China's Communist Party has set in motion a controversial national security law for Hong Kong, a move that is seen as a major blow to the freedoms enjoyed by the city for the past two decades--and also another salvo in the brewing cold war between Washington and Beijing. China’s National People's Congress (NPC) put forward plans to introduce a national security and anti-sedition law on behalf of Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
In Washington, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo urging Beijing to “reconsider its disastrous proposal", while US President Donald Trump warned that Washington would react “very strongly”.
Hong Kong holds a special economic status under US export and trade regulations. China's new proposal threatens some $38 billion of trade between the US and Hong Kong.
Hong Kong--a longtime safe haven for critics of the Chinese government--has enjoyed liberties that don’t exist in mainland China.
That would come to an end if the NPC’s plans are enforced.
Article 23 of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution says the city must enact national security laws to prohibit “treason, secession, sedition [and] subversion” against the Chinese government. That clause, however, has never been implemented.
Hong Kong’s first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, attempted to pass national security legislation in 2003 but withdrew it after it triggered a mass protest. His three successors refrained from even attempting to reintroduce national security laws.
Critics fear the law will be used against anyone objecting to the central government or the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government, which said today it would cooperate fully with the Chinese authorities to enact the law.
In China, sweeping national security laws have been used to target human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and pro-democracy campaigners.
The law to ban "treason, secession, sedition and subversion" could bypass Hong Kong's Legislative Council, or Legco.
Pro-Beijing legislators still command a majority in Legco, but Chinese officials are worried that it could lose its majority at the next round of parliamentary elections in September. Last November, pro-democracy candidates swept lower-level district council elections.
The protests were sparked last summer by opposition to a controversial bill that would have allowed extradition from Hong Kong to China. Nearly two million people have taken part in a mass protest in Hong Kong against this controversial extradition bill.
After months of protests, often descending into violence, the bill was officially withdrawn, but that has failed to stop the unrest.
But the protests subsided only after coronavirus brought a halt to public gatherings in February. With COVID-19 waning, this second attempt by Beijing to harness critics in Hong Kong could meet with an even more intense round of protest and violence.
Amid the global pandemic, protests evolved to include calls for greater democracy, an independent investigation into alleged police brutality and the resignation of the city's leader, Carrie Lam.
Meanwhile, quite a few anti-China activists from Hong Kong decided to move to Taiwan, even though the country didn’t officially welcome them in an effort to avoid further upsetting already fragile relations with China.
The number of people moving to Taiwan from Hong Kong has risen rapidly - it's up 28% over the first seven months of this year compared with the same period a year earlier. Those who have been making the move, typically wealthier entrepreneurs, salespeople and managers, have cited a better quality of life.
Hong Kong retail sales, a key part of the city’s economy, were already feeling the heat back in June, dropping 6.7% from a year earlier. The protests, along with uncertainties such as the US-China trade war, sent the Hong Kong economy into a recession for the first time in a decade.
By David Craggen for Safehaven.com
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