China’s parliament has approved a decision to move forward with national security legislation for Hong Kong that critics fear could undermine the city’s autonomy.
The National People’s Congress on Thursday voted 2,878 to 1 in favour of the decision to empower its standing committee to draft the legislation, with six abstentions.
The legislators gathered in the Great Hall of the People burst into sustained applause when the vote tally was projected onto screens.
China says the legislation will be aimed at tackling secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in the city but the plan, unveiled in Beijing last week, triggered the first big protests in Hong Kong for months.
The security law will alter the territory’s mini-constitution, or Basic Law, to require its government to enforce measures to be decided later by Chinese leaders. The plans have prompted widespread condemnation and strained China’s relations with the United States and Britain.
Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, reporting from Beijing, said the Chinese move “is taking place without any consultation, any debate with Hong Kong’s leaders or its government”.
“China is taking advantage of a legal loophole that completely bypasses Hong Kong’s legislative process.”
Details of the law are expected to be drawn up in coming weeks, and Chinese authorities and the Beijing-backed government in Hong Kong say there is no threat to the city’s autonomy and the new security law will be tightly focused.
But the US on Wednesday revoked its special status for Hong Kong, alleging the city was no longer autonomous from Beijing, paving the way for future sanctions and the removal of trading privileges in the financial hub.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, riot police were out in force as its legislators debated another piece of legislation, a bill that would criminalise disrespect of China’s national anthem.
Dozens of protesters gathered in a shopping mall to chant slogans but there was no repeat of disturbances the previous day when police made 360 arrests as thousands took to the streets in anger over the anthem bill and the national security legislation proposed by China.
Last year, the city was rocked for months by often violent pro-democracy demonstrations over an unsuccessful bid to introduce an extradition law to China.
The national security legislation is the latest issue to fuel fears in Hong Kong that Beijing is imposing its authority and eroding the high degree of autonomy the former British colony has enjoyed under a “one country, two systems” formula since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Hong Kong, said: “There is deep resentment towards this law in Hong Kong. And I think the protests that we saw on Wednesday are going to continue, if not intensify, even though protesters know Beijing is not going to reverse course.”
Al Jazeera and news agencies