- China is renewing its efforts to increase its control over Hong Kong, proposing to bypass its regional legislature to introduce new national security laws.
- Critics say the proposal will effectively end the system of autonomy which has existed in Hong Kong since it was returned to China by the UK in 1997.
- The proposal comes after China’s earlier efforts to increase its power in Hong Kong were beaten back by a wave of massive and sometimes-violent protests.
- The confrontation was brought to an unnatural pause by the coronavirus pandemic, but has been reignited at Beijing’s landmark “Two Sessions” legislative meeting.
- A spokesman for the Chinese government said the bill has measure to “prevent, stop and punish” activity like that of the protest movement.
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China has launched new efforts to increase its control over Hong Kong, moving to strike back after mass protests in Hong Kong hampered its efforts to roll back the city’s autonomy.
Beijing has proposed new national security legislation that critics say could erode the city’s freedoms and prevent further protests from taking place.
The move came at China’s landmark “Two Sessions” legislative event where the Communist Party sets out its program for the year ahead.
Hong Kong is meant to introduce its own laws according to the agreement by which the former colony was returned to China in 1997.
But Beijing’s proposed legislation would sidestep the Hong Kong lawmaking process and impose new conditions directly.
Hong Kong was consumed by huge protests last year against increased influence from mainland China.
The movement was sparked by a controversial bill which would allow suspected criminals to be extradited to the mainland.
The protests then spiralled into a broader pushback against Beijing which even included a takeover of the city’s airport.
The protests continued even after the bill was withdrawn in October 2019.
They reached a peak in late 2019 and sometimes spilled over into violence. However, the confrontations came to an unnatural pause as the coronavirus entered Hong Kong and spread around the world.
The new proposal being considered by China’s National People’s Congress brings the conflict to a head once again.
The law would force Hong Kong “improve” its national security by unspecified means. It would allow China to set up agencies in Hong Kong to do this, and increase the power of law enforcement.
Hong Kong Free Press reported that the proposal says “Necessary measures must be taken – in accordance with the law – to prevent, stop and punish foreign and overseas forces using Hong Kong to conduct separatist, subversion, infiltration and damaging behaviour.”
That measure is a clear reference to the protest movement, which China has claimed is orchestrated by other countries.
Autonomy under threat
Hong Kong was given a high level of autonomy from China when it was returned from the UK to China in 1997 under an arrangement known as “one country, two systems.”
This policy allows it to have things like open internet and a largely free press, which have helped it turn into the global business hub that it is today. Under the terms of the UK’s return, this system is supposed to continue until 2047.
China claims that its new proposals do not violate the autonomy of Hong Kong.
Carrie Lam, the pro-Beijing chief executive of Hong Kong, said Friday that she would move to pass supporting legislation from within the Hong Kong system.
But pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong and experts around the world consider the move to impose new laws form the centre a step-change in how China views Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Dennis Kwok, a Hong Kong lawmaker, said the proposal left him “speechless,” The Washington Post reported.
“This is a complete and total surprise and I think it means the end of one ‘country, two systems,'” he said.
He said China was using the coronavirus to push the change through and avoid global scrutiny.
“When the world is not watching, they are killing Hong Kong, killing ‘one country, two systems,’ and using social distancing rules to keep people from coming out to protest,” he said.
“This is the most devastating thing to happen to Hong Kong since the handover.”
Eric Cheung, from Hong Kong University’s law department, told Reuters: “It is essentially declaring directly that ‘one country two systems’ is null and a failure.”
Chris Patten, who was the last British governor of the city, called the proposal a “comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy, rule of law, and fundamental freedoms.”