The Chinese regime’s intelligence agencies could officially operate in Hong Kong under a planned new law that critics say could spell the end for the city’s autonomy.
The national security law, unveiled on Friday at China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), the regime’s nominal legislature, to target what the regime deems as secession, subversion, or foreign influence, has fueled fears for the future of the former British colony that has so far enjoyed a high degree of political freedom unseen in mainland China.
Wang Chen, vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, made it clear on Friday that Beijing would not tolerate activities that challenge the regime’s authority, including promoting democratic elections, legislative actions from foreign governments, and advocacy groups that voice support for the pro-democracy protesters.
Under the draft law, “relevant national security agencies from the central government will set up bases in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region if necessary,” according to state-run media Xinhua.
Kennedy Wong, delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Beijing’s top political advisory body, said the law could empower China’s Ministry of State Security to set up Hong Kong branches. In addition to collecting intelligence, the agency is expected to have “a certain degree of direct law enforcement power in Hong Kong,” he told the state-run newspaper Global Times.
Wong said that Hong Kong hasn’t set up a dedicated department for intelligence gathering since the 1990s. “As national security issues require high proficiency, regular Hong Kong police or government officials may lack the specific investigative skills,” he added. He said that the draft is mostly complete and will outline specific rules, such as imprisonment terms and fines for each specific situation.
The proposed law has sent shock waves across Hong Kong and drawn wide push back from countries including the United States, Australia, Canada, the UK, and Taiwan.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday urged Beijing to “reconsider its disastrous proposal,” calling the move a “death knell” for Hong Kong’s political and civil liberty that has been guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” framework through 2047.
Local pro-democracy lawmakers, who have lately clashed with the pro-establishment camp over fears of widening Beijing control, saw the law as the stepping stone for an escalating suppression campaign.
“With a new National Security Law introduced by Beijing, we might soon have Chinese Gestapos. Political persecution made so much easier,” Alvin Yeung, Hong Kong legislator and leader of the local Civic Party, wrote on Twitter Friday.
“The worst nightmare is happening before our eyes,” Dennis Kwok, local pro-democracy lawmaker, said Friday at an online event hosted by Washington-based think tank The Heritage Foundation.
Beijing’s plan has sparked an overwhelming sense of anger and hopelessness among locals who are still reeling from last year’s mass pro-democracy against a now-scrapped extradition bill, Kwok said.
“It’s as if they haven’t learned anything,” he added.
Outrage over the new bill prompted dozens of Democratic Party members to protest in front of Beijing’s Liaison Office.
German-based NordVPN, which allows users to bypass web censorship, saw 120 times more downloads in Hong Kong on Thursday in response to Beijing’s plan.
The lawmaker said the regime is using the pandemic as a “cover” by making their move during a time when countries around the world are focused on containing the CCP virus outbreak domestically.
“They are acting now that the world is not watching,” Kwok said. “They think they can use this opportunity to do something that is so outrageous.”
He added that he wouldn’t put it past the regime to introduce even more laws bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature now that it has set this precedent.
Kwok expects there will be “huge clashes” between protesters and police next week, when protests against a new law to criminalize disrespect of the Chinese national anthem are scheduled.
Martin Lee, a former lawmaker and pro-democracy activist, likened the communist regime’s ever-tightening grip on the city to a virus, dubbing it the “Chinese Communist Party virus.”
“The Chinese Communist Party virus … has already spread to Hong Kong and will kill our freedoms,” Lee said at the same event.
He cautioned that the regime’s suppression of freedoms is unlikely to stop at Hong Kong.
“It’s the nature of a virus to spread to another country, another territory.”
Cathy He contributed to the report.