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23.05.2020 Asia

Hong Kong national security law triggers angry reactions against China

By Jan van der Made - RFI
© Reuters
LISTEN MAY 23, 2020
© Reuters

The European Union on Friday urged China to respect Hong Kong's freedoms after Beijing proposed a new security law, while the US announced sanctions. China's National People's Congress (NPC) announced the measures following pro-democracy protests in the semi-autonomous territory. If implemented, the regulations may trigger a new wave of demonstrations.

The NPC, which opened on Friday, dropped a bombshell when it moved to introduce a proposal to impose a security law for Hong Kong.

Wang Chen, an NPC Standing Committee Vice Chairman, referring to a recent series of demonstrations in the territory, said that "the increasingly notable national security risks in the HKSAR have become a prominent problem," forcing Beijing to take "law-based and forceful measures must be taken to prevent, stop and punish such activities."

"I was not surprised but still it is shocking," says Hong Kong lawmaker Claudia Mo of Hong Kong First, answering emailed questions by RFI.

"Not surprised because Beijing has been making it clear that it has lost patience with 'disobedient' Hong Kong, that it would just do whatever it takes, whatever the cost to rein in Hong Kong. Shocking because it is technically unconstitutional."

"This marks the end of Hong Kong we know. They are taking away our soul, our rights and freedoms, from rule of law to free speech," she says.

International reactions
Immediately after the announcement, Brussels' diplomatic chief Josep Borrell issued a statement calling for "the preservation of Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy".

And the US announced sanctions against a Chinese government institute and eight companies for human rights violations following China's move to impose a national security law to quash the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

In, Hong Kong the authorities were quick to comply.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carry Lam gave a press conference with her full cabinet posing in front of a large banner, in Chinese and English, expressing "full support for establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for the HKSAR to safeguard national security."

In a statement, Lam echoed Beijing's hard-line rhetoric saying that the proposal  "only targets acts of secession, subverting state power and organising and carrying out terrorist activities, as well as activities interfering with the HKSAR's internal affairs by foreign or external forces," pointing out that "these are exactly the situations which the political and business sectors in Hong Kong and members of the public have been worrying about over the past year," referring to a series of massive, often violent demonstrations that paralysed the city and brought economic activity to a standstill. 

"The Hong Kong democracy fight will carry on," says Mo defiantly.

"Of course we will play safe more, and be more cautious. There will be conspicuous protests still between now and the actual implementation of the new law," she says.

Massive demonstrations
Since 1997, Hong Kong is formally under Beijing's rule after its handover by the UK, and could retain its capitalist and semi-democratic system in a hybrid structure called “One Country, Two Systems,” as guaranteed by the China-UK Joint Declaration and a "mini constitution," Hong Kong's Basic Law.

But critics say that since 1997, Beijing increasingly interferes in Hong Kong affairs, backtracking on promises of universal suffrage.

In 2003, Hong Kong lawmakers already proposed to introduce a 'national security law' but then massive demonstrations forced the Hong Kong government to shelve the plans indefinitely.

But Hong Kong people remained wary of Beijing's increasing interference, leading to the 2015 “Umbrella movement” after it became clear that China would have the last word in appointing Hong Kong's Chief Executive.

Demonstrations again rocked the city in 2019 after proposed amendments to extradition regulations, which critics feared could give Beijing the free hand in deporting anybody from the territory at will.

Army garrison
One of the articles proposed by the NPC would open Hong Kong's doors for Beijing to increase its presence by allowing the establishment of agencies "to fulfill relevant duties to safeguard national security in accordance with the law," when needed.

China's army already has a garrison in Hong Kong but soldiers have not intervened in the protests.

The Basic Law allows the local government to request help from PLA garrisons in the city in the event of a public order breakdown.

It is unclear what specific steps the Hong Kong government will take now to draft legislation implementing Beijing's directives. But China's latest move is likely to trigger another round of popular protest against Beijing's rule.

"We are angry, but will fight on," says Mo. "You fight, you may not get what you want, but if you don't fight, you definitely won't get what you want, and need."

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