The Chinese government is preparing to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong, in a show of legal force capable of reviving the pro-democracy movement in the territory and exacerbating tensions between Beijing and Washington.
Two people shared these plans, according to which the Chinese Parliament intended to draft the legislation and integrate it directly into the Hong Kong mini-constitution, or basic law, in a process that will bypass the Legislative Council of territory, or Legco.
The official agenda for the Chinese National People’s Congress, released to the public on Thursday, included a proposal to “improve” national security protections in Hong Kong, but did not provide details on the planned changes.
AFN spokesman Zhang Yesui said at a media briefing that “in light of the new circumstances” in Hong Kong, improvements to its national security framework were “highly needed”.
Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor of political science at the Baptist University of Hong Kong, said that Beijing’s decision to impose national security legislation in Hong Kong “would add fuel to the fire and restart the movement of protest ”.
Tanya Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker in Hong Kong, said: “This is the saddest day in the history of Hong Kong. This confirms a country, a system is so clear that it is a huge setback. “
Pro-Beijing lawmakers dominate Legco. But Carrie Lam, the general manager of Hong Kong, still did not pass a contentious extradition bill last June in the face of public outcry. The bill would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be tried in China for certain crimes.
” Who passed [national security legislation] at Legco is not an option now, “said a member of the Hong Kong pro-Beijing establishment, who asked not to be named. “Waiting more is not an option either. “
Although Ms. Lam later withdrew the extradition bill, pro-democracy protests rocked the territory for the rest of the year, not ending until the coronavirus ended the rallies public in February.
As the epidemic recedes in Hong Kong, protesters meet regularly in smaller numbers to sing hymns of protest in the malls of the territory. Ms. Lam’s administration also announced plans to introduce a new law later this month that will impose criminal sanctions on those who mock the Chinese national anthem.
Chinese officials are also concerned that the pro-Beijing camp in Hong Kong will lose its majority in the next round of Legco elections in September. Pro-democracy candidates swept lower-level district council elections in November, in what was interpreted as a referendum on Ms. Lam’s handling of the crisis and Beijing’s increasingly brutal approach to the with regard to the territory.
The AFN meets Friday for its annual session, which has been delayed by almost three months due to the pandemic. Discussions at the CNP were to focus on efforts to revive the Chinese economy, which experienced a historic contraction of almost 7% in the first quarter.
But attention will now shift to Hong Kong, which is also a growing source of friction between Beijing and Washington.
Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland and Republican Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, introduced a bill in the United States Senate on Thursday that would punish Chinese Communist Party officials who apply new national security laws in Hong Kong and penalize banks that do business with any law enforcement entity.
“Last year, millions of people in Hong Kong took to the streets to demand democratic freedoms,” said Mr. Van Hollen, who urged the Senate to pass the bill immediately. “Despite China’s brutal crackdown and repeated attempts to erode Hong Kong’s political freedoms, these protests have persisted.”
Republican senator Ted Cruz of Texas condemned what he called China’s attempt to “end what remains of Hong Kong’s autonomy.”
President Donald Trump has said that if Beijing passes the law, the United States “will tackle this problem very strongly.”
Chinese officials have accused “foreign forces”, allegedly led by the United States, of instigating unrest in Hong Kong last year. The US government responded by passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which requires the Secretary of State to decide whether the autonomy promised by Hong Kong on all matters except foreign and defense, is being eroded by Beijing.
If Mike Pompeo determines that the Hong Kong “one country, two systems” agreement is being eroded, Trump can revoke certain economic and trade privileges that Hong Kong enjoys with the United States that are not extensive to China as a whole.
Pursuant to Article 23 of the Basic Law, the Hong Kong government and legislature were required to enact and pass national security legislation to replace the colonial laws that expired when the former British colony returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
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Hong Kong’s first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, attempted to pass a national security law in 2003, but withdrew it after launching a mass demonstration. Mr. Tung’s administration never recovered from this failure and he resigned two years later in the middle of his second term.
His three successors have never attempted to reintroduce national security laws, despite increasingly strident warnings from Chinese authorities that Hong Kong was required to do so under the Basic Law.
Earlier this week, Ms. Lam told Chinese state media that she was disappointed that Hong Kong had not adopted section 23 legislation alone.
Aime Williams’ additional story in Washington