‘This is the end of Hong Kong’: China pushes security law after unrest

China’s parliament said it will introduce a proposal Friday for a national security law in Hong Kong at its annual session, in a move the US warned would “highly destabilising” for the financial hub.

  • The announcement late Thursday was quickly decried by pro-democracy lawmakers and activists as “the end of Hong Kong”, with fears it will stoke unrest and tighten Beijing’s grip on the semi-autonomous city.
  • China has made clear it wants new security legislation passed after Hong Kong was rocked by seven months of massive and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests last year.
  • The proposal, planned for the first day of the National People’s Congress, would strengthen “enforcement mechanisms” in the financial hub, the parliament’s spokesman Zhang Yesui said.
  • China’s parliament considers it “necessary to improve and uphold the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy,” Zhang said, referring to the arrangement that has underpinned the city’s liberties and free market economy.
  • Article 23 of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, says the city must enact such 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 civil rights.
  • The city enjoys freedoms unseen on the Chinese mainland which are protected by an agreement made before former colonial power Britain handed the territory back to Beijing in 1997.
  • An attempt to enact Article 23 in 2003 was shelved after half a million people took to the streets in protest.
  • The controversial bill has been put back on the table in recent years in response to the rise of the Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
  • Zhang did not provide more details about the proposed law.
  • But if it is introduced to the NPC it is likely to be approved, as the body rubber-stamps decisions already made by Communist Party policymakers.
  • US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus warned that imposing such a law on Hong Kong would be “highly destabilizing, and would be met with strong condemnation from the United States and the international community”.
  • President Donald Trump earlier Thursday also promised a response when told of the move on Hong Kong.
  • “I don’t know what it is, because nobody knows yet. If it happens, we’ll address that issue very strongly,” Trump said.
  • – ‘Zero respect’ –
  • Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing political party DAB was quick to voice its support for the “responsible move”.
  • But pro-democracy lawmakers were furious.
  • “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”.
  • “#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.
  • The US Congress late last year angered China by passing a law that would strip Hong Kong’s preferential trading status if it is no longer considered autonomous from the mainland.
  • The State Department warned Thursday that China’s actions could impact its decision on that status.
  • US senators on Thursday also introduced legislation to impose sanctions on any entity involved in curbing Hong Kong’s autonomy.
  • That could include police cracking down on demonstrators and Chinese officials involved in Hong Kong policy — as well as banks that conduct transactions with anyone involved in curbing the territory’s freedoms.
  • Senator Pat Toomey, who spearheaded the legislation, described Hong Kong as “the canary in the coal mine for Asia”.
  • “Beijing’s growing interference could have a chilling effect on other nations struggling for freedom in China’s shadow,” he said.
  • Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS)