China’s parliament said it will introduce a proposal Friday for a national security law in Hong Kong at its annual session, in a move the US warned would “highly destabilising” for the financial hub. The announcement late Thursday was quickly decried by pro-democracy lawmakers and activists as “the end of Hong Kong”, with fears it will stoke unrest and tighten Beijing’s grip on the semi-autonomous city.
China has made clear it wants new security legislation passed after Hong Kong was rocked by seven months of massive and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests last year. The proposal, planned for the first day of the National People’s Congress, would strengthen “enforcement mechanisms” in the financial hub, the parliament’s spokesman Zhang Yesui said. China’s parliament considers it “necessary to improve and uphold the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy,” Zhang said, referring to the arrangement that has underpinned the city’s liberties and free market economy. Article 23 of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, says the city must enact such laws to prohibit “treason, secession, sedition (and) subversion” against the Chinese government. But the clause has never been implemented due to deeply held public fears it would curtail Hong Kong’s cherished civil rights. The city enjoys freedoms unseen on the Chinese mainland which are protected by an agreement made before former colonial power Britain handed the territory back to Beijing in 1997.
An attempt to enact Article 23 in 2003 was shelved after half a million people took to the streets in protest. The controversial bill has been put back on the table in recent years in response to the rise of the Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Zhang did not provide more details about the proposed law. But if it is introduced to the NPC it is likely to be approved, as the body rubber-stamps decisions already made by Communist Party policymakers. US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus warned that imposing such a law on Hong Kong would be “highly destabilizing, and would be met with strong condemnation from the United States and the international community”. President Donald Trump earlier Thursday also promised a response when told of the move on Hong Kong. “I don’t know what it is, because nobody knows yet. If it happens, we’ll address that issue very strongly,” Trump said.