China on Tuesday morning passed a controversial national security law aimed at tightening Beijing’s control over Hong Kong, a measure pro-democracy critics say will erode the civil liberties of Hong Kong residents.
Beijing’s National People’s Congress bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature and passed the law unanimously. The law will reportedly go into effect immediately.
China claims that the national security law is necessary to crack down on separatism, subversion, terrorism, and foreign intervention in Hong Kong. The measure would also allow China’s state security agencies to operate in the territory, although details of the legislation have not been released.
Critics and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have warned that the law, which comes after months of pro-democracy demonstrations among residents of the territory, will erase the “one country, two systems” arrangement between Hong Kong and Beijing and will subvert the freedoms currently enjoyed by Hong Kong residents, including the right to assembly, a free press, and a judiciary system independent of mainland China.
President Xi Jinping signed the law, which will be entered in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution and will enable China to crack down on protests.
Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, spoke in favor of the law, saying it fills a “gaping hole” in national security and promising that it would not harm Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress last month that the city of Hong Kong no longer “maintains a high degree of autonomy from China,” an appraisal that indicates the U.S. may end its special trading relationship with the financial hub.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier this month that the United Kingdom is ready to offer refuge and a path to citizenship to nearly three million Hong Kong citizens should China follow through on implementing the national security laws. Johnson said the laws violate the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the agreement the U.K. reached with China after Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
However, HSBC, the large U.K.-based bank, has signaled its support for the law earlier this month, the chief executive for the global bank’s Asia-Pacific region signing a petition in favor of it.