China’s Legislature is Already Reviewing Hong Kong’s Controversial National Security Bill

Despite mounting, near-universal criticism of the law, Chinese officials said they are “unwavering” in their commitment to passing it.
19 June 2020, 1:00pm
NPC meeting 18 jun xinhua
Li Zhanshu, chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, presides over the opening of a session of the NPC on Thursday. Xinhua/Shen Hong

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

China’s legislature has begun reviewing Hong Kong’s dreaded national security bill, prompting fears that the body could be gearing up to rush the controversial legislation through, even as criticism mounts both in the city and internationally.

The National People’s Congress (NPC) began deliberating on the law yesterday, according to state-run press agency Xinhua, the same day the G7 nations issued a joint statement expressing “grave concerns” over the legislation, and asking China to reconsider.

“[The law] would jeopardize the system which has allowed Hong Kong to flourish and made it a success over many years,” the statement reads. “We are also extremely concerned that this action would curtail and threaten the fundamental rights and freedoms of all the population protected by the rule of law and the existence of an independent justice system.”

In a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later the same day, however, senior Chinese official Yang Jiechi described China’s commitment to passing the bill as “unwavering,” adding that it “resolutely opposes the words and deeds of the US side interfering in Hong Kong affairs and resolutely opposes the statement made by the G7 foreign ministers,” AFP reports.

A commentary published by Xinhua, meanwhile, pointed to the G7 statement as “highlight[ing] the urgency for the NPC Standing Committee to proceed with relevant legislation.”

“Foreign interference” has been a buzzword among mainland officials since last year, when a pro-democracy protest movement shook Hong Kong for months. Over the course of protests, Beijing repeatedly insisted, without offering evidence, that the movement had been fanned by foreign powers.

The latest version of the bill outlaws in broad terms “collusion with foreign and external forces,” along with subversion of state power, terrorist activities, and secession, China’s term for advocating for Hong Kong independence.

The bill has prompted widespread fears of the end of the special freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” framework, particularly after officials insinuated that extradition to the mainland—the possibility of which prompted last year’s protest movement—would be back on the table under the new law.

Earlier this week, 86 local and international human rights groups put their names to an open letter to the chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC, Li Zhanshu, calling on him to scrap the law, saying they feared it used “vague terms that can encompass any criticism of the government and be used against people peacefully exercising and defending their human rights.”

On Thursday, the Hong Kong Journalists Association became the latest group to express concerns over the national security law, with 98 percent of members saying in a survey that they opposed its passage out of fears “eroding press freedom will be further deteriorated and the media self-censorship will be further increased.”

The association also sent a letter to the NPC expressing its opposition to the law.