China proposes law to tighten its grip on Hong Kong

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo steps away from the podium following a news conference at the State Department

Mass protests erupted last summer over proposed legislation that would allow the extradition of criminal suspects to China.

While the seven-month-long agitation past year in which millions took part subsided during the coronavirus crisis from January to April, protestors returned to streets this month, with the pro-autonomy and pro-freedom legislators grappling with the security officials in local legislature protesting against the curbs.

Hong Kong was required to introduce security legislation after the handover from British control to China in 1997.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed to China in 1997 and has been governed by a system that guaranteed freedoms, such as freedom of speech and free elections, that are not allowed on mainland China.

Now, new legislation is in the works that promises to make that crisis much worse.

Real estate companies and financials were among the biggest victims in a stock market sell-off in Hong Kong on Friday after China submitted a security law proposal for the city that has fanned fears of fresh protests. "It proves that "one country, two systems" has been completely repealed", said Biyanca Chu, 23, a protester, who was among many shocked by the announcement.

"Hong Kong people will have to face the choice for their future", said one comment on the Telegram platform often used by protesters, calling for people to rally on Sunday. Over the previous year, charges of rioting, illegal assembly, public obstruction among others have failed to dent the demonstrations.

By including foreign interference under national security, the law could also curb global lobbying by pro-democracy activists.

If that status changes, however, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act allows the United States to unilaterally revoke those privileges. "I know this is the end of Hong Kong, but it's also the beginning of the Hong Kong people".

A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry's office of the commissioner to Hong Kong said in a statement Pompeo's actions can not scare the Chinese people and that Beijing will safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests.

Beijing's hardening policies also show that it has not understood what caused discontent in Hong Kong in the first place, he said.

The "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act" approved by US President Donald Trump previous year requires the State Department to certify at least annually that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to justify favourable US trading terms that have helped it maintain its position as a world financial centre.

With the economy already on the ropes because of the coronavirus, investors fled for the hills with many anxious about Beijing's increasing influence in the semi-autonomous finance hub and what that could mean for doing business there. It is also a way for China to send a message to the U.S., which is debating whether to continue granting Hong Kong special trade status under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, passed previous year to pressure Beijing into respecting the city's rights. The conflict was clear to anyone following this gambit: Either China had to become more like Hong Kong, or Hong Kong had to become more like China.

Pro-democracy lawmakers marched in small groups to the Chinese government's Liaison Office in Hong Kong to express opposition to the measure, hours after its details were officially announced. Some have described the proposed anti-sedition law as a "mark of desperation" after nearly a year of not being able to halt the protests.

"Xi Jinping clearly understands that he was weakened by Covid-19, which is more reason why he needs to reassert his authority", said Tsang. But this law is really being seen as the final blow to Hong Kong's institutions.

Observers believe the immediate effect of the law is likely to be more unrest.

Premier Li Keqiang says China will establish "enforcement mechanisms" in Hong Kong and Macau that will give Hong Kong's chief executive responsibility for preventing acts that endanger national security. For months, weekends in Hong Kong saw mass demonstrations and running battles with police.



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