HONG KONG — China’s legislature has approved a proposal to impose a highly contentious national security law in Hong Kong, in an unprecedented move that critics say threatens fundamental political freedoms and civil liberties in the semi-autonomous territory.
The country’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), nearly unanimously approved the resolution Thursday to introduce the sweeping security legislation, which bans secession, subversion of state power, terrorism, foreign intervention and allows mainland China’s state security agencies to operate in the city.
Only one delegate voted against the proposal, while 2,878 voted for and six abstained.
Now approved, the NPC’s standing committee will draft the law — a process that is expected to take about two months. It will then be implemented upon promulgation by the Hong Kong government, bypassing the city’s legislature via a rarely-enacted constitutional backdoor.
The law will drastically broaden Beijing’s power over Hong Kong, which last year was roiled by anti-government protests calling for greater democracy and more autonomy from mainland China.
News of the proposal last week was met with immediate resistance in the city, with protesters taking to the streets and clashing with police. The approval of the law is expected to result in further mass demonstrations, with protest leaders vowing to oppose greater Chinese government influence whatever the cost.
China’s Premier Li Keqiang said Thursday after the parliamentary meetings that the law was designed for the “steady implementation of ‘one country, two systems'” — a formula that guarantees Hong Kong its autonomy and freedoms — and for “Hong Kong’s long term prosperity and stability.”
But that has failed to reassure critics. The move has been denounced internationally, with opponents warning it could curtail many of the legal safeguards promised to the city when it was handed from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy lawmaker, said the decision marks “the beginning of a sad and traumatizing era for Hong Kong.”