HONG KONG – Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers sharply criticized China's move to take over long-stalled efforts to enact national security legislation in the semi-autonomous territory, saying it goes against the “one country, two systems” framework under which Beijing promised the city freedoms not found on the mainland.
The proposed bill, submitted Friday on the opening day of China's national legislative session, would forbid secessionist and subversive activity, as well as foreign interference and terrorism. It comes after months of pro-democracy demonstrations last year that at times descended into violence between police and protesters.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the move, saying “the decision to bypass Hong Kong's well-established legislative processes and ignore the will of the people of Hong Kong would be a death knell for the high degree of autonomy Beijing promised.”
The foreign ministers of the U.K., Australia and Canada released a joint statement saying they are “deeply concerned” about the legislation proposed by China.
Wang Chen, vice chairman of the National People's Congress, said the protests and violence in Hong Kong had challenged the “one country, two systems” principle and the aim of the legislation was to stop any behavior that posed potential security threats.
China's foreign ministry said Hong Kong is China's internal affair and “no foreign country has the right to intervene.”
A previous effort to pass such legislation in Hong Kong's legislature was shelved after massive street protests in 2003. This time, Beijing is circumventing the territory's lawmaking body using what critics say are dubious legal grounds under the Basic Law, which has served as a sort of constitution for Hong Kong since its return to China from British colonial rule in 1997.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said in a statement that the national security law “will not affect the legitimate rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents under the law, or the independent judicial power ... exercised by the Judiciary in Hong Kong.”