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China Approves Restrictive National Security Laws for Hong Kong

President Xi Jinping walks towards the stand to deliver his speech during the opening session of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, China October 18, 2017. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

China on Thursday approved a controversial national security law that would allow Beijing to wield expanded power over Hong Kong.

The vote by the National People’s Congress was close to unanimous: 2,878 delegates voted in favor of the proposal while only one delegate dissented and six abstained.

Pro-Democracy activists and other critics say the national security laws would effectively scrap the “one country, two systems” policy that has allowed Hong Kong its political freedoms and civil liberties despite still being technically governed by China.

China claims that the laws are necessary to crack down on separatism, subversion, terrorism, and foreign intervention in Hong Kong in the wake of the pro-democracy protests against Beijing that have upended the city since last summer. The measure would also allow China’s state security agencies to operate in the territory.

The new laws are expected to be drafted and fleshed out with details by the NPC’s standing committee over a period of two months.

About 300 people protesting the laws were arrested across Hong Kong on Wednesday after riot police gathered around the city’s legislature overnight and adopted a zero tolerance approach for demonstrators.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that he certified to Congress that the State Department no longer considers Hong Kong to have a considerable degree of autonomy from Beijing, an appraisal that indicates the U.S. may end its special trading relationship with the financial hub.

“No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” Pompeo said in a statement.

President Trump said Tuesday that the U.S. would have a response to China’s national security laws aimed at Hong Kong by the end of the week. Congress is set to consider later this month whether Hong Kong should retain its special trading privileges or whether China’s control over the city has become too tight.

Hong Kong was roiled by protests throughout the summer last year, originally sparked by outrage over an extradition law that Hong Kong residents said would allow Chinese authorities to effectively “kidnap” them with little evidence of criminality. The bill was eventually withdrawn, although by then, protesters were demanding more, including enhanced democracy for Hong Kong, an independent investigation into police conduct, and amnesty for protesters who have been arrested.

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