Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong has been seen by some as a fatal blow to the “one country, two systems” concept put in place when the city returned to China in 1997. There are fears the new law, which could be passed as early as next week, will undermine Hong Kong’s freedoms and high degree of autonomy. But one of China’s top officials handling Hong Kong affairs says the law will not only protect rights but provide a foundation for prolonging the concept beyond its guaranteed 50-year lifespan. As the city waits for details of the law, his comments are worthy of further debate. Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, gave the most comprehensive explanation yet of Beijing’s reasons for passing the law, which will target subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong affairs. Zhang, at a webinar open to Hong Kong people, said the move was intended to restore order and better protect people’s freedoms from “negative elements” such as those behind violent protests, calls for independence and collusion with foreign powers. The central government’s move followed months of civil unrest in the city. Until details of the draft law are revealed, it is not possible to assess what impact it will have. Fears will, understandably, remain that the law will curb rights. But Zhang sought to put the legislation in a broader historical context. He said late leader Deng Xiaoping realised Beijing would have to step in if there was chaos in Hong Kong. In a significant remark, Zhang described the city’s problem as political in nature, rather than economic. Officials have previously sought to blame livelihood issues for Hong Kong’s troubles rather than facing the reality that the problem is political. It certainly requires a political solution. But that solution has come from Beijing rather than Hong Kong and has taken an unexpected form. ‘Security law to extend, not erode Hong Kong freedoms beyond 2047’ Zhang’s suggestion that the new law might pave the way for one country, two systems to be extended beyond 2047 provides a glimmer of hope. We are almost halfway through the 50-year period during which the principle is guaranteed. The question of what will happen in 2047 must be urgently considered, otherwise it will cause further uncertainty. It is to be hoped that the security law will ease Beijing’s long-held concerns about Hong Kong becoming a base for opponents at home and overseas to subvert its rule. If there is, as promised, more room for one country, two systems to develop, maybe even democratic reform will be back on the agenda. Zhang said the fundamental question is, “What kind of a Hong Kong do we want to build?” He is right. The long-term future of one country, two systems will require a stable and prosperous Hong Kong, but one with its freedoms and way of life intact.