The Chinese parliament passed Hong Kong national security legislation on Tuesday, paving the way for the most dramatic changes in the former British colony’s way of life since its return to Chinese rule 23 years ago.
Details of the law – which comes in response to last year’s violent pro-democracy protests in the city last year aimed at tackling sabotage, terrorism, separatism and collusion with foreign forces – are due to be issued later on Tuesday.
Amid fears that the legislation would crush the freedoms of the global financial center and stipulate that the most severe punishment would be life imprisonment, Demosisto, a pro-democracy activist, Joshua Wong, said it would be dissolved.
“It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world had known before,” Wong said on Twitter. The legislation pushes Beijing even further on a collision course with the United States, Britain and other Western governments, which it says erode the high degree of autonomy that the city granted in its extradition on July 1, 1997.
The United States, already in conflict with China over trade, the South China Sea and the new coronavirus, began to eradicate Hong Kong’s special status under US law on Monday, stopping defense exports and restricting access to technology.
China said it would respond.
Hong Kong leader Carey Lam, via a video link to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, urged the international community to “respect our country’s right to protect national security”.
She said the law, which is expected to enter into force soon, would not undermine the independence of the city or an independent judiciary. The authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said that the legislation targets some “troublemakers” and will not affect rights and freedoms or the interests of investors.
The editor of Global Times, a popular newspaper published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party of China, said on Twitter that the most severe punishment under the law is life imprisonment, without giving details. Henry Tang, Hong Kong delegate to the top advisory body in China, said after a meeting at the main representative office in Beijing that details of the law would be released later on Tuesday.
The legislation may be subject to early test with pro-democracy activists and politicians, saying they will defy the police ban, amid restrictions on coronaviruses, at a rally marking the July 1 handover. At last year’s demonstration, which came amid a series of pro-democracy protests, the crowd stormed and sabotaged the city’s legislature.
“We will never accept the passage of the law, although it is firmly defeated,” said Democratic Party Chairman Wu Zhai. It is unclear whether attending the unauthorized march would constitute a crime related to national security if the law entered into force by that time.
A Reuters poll this month showed that a majority in Hong Kong opposes legislation, but support for the protests has fallen to just a tiny majority. The police dispersed a handful of activists protesting the law in a shopping center. Dozens of Beijing supporters blew up the solar cork and waved Chinese flags at a ceremony in front of the government headquarters. “I’m very happy,” said an old man, who called me.
“This would make the anti-China spies and the people who brought chaos to Hong Kong have nowhere to go.” This month, the official Xinhua News Agency revealed some provisions of the law, including that it will replace the existing Hong Kong legislation and that the interpretation powers belong to the Supreme Committee of the Chinese parliament.
Beijing is expected to set up a national security office in Hong Kong for the first time, and it can also exercise jurisdiction in some cases. Judges in security cases are expected to be appointed by the city’s chief executive. Senior judges now allocate lists through the independent judicial system in Hong Kong.
It is not known what specific activities should be unlawful, and how they are determined precisely or the penalty they incur. Britain, the European Union, Japan, Taiwan and other countries have criticized the legislation. China responded to the outrage, denouncing “interference” in its internal affairs.