HONG KONG (AP) – China passed a controversial national security law that will allow authorities to tackle subversive and secessionist activities in Hong Kong, a move many consider Beijing’s most courageous yet to overcome the legal firewall between the semi-autonomous territory and the mainland to erase The authoritarian system of the Communist Party of China.
Tam Yiu-Chung, Hong Kong’s only representative on the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, confirmed to reporters on Tuesday that the law had been passed. He said that punishment would not include the death penalty, but did not elaborate on the retroactive application of the law.
“We hope the law will act as a deterrent to preventing people from causing problems,” said Tam. “Don’t use Hong Kong as a tool to split the country.”
Passage of law came amid warnings and criticism both in Hong Kong and in the international community that it will be used to curb opposition voices in the Asian financial hub. The U.S. has already begun to end special trade terms and other dispensations given to Hong Kong after the former British colony was turned over to Chinese rule in 1997.
The government has said that the legislation aims to curb subversive, separatist and terrorist activities, as well as foreign intervention in the affairs of the city. It follows months of protests against the Hong Kong government last year that sometimes descended into violence.
Critics say it is the major erosion to date of Hong Kong’s rule of law and the high degree of autonomy Beijing promised that Hong Kong would enjoy at least until 2047 under a so-called “one country, two systems” framework.
After the law was passed, prominent pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong, Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Nathan Law, made statements on Facebook saying they would withdraw from the pro-democracy organization Demosisto. Wong said that “worrying about life and security” has become a real problem and that no one will be able to predict the consequences of the law, whether it be extradited to China or for lengthy prison terms.
Demosisto then announced on Facebook that it was disbanding, saying the loss of top executives made it difficult to continue.
More than a hundred protesters gathered in a luxury mall in the central business district of Hong Kong, chanting slogans including ‘Free Hong Kong, Revolution Now’, with several holding up a flag representing an independent Hong Kong, as well as posters representing the convicts.
Prior to the adoption of the law, the Trump administration said Monday it will ban defense exports to Hong Kong and will soon require permits to sell items to Hong Kong that have both civilian and military uses. The government has warned for weeks that if the law were passed, action would be taken to end the special US trade and trade preferences enjoyed by Hong Kong.
“The United States is being forced to take this action to protect US national security,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “We can no longer distinguish between the export of controlled items to Hong Kong or to mainland China. We cannot risk that these items fall into the hands of the People’s Liberation Army, whose main purpose is to uphold the dictatorship of the (ruling Communist Party) in every possible way. ‘
The United States Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday to impose sanctions on companies and individuals – including the police – who undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy or curtail the freedoms promised to residents.
Britain has said it can offer residence and possible citizenship to about 3 million of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million population.
China has denounced all these measures, such as gross interference in its internal affairs and Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Monday that Beijing has decided to retaliate against visa restrictions for “US personnel performing poorly in Hong Kong related issues “.
“The US side’s attempt to prevent China from promoting Hong Kong’s national security laws through the so-called sanctions will never succeed,” Zhao told reporters daily.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam had refused to confirm the law earlier on Tuesday while the Standing Committee was still meeting.
Once the law is enacted, “the Hong Kong government will announce and publish it here for implementation, and then I and my senior officials will do our best to respond to everyone’s questions, especially regarding the enforcement of this national law” said Lam.
Under the new law, Beijing will establish a national security agency in Hong Kong to gather and analyze intelligence and handle criminal matters related to national security.
Critics of the government and Hong Kong legal branch have said that the area’s statutory statutes already explain most of the concerns that the law aims to address.
They say Beijing is determined to use the law to prosecute political opponents, including possibly bringing them to mainland courts under the control of the Communist Party. They questioned the legal basis on which China proceeded with the legislation, saying that it undermines the Basic Law, the mini-constitution of Hong Kong.
An earlier attempt to pass the law in 2003 was rejected after hundreds of thousands of people marched against it on the street.
China had postponed such an effort for years, but party leader Xi Jinping has increasingly sought to strengthen Beijing’s hand in the territory, in line with his tightened control over Chinese society and a more assertive foreign policy.
Chinese officials are opposed to what they believe is deep-seated foreign interference in the area they blame for encouraging last year’s anti-government protests. Beijing condemned those protests as an attempt to finally separate Hong Kong from China.
The drafting of the law took place under intense secrecy, with even top Hong Kong officials reportedly not being notified in advance of its details.
It is believed that Beijing now also has ultimate power over appointments to the highest government departments, further reducing the relative independence promised by Hong Kong in a 1984 joint declaration with Britain, which is considered an international treaty.
Questions also remain about the implications for the free press of Hong Kong that have come under increasing political and financial pressures, as well as the activities of non-governmental organizations, especially those with foreign connections.
The law comes after Hong Kong’s legislature passed a controversial bill in early June that makes it illegal to insult the Chinese national anthem. Pro-Chinese figures have also called for more “patriotic” education to be included in the curriculum, hoping this would aid their identification with Beijing.
Moritsugu reported from Beijing.
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