HONG KONG — China’s top legislative body approved a landmark national security law for Hong Kong, a sweeping attempt to quell dissent that risks U.S. retaliation and the city’s appeal as a financial hub.
The National People’s Congress Standing Committee voted unanimously to approve the law on the former British colony when it wrapped up a three-day meeting Tuesday in Beijing, multiple Hong Kong media organizations reported, citing unidentified people.
The official Xinhua News Agency was to publish details of the law Tuesday afternoon, marking the first time the law will be fully disclosed to the public, the South China Morning Post reported, citing a source familiar with the situation.
Speaking shortly after the reports, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she couldn’t confirm whether the law had been approved. She acknowledged that residents in the city had many concerns about the measure before pivoting to discuss job-support subsidies.
“The National People’s Congress is still in a meeting and on the agenda today there’s the relevant national security law for Hong Kong,” Lam said. “At this moment it is inappropriate for me to respond to any questions or give any explanations.”
The measure to punish acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces comes on the eve of the July 1 anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997. The organizer of an annual march that drew more than half a million people last year is making a last-minute appeal to hold the event, after being denied permission by police, who cited coronavirus risk and the potential for violence.
The new law will shape the future of Hong Kong, whose civil liberties, free markets and independent judicial system have attracted hundreds of international companies. President Donald Trump warned last month the U.S. would start rolling back Hong Kong’s preferential trade status, while the U.K. and Taiwan have offered new paths to residency for the city’s 7.5 million inhabitants.
The Trump administration on Monday made it harder to export sensitive American technology to Hong Kong, suspending regulations allowing special treatment to the territory over dual-use technologies like carbon fiber used to make both golf clubs and missile components. Lam on Tuesday called the impact of the move “minimal” and refuted the U.S. accusation that such sensitive items could make it to the mainland, saying Hong Kong has “a stringent trade-control mechanism.”
“Sanctions will not scare us,” Lam said. “We are fully prepared and I believe China will also take countermeasures when needed.”
Hong Kong’s freedoms have become increasingly tenuous as President Xi Jinping grows more confident in China’s ability to withstand foreign pressure and Hong Kong protesters embrace more radical positions such as independence. Beijing’s steady moves to better integrate the city boiled over into historic and sometimes violent protests last year, after Lam attempted to pass a bill allowing extraditions to the mainland.
The new law goes further toward revising the “one country, two systems” framework designed to protect Hong Kong’s liberal institutions and Common Law legal system. The legislation will let Chinese security agents operate in Hong Kong, allow China to prosecute some cases and give Lam the power to pick judges to hear national security matters.
“You have in Hong Kong the Common Law system and imposing on it what passes as the law in China will produce chaos which will be intolerable for the people of Hong Kong and eventually will be intolerable for business, as well,” Chris Patten, the territory’s last colonial governor, told Bloomberg Television on Monday. “Hong Kong represents all those aspects of liberal democracy which Xi Jinping so hates.”
Chinese officials have said the law is necessary to ensure peace following last year’s chaos, which included vandalism of subway stations, regular use of Molotov cocktails and a brief occupation of Hong Kong’s international airport. China has also said that only an “extremely small” number of people will be affected by the law.
That has done little to reassure democracy advocates, who fear they could be jailed for expressing dissent, or for businesses that worry about executives getting tried before mainland courts. Hong Kong police arrested 53 people Sunday, saying they attended an unlawful assembly.
Surveys show a majority of Hong Kong residents oppose the law. The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said more than 80% of the companies it surveyed were concerned or very concerned about the legislation — although some companies have begun to endorse the law after HSBC Holdings Plc came under pressure for remaining silent and backed it.
The law brings yet more uncertainty as Hong Kong faces its deepest recession on record after last year’s protests and the global pandemic. Unemployment has risen to a 15-year high, while investors are putting money elsewhere. Some expatriates and Hong Kong residents have said they’re considering leaving the city.
China didn’t publish the full draft law or allow a public debate over the law, which is required under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. The process also bypassed Hong Kong’s elected Legislative Council. Even Lam acknowledged last week that she hadn’t seen a full draft.
Opposition lawmakers have expressed concern the law will be used to bar them from seeking office in an upcoming legislative election in September. Those fears were elevated after the city’s only representative to the NPC Standing Committee said candidates who opposed its passage should be disqualified.
“As long as people abide by the law, I suppose we never have to use this piece of legislation,” Bernard Chan, a convener of Hong Kong’s advisory Executive Council, told Bloomberg Television on Monday. “It really is to warn people: Do not cross those red lines. You cannot ask for Hong Kong independence and we do not tolerate terrorist acts like what happened last year during the social unrest.”
(With assistance by Peter Martin, Stephen Engle, Jon Herskovitz, Shery Ahn, Haidi Lun and Natalie Lung.)
©2020 Bloomberg News
Visit Bloomberg News at www.bloomberg.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194): CHINA-HONGKONG