The Chinese Communist Party announced Thursday that it would propose sweeping new national security laws for Hong Kong, effectively bypassing Hong Kong’s local government to amend its current independent legal system.
The head of China’s top political body, Wang Yang, announced Thursday that the move would be an “improvement” to the Basic Law, which has governed relations between mainland China and Hong Kong since 1997 under the “one country, two systems” arrangement.
China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, could vote on the updates when it begins meeting on Friday, without the approval of Hong Kong’s district council, which flipped from a pro-Beijing majority to pro-democracy in a historic election last November.
Dennis Kwok, a pro-democracy lawmaker, told the Washington Post that the move left him “speechless.”
“This is a complete and total surprise and I think it means the end of one country, two systems,” he said. “. . . This is the most devastating thing to happen to Hong Kong since the handover.”
“National security is the bedrock underpinning the stability of the country,” Zhang Yesui, spokesman for the National People’s Congress, said Thursday. “Safeguarding national security serves the fundamental interest of all Chinese, Hong Kong compatriots included.” While Zhang did not elaborate on the nature of the bill, BBC reported it “could ban sedition, secession and treason.”
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. was “closely watching” China’s relationship with Hong Kong. Last month, Attorney General Bill Barr slammed Chinese authorities for arresting 15 prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Hong Kong has seen a surge in unrest and public demonstrations after the city government proposed and ultimately pulled a bill to allow extradition — which Hong Kong residents say would allow Chinese authorities to effectively “kidnap” them with little evidence of criminality.