The Chinese government reportedly plans to impose the tightest controls on Hong Kong since the British handed it back over to Beijing in 1997.
In the interim 23 years, the Chinese government has granted the city a degree of autonomy, but a law the Chinese Communist Party is set to agree to in its annual meeting Thursday will ban “foreign interference” and pro-secession activities following widespread protests last year, The Washington Post reported.
Under the 1997 handover agreement, the region's semi-autonomy was to remain in place through at least 2047, but China has taken a series of actions in recent years perceived as eroding Hong Kong's independence. Protests swept the city for the second half of 2019 after the introduction of a bill that would have allowed the extradition of some criminal suspects to China.
Party leaders have also reportedly suggested they intend to modify the Basic Law, a compact specific to Hong Kong that gives citizens rights not granted to mainland Chinese ones such as freedom of assembly and a free press.
Beijing cast the move as an “improvement” on semi-autonomous governance.
“We will ensure the long-term stability of ‘one country, two systems,’” Wang Yang, head of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said Thursday, according to the Post.
The legislation will bypass Hong Kong’s traditional lawmaking processes and could become law as early as next week, the newspaper reported.
“The social unrest last year showed that the Hong Kong government was unable to handle passing [national security legislation] on its own,” said Stanley Ng, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress and a longtime proponent of a similar law. “Hong Kong’s status will be sacrificed with or without this law if society is unstable due to the protesters’ violence.”
“I'm speechless,” said Dennis Kwok, a pro-democracy legislator who was recently stripped of his chairmanship of a key committee. “This is a complete and total surprise and I think it means the end of one country, two systems.”