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China releases new details of national security legislation for Hong Kong

Details of the measures to punish acts of secession, subversion and terrorism in Hong Kong had been kept secret since the drafting of the law was approved.

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Washington: China’s top legislative body released new details of national security legislation to be imposed on Hong Kong, shedding light on a measure that pro-democracy groups warn could undermine the city’s appeal as a financial center.

The draft bill calls for Hong Kong to establish a new committee headed by the city’s chief executive to protect national security, which will be supervised and accountable to Beijing. China will also establish a new bureau in Hong Kong to analyze the security situation, collect intelligence and “lawfully handle national security cases,” according to draft language released on Saturday by the official Xinhua News Agency.

The law said the central government will have jurisdiction over an “extremely small” number of national security cases under “specific circumstances,” Xinhua said. The police and judiciary will need to establish new departments to handle cases under the law, it said.

Details of the measures to punish acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces in the former British colony had been secret since the broader National People’s Congress approved their drafting on May 28. The NPC Standing Committee began deliberations on the legislation Thursday, after a last-minute announcement that it had been added to the agenda.

The laws will shape the future of Hong Kong, raising questions about the autonomy of a city whose global status is a underpinned by its legal distinction from the mainland. President Xi Jinping’s government decided to bypass the elected local legislature and impose the security laws after a wave of historically large and sometimes violent protests gripped the city last year.

The laws have fueled resurgent pro-democracy protests and led the U.S. to threaten to revoke Hong Kong’s special trade status, which has helped maintain the city’s role as a vital financial crossroads between China and the West. Opposition politicians have said China’s move would mark the end of the “one country, two systems” principle that has governed the city since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.

Also read: China indicts 2 Canadians on spying charges in cases linked to US

Other key details of the law include:

  • The chief executive will appoint judges to handle criminal cases endangering national security
  • The draft also asks the Hong Kong government to strengthen its work to safeguard national security and prevent terrorism
  • Hong Kong must “adopt special measures strengthening oversight and management” of schools and social organizations
  • The national security commission will also set up a position of special adviser, who will be designated by the central government, and providing consultation to the special commission
  • Hong Kong should “respect and protect human rights” while ensuring national security, and anyone accused has the right to defend themselves
  • The NPC Standing Committee has the power to interpret the law, which would override any local laws that are inconsistent with its provisions

The fresh details generated alarm among some pro-democracy politicians. Lawmaker Fernando Cheung said the details made clear the Communist Party “has the power to pick whoever they want” and bring them to the mainland to face criminal charges.

“No doubt, this law has immediately turned Hong Kong into a mainland city,” he said. “I don’t see how the international community would feel secure under this law. And I’m sure that there will be an exodus of young professionals in the near future.”

Hong Kong’s future has become a proxy fight in the battle for dominance between the U.S. and a rising China, with local protesters waving American flags and Beijing officials accusing Washington of acting as a “black hand” behind the unrest. China agreed to preserve the city’s liberal political structure and capitalist economy for at least 50 years in a treaty with the U.K.

‘Stop Meddling’

Beijing has pressed ahead despite a statement by the Group of Seven foreign ministers Wednesday warning the legislation “would jeopardize the system which has allowed Hong Kong to flourish and made it a success over many years.” Scores of civil society organizations, included Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, urged NPC Chairman Li Zhanshu, the ruling Communist Party’s No. 3 leader, to abandon what they said was a “devastating assault on human rights.”

“China is firmly determined to advance this national security legislation in Hong Kong,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters Thursday, saying foreign governments should “stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs.”

The move means more disruption for a city already facing its deepest recession on record after protests and coronavirus lockdowns kept people in their homes and scared tourists away. Unemployment has risen to a 15-year high, while investors are putting money elsewhere and some expatriates and Hong Kong residents are considering leaving the city.

China’s surprise decision to impose the legislation has left Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp reeling, with little power to stop its enactment by a local government loyal to Beijing. Opposition lawmakers have expressed concern that the law will be used to bar China’s critics from seeking office, after the city’s only representative to the NPC Standing Committee saying candidates who oppose its passage should be disqualified.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who was chosen by a selection committee of 1,200 political insiders and appointed by Beijing, has endorsed the legislation, despite acknowledging she didn’t know what was in it. A poll released by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Program on May 29 showed a majority of residents and 96% of democracy supporters opposed the measure.-Bloomberg

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