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China’s parliament approved a controversial new national security law for Hong Kong Thursday, sparking outrage in the city, where opponents fear it marks “the end of Hong Kong.”
China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People's Congress, voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution to introduce a sweeping national security law that will ban secession, terrorism, foreign intervention, and subversion, radically tightening Beijing’s grip on the city. Senior leaders from the legislature’s standing committee will now draft the details of the law, a process expected to take about two months, before it is imposed on Hong Kong.
The vote, while expected, sparked anger and despair in Hong Kong, where many fear the move marks an end to the city’s freedoms under the “one country, two systems” policy, and will leave critics of Beijing at the mercy of mainland Chinese secret police.
“It’s the end of Hong Kong. We know that they are cutting off our souls, taking away the values which we’ve always embraced — values like human rights, democracy, rule of law,” pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo told AFP Thursday.
“From now on, Hong Kong just becomes another Chinese city.”
Analysts told VICE News that the vote to approve the law, which has triggered widespread condemnation in Hong Kong and internationally, meant it was now effectively a fait accompli.
“It’s a done deal,” said Rod Wye, associate fellow at the Chatham House international affairs think tank. “There’s absolutely nothing anyone outside China can do about the NPC now passing the law.”
Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute, said the imposition of the law would inflame public anger and inspire further demonstrations, “even though the law was meant to stop protests.”
But he said demonstrations and international pressure would not dissuade Beijing from imposing the new legislation, which he said was “now practically a foregone conclusion.”
“Beijing has clearly made up its mind, and Xi cannot afford to appear to back off under U.S. pressure,” he said.
The U.S., locked in an increasingly bitter dispute with China over trade and its role in the coronavirus pandemic, has led the charge against Beijing over the law, with backing from the European Union, Britain, and rights groups.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Hong Kong could no longer be considered highly autonomous from China, signaling the likely end of its favorable trading status with the U.S., which hinges on the territory retaining a significant degree of autonomy from Beijing.
“After careful study of developments over the reporting period, I certified to Congress today that Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997," he said in a statement.
"No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground.”
Washington is yet to reveal its next steps following Pompeo’s announcement, although President Donald Trump said Tuesday that an announcement would be made by the end of the week. Beijing responded furiously to Pompeo’s statement Thursday: the office of China's foreign ministry in Hong Kong described the criticism as “utterly imperious, unreasonable and shameless” and called on Washington to "immediately stop meddling" in China’s affairs.
Beijing’s sudden move to impose the law has reignited political tensions in Hong Kong, after several quiet months during which the pandemic took the steam out of the city’s massive protest movement. Dozens of protesters gathered to chant slogans in a shopping mall Thursday, following much larger protests on Sunday and Wednesday, when hundreds of people were arrested.
There were chaotic scenes in the city’s legislature Thursday as pro-democracy lawmakers were ejected from the chamber during a debate on a controversial bill to criminalize disrespect of China’s national anthem.
Lawmaker Ted Hui, of the Democratic Party, was removed from the chamber by security guards after hurling a bag containing a rotten plant at the speaker, saying it symbolized the city’s political system.
Though Chinese officials and Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam insist that the city has nothing to fear from the national security law and that “one country, two systems” would be preserved, Wye said those claims didn’t stand up to scrutiny.
“Beijing now feels it has the right and clearly has the ability to direct affairs in Hong Kong as it wants,” he told VICE News.
“It’s certainly undermining the whole principle of ‘one country, two systems.’”
Cover: A protester makes a gesture during a protest on June 12, 2019 in Hong Kong China. Large crowds of protesters gathered in central Hong Kong as the city braced for another mass rally in a show of strength against the government over a divisive plan to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)