China’s parliament has reportedly passed the national security legislation for Hong Kong on Tuesday, June 30, setting the stage for the most radical change to the former British colony’s way of life since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Critics fear the measure, which criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forceswill crush political freedoms and pave the way for China to cement its control over the semi-autonomous territory.
Less than 40 days after Chinese lawmakers first proposed imposing an anti-sedition law on Hong Kong, the standing committee of the National People’s Congress, on Tuesday approved the measure.
Several Hong Kong media organisations, citing unnamed sources, reported the law was passed unanimously by the committee on the last day of a special session to fast-track the legislation held by China’s top legislative body whose main function is to rubber stamp already approved measures.
Officials have not released the full text of the law. At a regular press briefing on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, would not comment on reports it had passed.
“When the NPCSC [National People’s Congress standing committee] passes the law – I am not saying it will definitely pass this time,” she said, correcting herself and adding: “If the NPSC passes the law … we will do our best to respond to your questions, particularly on implementation.”
“It is not appropriate for me to comment on any questions related to the national security law,” she said.
The legislation, which has been condemned internationally, deals a devastating blow to Hong Kong’s autonomy as promised under the “one country, two systems” framework, the terms of the former British colony’s handover to Chinese control in 1997.
Authorities have been clear that the legislation is aimed at stopping those protests, which have created new diplomatic tensions and added to an increasingly hostile international environment for Beijing.
The UK has pledged to change immigration rules if the law goes through to offer Hong Kong residents eligible for a British National Overseas passport a “route to citizenship”. Taiwan has also promised to help those fleeing gain residency in Taiwan.
The US said on Monday it would stop exporting sensitive military items to Hong Kong, as it moved to revoke the city’s special trade status as separate from China. The US has also said it would limit visas for current and former Chinese officials believed “responsible for, or complicit in, undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy”.
Lam said on Tuesday: “Any sanctions will not intimidate us. Our country will have counter measures.”
The law’s reported passage comes in time for an annual protest on Wednesday, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to Beijing’s control. Police have banned the march, which has taken place every year since 1997, citing COVID-19 concerns. Activists have said they would still demonstrate.
According to the South China Morning Post, state news agency Xinhua will publish the details of the law later on Tuesday and local officials will be briefed at a meeting at the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong.
Beijing has previously defended the measure by calling other countries hypocritical when criticising China for moving to defend its own national security.
Officials have promised the law will target only a “narrow set” of behaviours but rights advocates and observers believe it will be used broadly to stifle dissent.
Prominent activists believe they are likely to be arrested within days after the law’s enactment. In the past year, police have arrested more than 9,000 protesters, including pro-democracy lawmakers and activists who have frequently lobbied to bring international attention to Hong Kong’s cause.
Still, experts believe the measure is likely to solidify resistance in Hong Kong over the long term, raising the possibility of yet more instability. (Source: The Guardian)