The Guardian, UK: China’s proposal for imposing new national security laws on Hong Kong would bar subversion, separatism or acts of foreign interference against the central government and would allow the central government to set up “security organs” in the territory, it has emerged.
The Communist party’s efforts to impose a national security law have been widely interpreted as a move to fully take control over the territory, wracked by pro-democracy protests for the last year. Critics say it will effectively erase the “one country, two systems” framework that is meant to grant Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy.
According to a draft of the legislation, China’s parliament has set up a legal framework “prevent, stop and punish any act to split the country, subvert state power, organise and carry out terrorist activities and other behaviours that seriously endanger national security.”
The bill bars any “activities of foreign and external forces to interfere” in Hong Kong’s affairs. “When needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People’s Government will set up agencies in [Hong Kong] to fulfil relevant duties to safeguard national security”.
News of China’s plan has prompted broad international condemnation and raised the prospect of further unrest.
Successive Hong Kong governments have attempted to pass a national security law – the most recent was shelved after half a million people took to the streets in protest in 2003.
Wang Chen, vice-chairman of the standing committee of the national people’s congress, said on Friday at the opening of China’s annual parliament in Beijing that a draft decision on the proposal had been submitted to the legislature, according to state media.
“Law-based and forceful measures must be taken to prevent, stop and punish such activities,” the document said, according to the state news agency Xinhua. The legislation appeared to be aimed at compelling Hong Kong to pass national security laws as required under the territory’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, after the former British colony’s handover to Chinese control in 1997.
Article 23 says the territory must enact, “on its own”, national security laws to prohibit “treason, secession, sedition [and] subversion” against the Chinese government.
The document said, according to Xinhua: “More than 20 years after Hong Kong’s return, however, 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.
“Efforts must be made at the state level to establish and improve the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for [Hong Kong] to safeguard national security, to change the long-term ‘defenceless’ status in the field of national security.”
The latest protests against the Beijing-backed government began over another controversial law that would have allowed extradition to mainland China. As those protests approach their one-year anniversary, Chinese authorities appear more determined to put down the movement with unprecedented measures that experts say will irreparably damage the territory’s autonomy, as protected under the “one-country, two-systems” framework.
The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, said on Friday that his government would “establish sound legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security” in Hong Kong and see that the region “fulfils its constitutional responsibilities”.
Former legislator and veteran pro-democracy activist, Lee Cheuk-yan, told media the draft allowed Beijing to set up its own national security agency bureau in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy camp legislator Helena Wong said: “even the SAR government will not be able to regulate what the agents do in Hong Kong”.
But pro-Beijing legislators supported the move, citing a rise in “localism”, independence-motivated violence, and collusion with Taiwan independence groups and “anti-China forces”.
Denunciations of the decision continued to pour in on Friday as Chinese lawmakers were expected to reveal more details of the proposal. Taiwan’s mainland affairs council called on Beijing not to push Hong Kong into “bigger turmoil” and said authorities had wrongly blamed external influences and “Hong Kong separatists” for the demonstrations.
The US Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said any further crackdowns from Beijing would “only intensify the Senate’s interest in re-examining the US-China relationship”.
The US senators Marco Rubio and Cory Gardner, and the chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations, Jim Risch, said it would begin “an unprecedented assault against Hong Kong’s autonomy”.
“The Chinese government is once again breaking its promises to the people of Hong Kong and the international community … The United States will stand resolute in its support of the Hong Kong people,” they said. “These developments are of grave concern to the United States, and could lead to a significant reassessment on US policy towards Hong Kong.”
A bipartisan bill being introduced by US senators Chris Van Hollen and Pat Toomey would also sanction officials and entities that enforced any new national security laws, and penalise banks that did business with the entities, the Washington Post reported. That bill appears to expand on existing laws in the US, which require lawmakers to examine the level of autonomy from China Hong Kong holds, and adjust its special status with the US accordingly.
Virginie Battu-Henriksson, spokeswoman for the European Union on foreign affairs and security, said the EU was watching developments “very closely … We attach great importance to the ‘one country two systems’ principle.”
Chinese state media lauded the move by Beijing. State-run tabloid the Global Times called the decision “overdue” and intended to “prevent internal and external forces from using the region as a tool or creating situations that threaten national security”. Hong Kong “did not enjoy a single peaceful day” in 2019, it said. “It was like a city in an undeveloped country engulfed in turmoil.”
On Friday protesters in Hong Kong called for a march while pro-democracy activists vowed to continue demonstrating. Observers say the law could be used to target critics of the central government, especially protesters.
“This is potentially the end of constitutional autonomy and legal separation. It’s several magnitudes worse than the extradition bill,” said Jeppe Mulich, who teaches global history at the University of Cambridge, and focuses on Asia.
“Given how severe Chinese law is on issues like sedition and secession, and given the frequent use of ‘terrorism’ by Beijing when characterising the protests, I would guess it could get really, really bad.”