Beijing has signaled it will push through sweeping national security legislation for Hong Kong, its most aggressive effort yet to exert its control over the semi-autonomous city since it was returned to Chinese control in 1997.
“Hong Kong is an inseparable part of the People’s Republic of China,” Zhang Yesui, a spokesperson for China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), told journalists Thursday night in Beijing. “In light of recent circumstances, the NPC is exercising power enshrined in China’s constitution…to uphold the institutional framework of One Country Two Systems.”
“One Country Two Systems” refers to the policy of allowing Hong Kong to retain much of its own administrative and economic policies functions and preserve certain civil liberties until 2047, as well as its independent judiciary, despite being officially part of China for a full fifty years.
The renewed push from Beijing to pass a national security law will almost certainly set off more protests against Beijing’s rule in Hong Kong. Ongoing protests originally sparked by a now-suspended extradition bill with Beijing had faded in recent months as a coronavirus pandemic kept people indoors. Protests have recently resumed, however, in light of government arrests of pro-democracy figures.
These protests may also flare up on July 1, which is an annual rally that takes place on the anniversary of Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China. Last year’s rally drew millions. Another pro-democracy rally which is usually held on June 4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A similar national security law was shelved in 2003 after residents protested en masse. That law would have allowed police searches of media outlets and political offices without a warrant and criminalized seditious behavior.
This time, by proposing to draft the national security law through China’s legislature, Beijing is signaling it will bypass Hong Kong’s legislative council entirely, where pro-democracy opposition could block the bill.
According to agenda published Thursday, China’s national legislature will meet over the next week to discuss a draft “Decision on Establishing and Improving the Legal System & Enforcement Mechanisms for Hong Kong to Safeguard National Security.”
China’s legislature would then authorize a smaller body of influential lawmakers to draft and pass the actual national security law, which could immediately take effect in Hong Kong without approval from its own legislative council per an annex in the city’s Basic Law, akin to its constitution.
No text yet has been released for the draft decision but it is expected to closely resemble in structure the national security law pro-Beijing lawmakers attempted to pass in Hong Kong in 2003 meant to define and criminalize seditious or secessionist behavior.