Protests, anger greet China plan for Hong Kong security law

Activists say they will march to China Liaison Office, as democrats condemn move as ‘end of Hong Kong’.

China’s plan to impose new national security laws on Hong Kong drew angry condemnation on Friday as activists in the city called for a protest march at noon (04:00 GMT) and US President Donald Trump warned the United States would react “very strongly” to the planned legislation.

Critics say the move would destroy the “one country, two systems” framework that was agreed when China took back control of the self-governing Chinese territory in 1997 promising citizens rights and freedoms found nowhere else in the country.

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While it was unclear whether the march to China’s Liaison Office would materialise, it was a sign that Hong Kong could soon plunge into renewed unrest.

The legislation could also prove a historical turning point for Hong Kong, intensifying geopolitical tensions between Beijing and Washington, whose relationship is already weakened by trade disputes and reciprocal accusations over the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is starting to look like a US-China summer of discontent in the making,” Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at AxiCorp told Reuters news agency.

Speaking on Friday in his annual report to the Chinese parliament, Premier Li Keqiang said China would establish a “sound” legal system and enforcement mechanisms to ensure national security in Hong Kong and Macau, its other semi-autonomous city.

Li again promised that China would “honour and implement” the “one country. two systems” framework, but Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown said many wonder whether that was really the case.

“We saw pictures of the Great Hall of the People during Li’s speech and I think that is a reminder of where the real power now rests in Hong Kong; not in Hong Kong’s legislature but in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing,” Brown said.  

The Hong Kong government’s previous attempt to adopt national security legislation in 2003 was met with a protest that drew more than half a million people onto the streets and was eventually shelved.

‘Force and fear’

China’s action comes after large-scale demonstrations in 2019 that became increasingly violent as the months wore on, creating the biggest crisis in the former British colony since it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Pro-democracy activists and politicians have for long opposed the idea of national security laws, and on Thursday night denounced the plans as “the end of Hong Kong”.

Beijing is attempting to silence Hong Kongers’ critical voices with force and fear,” pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong tweeted. “Deep down protesters know, we insist not because we are strong, but because we have no other choice.”

The introduction of Hong Kong security laws on the agenda of the Chinese parliament ahead of the annual session which began on Friday morning, drew a warning from US President Donald Trump that Washington would react “very strongly”.

The US State Department also warned China, saying a high-degree of autonomy and respect for human rights were key to preserving the territory’s special status in US law, which has helped it maintain its position as a global financial centre. The city’s stock market plunged more than 3 percent on Friday morning.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council urged Beijing on Friday not to lead Hong Kong into “bigger turmoil” with the move.

A draft of the legislation obtained by Reuters indicated that the proposed legislation requires the territory to quickly finish enacting national security regulations under its mini-constitution, the Basic law.

According to the legislation, China’s parliament empowers itself to set up the legal framework and implementation mechanism to prevent and punish subversion, terrorism, separatism and foreign interference, “or any acts that severely endanger national security.”

China’s parliamentary Vice Chairman Wang Chen is scheduled to give a speech explaining the new law later on Friday.

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