China will improve national security in Hong Kong, Premier Li Keqiang said, a day after China announced dramatic plans to rein in dissent by writing a new law into the city’s charter.
“We will establish sound legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security in the two special administrative regions, and see that the governments of the two regions fulfill their constitutional responsibilities,” Li said according to prepared remarks on Friday. He added that the government would push ahead with a plan to integrate the city with others in southern China.
“This is the end of Hong Kong,” said Dennis Kwok, an opposition lawmaker representing the legal sector. “I foresee that the status of Hong Kong as an international city will be gone very soon.”
The National People’s Congress on Thursday confirmed plans to pass a bill establishing “an enforcement mechanism for ensuring national security” for Hong Kong, without providing details. Chinese lawmakers were preparing to soon pass measures that would curb secession, sedition, foreign interference and terrorism in the former British colony, local media including the South China Morning Post reported Thursday, citing unidentified people.
The bill would require Hong Kong to quickly finish enacting national security regulations under the Basic Law that serves as the city’s mini-constitution, Reuters reported, citing a draft of the legislation. China’s parliament empowers itself to set up the legal framework and implementation mechanism to prevent and punish subversion, terrorism, separatism and foreign interference, “or any acts that severely endanger national security,” the report said.
The law was expected to pass China’s rubber-stamp parliament -- delayed from March by the coronavirus outbreak -- before the end of its annual session May 28. NPC spokesman Zhang Yesui told a news briefing Thursday that more details would be made public Friday.
The legislation would still require several procedural steps including approval by the NPC’s decision-making Standing Committee, which could come as early as next month, the SCMP said. The move comes before citywide elections in September in which opposition members hoped to gain an unprecedented majority of the Legislative Council.
Although national security laws are required to be passed by Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, successive governments have failed to pass them, with one effort in 2003 resulting in widespread street demonstrations. This new strategy could potentially allow authorities to skip the local legislative process, although the mechanics of how that would work remained unclear.
The move sets up a potential election-year showdown with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has come under pressure in Washington to reconsider the special trading status before the city’s return to Chinese rule under a promise to maintain its liberal financial and political structure. On Thursday, Trump warned that the U.S. would respond to any move to curtail protests and democratic movements in Hong Kong.
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