China’s new national security law looms over Hong Kong

Chinese lawmakers who met on Sunday could pass a national security law as early as this week, dramatically curbing political protest and dissent in Hong Kong and increasing China’s tensions with Western powers.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, an arm of the legislature led by the Communist Party of China, discussed the bill this month, and a member of the Hong Kong committee said it could vote on the legislation at the end of its latest three-day session. starting Sunday, “if conditions are ripe”. But Hong Kong residents are still waiting to see the full text of the law.

Leaders of the Chinese Communist Party have been concerned about opposition to their rule in Hong Kong, a British colony until 1997. The Basic Law, which enshrines Hong Kong’s special legal status, says the semi-autonomous territory should enact laws that prohibit “any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion”.

The security law could deter discourse, protests and media critical of the Chinese government, threatening the territory’s independent press and the democratic opposition.

Many Hong Kong residents are proudly protective of their rights under the separate legal system of the territory and have opposed attempts to pass such legislation. An earlier push by Hong Kong leaders to enact a national security law failed in 2003 after nearly 500,000 people joined a street protest against him.

China’s top leader Xi Jinping has been eager to impose control over Hong Kong. After the territory erupted in months of protests last year over a proposed extradition law, a Communist Party meeting in October called for measures to “safeguard national security” in Hong Kong.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress generally meets approximately every two months. This time, the committee meets just over a week after first discussing security legislation at its last session, suggesting that Mr. Xi wants the law passed, or at least at the cusp of approval, before July 1, 23 anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty.

Legal experts were unsure how Xi could introduce a national security law into Hong Kong without going through the city’s Legislative Council, a body packed with pro-Beijing members who, however, have hesitated to take such a controversial step .

But Mr. Xi made a bold move to break the impasse in May, when a full session of the National People’s Congress passed almost unanimously a resolution empowering the Standing Committee of Congress to incorporate state security legislation into the Basic Law. .

The central government’s decision to impose a law effectively evades the Hong Kong legislature. Even Hong Kong politicians who have endorsed the law, including the territory’s top official, Carrie Lam, have said that Beijing has not shown them the full text, which will bring Hong Kong new crimes such as inciting separatism and “colluding with foreign powers. ” “

The law will also establish a new security agency in the territory to enforce security restrictions, and Beijing will create its own separate security arm in Hong Kong, empowered to investigate special cases and gather information, according to a summary issued by the legislature of China.

The legislation also gives the head of the territory, who must answer to Beijing, the power to decide which judges are empowered to hear trials by state security officials, limiting the autonomy of the city’s judiciary.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s local leader, has tried to reassure the public that her “legitimate rights and freedoms” will be safeguarded. She and other politicians who support the law have also said it will only target a small minority of lawbreakers.

Democracy activists have denounced the proposed law, and the Hong Kong Bar Association has called it unconstitutional.

The Hong Kong police force has denied requests from three groups: the League of Social Democrats, the Civil Human Rights Front, and pro-democracy district officials, to hold anti-law marches on July 1, the politically sensitive anniversary of Hong Kong’s delivery to China rule, citing the risks of the coronavirus and the dangers of violence. If the police decision survives the appeal, it would be the first time since 2003 that a march was banned on July 1, said the Civil Front for Human Rights. Some protesters may ignore the order and march.

A survey conducted by the Hong Kong Institute of Public Opinion Research in mid-June found that 49 percent of respondents “oppose” security legislation, while another 7 percent “oppose” it, Reuters reported. But the poll also indicated that public support for street protests had softened: Support for the protests fell to 51 percent, compared to 58 percent in a poll conducted in March.

As China moved forward with its plans to enforce security laws in Hong Kong, foreign governments criticized the decision. Foreign ministers from the Group of 7 major industrialized democracies called on China this month to abandon the law, saying it would undermine the territory’s autonomy.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday that the United States would impose visa restrictions on Chinese officials, including retirees “who are believed to be responsible or complicit in undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.” He did not name any officials or say how many could be excluded.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to allow nearly three million Hong Kong people to live and work in the country. However, Johnson left unanswered questions about how those admitted could obtain British citizenship.

Taiwan said this month that it would expand efforts to provide shelter for protesters and others who wish to leave Hong Kong. The government said it could, in certain cases, provide work and study visas, as well as assistance in securing housing and jobs.

Elaine Yu contributed reporting from Hong Kong.