Hong Kong crisis: China presents security laws banning subversion and separatism

China reveals details of sweeping law it plans to impose on Hong Kong, overriding territory’s constitution and prompting threat of US retaliation

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, according to a draft decision.

The Communist party’s efforts to impose a national security law have been widely interpreted as a move to take full control over the territory, racked by pro-democracy protests for the last year. Critics say it will in effect erase the “one country, two systems” framework that is meant to grant Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy.

Lawmakers presented a decision paving the way for legislation that would “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 law would bar “activities of foreign and external forces” interfering 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,” the document said.

News of China’s plan has prompted broad international condemnation and raised the prospect of further unrest. Critics said the law could be used to target critics of the central government, especially protesters, and would allow Chinese state security to operate in Hong Kong.

The pro-democracy legislator Helena Wong said: “Even the SAR [special administrative region] government will not be able to regulate what the agents do in Hong Kong.” On Friday afternoon legislators protested against the decision in the Hong Kong legislature and were forcibly removed.

Successive Hong Kong governments have been unable to pass national security laws because of public concerns they would erode civil liberties such as freedom of speech. The most recent attempt 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 (NPC), 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.

Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, its mini constitution, says the territory must enact, “on its own”, national security laws to prohibit “treason, secession, sedition [and] subversion” against the Chinese government.

But according to the proposed decision, China’s parliament will ask the standing committee to draft a detailed law for insertion into Hong Kong’s constitution, under a provision allowing the implementation of national law in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.

Then it will be promulgated, or essentially decreed, in a move that analysts had earlier thought was unlikely because it would be so provocative.

“They are effectively writing the law for Hong Kong and telling Carrie Lam to declare it. It bypasses the legislative council. It bypasses debate. It bypasses opposition,” said Wilson Leung, a Hong Kong barrister who is part of the Progressive Lawyers Group.

On Friday Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, gave the government’s support for the legislation, which she said was “undoubtedly within the purview of the central authorities”.

Lam said violence associated with the protest movement had been escalating, as had the risk of terrorism, and the law targeted “exactly the situations which the political and business sectors in Hong Kong and members of the public have been worrying about over the past year”.

The laws “will not affect the legitimate rights and freedoms” of Hong Kong residents, or the independence of the judiciary, she said.

The pro-Beijing legislator Martin Liao said the central government had been “tolerant” of Hong Kong not enacting the laws itself.

“If [Hong Kong’s legislature] hasn’t done it in 23 years, why can’t [the NPC] do it?”

The decision also calls on Hong Kong to pass its own national security laws “at the state level” to fill in any gaps left by the version written by Beijing.

It is expected to be approved in China’s parliament next week.

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”.

Denunciations of the decision continued to pour in on Friday. 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 the US senators Chris Van Hollen and Pat Toomey would also impose sanctions on 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.

China’s foreign ministry warned it would “fight back” against any US attempt to oppress it.

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. The state-run tabloid the Global Times called the decision “overdue” and said it was intended to “prevent internal and external forces from using the region as a tool for 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.”


Lily Kuo in Beijing and Helen Davidson

The GuardianTramp

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