China’s ruling Communist Party has set in motion a controversial national security law for Hong Kong, a move seen as a major blow to the city’s freedoms.
The law to ban “treason, secession, sedition and subversion” could bypass Hong Kong’s lawmakers.
Critics say China is breaking its promise to allow Hong Kong freedoms not seen elsewhere in China.
It is likely to fuel public anger and may even trigger fresh protests and demands for democratic reform.
The plan was submitted at the annual National People’s Congress (NPC), which largely rubber-stamps decisions already taken by the Communist leadership, but is still the most important political event of the year.
Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region and an economic powerhouse, was always meant to have introduced such laws after the handover from British control to Chinese rule in 1997.
After last year’s wave of sustained and violent protest, Beijing is now attempting to push them through, arguing “law-based and forceful measures” must be taken to “prevent, stop and punish” such protests in the future.
On Friday, Hong Kong’s government said it would co-operate with Beijing to enact the law, adding it would not affect the city’s freedoms.
The “draft decision” – as it is known before approval by the NPC – was explained by Wang Chen, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC.
It consists of an introduction and seven articles. Article 4 – which says Hong Kong “must improve” national security, before adding 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” – may prove the most controversial.
China could essentially place this law into Annex III of the Basic Law, which covers national laws that must be implemented in Hong Kong – either by legislation, or decree.