Chinese authorities are planning to write the country’s national security law into Hong Kong’s charter, the news site HK01 reported, in what would be a dramatic escalation of Beijing’s efforts to rein in dissent in the city.
China’s lawmakers were preparing to pass a measure in their upcoming session that would require the former British colony to enact a “new Hong Kong version” of the national law, HK01 reported on Thursday, citing people it didn’t identify. Hong Kong representatives were slated to be briefed on Thursday before a formal
announcement in Beijing, the report said.
The newly appointed director of China’s cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Xia Baolong, is set to outline Beijing’s latest directives to numerous city officials, HKO1 reported earlier. The National People’s Congress was expected to hold a news briefing on Thursday, ahead of opening session.
“This is them saying, ‘I am calling the shots. I am setting the parameters. Resistance is futile,’” said Joseph Cheng, a retired political science professor and veteran pro-democracy activist. Earlier, pro-Beijing figures including Chan Man-ki and Ng Chau-pei, both Hong Kong deputies to the National People’s Congress, had said they would propose such measures by bypassing the city’s Legislative Council. The laws — including banning treason and secession — are vigorously opposed by pro-democracy politicians and have sparked mass protests in the past.
The national security laws are required to eventually be passed by Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. But successive governments have failed to pass them, with the latest effort in 2003 resulting in widespread street demonstrations.
“The market is taking this news negatively for Hong Kong given the likely return of violent protest activities, higher risk for the US to remove certain preferential terms for Hong Kong, such as the special tariff status, and risk-off sentiment,” said Becky Liu, head of China macro strategy at Standard Chartered Bank Ltd.
An attempt to pass security laws now could reignite street protests that hammered the city’s economy last year and serve as a flash point amid broader US-China tensions. The unrest dwindled only when the global pandemic put a stop to mass gatherings.
“It’s worrying, but I’m not surprised,” said Claudia Mo, an opposition lawmaker. “It really depends on how impatient Beijing has become with Hong Kong. The powers that be up north know perfectly well that such a move might just be considered savage, and there might be some heavy price to pay internationally.”
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, whose extradition bill last year ignited unprecedented unrest in the city, said that she viewed the national security laws as an “important constitutional requirement for the government,” that was needed in light of the “violence and near terrorist acts” of the recent protests.