March China Seminar

March 10, 2022 | 12:00 p.m. HST

Can Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law Survive?

Carole J. Petersen
Professor, William S. Richardson School of Law
University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

The National Security Law (NSL) of 2020 has fundamentally changed Hong Kong’s system of criminal justice.  Hundreds of residents have been arrested under the NSL, primarily for non-violent speech acts or for political activities that were perfectly legal in Hong Kong prior to the enactment of the NSL. Arrestees commonly sit in jail for more than a year before trial, because the NSL reversed Hong Kong’s presumption in favor of bail for “security related” offenses.  Hong Kong’s treasured civil liberties thus hang by a thread.  The city still enjoys greater religious freedom, access to the internet, and freedom of expression than Mainland China.  But those remaining freedoms exist only because Beijing has chosen to tolerate them, perhaps hoping that the local government can still market Hong Kong as a viable city for international business.  In theory, Hong Kong’s common law legal system will continue to protect you and your business – so long as you avoid criticizing the central government and have nothing to do with competitive politics.

Carole J. Petersen is a Professor in the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  She taught law in Hong Kong from 1989 to 2006 and continues to research “One Country, Two Systems” as a model of regional autonomy.  In 2020, she published “The Disappearing Firewall: The International Consequences of Beijing’s Decision to Impose a National Security Law and Operate National Security Institutions in Hong Kong” in Volume 50 of the Hong Kong Law Journal.  Professor Petersen holds a BA from the University of Chicago, a JD from Harvard Law School, and a Postgraduate Diploma in the Law of the People’s Republic of China from the University of Hong Kong.

The China Seminar was founded by Dr. Daniel W.Y. Kwok 45 years ago. Under his guidance, it became a signature program of the Friends of the East-West Center (FEWC) in 2009. The program provides an informal venue for China experts, such as scholars, diplomats, and journalists, to present talks on aspects of China that interest the community and members of the Friends. Topics include politics, economics, social issues, history, culture, food, arts, and many other subjects. Though Dr. Kwok has recently retired from his involvement with the program, the FEWC and the East-West Center remain committed to continuing this important program.