Ishaan and Ruby
The Washington Post, May 21, 2020
China's Communist Party will impose a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong by fiat during the annual meeting of its top political body, officials said Thursday, criminalizing "foreign interference" along with secessionist activities and subversion of state power.
The move is the boldest yet from Beijing to undercut Hong Kong’s autonomy and bring the global financial hub under its full control, as it works to rewrite the “one country, two systems” framework that has allowed the territory to enjoy a level of autonomy for the past 23 years.
After steadily eroding Hong Kong’s political freedoms, Beijing signaled that the national security law will be a new tool that allows it to directly tackle the political dissent that erupted on Hong Kong’s streets last year. The months-long and sometimes violent protests began last June and fizzled out only over public health concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak.
The new tactic marks an escalation in Beijing’s crackdown in the former British colony and the clearest indication that it views Hong Kong as a restive region to be brought to heel after last year’s protests.
The city’s future has become a point of contention in the intensifying rivalry between China and the United States; on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington was “closely watching what’s going on” in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have directly appealed to Washington for intervention, frequently waving American flags on the streets, and see themselves as the last bastion of resistance against an increasingly assertive Beijing under President Xi Jinping.
“Beijing has opted for the most risky route,” said Ho-Fung Hung, a professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University. “It will show the world that ‘one country, two systems’ is, if not already over, almost over.” He added: “It will be very difficult for anyone, especially the United States, to say Hong Kong is still autonomous and viable.”
On Thursday, China made clear it was asserting control over Hong Kong through “improvement” of its governance.
“We will ensure the long-term stability of ‘one country, two systems,’ ” Wang Yang, head of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said at the opening of the annual meeting of China’s top political advisory body. The meeting is the first part of the Two Sessions political gatherings, which will continue Friday with the National People’s Congress (NPC), the rubber-stamp parliament.
“We will continue to support the improvement of the implementation of the systems and mechanisms of the constitution and Basic Law,” Wang said in a report to the meeting.
Later Thursday, representatives from Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office met with Hong Kong delegates to China’s legislature to explain the details of the national security law. The law, a direct response to last year’s protests, will ban secession, subversion of state power, foreign interference and terrorism, said Stanley Ng, a Hong Kong deputy to the NPC, who attended the meeting.
The legislation could pass as early as next week and will bypass all of Hong Kong’s usual processes.
Similar laws were proposed in 2003 and would have allowed authorities to conduct searches without warrants. But they were abandoned after mass protests and never picked up locally again.
The Hong Kong dollar weakened sharply against the U.S. dollar as the reports emerged.
Beijing blamed last year’s unrest on secessionist forces and foreign influence. A government proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China touched off the unrest, but the movement grew into a broader and sometimes violent rebellion calling for full democracy and opposing China’s efforts to chip away at Hong Kong’s firewall with the mainland.
President Trump has sharply stepped up denunciations of China over his claims it failed to warn the world of the coronavirus dangers in the outbreak’s early weeks. But his comments on Hong Kong were less direct.
“I don’t know what it is because nobody knows yet,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House on Thursday. “If it happens, we’ll address that issue very strongly.” He did not elaborate.
The shift will have far-reaching effects. Under the agreement Britain signed with China before it handed back Hong Kong in 1997, the territory is supposed to enjoy its relative freedoms until at least 2047 under the “one country, two systems” framework.
This arrangement helped Hong Kong to flourish as a global financial center even after returning to Beijing’s overall control, and has allowed the United States and other nations to treat the city differently from China. It also allowed Hong Kong to run its own affairs, except foreign affairs and defense.
But under Xi’s leadership, the Communist Party has encroached on Hong Kong’s autonomy with stunning speed.
In recent months, Beijing has installed a tough new representative in Hong Kong, called for patriotic education to instill more allegiance to China, and promoted a bill that would make it a criminal offense to disrespect China’s national anthem.
Delegates from Hong Kong, including Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, arrived in Beijing on Thursday for the Two Sessions.
Wang said Beijing supports the Hong Kong deputies’ efforts to “avoid violence in Hong Kong and to restore order.”
But as news of the proposal spread, calls were issued for more mass protests in Hong Kong.
“The arms of tyranny have reached Hong Kong,” said Ted Hui, a pro-democracy lawmaker who was a regular participant in protests last year. “Darker days are coming.”
• For more background on what’s fueling the clash between Beijing and Hong Kong, my colleagues Siobhán O’Grady and Miriam Berger explain how the events of the last year have led to this point and examine what could happen next.
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