to due process. In some instances, the police may now seek permission from magistrates to prevent suspects from consulting with the lawyers of their choice, if that is deemed a threat to national security.

Analysts said that this could have a chilling effect on entrepreneurs, civil servants, lawyers, diplomats, journalists and academics. The punishment for political crimes such as treason and insurrection include life imprisonment.

Why was it hustled through the government?

China is at a place where it feels constantly attacked by the West.

The country’s top leader, Xi Jinping, sees national security legislation as necessary to protect China against what he considers unfair trade practices, the infiltration of spies and other types of security threats. This year, Beijing emphasized that it would prioritize both economic growth and security, and in February updated a state secrets law.

Analysts say that he is taking a similar approach with Hong Kong. Chinese officials have urged Hong Kong’s leaders to pass the city’s own security laws as quickly as possible. Hong Kong’s top leader, John Lee, said that passing the law quickly would allow the government to focus on reviving the economy.

A trader sitting in front of monitors showing exchange rates.
Annual inflation in Japan has been at or above the Bank of Japan’s target rate of 2 percent for nearly two years. Issei Kato/Reuters

Japan raised rates after years of below-zero borrowing

Japan’s central bank raised interest rates for the first time in 17 years. The move comes amid an inflation bump and rising wages, which suggest that Japan’s economy can grow without such aggressive stimulus.

It brought borrowing costs below zero in 2016, an unorthodox attempt to kick-start borrowing and lending. This slight increase brings rates to a range of zero to 0.1 percent, but it could have a dramatic symbolic effect, my colleague Joe Rennison, who reports on financial markets, said.

“I think this is sending a signal that prices aren’t coming back down any time soon,” Joe said. He noted that wage increases showed a shift in mentality. People don’t think they can wait out inflation anymore, so they ask for more money.

Global context: The rate is lower than those set by central banks in the U.S. and the E.U. Japan’s central bank is the last major institution to exit its negative-rate policy, set after the 2008 financial crisis.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed this newsletter, which is made possible through subscriber support. Subscribe to The New York Times.

ARTS AND IDEAS

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Shohei Ohtani, top left, fans and cheerleaders will be in Seoul for the start of the M.L.B. season.  Jun Michael Park for The New York Times

M.L.B. opens in Seoul

Major League Baseball’s season begins today. It should be a good game: The Los Angeles Dodgers are playing the San Diego Padres. But the setting is the most interesting part.

The game will be played at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, where South Korea’s raucous fan culture is punctuated by fight songs, drummers and dancers. The star will undoubtedly be Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese Dodger who many Koreans have embraced despite the intense rivalry between the two countries.

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That’s it for today. See you tomorrow. — Amelia

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed to this briefing.

Email us at briefing@nytimes.com.

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