China plans to push through sweeping national security laws for Hong Kong at its annual meeting of parliament, a move that critics say will effectively end the territory’s autonomy.
Pro-democracy protests last year plunged the city into its deepest turmoil since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, making Beijing’s parliament push for the passing of the new security legislation.
“National security is the bedrock underpinning the stability of the country,” said Zhang Yesui, spokesman for the National People’s Congress (NPC), the annual meeting of parliament that kicks off its full session on Friday.
He added: “Hong Kong is an inseparable part of the People’s Republic of China. The National People’s Congress is the country’s highest organ of state power. Safeguarding national security serves the fundamental interest of all Chinese, and Hong Kong patriots included.”
Article 23 of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, says the city must enact national security laws to prohibit “treason, secession, sedition (and) subversion” against the Chinese government.
But the clause has never been implemented due to deeply held public fears it would curtail Hong Kong’s cherished rights, such as freedom of expression. An attempt to enact Article 23 in 2003 was shelved after half a million people took to the streets in protest.
Condemnation of the proposal was swift, amid fears it could erase the “one country, two systems” framework that is supposed to grant the territory a high degree of autonomy.
The legislation could be a turning point for China’s freest and most international city, potentially triggering a revision of its special status in Washington, and is likely to spark more unrest.
Social media posts urged people to gather to protest in Hong Kong on Thursday night, and dozens of people were seen shouting pro-democracy slogans in a shopping mall as riot police stood nearby.
Hong Kongers took to the streets sometimes in their millions last year to protest against a now withdrawn bill that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China. The movement broadened to include demands for greater democracy amid perceptions that Beijing was tightening its grip over the city.
“If Beijing passes the law … how [far]will civil society resist repressive laws? How much impact will it unleash on to Hong Kong as an international financial centre?” said Ming Sing, a political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
By preparing a law in China’s parliament, authorities could effectively bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and local opposition.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said on 6 May he was delaying a report assessing whether Hong Kong was sufficiently autonomous to warrant Washington’s special economic treatment, which has helped it remain a world financial centre. The delay was to account for any actions at the NPC, he said.
Tension between the two superpowers has heightened in recent weeks as they have exchanged accusations on the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, souring an already worsening relationship over trade. (Source: The Guardian)