HONG KONG: China has passed a sweeping national security law for Hong Kong on Tuesday in a historic move critics and many western governments fear will end the freedom and autonomy of the financial hub.
The legislation was unanimously approved by China’s parliament on Tuesday morning, little more than six weeks after it was first unveiled. The United States, Britain, European Union and the United Nations rights watchdog have all voiced fears the law could be used to stifle criticism of Beijing and crush dissent.
In an unprecedented decision, the law bypassed Hong Kong’s fractious legislature and the wording was kept secret from the city’s inhabitants.
“The national security law for Hong Kong was officially passed by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee today,” the DAB, Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing party, said in a statement welcoming the law.
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Two Hong Kong newspapers that serve as conduits for Beijing’s official policy also confirmed the passing of the law as did multiple local media outlets. Hong Kong residents remained in the dark about its contents and what might now constitute a crime.
At her weekly press conference on Tuesday morning, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam declined to comment on whether the law had been passed or what it contained. “I think at this moment, it is not appropriate for me to comment on any questions related to the national security law,” she told reporters.
Prominent democracy campaigner Joshua Wong tweeted: “It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before. With sweeping powers and ill-defined law, the city will turn into a #secretpolicestate.”
In a largely symbolic move, the United States on Monday ended sensitive defence exports to Hong Kong over the law. “We can no longer distinguish between the export of controlled items to Hong Kong or to mainland China,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
“We cannot risk these items falling into the hands of the People’s Liberation Army, whose primary purpose is to uphold the dictatorship” of the Communist Party.
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Hong Kong was guaranteed certain freedoms as well as judicial and legislative autonomy for fifty years in a deal known as ‘One Country, Two Systems’. The formula transformed the city into a business hub bolstered by a reliable judiciary and political freedoms unseen on the mainland.
A summary of the law published by the official state agency earlier this month said China’s security agencies would be able to establish themselves publicly for the first time.
Millions took the streets last year while a smaller group of protesters frequently battled police in increasingly violent confrontations that saw more than 9,000 arrested.
The protests have dramatically declined in recent months with the pro-democracy movement affected by the coronavirus outbreak, bans on public gatherings and aggressive policing tactics.