28 May 2020

Hong Kong security bill backed by China's parliament

9:25 pm on 28 May 2020

China's parliament has backed a new security law for Hong Kong which would make it a crime to undermine Beijing's authority in the territory.

China's President Xi Jinping (centre) applauds after the vote on a proposal to draft a Hong Kong security law during the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

China's President Xi Jinping (centre) applauds after the vote on a proposal to draft a Hong Kong security law during the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: AFP

The bill - which now passes to China's senior leadership - has caused deep concern among those who say it could end Hong Kong's unique status.

It could also see China installing its own security agencies in the region for the first time.

The move has already sparked a new wave of anti-mainland protest.

Clashes broke out on Wednesday as Hong Kong's parliament debated a different proposed law, which would make it a crime to disrespect the Chinese national anthem. Hundreds of people were arrested in protests over that and the security law.

Security remains high on Thursday, as a tense debate in the Legislative Council continues.

At least two pro-democracy legislators were ejected from the council on Thursday. One lawmaker, Ted Hui, threw rotten plants on to the floor of the chamber, saying it symbolised the decay of Hong Kong's political system.

"I want the speaker to feel what is meant by rotten," he said.

The speaker deemed the package to be an "unknown dangerous object", and called police and fire crews.

Riot police in the Central district of Hong Kong on 27 May. Police fired pepper-ball rounds and arrested hundreds as they clamped down on protests against a bill banning insults to China's national anthem.

Riot police in the Central district of Hong Kong yesterday. Photo: AFP

What has the reaction been?

Full details about exactly what behaviour will be outlawed under the new law are not yet clear. It is due to be enacted in September.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said developments in Hong Kong meant it could no longer be considered to have "a high degree of autonomy" from mainland China.

That meant that Hong Kong no longer merited being treated differently from the mainland under US law.

The declaration could have major implications for Hong Kong's trade hub status and is likely to anger Beijing.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has reiterated deep concern about China's new security law in Hong Kong.

He said it will curtail the liberties of the Hong Kong people and erode the system that has made it so prosperous.

He said New Zealand is worried the action will exacerbate the divisions within Hong Kong society and the government will continue to monitor the situation closely.

What happens next?

The National People's Congress (NPC) is meeting in Beijing this week after a two-month delay because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While it did have the chance to vote on the bill - referred to as the Draft Decision - it only ever approves legislation put to it by the government so there was no chance this bill would not be supported.

The bill now passes to the Standing Committee of the Communist Party and could become law by August.

Although full details of the bill are not yet clear, it would criminalise:

  • secession - breaking away from the country
  • subversion - undermining the power or authority of the central government
  • terrorism - using violence or intimidation against people
  • activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong

The bill also says that "when needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People's Government will set up agencies in Hong Kong to fulfil relevant duties to safeguard national security in accordance with the law".

That means China could potentially have its own law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong, alongside the city's own.

The authorities in Hong Kong insist the law is essential to tackle growing violence and "terrorism", and that the territory's residents have nothing to fear from it.

Critics fear it could lead to Hong Kongers being prosecuted - even retroactively - for criticising their or the mainland's leadership, joining protests or exercising their current rights under local laws.

Why did China do this?

Hong Kong was handed back to China from British control in 1997, but under a unique agreement - a mini-constitution called the Basic Law and a so-called "one country, two systems" principle.

They are supposed to protect certain freedoms for Hong Kong: freedom of assembly and speech, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights - freedoms that no other part of mainland China has.

Under the same agreement, Hong Kong had to enact its own national security law - this was set out in Article 23 of the Basic Law.

But its unpopularity meant it had never been done - the government tried in 2003 but had to back down after protests.

Then, last year, protests over an extradition law turned violent and evolved into a broader anti-China and pro-democracy movement.

China is keen to avoid a repeat of that unrest.


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