HONG KONG — Lawmakers in China are expected on Thursday to pass legislation that would extend the country’s opaque national security law to Hong Kong.
The bill has triggered renewed street protests in the city and put the Asian hub’s economic status at risk in Washington, where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that Hong Kong no longer deserves special treatment.
“No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” Pompeo said.
The vote at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, could prompt more countries to follow the U.S. in re-evaluating trade arrangements with Hong Kong, which is home to many multinational companies’ Asian headquarters.
The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy under the framework of “one country, two systems”, which sets it apart from mainland financial and business centers such as Shanghai and Shenzhen. Hong Kong maintains an independent judiciary, a separate currency and financial system, and guarantees on freedom of speech.
Under the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, Washington treats Hong Kong as a separate jurisdiction from mainland China and gives the territory special treatment regarding matters of travel and trade.
Beijing’s move to push ahead with the legislation has triggered widespread concern among business communities and supporters of democracy.
The new proposal targets activities such as “splitting the country and subverting state power,” as well as terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong. Anti-government demonstrators in Hong Kong have been referred to as terrorists by some mainland officials, and similar laws on the mainland have been used to suppress dissidents and human rights lawyers.
In Hong Kong, hundreds of people have been arrested during protests against the motion over the past week.
After lawmakers in Beijing pass the resolution on Thursday, the standing committee of National People’s Congress will draft the full text of the law, which can be enacted as soon as June. It will become law in Hong Kong after the city government publishes the legislation in its gazette.
The high economic stakes and delicate political balance surrounding the city’s autonomy has made national security legislation one of the thorniest issues for Hong Kong leaders over the years.
It cost the political career of Tung Chee-hwa, the city’s first chief executive after the 1997 transfer of power, who oversaw a failed attempt to pass a national security bill that triggered a then-record protest of half a million people in 2003. With tensions heightened by last year’s anti-government protests, the city’s current leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, has said it was unlikely such legislation could be passed locally in the near future.