Straining relations with the United States and Britain, China’s ceremonial legislature endorsed a national-security law for Hong Kong on Thursday.
(CN) — Members of Chinese parliament in Beijing approved a sweeping national-security law Thursday that critics say jeopardizes Hong Kong’s autonomy from the mainland country’s communist government.
Introduced last week at the start of China’s legislative session, the bill bans secessionist activity in Hong Kong, focusing on foreign interference and terrorism. Only one person voted against the law while 2,878 Chinese parliament members voted in favor. A full text of the law is expected to be drafted and approved by the body by August.
The law is a response to democratic protests that dominated Hong Kong last year and are now in a resurgence since the bill’s introduction. As debate in the region’s legislative buildings raged on Wednesday, nearly 300 protesters were arrested. Experts say they’ll be watching for an increase of displays of political disruption after the bill’s passage.
“The question I would be asking is whether Hong Kong residents will be taking to the streets to protest this move, and if they do, will Beijing use force to stop the protestors,” Jens Ohlin, a professor and vice dean of Cornell Law School, said in an email Thursday. “Unfortunately, I think there is a substantial likelihood that the Chinese government will use police force to disperse protestors in Hong Kong, based on the assumption that the world community is distracted by Covid-19 and will be less likely to complain about the loss of self-determination in Hong Kong.
“It is also possible that any protests in Hong Kong will be dampened by the pandemic because some protestors may be too scared by the public health emergency to protest in large numbers.”
Because autonomous Hong Kong enjoys special trade and economic relations on the global stage, the United States has ramped up pressure to insulate the region from China’s authoritarian regime.
Billions in trade dollars between America and Hong Kong are at stake as the U.S. is increasingly likely to revoke Hong Kong’s special status after the bill’s passage.
While the city has long been thought of as a global financial capital, the termination of this diplomatic status would jeopardize various aspects of the city’s income, including quite visibly a January deal by which the United States is meant to sell China $200 billion in goods over the next two years.
“There is a danger that this move will result in some financial companies rethinking whether they want to be based in Hong Kong and whether they want to transfer their operations to different locations,” Ohlin said Thursday.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, passed by the House last year, requires the secretary of state to annually report the status of Hong Kong’s autonomy.
State Secretary Mike Pompeo did so this week, signaling that Hong Kong’s special designation is in danger.
“No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Lawmakers have been wary about the imposition of China’s ideals on the city and the violation of the “one country, two systems,” policy since the bill’s introduction.
“Hong Kong and its dynamic, enterprising and free people have flourished for decades as a bastion of liberty and this decision gives me no pleasure,” Pompeo said Wednesday. “But sound policy making requires a recognition of reality. While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself.”
President Donald Trump said from the White House’s Rose Garden last week that China could expect pushback if it drove the bill through parliament. Pompeo also warned last Friday ignoring the will of Hong Kong’s people, “would be a death knell” for the city’s autonomy, under an agreement America has had with China since 1997.