China’s National People’s Congress approved a controversial national security bill that, once enacted, will allow Beijing to exert its power more overtly in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.
With thunderous applause, delegates in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People almost unanimously approved a draft decision that paves the way for sweeping anti-sedition laws to be directly enacted in Hong Kong.
The new law, and another proposed bill that would outlaw disrespect for China’s national anthem in Hong Kong, have fueled concerns about the future of the city as an international financial hub.
The legislation, aimed at stamping out protests that have racked the city for the past year, would ban “any acts or activities” that endanger China’s national security, including separatism, subversion and terrorism – charges often used in mainland China to silence dissidents and other political opponents.
The legislation would also allow “national security agencies” – potentially Chinese security forces – to operate in the city.
The decision had been widely expected to pass through parliament, which meets once a year to pass already approved measures. Detailed legislation will now be drafted and could be enacted within the next few months.
The move has been condemned and prompted anxiety inside and outside Hong Kong, where residents have chafed under China’s tightening hold for years.
“It is definitely the start of a new but sad chapter for Hong Kong,” said the pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo. “Hong Kong as we knew it is finally dead.”
Observers said the legislation was likely to aggravate unrest in the city, where pro-democracy protests have restarted after a pause during the coronavirus outbreak. On Thursday, riot police were deployed after at least 360 people were arrested the day before in demonstrations against Beijing’s plans.
On LIHKG, a forum popular with protesters, users called for a “hundred-day war” to take advantage of their last opportunity to protest before the laws come into force. “Say no to China,” one posted.
“As a Hong Konger there is not much we can do except to show the world we are still fighting for our rights and freedom,” said Serene Chow, 22, who has been part of the demonstrations since last year.
Chinese and Hong Kong officials have promised the laws will target only a “narrow set of acts” and say the vast majority of Hong Kong residents will not be affected.
But critics say the laws will be used not only against protesters, but to undermine permanently the city’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework and the city’s de facto constitution, known as the basic law.
An attempt by the Hong Kong government to pass similar legislation in 2003 was abandoned after mass protests. This time, the laws will be enacted through a provision that bypasses Hong Kong’s legislature and therefore public debate and consultation. Legal experts have described the process as unconstitutional but say little can be done.
“The Chinese communist party is … imposing a draconian law which can be used to silence dissent in Hong Kong and infringe on freedoms” said Frances Eve, deputy director of research at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a coalition of human rights NGOs.
The legislation, which bans all “activities of foreign forces” interfering in Hong Kong affairs, has added to diplomatic tensions for Beijing, which is already facing international scrutiny over the coronavirus pandemic.
Hong Kong residents predicted an increase in emigration as the laws move ahead. Wealthy residents have reportedly begun moving their funds elsewhere, afraid the new legislation will allow Chinese authorities to seize their wealth.
Others said the latest measure was part of Beijing’s tightening grip over the city, despite the basic law proscribing Chinese interference in Hong Kong.
“Beijing has been eroding that in recent years,” said Wilson Leung, 37, a barrister in the city. “But now this appears to be the killer blow. It is going to be very dark days ahead for the citizens of this once-great city.” (Source: The Guardian)