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China drops the gauntlet with new HK security law

SINGAPORE – China’s top legislature formally approved a controversial national security law for Hong Kong on Tuesday (June 30) that will provide Beijing with sweeping enforcement powers to prohibit and punish acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in the Chinese-ruled special administration region.  

International opprobrium has mounted against Beijing with critics of the far-reaching new law, which was not fully disclosed to the public prior to its unanimous passage by the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, saying it will effectively criminalize dissent and stifle the city’s freedoms and semi-autonomous status.

The legislation puts Beijing further at odds with Western governments and will further strain US-China relations, which have already sunk to their lowest point in years. The US announced last month that it would begin removing Hong Kong’s special trade status under US law on grounds of China bypassing the city’s legislature to impose the new law.

China’s lawmakers fast-tracked the bill, passing it on the last day of a special three-day session that began on Sunday. It is expected to come into effect on July 1, marking the 23rd anniversary of the city’s handover to China from British colonial rule. The city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam admitted she had not seen a preliminary version of the law prior to its passage.

“From every signal that we’ve received so far, the law is going to work within Hong Kong common law system and will cater to Hong Kong’s special needs,” said Bernard Chan, convenor of Hong Kong’s Executive Council (ExCo), a top policy-making body that advises the city’s chief executive, in an interview with Asia Times ahead of the bill’s approval.

Pro-democracy lawmakers and activists in Hong Kong have voiced fears that the bill could introduce indefinite detention without trial or charge and allow for extradition to mainland China. Before the law’s passage, Beijing had said its state-security agencies must be able to exercise jurisdiction over the most serious national security cases.

At a Tuesday morning media briefing, Lam said she would not answer questions about the new law until its contents are listed into Annex III of the Basic Law and promulgated. “It would be inappropriate for me to answer any questions and explain at this stage,” she remarked. “What I can say is that when the law has been approved.”

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a briefing at the Hong Kong SAR office during her visit in Beijing on June 3, 2020. Photo: AFP/Nicolas Asfouri

Hong Kong’s leader asserted that threats from the US or other foreign governments to impose sanctions over the matter “would not scare Hong Kong”, and that her government would “fully cooperate” with any potential countermeasures, including sanctions, introduced by the central government in Beijing.  

Chan said that while segments of the city’s business community and wealth managers regard the new law as “good news” for stability after last year’s sometimes violent anti-government protests, the threat of US sanctions and other punitive measures are giving pause to some firms in the city.

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