China moves closer to passing Hong Kong security law

by Laurie CHEN
China's rubber-stamp parliament approved the draft of a new security law for Hong Kong on May 28, 2020

China moved closer Thursday to passing a controversial national security law for Hong Kong that has raised international concerns it will end the financial hub's limited freedoms.

A draft was submitted to the country's top lawmaking body, the official Xinhua news agency said, and could be approved as soon as Saturday as the Communist Party seeks to end a pro-democracy movement that has rocked the semi-autonomous city.

China's rubber-stamp parliament endorsed the planned legislation last month, sending the draft to the Standing Committee of National People's Congress.

The fast-tracking of the bill -- which is bypassing Hong Kong's legislature -- has compounded fears in the semi-autonomous finance hub that mainland style political repression is on its way.

The Group of Seven foreign ministers on Wednesday urged China to reconsider the proposed law, saying they had "grave concerns" it threatens Hong Kong's rights and freedoms.

In response, senior Chinese foreign policy official Yang Jiechi said at a high-level meeting with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Hawaii that Beijing's "determination" to introduce the law was "unwavering", according to a statement.

"China resolutely opposes the words and deeds of the US side interfering in Hong Kong affairs and resolutely opposes the statement made by the G7 foreign ministers on Hong Kong-related issues," Yang said

Under a "One Country, Two Systems" agreement before Britain handed the territory back to China, Beijing agreed to let Hong Kong maintain certain liberties and autonomy until 2047 -- including legislative and judicial independence and freedom of speech.

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The business hub has been convulsed by a year of huge and often violent rallies that began with an eventually aborted criminal extradition bill but morphed into a popular call for democracy and police accountability.

Beijing says the new national security law is needed to end the political unrest and restore stability.

Xinhua said the draft law "clearly outlines" the four acts prohibited by the controversial law -- secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities and collusion with foreign and external forces to endanger national security -- as well as their criminal penalties.

The wording of the draft appears to have become stronger than the proposal revealed at last month's parliamentary meetings, criminalising "collusion with foreign and external forces" instead of "foreign and external interference in Hong Kong affairs".

Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok said the new law would "severely undercut" Hong Kong people's basic rights and freedoms, and wondered whether meeting foreign officials would count as colluding with foreign forces.

"At the end this national security law is not really about national security but really about silencing opposition. That's our worst fear and biggest fear," said Kwok.

"I am very worried that the scope of 'collusion' will be unlimited in the upcoming national security law, and even allow (for) cooking up charges," said Tanya Chan, another prominent pro-democracy lawmaker.

According to the draft proposal, the law will also allow mainland security organs to openly establish a presence in Hong Kong, but the scope of their enforcement powers is yet to be revealed.

The city's sole representative to Beijing's top lawmaking body, Tam Yiu-chung, said on Wednesday that the law could allow for extraditions to the mainland -- the topic which triggered last year's protests.

Vice Premier Liu He sought on Thursday to reassure the concerns of the business community, saying that the central government will adhere to One Country, Two Systems and "effectively protect the rights and interests of enterprises and investors in Hong Kong."

China's rubber-stamp parliament approved the draft of a new security law for Hong Kong on May 28, 2020