The national security law, unveiled on Friday at Chinas National Peoples Congress (NPC), the regimes nominal legislature, to target what the regime deems as secession, subversion, or foreign influence, has fueled fears for the future of the former British colony that has so far enjoyed a high degree of political freedom unseen in mainland China.
Wang Chen, vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, made it clear on Friday that Beijing would not tolerate activities that challenge the regimes authority, including promoting democratic elections, legislative actions from foreign governments, and advocacy groups that voice support for the pro-democracy protesters.
Under the draft law, “relevant national security agencies from the central government will set up bases in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region if necessary,” according to state-run media Xinhua.
Kennedy Wong, delegate to the Chinese Peoples Political Consultative Conference, Beijings top political advisory body, said the law could empower Chinas Ministry of State Security to set up Hong Kong branches. In addition to collecting intelligence, the agency is expected to have “a certain degree of direct law enforcement power in Hong Kong,” he told the state-run newspaper Global Times.
Wong said that Hong Kong hasnt set up a dedicated department for intelligence gathering since the 1990s. “As national security issues require high proficiency, regular Hong Kong police or government officials may lack the specific investigative skills,” he added. He said that the draft is mostly complete and will outline specific rules, such as imprisonment terms and fines for each specific situation.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday urged Beijing to “reconsider its disastrous proposal,” calling the move a “death knell” for Hong Kongs political and civil liberty that has been guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” framework through 2047.
Local pro-democracy lawmakers, who have lately clashed with the pro-establishment camp over fears of widening Beijing control, saw the law as the stepping stone for an escalating suppression campaign.
“With a new National Security Law introduced by Beijing, we might soon have Chinese Gestapos. Political persecution made so much easier,” Alvin Yueng, Hong Kong legislator and leader of the local Civic Party, wrote on Twitter Friday.
“The worst nightmare is happening before our eyes,” Dennis Kwok, local pro-democracy lawmaker, said Friday at an online event hosted by Washington-based think tank The Heritage Foundation.
Beijings plan has sparked an overwhelming sense of anger and hopelessness among locals who are still reeling from last years mass pro-democracy against a now-scrapped extradition bill, Kwok said.
“Its as if they havent learned anything,” he added.
Outrage over the new bill prompted dozens of Democratic Party members to protest in front of Beijings Liaison Office.
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