The National People's Congress has unveiled details of a controversial security legislation that experts say could fundamentally weaken the "one country, two systems" political framework and damage Hong Kong's autonomy.
Following Beijing's surprise plan to enact a national security law for Hong Kong on Thursday, China's National People's Congress (NPC) announced more details about the proposed legislation on Friday morning.
Explaining details of the draft legislation to the delegates, Wang Chen, the vice chairman of NPC's Standing Committee, said there have been increasing national security risks in Hong Kong over the last year, citing certain activities linked to the months-long anti-government protests as incidents that seriously challenge the fundamentals of the "one country, two systems" principle and threaten national security and development interests.
"Law-based and forceful measures must be taken to prevent, stop and punish such activities," Wang said. "Considering Hong Kong's present situation, efforts must be made at the state-level to establish and improve the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for the HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) to safeguard national security, to change the long-term 'defenseless' status in the field of national security."
The proposed legislation will be directly applied to Hong Kong and will also allow the Chinese government to establish national security agencies in Hong Kong. The city may also set up a dedicated agency for national security. Additionally, Hong Kong's chief executive needs to promote national security education and submit relevant reports to the central government regularly.
The proposed legislation also urged Hong Kong to complete the passage of its own national security legislation in accordance with the Basic Law. Lastly, administrative, legislative and judicial institutions in Hong Kong should curb and punish acts deemed harmful to national security.
Hong Kong's autonomy and reputation at stake
Alvin Yeung, a pro-democracy lawmaker in Hong Kong, says the proposed law is proof that Beijing does not care about Hong Kong's autonomy that was promised to the city in the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
"It is extraordinary to set up a national security agency directly for Hong Kong," Yeung told DW. "If this is the way Beijing wants to tackle problems emerging from last year's protests against an extradition bill, I don't think it will solve them. It will create more problems regarding the functioning of the 'one country, two systems' framework."
When the NPC wants to impose a national law on Hong Kong, it follows Article 18 of the Basic Law, which mandates the Congress to insert a piece of national legislation in Annex 3 of the Basic Law, Yeung explains. This is how the Chinese government plans to implement the proposed national security legislation, he adds.
"They choose to bypass Hong Kong's legislative council. It is a breach of the 'one country, two systems' framework and undercuts the high degree of autonomy that's promised under the Basic Law," said Yeung.
A challenge for Hong Kong?
Some experts are of the view that the proposed law could serve as a deterrent to Hong Kong's judicial system, as the definition of four criminal offenses mentioned in the draft bill remains unclear.
Ma Ngok, an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that if approved, the legislation will set a precedent that allows the Chinese government to enact any kind of law through the NPC and impose it on Hong Kong without being challenged.
Ma believes the proposed legislation could threaten the remaining civil rights in Hong Kong, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
"During the 2019 anti-government protests, hundreds of people were charged with rioting or arson," Ma told DW. "But if there is a national security law based on Chinese standards, the sentences could've been much stricter."
Alvin Cheung, a non-resident affiliated scholar at New York University's US-Asia Law Institute, told DW that the proposed legislation would allow Beijing to further dictate important decisions regarding Hong Kong.
"One de facto reality that has been recurring in Hong Kong for some time now is that all important decisions related to Hong Kong are made by Beijing," said Cheung. "[The move to enact the proposed national security legislation] should be viewed no less than a death sentence for Hong Kong."
More anti-government protests to follow?
The proposed national security legislation is likely to fuel anti-China sentiment in Hong Kong, but it is uncertain whether new protests will match the scale of the months-long anti-government demonstrations in 2019.
"I think people are angrier than last year, but police in Hong Kong are likely to be more ruthless in their crackdown on protesters this time," Ma said. "It’s unlikely that people would take to the streets and confront the police after Hong Kong authorities receive a strong backing from Beijing."
Pro-democracy legislator Yeung warns that if the proposed law goes through, it will be the end of the one country, two systems framework. "Regardless of how you name the legislation, the foundation of freedom, which sets Hong Kong apart from mainland China, will be challenged, damaged and eventually be gone."