Two Sessions 2020: Beijing ‘out of patience’ after long wait for Hong Kong national security law, plans to proscribe secession, foreign interference and terrorism in city
- Amid hostile political environment in deeply divided city, resolution for law will be presented as motion to National People’s Congress on Friday
- Opposition politicians warn that enacting the legislation through promulgation is akin to announcing the death of ‘one country, two systems’
Sources earlier told the Post the new law would proscribe secessionist and subversive activity as well as foreign interference and terrorism in the city – all developments that had been troubling Beijing for some time, but most pressingly over the past year of increasingly violent anti-government protests.
The move is also significant in that the central government appears to have all but given up hope that Hong Kong’s administration will succeed at passing local legislation on such a law, amid a hostile political environment and deeply divided city.
At a press conference late on Thursday, NPC spokesman Zhang Yesui confirmed there was an item asking the legislature to review a resolution on “The NPC’s decision on establishing a sound legal system and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security in the Hong Kong special administrative region”.
A Beijing source told the Post the new law would ban all seditious activities aimed at toppling the central government, as well as external interference in Hong Kong. It would also target terrorist acts in the city.
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According to a mainland source familiar with Hong Kong affairs, Beijing had come to the conclusion that it was impossible for the city’s Legislative Council to pass a national security law to enact Article 23 of the city’s Basic Law given the political climate. This was why it was turning to the NPC to take on the responsibility.
Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution requires the Hong Kong government to enact its own national security law prohibiting acts of “treason, secession, sedition, or subversion”.
“Some opposition politicians have shut the window for Hong Kong to enact its own national security law,” the mainland source said, citing the confrontational approach they had adopted towards Beijing.
“If the national security legislation is not done during the annual session of the NPC or shortly afterwards, is there any guarantee that it can be passed by the Legco in the next two years?
“We can no longer allow acts like desecrating national flags or defacing of the national emblem in Hong Kong.”
Beijing’s move also comes against the backdrop of rapidly escalating tensions between the United States and China. The US has until the end of this month to certify Hong Kong’s autonomy under the Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019.
It will make an assessment on whether Hong Kong remains suitably autonomous from China, a prerequisite for extending the city’s preferential US trading and investment privileges.
Warning earlier that it would be a tough report, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday launched a verbal salvo against China and expressed Washington’s concerns over Hong Kong. Pompeo, a former CIA director, called out the recent arrests of leading Hong Kong activists such as Democratic Party founder Martin Lee, and entrepreneur and media owner Jimmy Lai, describing how they had been “hauled into court”.
“Actions like these make it more difficult to assess that Hong Kong remains highly autonomous from mainland China,” Pompeo said. “We’re closely watching what is going on there.”
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Pompeo had earlier this week deeply angered Beijing after becoming the first sitting secretary of state to congratulate the incoming Taiwanese leader, Tsai Ing-wen, as “president”. China vowed it would retaliate and said it would take “all necessary steps to safeguard its national sovereignty”.
Beijing’s move to introduce the resolution will be a focal point of discussions that Hong Kong delegates and others will have at the two sessions of China’s most important annual political event, which kicked off on Thursday. The Central People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) began its meeting on Thursday, while the NPC’s will start on Friday.
On Thursday evening, the city’s delegates to the nation’s parliamentary sessions met Xia Baolong, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO).
The national security resolution is item No 5 on the agenda of the NPC session starting on Friday.
It will be presented by the NPC Standing Committee as a motion to the committee’s session that afternoon, and is in line with the theme about Hong Kong in the communique of the Communist Party’s fourth plenum held last October.
The NPC is expected to vote on the resolution at the end of the annual session, which is likely to be on May 28. The resolution will then be forwarded to the Standing Committee to chart the actual details of the legislation.
The Standing Committee, which last met on April 26 to 29, convenes every two months and is expected to hold its next meeting as early as June. This could be the earliest date at which the legislation could be advanced.
“The NPC decision will delegate the Standing Committee to draft the new legislation for Hong Kong, which would be included in Annex III of Hong Kong’s Basic Law,” the source said. “The new law will be introduced in Hong Kong through promulgation, without the need for local legislation.”
While it was not immediately clear how soon the law could be passed, according to China’s Legislation Law, the Standing Commitee can vote and pass a bill after just one reading if the law is specific or the opinions unanimous.
Insiders said Beijing had reached the end of its tether after the protests against Hong Kong’s now-withdrawn extradition bill morphed into an anti-government movement.
Some demonstrators turned away from peaceful activities to engage in violent actions, such as throwing petrol bombs, attacking facilities and burning and stamping on the national flag.
On July 21, radical protesters besieged the Liaison Office in the city’s Western district and pelted the building with eggs and paintballs, defacing the national emblem with black paint.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has put a dampener on the demonstrations, all signs point to protesters making plans to take to the streets again in the coming weeks.
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Despite the violence that rocked the city, opposition candidates who support the movement succeeded in taking control of 17 out of 18 district councils in elections last November.
Buoyed by their resounding success in the city’s lowest tier of administration, opposition parties had vowed to cause another upset at the Legislative Council elections due in September. They had framed it as a make-or-break opportunity of “35-plus” to seize control of the 70-member legislature and block all bills put forth by the government.
