China’s legislators were set to approve plans to enforce controversial national security legislation on Hong Kong as the United States prepared to retaliate against Beijing for abolishing the territory for its promised freedoms.
On Thursday, China’s National People’s Congress prepared to vote on a draft resolution that would pave the way for anti-discrimination laws to be adopted directly in Hong Kong by bypassing the semi-autonomous territory legislators. The Legislative Council (LegCo) has not been able to adopt similar legislation on its own because of widespread general opposition.
Once the Beijing vote is adopted, a detailed law will be drafted and could be adopted within a few weeks, according to Chinese state media.
The vote comes after at least 360 people were arrested in Hong Kong on Wednesday, when police fired pepper pellets and arrested suspected protesters in a series of accidents that broke out across the city. Protesters objected to a bill to criminalize respect from the Chinese national anthem and the looming national security laws. On Thursday, the debate over the national anthem was interrupted after a legislator who opposed the law dropped what is believed to be a rotten plant on the floor of the chamber.
Following the protests, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his country would revoke Hong Kong’s special trade status as separate from China.
“While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself,” he said.
The move, part of legislation passed by the United States last year to pressure Beijing to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy, promises to further destabilize already deteriorating US-China relations. According to the law, the United States is required to conduct an annual review of Hong Kong’s governance and whether it should continue to be treated separately from China in trade and economic ties with the United States.
Prior to Pompeo’s statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said his government will adopt “necessary countermeasures” to deal with “erroneous” foreign intervention efforts by other countries.
On Thursday, Hu Xijin, editor of the nationalist state-controlled tabloid Global Times, said on Twitter that it was not up to the United States to decide whether Hong Kong was autonomous. He wrote in a lengthy post about Weibo: “American politicians like Pompeo assume that the fate of Hong Kong is in their hands.”
“If Washington wants to play this card, let them play it … Hong Kong is a major international financial center because of its special relationship with the mainland’s massive economy. This is more important than the US attitude.”
Chinese and Hong Kong officials have promised that the law will only be directed to a “narrow set of documents” and that the vast majority of Hong Kong residents would not be affected.
Legal observers and human rights advocates say that national security laws will threaten the city’s freedoms and rights promised under the “one country two system” framework.
“In China, they never really define what is ‘national security’. So the law can change depending on political skill or political necessity, “Johannes Chan, a Hong Kong legal researcher, told public broadcaster RTHK, adding that it was” naive “to think that the law would only affect a small group of people.
The outstanding move from Beijing also represents a worrying escalation of involvement in Hong Kong’s affairs and violates the territory’s de facto constitutional law, according to legal experts.
“The Chinese Communist Party paints a picture so that it seems to follow the Constitution, but it is not. They are introducing a draconian law that can be used to silence disagreements in Hong Kong and violate the freedoms guaranteed by Hong Kongers, said Frances Eve, assistant research director at Chinese human rights defenders.