China passes new national security law for Hong Kong to stop ‘terrorism’, pro-democracy leaders quit
China’s parliament has passed national security legislation for Hong Kong, setting the stage for the most radical changes to the former British colony’s way of life since it returned to Chinese rule almost 23 years ago.
- The legislation prohibits acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces
- It is expected to carry a maximum penalty of life in prison
- Pro-democracy leaders, including Joshua Wong, announced that they were stepping down
The legislation prohibits acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security.
Tam Yiu-Chung, Hong Kong’s sole representative to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, confirmed the law had been passed on Tuesday morning.
He said punishments would not include the death penalty, but did not elaborate on further details, such as whether the measures could be applied retroactively.
“We hope the law will serve as a deterrent to prevent people from stirring up trouble,” Mr Tam said.
“Don’t let Hong Kong be used as a tool to split the country.”
The legislation, which is yet to be published, pushes Beijing further along a collision course with the United States, Britain and other Western governments.
They have said that it erodes the high degree of autonomy the global financial hub was granted at its July 1, 1997 handover.
The law comes in response to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which began last year and recently re-emerged after the easing of coronavirus lockdown measures.
The US began eliminating Hong Kong’s special status under American law on Monday, halting defence exports and restricting the territory’s access to high technology products.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, speaking at her weekly news conference, said it was not appropriate for her to comment on the legislation as the meeting in Beijing was still ongoing, but referenced Washington’s actions.
“No sort of sanctioning action will ever scare us,” Ms Lam said.
This month, China’s official state agency Xinhua unveiled some of its provisions, including that it would supersede existing Hong Kong legislation and that the power of interpretation belongs to the Chinese parliament’s top decision-making body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.
Beijing to open Hong Kong ‘security office’
Judges for security cases are expected to be appointed by Ms Lam. Senior judges now allocate rosters up through Hong Kong’s independent judicial system.
The South China Morning Post said Xinhua would publish details of the law on Tuesday afternoon and Hong Kong officials would gather at Beijing’s top representative office in the city later in the day for a meeting on the legislation.
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the legislation is aimed at a few “troublemakers” and will not affect rights and freedoms, or investor interests.
The law comes into force as soon as it is gazetted in Hong Kong, a move which is seen as imminent.
Police have banned this year’s planned July 1 rally on the anniversary of the 1997 handover, citing coronavirus restrictions.
It is unclear if attending the rally would constitute a national security crime if the law came into force by Wednesday.
Around 4,000 police officers are on stand-by for if the demonstration goes ahead, according to The South China Morning Post.
Pro-democracy leaders quit
Shortly after Beijing passed the legislation, Demosisto leaders Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Agnes Chow announced they were stepping down from the pro-democracy group because of fears they would be the “prime target” of the new security measures.
Mr Wong, who said the measures marked “the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before”, called on Twitter for the international community to “speak up”.
Fiona Hui, an Australian Hongkonger living in Adelaide, said she hoped the Government would now consider issuing special visas in light of Beijing’s crackdown.
“Hong Kong people would like help in applying for humanitarian permanent visas in Australia,” said Ms Hui, who arrived in Australia in 2004.
“I am aware that the Government has formed a special committee in discussing the possible solutions.”
But Melbourne-based Junxi Su, of the pro-Beijing Federation of Chinese Associations, praised the measures as a way of guaranteeing a “stable” Hong Kong, while ensuring its economic development.
“Safeguarding one country, two systems is important; Hong Kong is a part of China, and issues relating to Hong Kong are also related to China,” Ms Su said.
“The solution to the Hong Kong issue is to guarantee Hong Kong’s long-term stability, not to criticise [the way of achieving it].
Japan’s top government officials said the development was “regrettable” and of “deep concern” because it undermined the credibility of the “one country, two systems” formula of governance.
“We will continue to work with the countries involved to deal with this issue appropriately,” said chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga.
Britain has said the security law will violate China’s international obligations and the 1997 handover agreement, which promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy for 50 years under a “one country, two systems” formula.
Earlier this month, the European Parliament passed a resolution saying the European Union should take China to the International Court of Justice in The Hague if Beijing imposed the law.