US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that the legislation was in fact a “knockout” for Hong Kong’s status as an autonomous city. He urged China to “reconsider its disastrous proposal [and] respect its international obligations ”.
The law prohibits subversion, separatism, “acts of foreign interference” and terrorism, all of which have been used in mainland China to mute political opponents. The draft is presented to the Chinese Parliament next week and will certainly be adopted without change or real opposition.
A draft released on Friday would allow “national security organs of the central people’s government” to set up outposts in Hong Kong, which has its own police force. These security organs “would protect national security,” the document said.
Last month, Hong Kong authorities arrested 15 of the city’s most prominent pro-democracy figures for illegal gathering; the new legislation could make these activists even more vulnerable.
The specter of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 weighed on the last year of unrest in Hong Kong. Particularly as violence escalates, protesters are increasingly concerned that police or military will be sent from the mainland to clean the streets – fears that are likely to escalate, analysts said.
” [The draft] specifically includes a provision for the deployment of continental security forces to Hong Kong if necessary, which suggests that they have already thought about it and are ready to put it into effect, “said Professor Steve Tsang, Director of the SOAS China Institute in London.
“So they expect the protests to come and they are ready to go and crush them. And unfortunately I think they will overwrite them. “
Hong Kong general manager Carrie Lam explicitly linked the provisions of the new law to the “unrest” of the protest movement.
She said in a statement that the offenses covered by the legislation were “exactly the situations that the political and commercial sectors of Hong Kong and members of the public have been concerned about in the past year.”
“The emergence of various incidents involving explosives and firearms has posed a risk of terrorism, seriously endangering public safety,” the statement said, adding a frequently asserted and unsubstantiated accusation that the protesters were manipulated by strangers.
For years, Beijing has wiped out the autonomy that Hong Kong was guaranteed for 50 years when the British colonial administration returned the city to Chinese rule in 1997. But it also experienced setbacks, mass demonstrations forcing authorities to abandon national security. in 2003 and most recently the extradition law that sparked protests last year.
By passing laws for the city of Beijing and allowing the Chinese security forces to be stationed there, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is even sweeping away a pretext for autonomy. Helena Wong. a pro-democracy lawmaker said, “Even the [Hong Kong] government will not be able to regulate what the [Chinese security] agents do in Hong Kong. “
The news of the law stunned pro-democracy activists and legislators in Hong Kong, and there was a wave of fear, heartache and anger in the city. Legislators on Friday afternoon protested the decision of the Legislative Assembly and were forcibly dismissed. Street demonstrations will follow, with the first mass rally scheduled for Sunday.
Downloads of VPN software that allows users to bypass Chinese censorship and browse anonymously increased overnight after the law was announced.
There is no hope that the legislation can be changed or delayed by people moving through the streets of Hong Kong, but in the past year, many protesters have said they have gone out on the streets by desperation rather than real hope for change.
Even if the authorities have more tools to stop the protests and an even clearer message of intent to break the movement, bullying alone is unlikely to keep the Hungarians on the streets. Some hope to gain international support, which they see as the only slim hope of pushing Beijing away.
Pompeo’s statement against China’s “disastrous” move is part of a chorus of international condemnation. In a joint statement with the Australian and Canadian foreign ministers, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he was “deeply concerned” about the proposed new law, and stressed that the “legally binding” agreement of 1984 – which promised Hong Kong 50 years of autonomy – remained in force.
“Adopting such a law on behalf of Hong Kong without the direct participation of its people, the legislature or the judiciary would clearly undermine the principle of” one country, two systems “, under which Hong Kong enjoys great autonomy ”, indicates the press release. .
A bipartisan bill introduced by US Senators Chris Van Hollen and Pat Toomey would impose sanctions on public servants and entities that enforce any new national security laws, the Washington Post reported.
China’s foreign ministry said it would fight back against any US attempt to influence the law.
It is not known how many western countries will have the appetite to apply costly sanctions or other penalties at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is causing massive economic tension.
Lam insisted that Hong Kong was and “will remain a very free society”. She dispelled concerns about the economic impact of China’s decision.
Hong Kong has functioned as a regional hub for many international companies wishing to do business in China but also want the protection of an independent judiciary. It has also given Chinese companies access to international investment and the global financial system.
With the legal firewalls that effectively isolated the city, its economic future is at stake. The stock market plunged on Friday and there was already information that people were looking to sell their assets or move them abroad.
But Beijing has apparently decided that it can bear the economic blow of bringing Hong Kong back under control. “From Xi Jinping’s point of view, the worst-case scenario is apparently not that bad,” said Tsang, Professor SOAS. “Hong Kong accounts for about 3% of the Chinese economy. Covid-19 cost more than 3% of the growth and did not bring the economy down. “