A Chinese proposal to impose national security laws on Hong Kong brought sharp criticism from pro-democracy supporters and the United States.
Chinese Communist Party leaders submitted a bill Friday to the National People’s Congress (NPC), the national legislature. It called for a new law in Hong Kong to prevent and punish acts of “secession, subversion or terrorism activities.” The plan also permits Chinese security agencies to operate in the city, raising fears of direct law enforcement from the mainland.
It comes as the city’s pro-democracy demonstrations were temporarily halted during the coronavirus crisis. At times, the protests led to violence between police and protesters last year.
Pro-democracy activists and politicians in Hong Kong have, for years, opposed such legislation. They argue that it will end the island’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” policy. The policy is part of the agreement under which Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997.
Joshua Wong is one of the leaders of pro-democracy street protests in 2014. He wrote on Twitter, “Beijing is attempting to silence Hong Kongers’ critical voices with force and fear.”
Former pro-democracy lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan added, “Xi Jinping has torn away the whole pretense of ‘one country, two systems.’” Others denounced the plans as “the end of Hong Kong”.
U.S. and other reactions
In the U.S., President Donald Trump warned that the country would react “very strongly” if China went ahead with the security law. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the move, saying “the decision to bypass Hong Kong’s well-established legislative processes and ignore the will of the people of Hong Kong would be a death knell for the high degree of autonomy Beijing promised.”
The Mainland Affairs Council is Taiwan’s government agency handling relations with mainland China. It said the proposed legislation threatens Hong Kong’s civil liberties and risks the city’s position as an international financial center.
Wang Chen is a vice chairman of the National People’s Congress. He said the protests and violence in Hong Kong had challenged the “one country, two systems” principle. He said the proposed legislation was to stop possible security threats. China’s foreign ministry added that Hong Kong is China’s internal issue and “no foreign country has the right to intervene.”
A previous effort to pass such legislation in Hong Kong’s own legislature ended after huge street protests in 2003. This time, China plans to add the security law directly to Hong Kong’s constitution known as the Basic Law.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said her government will “fully cooperate” with the Chinese legislature. She said it would not affect the city’s rights, freedoms or judicial independence. Lam became Hong Kong leader in 2017 with support from mainland China.
Steve Tsang is director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. He said the proposed law would start “…either a massive peaceful and orderly demonstration or more vocal and aggressive protests or, indeed, most probably, a combination of both.”
Tsang warned that a return of violent protests would hurt the city’s economy and lead multinational companies to reconsider their presence.
Hong Kong activists called for people to rise up against the proposal. Calls have started for protests across the territory and democracy activists are planning “street action.”
“This is a great moment to reboot the protest,” said university student Kay who took part in last year’s demonstrations.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Hai Do wrote this story for VOA Learning English based on Associated Press and Reuters news reports. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
secession –n. the act of separating from a nation or state and becoming independent
autonomy –n. the power or right of a country, group or area to govern itself
pretense –n. a false reason that is used to hide he real purpose of something
knell –n. (literary) the sound of a bell rung slowly
reboot –v. to turn off and turn on again: for example, a computer