BEIJING is set to pass landmark legislation on martial law which will give the People's Liberation Army (PLA) considerable say over when to dispatch troops to handle state emergencies. The Law on Martial Law, tabled at the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) yesterday, is expected to help the administration of President Jiang Zemin deal better with possible instability in the wake of Deng Xiaoping's death. Vice-chairman of the NPC law committee, Qiao Xiaoyang, said martial law would be declared 'in a state of emergency in which unrest, rebellion or riot which endangers the country's unity, security and social order, occurred'. It would be declared when 'no other effective measure could maintain social order and protect people's lives and property'. 'Enforcing martial law in China is something like imposing a state of emergency abroad,' he said. Under the new statute, martial law of varying degrees would normally be imposed by the State Council and executed by the police and the People's Armed Police. However, if necessary, the policy-setting Central Military Commission could also decide on dispatching troops to 'assist in the execution of martial-law duties'. The law also provides for provincial and municipal governments to institute states of emergency to organise 'traffic control' even when the central authorities have not made a ruling. The rights and freedoms of citizens as safeguarded by the Constitution and other legislation would be restricted during states of emergency. However, the legislation points out that martial law would be lifted as soon as social order was resumed. The legislation does not state whether it would apply to post-1997 Hong Kong and last night legal experts were divided as to whether it had jurisdiction over the territory. NPC Standing Committee member Professor Li Yining pointed out that the legislation would not affect Hong Kong since it came under the control of the Basic Law. Under the territory's post-1997 mini-constitution, Hong Kong will be responsible for its maintenance of public order. Chinese troops would only be called in at the request of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government. Beijing would only be able to apply mainland laws to Hong Kong if the country was in a state of war or at times of turmoil which were beyond the control of the SAR government. However, Professor Chang Hsin, a Hong Kong-based expert on Chinese law, said it would be better if there was a clause in the law specifying whether it was applicable to the SAR. He feared the legislation might apply to Hong Kong if the territory had disagreements with Beijing or there were political events in the SAR that were construed as 'endangering national unity'. The draft statute has five chapters, including 32 articles, which cover the duties and powers of martial law enforcement personnel as well as guarantees about the 'legal rights' of citizens. Political analysts in Beijing said the new law would legalise the deployment of troops in the event of an outbreak of disorder similar to the so-called 'counter-revolutionary turmoil' in 1989 which culminated in the June 4 massacre in Tiananmen Square. They said Mr Deng's decision to use the troops to quell the student movement remained controversial, even within China's legal establishment. The 1982 Chinese Constitution empowered the NPC Standing Committee to declare martial law either throughout the country or in particular provinces and cities. It also empowered the State Council to do so in 'parts of provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities'. However, the charter did not spell out conditions under which states of emergency could be declared or troops mobilised. Professor Li said that legislation would for the first time provide detailed conditions for the declaration and enforcement of martial law. 'The legal procedures for enforcement have been set forth. The authorities cannot declare martial law or do other things at will,' said Professor Li. Professor Chang said the law would help regulate the behaviour of the authorities in emergency situations. 'It is better than just letting Communist Party headquarters or government leaders have the say,' he said. Professor Chang said it would also give local governments some control over the imposition and organisation of martial law in their areas. Liu Yiu-chu, a Hong Kong deputy to the NPC, said it was good Beijing had decided to set forth the imposition of martial law in detailed legislation. 'There should be a clear set of laws to spell out just how the authorities will handle emergency situations,' said Ms Liu, who is an acknowledged specialist on Chinese law. 'Otherwise, people will not know whether government action is in line with the law.'