Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole delegate on the Standing Committee, told local media that “it’s not surprising that they would want another meeting to complete this task sooner.”
The draft law, which runs to 66 articles, confirms the international community’s worst fears about Beijing’s rapid encroachment on Hong Kong, which is supposed to enjoy some autonomy for 50 years under the handover agreement signed by Britain and China in 1997.
Lawyers, human rights activists and Western governments have expressed concern that the vague and broad provisions of the law would give the Beijing-backed authorities new legal tools to target activities such as the protests that erupted in Hong Kong a year ago. The protests grew from demonstrations against an extradition bill into a broader pro-democracy movement that surprised and alarmed Beijing.
Critics have also voiced concern that the new law will allow mainland Chinese security agencies to operate in Hong Kong despite the “one country, two systems” framework agreed to at the handover.
Similar national security laws in mainland China have been invoked by the state in recent years to sentence labor organizers, peasants resisting land grabs, bloggers and lawyers.
In Macao, a Chinese territory adjacent to Hong Kong where similar laws have been in place since 2009, public displays of dissent are extremely rare, and politically sensitive protests, including vigils marking the 1989 massacre of students at Tiananmen Square, are banned.
Beijing did not release the text of the “Law on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” but published an outline through the official Xinhua News Agency.
According to the outline, the law declares that the central government in Beijing bears the “ultimate responsibility” for the national security affairs of Hong Kong and covers secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
It establishes a Commission for Safeguarding National Security, which will bear the “primary responsibility” for protecting Hong Kong’s security and will answer to the central government.
The chief executive of Hong Kong, a position that has increasingly come under Beijing’s control, will chair the commission. The position is held by Carrie Lam, a target of the protests. In a development viewed with alarm inside and outside Hong Kong, she will have the power to appoint judges to hear national security cases.
The commission will also have a national security adviser, to be appointed by the central government, according to the NPC Observer blog.
New police and prosecution departments will be established to investigate and enforce the new statutes.
The media of the Chinese state called the legislation a “touchstone” for Hong Kong and urged people to back it.
“If we want Hong Kong to have long-lasting peace and security, we should support the law without worrying,” the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote Sunday.
“If we want ‘one country, two systems’ to be sustainable and stable, we should support rather than oppose it.”
But pro-democracy lawmakers and legal analysts were alarmed by the broad nature of the law.
The Hong Kong Bar Association said it was “deeply concerned” about the details published to date and called on Beijing to release the law so lawyers could properly analyze its provisions.
Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong-based lawyer and author, said he was “struck by how deeply it intervenes in the government and legal system, creating a whole new government body and departments.”
The details as released, he said, undermine any notion of an independent judiciary and separation of power. Having an entire infrastructure to apply the new legislation also undermines reassurances from officials that it will only be used against a “very small minority,” he said.
During the protests, Beijing said repeatedly that they were fomented by the “black hands” of the United States to encourage Hong Kong to secede from China.
Party media repeated that message Sunday.
“Radical forces in Hong Kong and their main supporter, the U.S., will continue stirring up trouble for some time. But the draft law on national security for Hong Kong stands firm on morality and justice,” wrote the Global Times, a hawkish tabloid that often espouses the foreign policy views of the party.
“Most Hongkongers will understand the goodwill of the central government. Those fighting against the law will be bound to find themselves ever more isolated. They are fighting with no chance of victory.”
The national security law and the future of Hong Kong have become central points of friction between the United States and China.
The Trump administration and members of Congress have threatened sanctions if Beijing follows through.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated Friday that the administration would make good on its threat to strip Hong Kong of its special trading status, effectively treating its people and its companies the same as mainland Chinese, if Beijing encroached further on the city’s independence.
“When you ask, will Hong Kong be treated as any other Chinese city, it will be to the extent that the Chinese choose to treat it that way,” Pompeo said in a video address to the Copenhagen Democracy Summit on Friday.
“President Trump has made very, very clear to the extent that the Chinese Communist Party treats Hong Kong as it does Shenzhen and Shanghai, we will treat them the same,” he said.
The Group of Seven, which includes Britain, Germany and Japan, called on China last week to drop the law.
If the law passes, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said, his government would open a pathway to citizenship for almost 3 million Hong Kong people eligible for British National (Overseas) passports, a legacy of colonial rule. Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy that China claims as its territory, has said it will set up an office to help Hong Kong people fleeing to the island to escape increasing repression.
In the eyes of China’s leaders, Hong Kong is an unruly city where anti-government sentiment must be stamped out at all costs.
Most protesters have not sought independence from China. They have demanded the preservation of their freedoms and the right to elect their political leaders directly, without interference from Beijing.
Much of the public anger during the early months of the protests — sparked by plans to send criminal suspects for trial in mainland China’s opaque court system — was aimed at the Hong Kong leadership and the use of force by its police, not at Beijing.
Shih reported from Seoul and Mahtani from Hong Kong. Wang Yuan in Beijing and Tiffany Liang in Hong Kong contributed to this report.