BEIJING - China said a national security law for Hong Kong would be on the agenda for the upcoming parliamentary meetings beginning Friday (May 22), the clearest sign yet that Beijing is tightening its grip over the special administrative region.
The Hong Kong law will be one of nine items on the agenda of the National People's Congress, said NPC spokesman Zhang Yesui at a late-night press briefing Thursday ahead of the parliamentary opening.
"Safeguarding national security serves the fundamental interest of all Chinese, our Hong Kong compatriots included," Mr Zhang said, noting that the NPC's power is enshrined in the Chinese Constitution.
A draft resolution presented to China's top law-making body would ban the kind of protests that rocked Hong Kong last year, taking its passage out of the hands of the territory's own government, which has been unable to quell the unrest.
In a diplomatic note sent shortly after the announcement and seen by The Straits Times, China called for support on the Bill, citing a "clear loophole" and a lack of an enforcement mechanism.
Since Hong Kong's return from Britain to China, it has been governed under "one country, two systems", guaranteeing for at least 50 years freedoms unseen in the mainland, such as an independent judiciary, a separate legislature and free speech.
In Hong Kong, dozens were seen shouting pro-democracy slogans at a shopping mall on Thursday as riot police stood nearby, Reuters reported.
The law's tabling was hinted at by the head of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Wang Yang, during the session's opening ceremony. He said China firmly supports the "improvement of systems and mechanisms for enforcing the Chinese Constitution".
The last time Hong Kong's Legislative Council tried to enact such a law in 2003, it brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets in protest, and the then government shelved its plans.
According to the South China Morning Post, citing unnamed sources, the proposed law would ban all seditious activities aimed at toppling the central government, and any external interference in Hong Kong.
The attempted passage of an extradition law last year resulted in massive protests that split the city.
While pro-democracy activists say the protests were a manifestation of unhappiness at the shrinking space for dissent and the Hong Kong government's mishandling of the city, Beijing is insistent that foreign forces were behind them.
The annual meetings of the NPC, China's Parliament, and the CPPCC are collectively known as the Two Sessions.
It was pushed back from March because of the coronavirus pandemic and shortened to a week.
Yesterday, Mr Wang also said China had issued formal statements to repudiate the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, which were passed by United States lawmakers.
Hong Kong has been granted special trade status by the US, which means it was exempted from bruising tariffs during the trade war. But the new law means that this status is subject to an annual review, and a national security law could lead to Hong Kong losing this privilege.
"If the national security motion is presented, it shows Beijing is using all arms of its legislature and the passage of the law is no longer up to Hong Kong," said Associate Professor Alfred Wu of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
"That would also mean China is no longer afraid of Hong Kong losing its international status - it will protect national security at all cost."
Additional reporting by Danson Cheong