China’s parliament has approved a controversial national security bill for Hong Kong, paving the way for the legislation to be finalised and implemented.
The National People’s Congress approved the controversial measure Thursday by a vote of 2,878 to one, with six members abstaining.
A week earlier, Beijing had vowed to force controversial national security laws on Hong Kong “without the slightest delay” as police in the semi-autonomous territory fired teargas at protesters demonstrating against the unprecedented decision.
Speaking in Beijing, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said enacting the proposed anti-sedition law to stop anti-government protests that have persisted for the past year had become a “pressing obligation”.
The new law will prevent and punish acts of “secession, subversion or terrorism activities” that threaten national security. The law will also allow Chinese national security institutions to set up agencies in Hong Kong. The legislature’s Standing Committee will begin drafting details of the law, which is expected to take effect in September.
The decision had been widely expected to pass through parliament, which meets once a year to pass already approved measures. Detailed legislation will now be drafted and could be implemented within the next few months.
The move has been condemned and prompted anxiety inside and outside Hong Kong.Observers said the legislation was likely to anger people in the city, where pro-democracy protests have restarted after a pause during the coronavirus outbreak. As many as 360 people were arrested Wednesday night to protest the national security bill.
In a joint statement, Australia, Canada, the UK and the US said: “China’s decision to impose the new national security law on Hong Kong lies in direct conflict with its international obligations.” They called on Beijing to work with the Hong Kong government and people to find a “mutually acceptable accommodation”.
The UK separately said it would extend visa rights for as many as 300,000 Hong Kong British national (overseas) passport holders if China does not change tack.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday he has reported to the US Congress that Hong Kong is “no longer autonomous from China” and “Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws,” given facts on the ground.
The secretary’s remarks indicate the United States is considering suspending the preferential status that has made the city a top U.S. trading partner.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists are also angry over legislature under consideration in the city’s Legislative Council, dominated by pro-Beijing lawmakers, that would criminalise disrespect of China’s national anthem.
Elsewhere, Hong Kong residents are predicting d an increase in emigration as the laws move ahead. Wealthy residents have reportedly begun moving their funds elsewhere, afraid the new legislation will allow Chinese authorities to seize their wealth.