Beijing has announced plans to impose a controversial new national security law on Hong Kong, stoking fears of a return to 2019’s pro-democracy unrest.
As the coronavirus pandemic eases, China is turning its attention to political affairs with its annual National People’s Congress meeting, which starts on Friday (local time).
The meeting will discuss plans for a Hong Kong ban on sedition, secession and subversion of the central government.
The move is expected to spark international reaction and is considered especially concerning because Beijing could bypass Hong Kong’s elected officials.
It raises fears that Beijing might act unilaterally as it tries to prevent more of the anti-government protests that shook the Chinese territory for months and that are beginning to reemerge as the pandemic recedes.
President Donald Trump has already declared the US would react “very strongly” if China proceeded with the law, which could limit opposition activity in Hong Kong.
Democratic politician Dennis Kwok warned the “‘one country, two systems” will be officially erased”.
“This is the end of Hong Kong,” he told Reuters.
Spokesman Zhang Yesui confirmed the NPC would review a bill on “establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to safeguard national security”.
His comments at a news conference came on the eve of the opening of the congress’s annual session. They follow much speculation that China will sidestepHong Kong’s own legislative body in enacting legislation to crack down on activity it considers subversive.
“National security is the bedrock underpinning a country’s stability. Safeguarding national security serves the fundamental interests of all Chinese people, including our HK compatriots,” Mr Zhang said on Friday morning (Australian time).
He emphasised that Hong Kong was an “inseparable part” of China, and that “in light of the new circumstances and need”, the NPC was exercising its constitutional power “to safeguard national security, and to uphold and improve the institutional framework of one country, two systems”.
Unnamed sources cited in the South China Morning Post said the laws would ban secession, foreign interference, “terrorism” and all seditious activities aimed at toppling the central government and any external interference in the former British colony.
Such a move has long been under consideration but was hastened by months of anti-government protests in 2019 in the former British colony that was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997.
On the proposed law, Mr Trump said “I don’t know what it is, because nobody knows yet. If it happens, we’ll address that issue very strongly”.
It’s anticipated the proposed law will almost certainly set off more protests against Chinese rule in Hong Kong.