This article has been updated.
China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People Congress (NPC), has passed a draft resolution on a so-called “national security” law for Hong Kong, amid international criticism about how the Communist Party’s proposal would destroy the former British colony’s autonomy and its people’s basic freedoms.
The draft resolution was approved with a vote of 2,878 in favor, one against, and 6 abstentions. The approval now paves the way for NPC’s standing committee to draft details of the legislation before it is added to Annex III of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
By adding it to Annex III, Hong Kong’s legislature will not have a chance to scrutinize the legislation. Instead, Hong Kong’s chief executive can issue a legal notice in the Government Gazette, paving the way for the law to be applied verbatim.
The law would ban acts and activities in connection to secession, subversion, and terrorism, as well as activities related to foreign interference. Moreover, Beijing’s security agencies would be allowed to set up operations in Hong Kong.
About an hour and a half after the vote, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp held a press conference expressing worries about the city’s future.
“The beginning of a sad and traumatizing era for Hong Kong. They [Beijing] effectively take away our soul. Our soul being the values that we treasure all these years, rule of law, human rights, they are taking away,” said lawmaker Claudia Mo during the press conference.
Mo added: “From now on, Hong Kong is nothing but just another mainland Chinese city.”
Another lawmaker Dennis Kwok said: “Make no mistake about it. This is the end of one country, two systems. The end of Hong Kong as we know it.” He was referring to the framework by which Beijing promised to rule Hong Kong upon its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
Kwok added: “The air has gone out of Hong Kong today and it is suffocating. And I ask all of you to pay attention to what’s happening in Hong Kong.”
Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), a pro-democracy group that has organized several mass rallies last year, wrote on its Facebook page that “the era of One Country, One System has arrived.”
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam issued a statement welcoming passage of the law, and said her government “will fully co-operate” with the NPC standing committee to “complete the relevant work on legislation as soon as possible.”
Lam added that her government will also push for Article 23 “as soon as possible,” an anti-subversion bill that was first proposed in 2003, but quickly scrapped that year due to mass protests amid concerns that it could threaten Hongkongers’ civil liberties.
In response to the NPC vote, British NGO Hong Kong Watch tweeted: “This is a flagrant violation of the handover treaty. Britain must take action now, and provide a lifeline for the Hong Kongers who will need it.”
On May 27, several international organizations voiced opposition to the national security law, including the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), a global trade union organization based in Brussels; New York City Bar Association; and Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC), the international human rights arm of the Bar of England and Wales.
NYC Bar said it urges “authorities both in Hong Kong and Beijing to honor their obligations under international and domestic law and renew their commitments to the rule of law and human rights under their pledge to maintain ‘One Country, Two Systems.’”
IBAHRI Director, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, joined a cross-party international coalition of parliamentarians and policymakers from 27 countries in signing a statement decrying Beijing’s ‘unilateral introduction of national security legislation in Hong Kong.’ #HongKong #RuleOfLaw https://t.co/5IDEVsotQw
— IBAHRI (@IBAHRI) May 26, 2020
On May 26, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a Geneva-based human rights NGO, also issued a statement voicing grave concern about the Chinese law, calling for it to be withdrawn.
China’s passing of the national security law came one day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China while reporting to Congress. He added that the national security law was a “disastrous decision” by Beijing.
“The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong as they struggle against the CCP’s increasing denial of the autonomy that they were promised,” Pompeo stated.
China is a pariah state. The CCP will not be allowed to profit from Hong Kong even as it destroys that great city’s freedoms. https://t.co/9MWYnoU65b
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) May 27, 2020
The U.S. secretary of state is required to certify every year whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous from China, under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. Being autonomous is a prerequisite for Hong Kong to enjoy special economic and trading privileges as a separate entity from mainland China, under the 1992 U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act.
Pompeo’s remark came after President Donald Trump told reporters on Tuesday that his administration was planning to take action in response to Beijing’s new law “before the end of this week,” without providing details.
Three members of the local pro-democracy party Demosistō—Agnes Chow, Nathan Law, and secretary-general Joshua Wong—held a press conference on Thursday morning, in response to Pompeo’s statement.
Wong, citing unnamed sources, said that the U.S. government was contemplating suspending Hong Kong’s preferential tariff rates.
Reuters, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter, also reported that the Trump administration was considering the tariff suspension—meaning Hong Kong goods could be subjected to the punitive tariffs slapped on Chinese exports amid the U.S.-China trade war.
Chow said that even though any potential U.S. sanctions could have an impact on the local economy, it was a “tragic but necessary step.”
Later on Thursday afternoon, Demosistō issued a formal statement in response to Pompeo’s remarks, in which it elaborated on the significance of possible U.S. sanctions.
Chinese companies have branded themselves as “Hong Kong companies” since the start of the Sino-U.S. trade war, Demosistō claimed. “We believe the U.S. termination of Hong Kong’s special status is aimed at eradicating such behavior,” it stated.
Washington-based organization Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC) issued a statement welcoming Pompeo’s remarks on Hong Kong’s autonomy.
“We urge President Trump to immediately marshal and unleash all available sources and tools to prevent the death of Hong Kong as a free and global city,” HKDC stated.