Such a scenario amid an increasingly hostile geopolitical environment prompted Beijing to push ahead with taking matters into its own hands.
An NPC veteran said when Hong Kong delegates met Liaison Office director Luo Huining on Thursday afternoon, it was clear Beijing had also run out of patience after the city’s national security legislation had dragged on for more than 20 years.
“The violence last year and the increasing foreign intervention have triggered the move,” the NPC member said, quoting what Luo told delegates.
The NPC member said Luo had met the delegates on Thursday afternoon to explain the need for speed in enacting the legislation.
Another source said the city’s CPPCC delegates, in their meeting with Hong Kong and Macau Office director Xia and Zhang Qingli, vice-chairman of the body, were told by the latter of the impending law.
“He said national security is under threat, as some in Hong Kong are pursuing independence, waving foreign flags and even resorting to terrorist attacks,” the source who attended the meeting said, adding that Zhang had also pointed out “deeds of secession” such as lobbying support for the US’ Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019.
During the NPC members’ preparatory meeting on Thursday night, delegates were asked to vote on endorsing the whole agenda, which involves the national security legislation. Two members voted against it and one abstained.
Members are expected to be briefed on the details of the legislation tomorrow.
Asked if the delegates were worried that the new legislation would trigger a fresh wave of protests, the NPC member said much would depend on how it was enforced.
“This is probably the last time those radical and violent protesters can vent their anger,” he said. “To the business sector, they would rather endure this battle in one go, to resolve Beijing’s worries that Hong Kong is unsafe.”
Hong Kong riot police use pepper spray at a shopping mall in Sha Tin
If the legislation is enacted swiftly, Hong Kong will finally have national security laws, 23 years after the handover of the city from British to Chinese rule.
While Article 23 of the Basic Law requires the Hong Kong government to enact its own national security law, that article has been in abeyance since 1997.
In 2003, the Hong Kong government was forced to shelve a national security bill after an estimated half a million people took to the streets to oppose the legislation, which they warned would curb their rights and freedoms.
On Thursday, a source close to the government said Chief Executive Carrie Lam had arrived in the capital in the evening but that she had not joined the city’s delegates meeting with Xia.
Wang Yang, chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, on Thursday called on Hong Kong delegates to strengthen their sense of political responsibility to more firmly uphold the “one country, two systems” policy, but he omitted mention of the principles of “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” and the city’s “high degree of autonomy”.
Both pronouncements had been staple items in previous years’ CPPCC work reports.
As speculation on the national security law mounted, Hong Kong’s currency weakened by as much as 0.05 per cent to HK$7.7539 per US dollar on Thursday night, its biggest intraday decline since April 9.
Most of the 27 Hong Kong Hang Seng Index constituent stocks traded in the US stock market, known as American depositary receipts, performed poorly as of 12.45am Hong Kong time.
The ADR proportional to the Hang Seng benchmark index dropped 484 points or 1.99 per cent to 23,796.
Top losers were property firms such as Li Ka-shing’s CK Hutchison Holdings, Swire Pacific, Sun Hung Kai Properties and Hang Lung Properties.
Hong Kong’s opposition figures reacted with alarm and outrage at the news of the possible promulgation of the national security law. Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan, the convenor of the opposition camp, said a “one country, one system” model had been formally implemented in Hong Kong.
“The Chinese government can’t wait and they can’t really stand the freedoms and rights we have in Hong Kong, so they try to take them away as quickly as possible,” Chan said.
She also urged the public to express their views by taking part in the upcoming Legco election. “We cannot be defeated like this, we cannot give up, even in this near-death state of one country, two systems and Hongkongers governing Hong Kong,” she said.
Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai said the direct introduction of the national security law was akin to an announcement of the death of “one country, two systems”.
“Whether the one country, two systems can continue is not their consideration any more,” Wu said, adding that he believed the governance of Hong Kong would only be further crippled by rising resistance from the public.
Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the move showed Beijing’s determination to plug the national security loopholes in Hong Kong.
“Considering how the US has turned Hong Kong as a pawn against China, Beijing has felt the urgent needs to plug such loopholes,” Lau said. “The social unrest will not abate without this move anyway. It is better to suffer short-term pain rather than long-term torture.”
Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung, leader of the party Demosisto, vowed to continue international lobbying even though the new law would target “foreign interference”.
Protesters gather in shopping malls across Hong Kong to chant slogans, stage singalongs
“When Beijing tries to silence Hongkongers’ critical voices with force and fear, we will continue our international lobbying and tell the truth of China’s authoritarianism to the world,” Wong said. “We will scoff in the face of ‘wolf warrior’ policy.”
On Thursday evening, a small group of protesters shouted slogans in support of the anti-government movement at Times Square in Causeway Bay as news about the introduction of national security law spread across the city.
Among them was Anthea Wong, 38, who said: “The Communist Party always threatens people. If we don’t come out, then we will fall into their trap.”
But Wong admitted fewer people were attending protests, and she feared the new law would hobble the movement.
A retiree surnamed Wong, 63, said: “Beijing is playing a ‘scorched earth’ policy on us … we can’t use our normal mindset to think about the Communist Party. They just don’t care.”
Additional reporting by Olga Wong, Tony Cheung, Kimmy Chung, Kanis Leung and Sum Lok-kei