HONG KONG — A national security bill expected to let Beijing clamp down more tightly on pro-democracy protests and activists in Hong Kong will be discussed in China’s annual parliamentary session on Friday, fueling concerns that street protests will flare up again in the semi-autonomous city.
The proposed law is seen as a replacement of the controversial Article 23, which prohibits acts of “treason, secession, sedition, or subversion”. The Hong Kong government was forced to shelve the legislation after half a million people protested against it in 2003.
“National security is the bedrock underpinning the stability of a country. Safeguarding national security serves the fundamental interest of all Chinese,” said Zhang Yesui, spokesman for the National People’s Congress, said at a news briefing on Thursday night.
Zhang said that the move will “uphold and improve the institutional framework of one country, two systems”, adding that more details on the bill will be announced on Friday’s meetings.
Under the “one country, two systems” arrangement, Hong Kong is promised a high degree of autonomy and other democratic freedoms not available in mainland China.
The Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, stipulates that the Hong Kong government must enact its own national security law, but a past attempt was abandoned following massive protests.
The toughened stance toward the former British colony comes after Beijing appointed two new chiefs for its top offices in the city-the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, or HKMAO, and its liaison office– earlier this year.
Xia Baolong, director of the cabinet-level HKMAO and a close ally of President Xi Jinping, reportedly met Hong Kong delegates to China’s parliament on Thursday evening to introduce the draft resolution of the national security protocols.
The bill will be presented as a motion to the National People’s Congress on Friday afternoon and will be voted at the end of the annual parliamentary meetings on May 28, according to the South China Morning Post.
The proposed national security laws could bypass the city’s lawmaking body, said Maggie Chan Man-ki, a local deputy to the National People’s Congress, on her Facebook page, as China’s laws can be applied within Hong Kong through promulgation if they are included in an annex of the Basic Law.
Yet such power has not been employed since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
“Once the national security law is enacted, it will mean Hong Kong is entering ‘one country, one system’,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Tanya Chan.
Beijing’s tightening grip over Hong Kong risk putting the city’s status as a global financial hub in jeopardy. Under the U.S.’ Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, enacted in November, an annual review of Hong Kong’s autonomy is required to maintain its preferential trade and investment treatments in Washington.
Earlier in May, Washington decided to postpone the report on Hong Kong’s autonomy until the end of China’ annual parliamentary sessions.
“In Hong Kong, our decision on whether to certify Hong Kong as having ‘a high degree of autonomy’ from China is still pending,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a news conference on Wednesday.
“We’re closely watching what’s going on there.”