China’s parliament approved plans Thursday to impose a security law on Hong Kong that critics say will eradicate the city’s promised freedoms.
The vote by the rubber-stamp National People’s Congress came hours after the United States revoked the special status conferred on Hong Kong, paving the way for the territory to be stripped of trading and economic privileges.
What does the New security law in Hong Kong entail?
The law will “guard against, stop and punish any separatism, subversion of the national regime, terrorist group activities and such behaviours that seriously harm national security”.
It would authorise Chinese lawmakers to directly enact long-delayed Hong Kong security legislation itself at a future date, rather than leaving it up to the territory’s administration.
China made clear it wanted the legislation passed after Hong Kong was rocked by seven months of massive and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests last year.
An initial bid to enact such legislation in 2003 was shelved after half a million people took to the streets in protest.
Wang Chen, deputy chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, told delegates Beijing must “take powerful measures to lawfully prevent, stop and punish” anti-China forces in Hong Kong.
The new law would punish secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and acts that endanger national security, as well as allow mainland security agencies to operate openly in Hong Kong.
On Thursday, the final day of the congress, delegates endorsed plans for the law, with a higher body now tasked with formulating the specific legislation.
NPC Standing Committee Vice Chairman Wang Chen said last week that Hong Kong’s delays in implementing its own security law had forced the Chinese leadership to take action.
“More than 20 years after Hong Kong’s return (to China) relevant laws are yet to materialise due to the sabotage and obstruction by those trying to sow trouble in Hong Kong and China at large, as well as external hostile forces,” Wang said.
US moves to cut ties with Hong Kong amid new law
Under a law passed last year by Congress aimed at supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, the US administration must certify that Hong Kong still enjoys the freedoms promised by Beijing when it negotiated with Britain to take back the colony.
Washington’s decision on Wednesday that Hong Kong does not enjoy those freedoms means it could lose trading privileges — including lower tariffs than the mainland — with the world’s largest economy.
President Donald Trump will ultimately decide which actions to take, said David Stilwell, the top State Department official for East Asia.
“The steps will be considered and they will be as targeted as possible to change behaviour,” Stilwell told reporters, while acknowledging it was unlikely Beijing would change course.
He said the United States did not want to hurt the people of Hong Kong, adding: “This decision was made by the government in Beijing, and not by the US.”
China not honouring prior agreements with Britain: Pompeo
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the status had been withdrawn because China was no longer honouring its handover agreement with Britain to allow Hong Kong a high level of autonomy.
“No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” Pompeo said.
China made the security law a top priority at its annual National People’s Congress (NPC) session, after huge pro-democracy protests rocked the financial hub for seven months last year.
Disrespecting Chinese National Anthem to land one in jail
Washington’s move came after fresh protests broke out in Hong Kong on Wednesday — this time over another controversial proposed law that criminalises insults to the national anthem with up to three years in jail.
Police surrounded the city’s legislature where the bill was being debated, fired pepper ball rounds at protesters and arrested more than 300 people, mostly for unlawful assembly.
“It’s like a de facto curfew now,” Nathan Law, a prominent pro-democracy advocate, told AFP. “I think the government has to understand why people are really angry.”
Under the “one country, two systems” model agreed before the city’s return from Britain to China, Hong Kong is supposed to be guaranteed certain liberties until 2047 that are denied to those on the mainland.
The mini-constitution that has governed Hong Kong’s affairs since the handover obliges the territory’s authorities to enact national security laws.
But an effort to do so in 2003 was shelved after huge protests by Hong Kongers.
China is motivated by fear of a younger Hong Kong generation that “does not agree with the political system of the Communist Party,” said Hua Po, an independent political commentator based in Beijing.
“If they lose control over Hong Kong, the impact on the Chinese mainland will be huge,” Hua said.
Beijing has been infuriated by Hong Kongers — especially football fans — booing the national anthem to signal dissatisfaction with China.
New security law in Hong Kong: Is it the ‘end’?
“This is the end of Hong Kong, this is the end of One Country, Two Systems, make no mistake about it,” Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok told reporters.
Lawmaker Tanya Chan said Beijing had “shown zero respect for Hong Kong people” by attempting to enact the law without consultation.
“Many Hong Kongers must be as angry as us now, but we must remember not to give up,” she added.
Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s final British governor before the 1997 handover, said the proposal signalled a “comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy” and would be “hugely damaging”.
Hong Kong has its own lawmaking body, the Legislative Council, or Legco. But at least two Hong Kong deputies to the NPC have said they would propose the idea of introducing the law without going through city’s legislature, using a mechanism provided for under the Basic Law.
“It indicates two possible things,” said Adam Ni, director of the Canberra-based China Policy Centre.
“First, Beijing does not believe that security law can make it through HK’s Legco, at least not without a major political storm, and second, protests and dissent has made the legislation of this law more urgent.”
Maya Wang, senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch, also described the “alarming” move as “the end of Hong Kong”.
The end of #HongKong is alarming not only for its people but also for the world. Today's Hong Kong, tomorrow's the world: #HongKong has been the safe habour for dissent; it's the light, the conscience, the voice that speaks truth to an increasingly powerful China.— Maya Wang 王松莲 (@wang_maya) May 21, 2020
“#HongKong has been the safe harbour for dissent; it’s the light, the conscience, the voice that speaks truth to an increasingly powerful China,” she tweeted.
“It’s the end of Hong Kong. We know that they are cutting off our souls, taking away the values which we’ve always embraced, values like human rights, democracy, rule of law,” pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo told AFP.
“From now on Hong Kong just becomes another Chinese city. It’s demoralising.”
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk