An anti-extradition bill protester is detained by riot police during skirmishes between the police and protesters outside Mong Kok police station on Sept. 2, 2019 in Hong Kong. National security legislation emanating from Beijing would likely lead to renewed protests. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)
China will propose national security legislation for Hong Kong in response to last year’s often violent pro-democracy protests that plunged the city into its deepest turmoil since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, a newspaper and a source said on Thursday.
A senior Hong Kong government source told Reuters that the technical details behind what is expected to be a highly provocative move remain unclear, but further details will be announced later this evening.
Earlier, the South China Morning Post, citing unnamed sources, said the laws would ban secession, foreign interference, terrorism and all seditious activities aimed at toppling the central government and any external interference in the former British colony.
The legislation, which could be introduced as a motion to China’s parliament, could be a turning point for Hong Kong, potentially triggering a revision of its special status in Washington and likely to spark more unrest.
China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, is due to begin its annual session on Friday, after being delayed for months by the coronavirus.
Washington watching closely
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on May 6 he was delaying a report assessing whether Hong Kong was sufficiently autonomous to warrant Washington’s special economic treatment that has helped it remain a world financial centre.
The delay was to account for any actions at the National People’s Congress, he said.
Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, centre, and pro-democracy lawmaker Martin Lee, right, are shown Monday arriving to court to face charges relating to joining unlawful protests last year in Hong Kong. Lai and Lee are among 15 pro-democracy figures who were arrested. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)
Pompeo said on Wednesday that pro-democracy lawmakers had been “manhandled” this week while trying to stop what he characterized as procedural irregularity by pro-Beijing legislators, and added: “Leading Hong Kong activists like Martin Lee and Jimmy Lai were hauled into court. Actions like these make it more difficult to assess that Hong Kong remains highly autonomous from mainland China.”
A previous attempt by Hong Kong to introduce national security legislation, known as Article 23, in 2003 was met with mass peaceful protests and shelved.
Hong Kong has a constitutional obligation to enact Article 23 “on its own,” but similar laws can be introduced by Beijing separately into an annex of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
That legal mechanism could bypass the city’s legislature as the laws could be imposed by promulgation by Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government.
National security legislation has been strongly opposed by pro-democracy protesters who argue it could erode the city’s freedoms and high degree of autonomy, guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula put in place when it returned to Chinese rule.
Protesters denounce what they see as the creeping meddling in Hong Kong by China’s Communist Party rulers. Beijing denies the charge.
Months of sometimes violent protests took place last year over a planned extradition bill in the Hong Kong Legislature that would have allowed defendants charged with serious crimes to be sent for trial abroad, including courts in China.
The bill was eventually scrapped.
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