Beijing passes Hong Kong national security law

Law expected to come into force on 1 July in most radical change to semi-autonomous territory since 1997 handover

China’s top legislative body approved a national security law for Hong Kong on Tuesday in a move expected to raise tensions between Beijing and foreign governments. Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole representative to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, confirmed the law's passage in an interview broadcast by Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK.

Tam said the law, which targets secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong, is not "too spicy" and that he believes people won’t be too worried after they see the details.    

Critics fear, however, that the law intends to quash dissent in the financial hub, which has been roiled by protests for the past year.

The law was approved unanimously by the standing committee within minutes of the start of its meeting on Tuesday morning, sources told the South China Morning Post.  The legislation is now expected to come into effect on July 1, the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from Britain to China. 

There are fears that Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, will see some of the political freedoms it enjoys stifled by the law.

The legislation carries a maximum penalty of life in jail, sources told the Post. 

Japan said if China’s passage of the law were true, that would be "regrettable."

The move "would erode the trust of the international community in the one country, two systems principle," Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said, referring to a 1997 agreement between China and Britain that guaranteed certain freedoms for Hong Kong until 2047.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said the "one country, two systems" principle has failed because Beijing has betrayed its promises.

"It's very disappointing that China fails to keep its promises," Tsai told reporters in Taipei.

Taiwan is set to open a new institution on Wednesday, focused on offering special services for Hong Kong residents seeking opportunities to study, work or invest in Taiwan.

The law would also see the establishment of mainland Chinese security agencies in Hong Kong, according to a summary previously published by China's state-run Xinhua news agency.

Only a handful of Hong Kong delegates to the national legislature saw a draft of the law before its approval, a contentious point with Hong Kong residents.

The city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, who must answer to Beijing, will be empowered to decide which judges can hear trials for state security cases.

Lam refused to comment on the national security law during a press conference Tuesday morning. She said she will do her best to answer questions after the legislation is introduced into Hong Kong’s Basic Law. Lam said threats from the United States and other governments to impose sanctions over the law "would not scare Hong Kong," and that the city would collaborate with Beijing on any potential countermeasures.

On Monday, China announced it will impose visa restrictions against US individuals over Hong Kong following a similar move last week by Washington, which announced visa curbs against Chinese officials thought to undermine freedoms in the city. The US has also threatened to strip Hong Kong of its preferential trading status. On Monday, Secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the US was ending exports of defence equipment to Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong and his co-leaders of pro-democracy group Demosisto on Tuesday announced their withdrawal from the group. Wong, who has been a prominent leader of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement for years, has said he believes he will be a prime target for the new national security law.

Shortly after the law was passed, Joshua Wong, announced he was resigning as leader of pro-democracy group Demosisto and would continue his fight privately. Writing on social media, he said the legislation marked "the end of the Hong Kong that the world knew before. From now on, Hong Kong enters a new era of reign of terror. With sweeping powers and ill-defined law the city will turn into a secret police state". 

Colleagues Nathan Law, Jeffrey Ngo and Agnes Chow also said they would step down. And with their departure, Demosisto said it has "decided to disband and cease all operation as a group given the circumstances".  

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