The passage through China’s rubber-stamp parliament of plans to impose a draconian subversion and sedition law on Hong Kong sparked further international criticism on Thursday, with the governments of the U.K., U.S., Australia, and Canada expressing “deep concern” over the city’s future.
“China’s decision to impose the new national security law on Hong Kong lies in direct conflict with its international obligations under the principles of the legally-binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the statement said, referring to the 1984 treaty governing the 1997 handover of the former British colony to Chinese rule.
“The proposed law … raises the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes, and undermines existing commitments to protect the rights of Hong Kong people,” said the statement, which was signed by British foreign secretary Dominic Raab, Australian foreign minister Marise Payne, Canadian foreign minister François-Philippe Champagne, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
It said the direct imposition of the law, bypassing the Legislative Council (LegCo), had “dramatically” eroded the city’s autonomy.
The statement came after Pompeo said on Wednesday that Hong Kong was no longer autonomous.
It said the only way to rebuild trust in the wake of months of mass anti-government protests in Hong Kong would be to allow the city’s seven million residents to enjoy the rights and freedoms they were promised,
The statement called on Beijing to work with Hong Kong to find a mutually acceptable outcome.
Expanded visa rights promised
Meanwhile, Britain said it would give greater visa rights to British national overseas (BNO) passport holders from Hong Kong unless China suspended the proposed law, foreign minister Dominic Raab told the BBC.
“In relation to BNO passport holders, as you know currently they only have the right to come to the UK for six months. If China continues down this path and implements this national security legislation, we will change that status,” Raab said, according to a tweet from BBC reporter James Landale.
“And we will remove that six-month limit and allow those BNO passport holders to come to the UK and to apply to work and study for extendable periods of 12 months and that will itself provide a pathway to future citizenship,” he said.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a letter to the EU’s 27 foreign ministers that the bloc needs to discuss at a meeting on Friday how best to respond.
“Beijing’s rise to be an assertive, capable and self-confident global actor will be a test to the EU’s geopolitical ambitions,” Borrell said in his letter.
The letter said the meeting should focus on “China’s increasing assertiveness and attempts to influence and shape global public opinion and perceptions as part of its wider geopolitical strategy.”
One country, one system
Lawmaker Tanya Chan, convenor of the pro-democracy camp within Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo), said the “one country, two systems” framework under which the city was promised a high degree of autonomy from the rest of China was now officially dead.
“I think we can say that Hong Kong is now officially under ‘one country, one system’,” Chan told journalists after the NPC decision on Thursday.
“During the past few days, a lot of countries have expressed grave concern over the national security law for Hong Kong,” Chan said. “Objectively speaking, we have already seen the impact of this, which is damage to Hong Kong’s reputation as an international city.”
“This has been the clearest marker that we are now in a ‘one country, one system’ model that we have seen in the entire 23 years since the handover,” Chan said.
Chan noted that the NPC had added even stricter wording to the proposed law, which will now ban “any actions or activities harming national security,” compared with the earlier wording, which only referred to “actions.”
She said an even more worrying clause was a requirement that Hong Kong implement a “national security education” program in schools.
A recent survey by the Citizens’ Press Conference of 370,000 online responses found that 98.6 percent of them opposed the national security law, while around 70 percent thought it would have no effect on clashes between protesters and riot police.
‘Rule of law is gone’
Former HSBC Global Markets economist Kelvin Lam told RFA: “The rule of law is gone.”
“Foreign investors will be asking themselves whether they are willing to put their money in Hong Kong any more; whether there will ultimately be any kind of legal protection,” Lam said.
“People find it pretty scary that the NPC standing committee has final right of interpretation [of Hong Kong law],” he said.
Meanwhile, chaotic scenes ensued in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) as pro-democracy lawmakers tried to obstruct the passage of a hugely unpopular National Anthem Law banning any form of “insult” to China’s national anthem.
The bill passed its second reading after they were removed from the chamber at the order of LegCo president Andrew Leung, who then declared that more than half of those present had voted it in.
The law means that anyone judged to have insulted the March of the Volunteers could face a jail sentence of up to three years.
Reported by Lu Xi and Man Hoi-tsan for RFA’s Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.