China’s national security law for Hong Kong covers everyone on Earth

Hong Kong’s sweeping new national security law, imposed yesterday by China and taking effect hours later, is ostensibly meant to restore “prosperity” and “stability” to a city rocked by months-long protests. It criminalizes a broad swathe of actions, and is written vaguely enough that any criticism of the Chinese Communist Party could plausibly be deemed in violation of the law.  

The new law is also expansive in another unprecedented way, even by the standards of China’s opaque legal system: it covers not just Hong Kong residents, but also anyone living abroad. That means foreign nationals, the Hong Kong diaspora, and Hong Kongers studying or working abroad.

The new law is “asserting extraterritorial jurisdiction over every person on the planet,” wrote Donald Clarke, a professor of law at George Washington University. Alarmingly, the law has an even broader reach than mainland Chinese criminal law, which only holds a foreigner liable for a crime committed outside of China if the effect of that crime occurs in China. Hong Kong’s nationals security law has no such limitation, Clarke explained. “If you’ve ever said anything that might offend the [Chinese] or Hong Kong authorities, stay out of Hong Kong.”

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