Two Sessions 2020

Beijing sets stage for national security law in HK

Macau leader Ho Iat-seng and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at the opening session of the NPC in Beijing yesterday.
Macau leader Ho Iat-seng and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at the opening session of the NPC in Beijing yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

The draft resolution tabled at the National People's Congress (NPC) for Hong Kong's national security will set the stage for tougher legislation to be passed in the territory, a clear sign Beijing is tightening its grip on the former British colony.

Insisting that political stability and security are better for business than unfettered freedoms, China said in an official summary that the new law will ban any acts that "split the country", subvert state powers or organise terrorist activities.

A seven-point draft resolution was yesterday submitted and will be debated next Tuesday and Thursday, an official schedule shows. It is tabled for a vote on Thursday.

The news was met with opposition in the city, with many Hong Kongers fearing the proposed law would spell the end of the relative autonomy the financial hub has enjoyed since 1997, and bring it closer to the mainland.

China believes foreign forces, particularly from the West, helped instigate protests in the city last year, and Senior NPC official Wang Chen said the new law is necessary because national security risks in the city are a "prominent problem". The new law will curtail foreign interference and activities that have "harmed the rule of law and threatened national sovereignty, security and development interests".

The draft law states that "relevant national security organs" will set up agencies in Hong Kong "when needed", an indication that Beijing's state security apparatus may now extend to the territory.

Beijing says the move is for the prosperity of the region, and to integrate the economic development of Hong Kong and Macau with the rest of China.

Since Hong Kong's return to China from British rule in 1997, it has been governed under the "one country, two systems" principle, guaranteeing a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years. This includes freedoms unseen in the mainland, such as an independent judiciary, a separate legislature and free speech.

But there are concerns that these freedoms have been gradually been eroded in recent years.

 
 
 

An attempt at passing a controversial extradition Bill last year - which would have allowed fugitives to be sent to the mainland - triggered protests that brought millions onto the streets. The Bill was eventually rescinded.

The move is a devastating blow to the one country, two systems framework, which was "already in tatters", said historian Jeffrey Wasserstrom, author of Vigil: Hong Kong On The Brink, who predicts it will spark fresh protests.

But others, like Dr Willy Fu of the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation, said it would enable "more efficiency" in the implementation of one country, two systems.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2020, with the headline 'Beijing sets stage for national security law in HK'. Print Edition | Subscribe