Tommy Walker reports on the reactions from the democratic opposition to a new law that breaks the ‘one country, two systems’ consensus.
Beijing is to impose a new national security law on Hong Kong after China’s parliament announced the draft bill on Friday. The law would ban ‘treason, secession, sedition and subversion’ within the former British colony.
This means ‘seditious’ activities aimed at China’s central government would be prohibited within Hong Kong, whilst foreign interference and acts of terrorism would also be targeted.
The National Peoples Congress (NPC) — the largest parliamentary body of China — first set in motion the law in an announcement on Thursday at the annual Two Sessions conference in Beijing. The proposed law can be added to Hong Kong’s Basic Law. Implementing the bill would allow Beijing to bypass Hong Kong’s own government, and would challenge the city’s limited democracy.
Since the 1997 handover, Hong Kong has enjoyed freedoms unseen in the mainland, under a ‘one country, two systems’ agreement. This includes Hong Kong’s own judicial system and freedom of speech. The agreement goes until 2047, but pro-democracy leaders argue it has been undermined, sparking citywide demonstrations in 2019.
After Friday’s announcement, the NPC will vote on the resolution by the end of May. By the end of June the final draft law will be presented, and as expected, approved shortly after.
‘Total Destruction’ of ‘One Country, Two Systems’
Hong Kong activists and lawmakers blasted the decision. Agnes Chow of pro-democracy activist group Demosisto believes this law represents the ‘total destruction’ of one country, two systems principle.
“Where is the one country, two systems? I’ve always said it’s a ‘one country, one-point-five system’ but now this means Hong Kong is directly ruled by China,” Chow told Byline Times. “One reason the law is to be implemented is to stop groups like Demosisto connecting with the international committee. There is a possibility our group will be banned. But for us, we could see this type of suppression coming.”
“One thing we want to emphasise is we won’t give up,” Chow added.
Dennis Kwok, a Democratic Lawmaker in Hong Kong was blunt with his reaction, according to local reports. “This is the end of Hong Kong,’ he said.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the new security law. “We have been unable to protect national security on our own after 23 years, it’s the time for decisive action taken by the central government,” Lam told a press conference Friday night.
Pro-democracy protesters were already on high alert after numerous political controversies were unfolding in the city. As COVID-19 becomes more controlled after weeks of low daily cases, protests in the city have surged.
One of the pending bills that the city has been focusing on is criminalising the mocking of the ‘March of the Volunteers’, China’s national anthem. Hong Kong’s own Legislative Council is set to pass the controversial rule, whilst critics argue it would erode freedom of speech.
The anthem has been widely booed by pro-democracy supporters in the past.
Deemed the most controversial political move since the handover in 1997, activists and protest groups have sounded the alarm for citywide demonstrations in reaction to the draft legislation, despite current social distancing laws still in place because of the coronavirus.
Jimmy Sham of the Civil Human Rights Front, the activist group behind some of the largest demonstrations in Hong Kong, posted on his Facebook urging people to stand up for “human rights, democracy and freedom in Hong Kong” and to join demonstrations when “the democratic front” announces the time.
Demonstrations are now even more likely to increase, as Beijing tightens its grip on Hong Kong indefinitely.
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