Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners yesterday vowed to take to the streets in protest over what they said was China’s fiercest assault on the territory’s treasured autonomy with its move to impose a security law.
The proposal for the legislation — expected to ban treason, subversion and sedition — was introduced at the opening of the National People’s Congress in Beijing yesterday.
It followed repeated warnings from Chinese leaders that they would no longer tolerate dissent in Hong Kong, which endured seven months of pro-democracy protests last year.
“This is the largest nuclear weapon the Chinese Communist Party has used in its mutual destruction of Hong Kong,” said Jimmy Sham (岑子杰), convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized the rally that started last year’s unrest.
Democracy advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said that China’s message to the protesters was clear.
“Beijing is attempting to silence Hong Kongers’ critical voices with force and fear,” Wong wrote on Twitter, while also expressing defiance. “HKers will not scare off in the face of wolf warrior policy.”
Hong Kong has been allowed a limited form of autonomy since returning from British to Chinese rule in 1997, with those unique freedoms enshrined under a “one country, two systems” agreement.
However, a huge pro-democracy movement has built in the face of fears that China has been steadily eroding those freedoms.
The Chinese Communist Party yesterday made it clear that the planned law was aimed at quashing the democracy movement.
“We must take powerful measures to lawfully prevent, stop and punish them,” National People’s Congress Standing Committee Vice Chairman Wang Chen (王晨) said, referring to “anti-China” forces.
Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law states that the territory must enact a law to prohibit “treason, secession, sedition [and] subversion” against the Chinese government, but the clause has never been implemented due to opposition from Hong Kongers fearful it would destroy their civil rights.
An attempt to have Article 23 pass the Hong Kong Legislative Council in 2003 was shelved after about 500,000 people took to the streets in protest against it.
China’s move would circumvent the Hong Kong Legislative Council by having it imposed by Beijing.
Wang said Hong Kong’s delays in implementing the security law had forced the Chinese leadership to take action.
“More than 20 years after Hong Kong’s return, however, relevant laws are yet to materialize due to the sabotage and obstruction by those trying to sow trouble in Hong Kong and China at large, as well as external hostile forces,” he said.
The US reacted swiftly, with US Department of State spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus warning that imposing such a law would be “highly destabilizing, and would be met with strong condemnation from the United States and the international community.”
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