China has approved plans to force new national security laws on Hong Kong, effectively curtailing the semiautonomous city’s freedoms in a move that has drawn widespread condemnation since it was first discussed last week.
The proposal was voted on by the National People’s Congress on Thursday afternoon, allowing China to unilaterally draft a national security law for Hong Kong. The annual legislative meeting largely rubber-stamps decisions already made by the top tiers of China’s Communist Party.
The proposal passed by a vote of 2,878 to 1. Six others abstained.
The next step is for China’s top legislative body to draft the official text for the new laws, which Beijing said should be done “at an early date,” according to AFP.
According to the state media agency Xinhua, Wang Chen, the vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC, said that “increasingly notable national security risks” in Hong Kong had prompted China to step in and bypass the city’s legislative bodies.
Though he was not specific, his remarks were a clear reference to the protest movement that has roiled the city for much of the past year.
“Law-based and forceful measures must be taken to prevent, stop and punish such activities,” he said.
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Hong Kong formally operates with significant autonomy from the rest of China, an arrangement called “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland is growing fraught, however.
Hong Kong operated under British colonial rule for more than 150 years until its sovereignty was passed on to China in 1997 through an agreement called the Basic Law. This allows Hong Kong to maintain its own political, legal, and economic systems separate from China until 2047.
The Basic Law, or Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, calls for the city to enact national security laws to prohibit “treason, secession, sedition” and “subversion” against the Chinese government. It is referred to as Article 23.
Such national security laws were never enacted. An attempt to do so in 2003 resulted in mass protests that forced the bill to be shelved.
The new national security provisions would be added on to the Basic Law, according to the BBC, which also means China would be modifying the agreement without Hong Kong’s approval.
The riot police scuffled with the public in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay district on Wednesday after the announcement that China was seeking to pass new national security laws for the city.
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Ben Bland, a research fellow at Australia’s Lowy Institute who wrote “Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow,” told Insider that China’s decision to push the new laws onto Hong Kong “represents a major blow to Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy.”
The pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong tweeted that the move was “retaliation” for the past several months of protest spurred by the deeply unpopular extradition-bill proposal that was ultimately shelved indefinitely.
Maya Wang, a senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the bill could spell “the end” for Hong Kong.
“The end of Hong Kong is alarming not only for its people but also for the world,” she said, according to the Hong Kong Free Press news website.